Why a Roman Cross?

Why did Jesus die on a Roman cross?

The cross was a Roman invention for cruel torture and slow execution of state criminals and foreign rebels. It was intensely feared in all regions of Roman domination.

There is no provision in the criminal law codes of Israel for execution by hanging on a cross. The Law of Moses prescribes stoning for criminals in Israel. Murderers, as well as all for whom capital punishment is required, were to die by stoning at the hands of the community. In especially heinous crimes, the executed criminal would afterwards be hanged on a tree, but the body must be taken down by sunset. They did not hang criminals “by the neck until dead” as in the American West.  A foreign enemy could be slain with a sword and sometimes also then hanged on a tree to be displayed until sunset.  No other form of execution is mentioned.

How did Jesus’ death on a Roman cross fulfill God’s Law?

Let’s deal first with a more basic question. Why did Jesus have to die? There are many facets to the answer to this question. For now we’ll aim at understanding the Laws of Sacrifice for Sin. We find that Leviticus 4 delineates sin offerings according to the social position of the sinner. For example, a common person was to bring a female kid of the goats. A ruler of the people must bring a male kid of the goats. A priest who sins must bring a young bullock. If the whole congregation sins, they must offer a young bullock, in the same way as a priest who sins.

In each sin offering, except one, the sinner must lay hands on the head of the victim, i.e. kid or bullock, and then the sinner slays the animal whose blood is offered on the altar. The exception is for the situation in which the whole congregation has sinned. In this case, Leviticus 4 designates no one to slay the victim. We are left to find a precedent to discover who must slay this victim for the whole congregation.

In Leviticus 8, Moses is performing the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests. For a sin offering Moses brings a bullock. The priests lay hands on the head of the bullock, and Moses slays the bullock continuing according to the previous prescription for the sin offering in Leviticus 4.

Moses was not a priest. He was the civil leader and the spiritual leader of Israel. The precedent seems to be that when a group sins, as opposed to an individual, the highest authority must slay the victim.

The order is clear according to Leviticus 4:15.
And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the LORD:
and the bullock shall be killed before the LORD.

Now we have one facet of the answer to our second question,
“According to the Law of Sacrifice for Sin, why did Jesus have to die?”

He died as the victim in the case when the whole congregation sins. Jesus himself in the Gospels, as well as the Apostles in Acts, give ample witness to his being the offering for the whole congregation.

This is how Jesus could prophesy that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed,” Mark 8:31. In fact, the elders did lay their hands on Jesus, and they took him to Pilate. “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:  And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” Matthew 27:1-2

Jesus knew that they had to reject him because they had to turn him over to the governing authorities to be slain. They had to “lay hands upon” him. Their laying hands upon him imparted their sins and, representatively, the sins of all the people upon Jesus as their victim. As the Victim, Jesus could forgive the sin. Jesus fulfilled both the role of the victim and of the priest who forgives.

God’s Law could not execute the Holy Son of God; Roman law did that.

It was a Roman cross because God’s Law has no such provision for execution.

It was a Roman cross because Rome was the highest civil government over Israel at the time, and the highest authority must slay the victim of the sin offering when the whole congregation sins.

There are many references to the necessity for the elders to reject the Messiah. They had to be responsible for his death in order for his forgiveness to apply to them and to all the world as the “whole congregation”.

Matthew 16:21; 17:22; Mark 8:31; 10:33; Luke 9:22; 18:31; 24:7; 24:20

Acts 2:3; 3:17; 4:10; 5:30;7:52; 10:39; 13:27


The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus

Detail of one of the stones with the "Ten...

Detail of one of the stones with the “Ten Commandments” on close to Buckland in the Moor on Dartmoor in Devon. See Buckland in the Moor for more information. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Are the commandments of God valid for Christians today?
What exactly is meant by “the commandments of God”?

Matthew 5:17-19   Jesus, from The Sermon on the Mount

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:
I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass,
one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,
till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,
and shall teach men so,
he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven:
but whosoever shall do and teach them,
the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness
neither shadow of turning.
James 1:17

Our God is not a chameleon changing his nature to suit his purposes. He calls himself I Am That I Am, Yahweh, the Ever Existing One.   He is from everlasting to everlasting.   He has always been and he will always be.   He doesn’t vary.  That’s something we can count on.

For I am the LORD, I change not;
therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances,
and have not kept them.
Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.
But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
Malachi 3:6-7

 Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD…
Ye have said,” It is vain to serve God:
and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance
and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?”
Malachi 3:13-14

In Malachi 4, God says that before the great and dreadful day he will send Elijah to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children.  Who was the prophet Elijah and what did he do?  He rebuked the people for Baal worship and tried to get them to serve Yahweh again.  In what way did Malachi say the people were to serve God?

Remember ye the law of Moses
which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel,
with the statutes and judgments.
Malachi 4:4

Will the spirit of Elijah, of whom Malachi prophesied, come again and do differently than the first Elijah?

