What the Cross Represents


Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the focal point of the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:3). All that came before pointed to the cross. All that followed looked back to the cross. It is important that we see the cross as more than just an icon and understand what it truly represents.

The Cross of Christ

A Symbol of Death – In delivering the first gospel sermon, Peter described Jesus as having been “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put…to death” (Acts 2:23). Crucifixion was specifically designed to bring about an agonizing death. Jesus did not die quickly and painlessly. He suffered for several hours on the cross. This was in addition to the beating and scourging He endured during the hours leading up to the crucifixion.

A Symbol of Rejection – Jesus was rejected by those of His hometown (Matthew 13:57), as well as the Jewish people as a whole (Matthew 23:37). At His trial, the people ignored the prophecies (Galatians 3:24) and declared loyalty to Caesar rather than to Christ (John 19:15). After convincing Pilate to put Him to death, Jesus was led outside of the city to the place where He would be crucified (John 19:17).

A Symbol of Humiliation – Jesus died the death of a criminal. As He hung on the cross, there were two robbers that had been crucified with Him (Matthew 27:38). Jesus died publicly (Romans 3:25), exposed (Matthew 27:35), and mocked by the people who witnessed His death – including the thieves who were suffering the same fate (Matthew 27:39-44)

A Symbol of Rebellion – Crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals. Barabbas, who was chosen to be released instead of Jesus, was a murderer and insurrectionist (Mark 15:7). Jesus, of course, was not going to use violence to establish or advance His kingdom (Matthew 26:51-54; John 18:36). But He was, in a sense, an insurrectionist in that He came to establish a kingdom that would “put an end” to the current power in Rome (Daniel 2:44). This was the charge brought against Jesus by the Jews (John 19:12) and the reason why “the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ” (Acts 4:26).

A Symbol of Submission – Though Jesus refused to submit to the will of man, His death was an act of submission to the will of the Father. Jesus willingly went to the cross (John 10:18), for this is what He came to do (Matthew 16:21). “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Our Cross

Just as Jesus had to bear His cross, we have a cross to bear as well. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Our cross represents the same for us as Jesus’ cross represented for Him.

Death – When we are baptized, we are crucified with Christ, becoming “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:3-5). In this death, we become dead to sin (Romans 6:6, 11) and dead to the world (Galatians 6:14; Colossians 2:20). In this we also give our lives over to Him as “a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1); even being prepared to, if necessary, surrender our lives for His cause (Revelation 2:10).

Rejection – If we are going to follow Christ, we must expect to be rejected by others. John told the reason for this: “The world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). We may be divided from family (Matthew 10:34-36). We may even suffer persecution (1 Peter 4:12-16). In all of this, we are being rejected because we are following the One who has been rejected by the world.

Humiliation – Not only will we be rejected, but we will often be mocked and ridiculed (1 Peter 4:4). This is sometimes difficult, as we tend to place great emphasis on being accepted by others. But Jesus endured humiliation and shame in the cross, leaving an example for us to follow (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Rebellion – Our rebellion is against “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul said that our struggle is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There will be times when we may be labeled as troublemakers or evildoers for following Christ. But as Christians, we must refuse to submit to the will of man in opposition to God.

Submission – In taking up our cross, we are also being submissive to the Lord. Jesus said we are to take up our cross and “follow” Him (Luke 9:23). We become dead to sin in order to become “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). We must totally submit to the Lord’s will so that we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).


If we understand the cross in its proper context, we can join with Paul and “boast…in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14) as we “take up [our] cross daily and follow” Him (Luke 9:23).

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