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

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Jesus the Sin Offering and the Priest

Part of this post is an excerpt from my book He Who Bleeds available on amazon.com

Is God angry, raging and vengeful? Animal sacrifice? What a barbaric custom!  Gruesome, even cruel.  No wonder many Christian theologians separate the angry God of the Old Testament from the loving God of the New Testament.   

Who is Who?

There is a gospel in the Old Testament.  Jesus opened the Old Testament scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection.

Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  Luke 24:27

What is animal sacrifice?  I mean, what is it all about?   I know it is representative, but who is who?  I mean, who is the animal representing?  Maybe he is representing me, and I should die for my sin, but the innocent animal dies in my place so God can forgive me.  Is this really what is going on?

What if, in the gospel according to the First Covenant, the sacrificial animal takes the representative role of the victim of that sin?  To find the answer we must look into the ceremony of Atonement.

Atonement is a Legal Term

The Hebrew word in the Strong’s concordance is #3722 kaphar[1].  An example of kaphar as a legal term is in Isaiah 28:18 “your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand;” A covenant is a legally binding agreement, like a contract.  Disannulment  brings the contract to a legal end.  Disannulment frees the signers from further contract liability.  Disannulment is atonement, kaphar.

Atonement as referred to in Mosaic Law is the waiving of the required legal punishment.  Sins for which atonement is made are covered.  They are covered from the punishment of the law.  The process of atonement does not negate the need for repentance and restitution.  On the contrary, confession, repentance and making restitution are necessary steps to atonement[2].  According to Leviticus, after these first steps had been accomplished, then the priest shall make an atonement for him.

The Priest is the Acting Intercessor

How did the priest make an atonement for the sinner?  What did the priest do?  

In a case where the sinner confesses and repents to the victim, as long as the victim is satisfied with the repentance, they may declare peace with one another, and the incident is over. Like Jesus said in Matthew 5:25,  Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him.  There is no need for the law to step in and provide an intercessor.   But what if the sinner repents, and still the victim refuses to make peace?  Then there is need for the law to provide an intercessor.  The intercessor acts in the place of the defrauded victim and makes an atonement for the repentant sinner.   

The earthly pattern that God gave Moses for atonement had two parts.  These were two actors, so to speak, in this earthly pre-enactment of the necessary action in the heavens.  The sacrificial animal and the priest both represent the victim of the sin.  The animal loses his life as the victim who has been defrauded of a portion of his life.  The priest, in the place of the victim, makes atonement, in other words, waives the charges against the sinner. 

            Ceremonially, two actors were needed because the animal could lay down his life, but could not intelligently waive the charges.  The priest could waive the charges, but could not die or suffer equal defraudment for every sin he atoned.  So, the priest was required to eat the sin offering[3] to make himself one with the animal who was taking on the position of the victim.  It was imperative upon the priest that he eat the sin offering, and only the priest who offered the sacrifice was allowed to eat it. 

Because the priest representatively becomes the victim of my sin, he has the right to press charges against me or to waive the charges.  

What did he do?  The priest waived the charges in the stead of the victim and atonement was made.

            Jesus was able to be both sin offering and priest.  Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities[4].  He accepted the weight of pain and grief caused by every sin ever committed bearing it in his own body on the cross.  He is the Victim of all our sin, and He could choose to press charges or to waive the charges against us.  Thank God, he chose to intercede in the proceedings that were against us making atonement for our sins, not pressing the charges.  Only the victim or one who legally stands in the victim’s stead can do that.  Jesus is the True Victim who holds the right to forgive every sin; and he is our High Priest who “ever liveth to make intercession for us”.[5] 

Let’s go back to where we started.  Is this a barbaric picture of animal sacrifice?  Gruesome, even cruel?  Maybe; but who is cruel, God? or the sinner? 

Sin is cruel, and Jesus came to take away sin.

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:29  

[1] 3722  kaphar {kaw-far’} From Strong’s Concordance
Meaning:  1) to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation, cover over with pitch 1a) to coat or cover with pitch  1b1) to cover over, pacify, propitiate 1b2) to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for 1b3) to cover over, atone for sin and persons by legal rites 1c1) to be covered over 1c2) to make atonement for 1d) to be covered
Origin:  a primitive root
Usage:  AV – atonement 71, purge 7, reconciliation 4, reconcile 3, forgive 3, purge away 2, pacify 2, atonement…made 2, merciful 2, cleansed 1, disannulled 1, appease 1, put off 1, pardon 1, pitch 1; 102

[2] Leviticus 6:4-7  Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found,  5 Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.  6 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:  7 And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.

[3] Leviticus 6:26  The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation.

[4] Hebrews 4:15  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

[5] Hebrews 7:25  Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.