STUDENT POST: The Significance of the Cross

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series featuring outstanding excerpts from student papers at the BibleMesh Institute, which offers affordable online training for local churches, schools, and ministries. The author’s name has been withheld for privacy and security purposes. She is preparing the serve as a missionary in the Horn of Africa.

The death of Jesus has immense theological significance: it is the moment to which the entire Old Testament points forward and the event proclaimed throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Without the death and resurrection of Christ, there would be no Christianity nor new covenant between God and man. The event’s importance is impossible to overestimate.[1]

In the cross, we see that Jesus made atonement for the sins of all mankind in a final and lasting way and reconciled man to God. Atonement is the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross that paid for the sins of mankind. Just as sin entered the world in one crushing moment when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, so the payment for sin entered the world at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross.[2] Throughout the Old Testament, God required blood sacrifices because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). Yet God made it clear that atonement is the action of God and not of man; He gave very specific instructions for how and when the sacrificial acts should be performed (see Lv 16).[3] However, these animal sacrifices, performed by imperfect priests and leaders, could never provide lasting forgiveness and had to be made repeatedly. As Hebrews teaches, Jesus came as the perfect High Priest who was able to offer His own unblemished lifeblood as the atoning sacrifice for sin, obtaining eternal redemption for all who believe in Him. All of the Scriptures confirm that sin separates man from a Holy God and incurs the punishment of death, but through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ we can find forgiveness for sin and peace with God.

The cross also teaches the doctrine of dying to self and living for God. Jesus Himself said that if disciples wanted to follow Him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him (Lk 9:23). When Jesus chose the humiliation and scorn of the cross, He set an example for all believers in how to be a servant to all (Mk 9:35), how to make oneself last (Mt 19:30), and how to live wholly devoted to God’s will (Lk 22:42). Paul expounds on this example as he teaches believers to “be crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) and to live a life of faith in Jesus.

Lastly, the cross holds great significance in demonstrating the love of God for His creation. God Himself provided the needed sacrifice for reconciliation and redemption, which He foreshadowed through Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Jesus demonstrated this radical love of God throughout His earthly life, culminating with His demonstration of love on the cross. As Romans 5:8 assures us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In this verse, the word “demonstrates” is in the present tense while “died” is in the past tense, signifying that God’s love is perpetually being demonstrated as a present reality in the lives of believers, thanks to the past work of Christ’s death on the cross.[4] And this love of God is lavished on us as He is able to call us His children thanks to the atonement and redemption found in Jesus (1 Jn 3:1)!

[1] Andrew H. Trotter, Jr., “Cross, Crucifixion,” in Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/cross-crucifixion.html.

[2] Mike Leake, “What is Atonement and Why is it Necessary?” Crosswalk.com, June 7, 2018, https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-is-atonement-and-why-is-it-necessary.html.

[3] William Owen Carver, “Atonement,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Chicago: Howard-Severance Company, 1915), https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/atonement/.

[4] John Piper, “The Love of God: Past and Present,” Desiring God, September 14, 1994, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-love-of-god-past-and-present.