DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE ON A CROSS? by Rico Tice for Core Christianity
When we think of the cross, we are not immediately to think of a pretty symbol. I think that’s a great danger: to think of it as a glamorized or bejeweled symbol that might adorn a person’s neck or home. Rather, we are to associate it in our mind with torture, with unrelieved thirst, with ridicule and, of course, with blood—much blood. It was never a “pretty” thing. The very idea of a crucified god was a joke in the first century—and a sick and infantile joke at that.
Has a more terrible way to die ever been devised by man’s cruel imagination? Yet the early Christians not only admitted that their founder Jesus had died in this contemptible manner; they also boasted about it. The apostle Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, this was the heart of what Paul saw as the Christian message.
So this universal symbol of loathing, this taboo, was somehow transformed into a badge of honor, which in time would shape Christian architecture, inspire Christian hymns, and most of all fire Christian preaching. How can that be?
Why Jesus came.
Jesus could have gone another way. He didn’t have to go up to Jerusalem. He didn’t have to tolerate Judas Iscariot in his inner circle of disciples; he knew from the earliest days that this man was a traitor, yet he deliberately kept Judas in his confidence. He knew his enemies would try to arrest him after dark in a secluded place, separated from the crowds who followed him. But he went to the Garden of Gethsemane, having already informed Judas where he was going, and he did all this when it was dark and there were no crowds around him. The Gospels make it clear that he could have spoken in his own defense and that Pilate would have been willing to hear him, for Pilate seemed to have real sympathy for him. But Jesus didn’t say a word. He who raised others from the dead surrendered himself to death and made no attempt to escape it.
Plainly, he planned it. In fact, Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “Nobody takes my life from me. I give it up of my own free will.” On a number of occasions, his disciples tried to dissuade him. They could see that he was set in some way upon dying, because he said to them, “I’m going to Jerusalem, and there I must suffer many things and the authorities will kill me.” He made that promise, and then he resolutely set out toward Jerusalem. When Peter, the most impetuous of the disciples, heard him, he insisted that it must not be so. Do you know what Jesus said to him? “Get behind me, Satan! You’re an obstacle in my way.” Jesus was clearly under some inner compulsion to die.