Summary: While we view the cross as a symbol of victory the Romans would have viewed it as a tool for deterring rebellion
View of the Cross
February 24, 2008
Views of the Cross: Roman
When we picture the cross we see life. We celebrate the cross because for us it is a symbol of victory. For us the cross means our sins are forgiven. We are made right with God. Through the blood that was shed on the cross we are saved. For us the cross means we won. So we celebrate it. We decorate our homes with it, we wear it on our clothes, we depict in all different forms of art, we surround ourselves with the image of the cross. But this symbol that means life for us was not always a sign of victory. That which means life to us was once a symbol of death. Though we see the cross in a light unlike any other in history we do not totally understand its significance. In order to truly comprehend what the cross is, we have to see it with different eyes. We must look at it not as 21st century Christians but as someone living in the first century. So what we are going to do is look at the cross through the eyes of a Roman and next week through the eyes of the Jews. Understanding the cross is essential, because the truth is you do not understand Christ until you understand His cross.
This symbol of the cross that we celebrate is ironically one that was so offensive that the respectable, cultured writers and historians would rarely describe it. The reason for this scarcity in description is not that crucifixion was an uncommon practice but that it was such a horrific act that historians were reluctant to dwell on the details. In fact the most detail that we have on the crucifixion comes from the Gospel narratives which are surprisingly brief in their description of the process. The Gospel writers simply state: “they crucified Him”. Now there are other writings that have been pieced together along with archeological evidence that has given us a pretty good understanding of crucifixion but the interesting thing is that this topic was so offensive that you wouldn’t bring it up. The cross was not something discussed in polite conversation. It is offensive. And we stand here 2000 years later scared to share our faith because of what people might say, scared to take a stance because people might be offended. I have news for you-the cross has always been offensive. That is not something that is new. While it is strange that Christianity has adopted such an offensive symbol, it is also very fitting, PEOPLE SHOULD BE OFFENDED, people should be upset. For the message of the cross has always been scandalous and offensive, and if when you share the message of Christ with others and no one is getting mad…you are not doing it right. The cross is offensive, period.
The cross is not just offensive, it is shameful. The Crucifixion is one of the most sadistic forms of torture that has been invented by man because it deliberately delayed death until the maximum pain had been inflicted. This particular form of execution was invented by the Persians, practiced by the Egyptians, Indians, and Assyrians, but perfected by the Romans. The Romans turned this particularly cruel form of execution into an art form of pain. Crucifixion does no damage to major organs, nor does it cause severe amounts of blood loss. The benefit of this particular form of punishment is that a person could survive for several days in intense agony. This form of death was also particularly shameful. The victim was stripped naked and nailed to a cross in a public place, often along roadsides so everyone could see them and mock them as the passed by. The shame did not end with their life either, once dead the victim would often be denied burial and their body would be left on the cross to rot or to be picked apart by scavengers. Crucifixion is a revolting practice that is designed to shame its victims. As we see in Hebrews 12:2:
Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The cross was not a symbol of life it was a symbol of shame. Even to the Romans who perfected crucifixion found it to be utterly shameful. In fact it was not legal for a Roman to be crucified except in cases of high treason. Crucifixion was a punishment that the Romans reserved for outsiders who they did not even consider to be fully human. Cicero a brilliant Roman orator and one of the more influential minds of the Romans Empire said: to bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder, to crucify him is-what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed. Cicero actually took this further appealing that the cross should be so far removed from a Roman citizen even in his thoughts that the sheer mention of the cross is unfitting for a Roman citizen. Romans found the cross so offensive that they would not even talk about it. So the message of the cross that means salvation to us, was considered shameful and vile to the Roman world. For the Romans crucifixion was a crime reserved for the worst criminals. The fact that Jesus was crucified marked Him as terrible criminal to the Romans. Imagine how you would feel if you heard that there was a man who had been arrested as a terrorist. He had been put on trial and found guilty and was given the death penalty. Then you started seeing people who were following this guy, who took on his name and began a religion based on him. How offensive would you find that? How upset would you be to learn that people were following a man found guilty of terrorism?