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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Cross

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CROSS . The cross in its literal sense is dealt with under Crucifixion, but there are certain spiritual uses of the word in the NT that call for separate consideration.

(1) It is a symbol of self-sacrifice . According to the Gospels, Jesus on at least three occasions affirmed the necessity for those who would follow Him of taking up the cross ( Matthew 10:38 ; Mark 8:34 = Matthew 16:24 = Luke 9:23 ; [ Mark 10:21 only in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ]; Luke 14:27 ). The words imply a prophetic anticipation of His own experience on Calvary; but even although on Christ’s earliest use of them this special application was hidden from His disciples (cf. Matthew 16:21 ; Matthew 20:19 ), the figure of bearing one’s cross would convey a quite intelligible meaning. In Galilee multitudes had been crucified after the rebellion under Judas the Gaulonite (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XVII. X. 10, BJ II. v. 2); in Jerusalem, as we see from the execution of two robbers side by side with Jesus, a crucifixion must have been an ordinary incident of the administration of Roman law. And as it was usual to compel a cruciarius to carry to the place of execution the transverse beam ( patibulum ) of his own cross, Christ’s figure would have a meaning as plain as it was vivid. But, unlike the wretched cruciarius , His disciples of their own free will were to take up the cross and follow Him.

(2) It is a thing of shame . The author of Hebrews tells us bow Jesus ‘endured the cross, despising shame’ ( Hebrews 12:2 ). Both to the Roman and to the Jew the death of the cross was the most shameful death a man could die to the former because reserved by Roman usage for slaves, foreigners, or desperate criminals; to the latter because it came under the curse denounced by the Jewish Law upon any one whose dead body hung upon a tree ( Deuteronomy 21:23 ; cf. Galatians 3:13 ). To Jew and Gentile alike this was the great ‘stumbling-block of the cross’ ( Galatians 5:11 , 1 Corinthians 1:23 ). And even St. Paul himself regards ‘the death of the cross’ as the very lowest point in Christ’s long pathway of humiliation ( Philippians 2:8 ).

(3) There are certain theological uses of the word peculiar to the Pauline writings. St. Paul makes the cross a summary of the gospel . Thus for ‘the preaching of the gospel’ in 1 Corinthians 1:17 he substitutes in 1 Corinthians 1:18 ‘the word of the cross,’ and in 1 Corinthians 1:23 ‘the preaching of Christ crucified’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2 ). Again in Galatians 6:12 he speaks of suffering persecution ‘for the cross of Christ,’ where the meaning evidently is ‘for the confession of faith in the Christian gospel.’ And when he glories in ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ ( 1 Corinthians 1:14 ), the cross is used, as the clauses following show, to epitomize the saving work of Jesus both for us and in us.

(4) Further, in the Pauline theology the cross is set forth as the great instrument of reconciliation . It is ‘through the blood of his cross’ that Christ has effected a reconciliation between God and man ( Colossians 1:20 ff.). He took out of the way the bond written in ordinances that was against us, ‘nailing it to the cross’ ( Colossians 2:14 ). It is ‘through the cross’ that He has reconciled the Gentile and the Jew, abolishing that ‘law of commandments’ which rose between them like a middle wall of partition ( Ephesians 2:14-16 ). And there are glimpses of a still wider reconciliation accomplished by Jesus through His cross a reconciliation of all things unto God the Father, whether they be things upon the earth or things in the heavens ( Colossians 1:20 , cf. Ephesians 1:10 ).

(5) Once more, the cross is to St. Paul the symbol of a mystical union with Christ Himself . In the great figure of the Gospels ( Matthew 10:38 ||) cross-bearing stands for the imitation of Christ. St. Paul goes deeper, and sees in the cross a crucifixion with Christ from which there springs a possession of the indwelling life of Christ ( Galatians 2:20 ). The old man is crucified ( Romans 6:6 ), that a new man may rise from the dead (cf. Romans 6:4 ). The flesh is crucified, with its passions and lusts ( Galatians 5:24 ), that the Christian may live and walk by the Spirit ( Galatians 5:25 ). And yet this mysticism of the cross never causes the Apostle to lose sight of the cross as the means of an objective redemption. On the contrary, he regards the two ideas as inseparably connected; and, glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, does so because through it ( a ) the world the sphere of external ordinances is crucified unto him; and ( b ) he himself is crucified unto the world ( Galatians 6:14 ).

J. C. Lambert.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Cross'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/c/cross.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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