After investigating some prophecies about the death of the Messiah as given by the prophets David, Isaiah and Zechariah about 1000, 740 and 500 years before the birth of Jesus, let us now see what the Apostles do say about this event on the cross and its meaning as well as in Part 3 look at the statements the Qur'an gives on it.
In 2 Corinthians 5 we read:
14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What does the Apostle Paul say? Jesus Christ has so much love for us, that he died in our place and so that we do not have to bear the punishment for our sin, his death is counted to be our death in the eyes of God (vers 14). And because of this, the Apostles and every Christian become an ambassador of God's reconciliation message to all people. God will no longer hold your sins against you if you accept as valid for you this offering for sin, accomplished in the death of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus, was MADE sin and in taking on himself all the sins of the world he came under the curse of God that is on all sin.
And in the letter to the Galatians Paul writes in chapter 3:
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."
14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
So, no oversight at all about this "curse of God" quote in the Torah. Paul himself quotes it and explains it. The curse that was on us, because we transgressed against God's holy commandments in his law, was put on Christ and we were redeemed from it by him. And more than that, not only is the curse taken away, we get even more, namely the rich blessing which God promised through Abraham. When God called Abraham he said to him: I will bless you ... and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you. [Genesis 12:1-3]
And the Apostle Peter says:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; (1 Peter 2:24)
And he does not only say so many years after the event, when he writes it in his letter (1 Peter) but Peter preaches this a few days after Jesus ascended to heaven too [Acts 2:22-24]. [To be precise this was exactly 50 days after the resurrection which is 10 days after Jesus' ascension. After his resurrection Jesus met with his followers many times throughout a 40 days period, where he explained to them the meaning of the things that had happened and the task ahead including the message they should preach]. And a few days later Peter preached the same again [Acts 3:13-16] and again probably a few weeks after that (in Acts 5):
25 Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people."
26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin [the highest Jewish court] to be questioned by the high priest.
28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29 Peter and the other apostles replied:
"We must obey God rather than men!
30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
[he is talking to Israelites here, that does not mean exclusively to Israel]
32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death....
[and then comes the report of the decision making process of the Sanhedrin]
40 His [Gamaliel's] speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
The Apostles preached the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins from day one. This was not a late "nice or not so nice invention". And they did so because that is what they had witnessed and because that was the command that Jesus/God had given them: "We must obey God rather than men." And for this preaching they got flogged, thrown into prison and most of the Apostles eventually died as martyrs for their faith in the crucified and risen Christ. I do not see any chance of making a believable charge of corruption stick here. This message was preached from the very beginning, there was no time to corrupt it. And nobody would suffer torture and death for something he knows to be false because he invented it himself.
There have never been any Christians who preached anything else. At least not in the first century. How on earth can any Muslim believe that this was a late corruption and that in the beginning the true Christians believed exactly as the Muslims do? And on what grounds should I accept the Islamic claim when 600 years after the event Muhammad comes along and claims without the least evidence, that it all never happened? And he not only denies it, but doesn't even give a coherent alternative explanation!
Anyway, back to the Biblical testimony. We have yet to hear what Jesus himself says on the issue.
It is not just the Apostles who preach it, Jesus himself declares his atoning death to be the very center of mission.
When Nicodemus, one of the religious Jewish leaders secretly comes to Jesus at night, Jesus explains to him why he has come into this world (John 3):
12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of Man.
[Jesus basically says, if you have trouble even believing me about the more 'earthly' stuff, how will you understand the deeper teachings of my heavenly mission? But nevertheless Jesus gives him an analogy of what his mission is really about. And he does so by pointing him back to an event in the life of Israel and of Moses, which is recorded in the Torah, and which was very familiar to Nicodemus, a teacher of the Torah.]
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
[Here he connects the event in Moses' life with his own life and says that his 'being lifted up' will bring life to those who believe and the motivation of God for instituting this is given in the two verses which follow]
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
What was this event Jesus is drawing our attention to? We find it in Numbers 21:
4 They [the people of Israel] traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
What is the comparison that Jesus is drawing? [And it is probably no accident that it is snakes who bite the Israelites after their rebellion against God, and that also Satan, the tempter who wants us to rebell against God, is often depicted as a snake in the Bible. And when we give in to Satan's temptation he get's power over us and can 'bite' us.]
|Israelites||All people ( = the world)|
|Rebellion against God||Rebellion against God|
|Bitten by deadly snakes||Bitten by deadly sin|
Little initial pain,|
then intense suffering
|Little initial pain,|
then intense suffering
[Don't we all know that many sins are 'pleasure' at first?
