Summary: The cross is a stumbling block to the Jews.
Crucifixion in the Jewish Mind
March 2, 2008
Views of the Cross: Jewish
Understanding the Cross is vital to understanding Christ. Understanding Christ is vital to following Him. Following Him is vital to the life of a Christian. Basically if you truly want to be a Christian…you have to understand the cross of Christ. We have a limited view of the cross. Our 21st century thinking does not give us adequate understanding of such an important thing. We have looked at the Roman perspective of the Cross and seen the shame, and the offensiveness, and their reason for the use of the cross. To the Romans the cross was a means for pacifying politically rebellious groups. To the Jews however, the cross was seen in a very different light.
At this time Rome had conquered much of the known world which included Judea. Rome employed crucifixion as a tool for maintaining social order within the empire. Yet despite their military use of this tool it was widely considered to be offensive and shameful. Now you can imagine if those who inflict the crucifixion on others find it so distasteful, that those who have crucifixion inflicted on them would find it all the more revolting.
To understand the Jewish view of the cross we have to understand the position they were in during the Biblical period. Basically we have to see their history. The Jewish people had been set apart by God, they were His chosen people and they felt that it was their right as God’s chosen people to govern themselves. The existence of an outside ruler was interpreted by the Jews to be a form of punishment from God for their failure to follow Him. They had been taken time and time again into captivity as a result of their unfaithfulness. So the Jewish people had been conditioned to believe outside rule meant punishment. At this particular juncture a group of Jewish leaders known as the Pharisees had began to work on fixing the Jewish nation. They believed that if they could get the Jewish people to follow the law correctly then God would cease to punish them. Perhaps when they had done this well enough, God would then send His messiah to deliver them from their captivity. Let’s look backstage:
The Jews had been struggling for the independence for many years. In 167 B.C after about 500 years of subjugation, the Syrians in control of Judea tried to destroy the Jewish religion. They erected a statue of Zeus in the most Holy place and tried to force the priests to sacrifice a pig in the temple. That is not very kosher. This resulted in a massive revolt lead by Mattathias the Hasmonean and carried on by his son Judah Maccabee which interestingly means ‘the hammer’. The Maccabean revolutionaries were made famous for their use of guerilla warfare. The fought masterfully and won many victories. The Maccabean brothers were not just incredible fighters but brilliant leaders. At first they succeeded in winning religious freedom from the Syrians, but later they would win complete political independence that would last for 100 years.
It is during this time of independence that we see the earliest Jewish encounters with the cross. A Hasmonean leader named Alexander Jannaeus became king of Judea in 103 B.C. During his reign made himself high priest. Due to his warmongering and the fact that he was responsible for the deaths of over 50,000 Jews Alexander faced opposition from a group of religious leaders who held popular support with the people known as the Pharisees. Alexander turned for aid to another group of the Jewish aristocracy known as the Sadducees. The Pharisees turned to Syria to try and overthrow their monarch believing that a foreign rule with political freedom was better than independence under such a man as Alexander. When Alexander proved the victor he displayed his ruthlessness in rare form. He had 800 of the Pharisees that had opposed him crucified in a single day.
Just over 20 years later Judea had been undergoing a civil war. Two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus were fighting for power. Pompey, a Roman general moved in siding with Hyrcanus and conquered Jerusalem establishing it as part of the Roman empire around 63 B.C. Caesar then installed Antipater as Procurator of Judea…When Antipater died, his son Herod took over. After the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C many of the Jewish people revolted thinking they could seize the opportunity to earn their independence. A Roman General under Augustus named Varus came in with his armies recaptured Jerusalem and crucified 2000 of the Jewish rebels.
This would not be the first, or the last time the Jewish people had been forced to endure the cross. The cross to them was not just a source of shame, or pain, or death, or offensiveness, it was a constant reminder of their failure. To the Jews the cross reminded them that they were not free and if they tried to fight to earn their freedom they could see their own end. The cross was a symbol of their failure…and a reminder of the captivity.