Continuing in the train of thought that God doesn’t change, let’s look at the account of Stephen’s trial.  In his defense statement, Stephen accused the ruling Jews of not keeping God’s law.  We are told that false witnesses were set up against him.  The false witnesses are quoted saying, For we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth shall… change the customs which Moses delivered us. (Acts 6:14)  Were they telling the truth?  Weren’t they false witnesses?  Had Stephen preached against the laws of God given by Moses?  Stephen himself gives the answer.

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,
ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
…Who have received the law by the disposition of angels,
and have not kept it.
Acts 7:51-53

Sin, the Apostle John said, is the transgression of the law.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law;
for sin is the transgression of the law.
I John 3:4

John even clarifies that he is not writing about something new, but about that which has been from the beginning.

Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you,
but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.
I John 2:7

Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8 have been some of the scriptures most used to preach that Christians need  not keep the law of God.  In reading these chapters we can see that Paul is discussing different sets of laws.  Romans 7:22, 23 show two sets of laws.

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

But I see another law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind,
and bringing me into captivity to
the law of sin which is in my members.
Romans 7:22-23

Paul says that he serves the law of God with his mind, so the law of his mind seems to be the law of God which he sets his mind to serve.  There is one more law that Paul mentions in chapter 8: 2, “…the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus”.    Therefore, the three sets of laws Paul discusses in depth are:

1.  The Law of Sin and Death, which is summed up in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death”.

2.  The Law of God as a moral code, which we see in the Ten Commandments.

3.  The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, which is new life in Him through his resurrection from the dead.

God’s law brings the knowledge of sin.

The commandment that was ordained to life,
I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment,
deceived me and by it slew me.
Rom. 7:10, 11

Every man is tempted when he is drawn away
of his own lust and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived,
it bringeth forth sin,
and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.”
James 1:14-15

There is no way around it.  Sin brings death.  We may be forgiven, but when we sin again, the fatal infection re-enters.  Call it wages or penalty or the result of sin; the fact is that under any circumstances sin causes death.

O wretched man that I am!
who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Romans 7:24

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God;
but with the flesh the law of sin.
Romans 7:25

There is therefore now no condemnation
to them which are in Christ Jesus,
who walk not after the flesh,
but after the Spirit.
Romans 8:1

Condemnation is for those who walk in the flesh as Paul had just said in 7:25, “with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”  What is sin?  “Sin is the transgression of the law.”

The law of God revealed to Moses had one weakness.  It could never purge our conscience from sin.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come,
and not the very image of the things,
can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually
make the comers thereunto perfect.
For then would they not have ceased to be offered?
Because that the worshippers once purged
should have had no more conscience of sins.
Hebrews 10:1-2

The sacrifices, the priesthood, and the tabernacle were a shadow, a pattern, of what God had yet to reveal.

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Hebrews 10:4

Jesus came and died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:4)  Paul said, For I delight in the law of God after the inward man (Romans 7:22)   But he said that if he walked in the flesh he served the law of sin.

The carnal mind is enmity against God:
for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 8:7-8

We see that the fleshly mind cannot be subject to the law of God, but in Jesus Christ we can fulfill the purpose of the law of God by His Spirit.  Being forgiven, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law.  Now we are free by God’s Spirit to fulfill the righteousness of the law.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law could not do,
in that it was weak through the flesh,
God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin,
condemned sin in the flesh:
that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us
who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit
Romans 8:2-4

May we conclude then, that we may continue to live a sinful life once we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus? The Apostle gives the answer:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Romans 6:1-2

The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus gives us the grace to live free of sin today.  Jesus paid the price to offer you the free gift of His grace to live as he lived.  This is the power of the new testament in His blood.  We have no excuses to dwell in sin.  This is the finished work of Jesus Christ.  He has bequeathed to us all of his inheritance in the Father.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:29

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things,
in bringing many sons unto glory,
to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one:
for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.
Hebrews 2:10-11

Yet, He has made provision for us, if we fall.
If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

God’s purpose is to have sons in His image.  That is the very reason He created Adam in the first place.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God created he him;
male and female created he them.
Genesis 1:27

Adam fell from the image in which he was created, but God promised that He would send a deliverer.

And I will put enmity between thee [the serpent] and the woman,
and between thy seed and her seed;
it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Genesis 3:15

Jesus Christ is the Seed of the Woman who has bruised the head of the serpent and wrenched out of his hands the dominion of the earth that he stole from Adam.  In Jesus Christ, by the Law of the Spirit of life, we have now the ability to gain victory over sin.  We are not bound to sin a little every day.  This is the Gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ.

Our God is consistent from creation to the fullness of His heavenly kingdom.  His intent has always been the same, though His revelation to us is ever expanding.  May God grant us light to see all that He has revealed of Himself in the past, so we may be able to grasp all that He will reveal to us in the future.

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory,
to …be able to comprehend with all saints
what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,
that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19