|Physical death from snakes' poison||Spiritual death from sin's poison|
|Bronze snake lifted up in the desert||Christ lifted up on the cross|
|Trusting God's word of this "stupid remedy" and looking at the snake spared one's life.||Trusting God's word and looking to Christ saves from eternal death.|
And one more parallel is in here. The problem was the snakes, the solution God gave them was another snake. Our problem is sin and God's death penalty on it, and God's solution is the one whom He made "to be sin in our place" as I quoted above (2 Corinthians 5:21). God does act consistently all through his dealings with mankind, and looking forward to what He eventually would do at the cross, he made this desert event to foreshadow His final salvation event.
This meeting with Nicodemus was (probably) relatively at the beginning of Jesus public preaching period [at least it is in the beginning of the Gospel according to John] and from the Gospels we also know that Nicodemus did (later?) become a disciple of Jesus. But it was not only to Nicodemus to whom Jesus explained about his being "lifted up" [and we have read this expression before in Isaiah 52:13-14] and that this was his purpose in coming into the world. Jesus does so again and this time in public [John 12:20-36, especially verses 32-33]. And in different words he says the same in Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:18 and more passages in this and the other Gospel records.
Finally, the Apostle Paul sums up the core of the Gospel message in 1 Corinthians 2 as:
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.
2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.
4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,
5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
Paul did preach a lot and he was a very learned man, certainly among the wise of his time. But he says, the center of God's message which he was called to proclaim is the crucifixion of Christ and its meaning for us. And as he says a few verses before the above quote in (1 Corinthians 1):
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
The Muslims weren't the first to claim that the notion of the cross is foolish, or that forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus is a crazy concept. That was also the initial response of those who first heard the message. But still today, the wisdom of God remains higher than our wisdom, just as it was then. Those who accept God's plan of salvation will also receive the power that is in the truth. The Apostle Paul is not the first who looked foolish in the eyes of the "world" (those who reject God and his offer of forgiveness of sin), and he will not be the last. This is the eternal message of the Bible from the first to the last page.
Have you ever wondered why we know basically nothing about the first 30 years of Jesus life? [apart from his birth and a handful of verses when he was 12 years old] Nearly all that is recorded in the Gospels is about his 3 years of public preaching. But also this time is very unevenly distributed. Nearly a fifth of text of the Gospels is dedicated to the very last week of his life, the event of suffering and the crucifixion and resurrection. Doesn't that suggest that this was the central part of the message that the Gospel writers wanted to convey? Had this been just an accident and a rather embarrassing end to a promising life, they would either not have mentioned it or done so rather brief. But because it was so offensive they wanted to make sure that it is well understood and recorded, both in its historical details and in its meaning. The center of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All the rest is important too, but only gets its meaning from these central events. Jesus even says (talking about his death): For this hour I have come into the world! And several times throughout the Gospels we read that the Jews did try to kill him but they could not "because his hour had not yet come" and nobody had power over him before the time appointed God [John 7:30,44, 8:59, 10:39, Luke 4:28-30, etc].
Paul speaking about (cross and) resurrection says in 1 Corinthians 15:
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
The center and foundation of the Christian faith is the cross and the resurrection. If those two events are not real, then all of Christianity is a sham and completely worthless. Worse, it would be a message against God himself (verse 15).
To summarize, yes, this death was exceedingly horrible, humiliating and shameful. And because of it, many have rejected it. But isn't sin itself horrible and shameful in the eyes of anyone who really loves God? And in the eyes of God himself? So, sin got punished in a way that is appropriate to its ugliness in God's sight.
And because it is the way of salvation and forgiveness of sin and love of God to us, for the Christian this cross, the place of shame and judgement becomes a place of glory. We shout out that this is where we became redeemed and it is the source of new and everlasting life. Because God let this cost Himself even the most precious He had to give, His Son, therefore we can be sure of His love for us and the assurance that our sins are forgiven in eternity. We have been bought with an awesome price [1 Corinthians 6:20, Revelation 5:9], with the blood [i.e. the life] of the Son of God, who became man and lived among us for this very purpose.
I already quoted John 3:14-17 earlier in this part [please go back and read them again or click at it], so let me now quote the next verses after those:
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
I think the Bible is completely clear on what happened and what the crucifixion means and also what it means to reject God's offer in Jesus.
Continue with Part 3 of this article.
The Cross of Christ
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