Treasures From the Original

Misunderstanding the Cross: These Are Not the Reasons Christ Died

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The unbelieving world, and much of the organized church, do not understand the true purpose of the cross of Christ. His true Church not only understands it, but glories in it.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part one of a two-part series.

The unbelieving world, and much of the organized church, do not understand the true purpose of the cross of Christ. His true Church not only understands it, but glories in it.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!"

Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

Here we have the Apostle John's very straightforward eyewitness record of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the hours leading up to these verses our Lord had submitted Himself, willingly, to the abuse of Jew and Gentile. And then He had submitted Himself, willingly, to the agonies of the cross.

No eyewitness to that scene understood what had just taken place. Christ's own disciples would not begin to understand until their risen Lord appeared to them and began to teach them things of which He said to them, before His death, literally, "you cannot bear the weight of them now" (John 16:12). The disciples would come to understand the purpose of the cross, and would preach it to the world. Over the centuries God has always had His remnant who by the power of the Holy Spirit understand why Christ died, and trust Him for eternity through regeneration and faith. But the unbelieving world - including much of organized religion - has never understood why Christ died.

Those Who Crucified Jesus Misunderstood the Cross

The unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, who so hated Jesus because He threatened their position and religious authority, who had plotted for three years to kill Him, thought that they now had their wish.

The Romans, through King Herod and the governor Pontius Pilate, thought that they had removed from their empire yet another man they saw as a threat to their political authority.

The Jews and Gentiles who conspired to put Jesus to death saw the cross of Jesus Christ only in the terms of their little worlds, and their lust for earthly power. But what these unbelieving Jews and Gentiles did not know is that they were merely instruments in the great eternal plan of almighty God. They did not realize that the cross of Jesus Christ is the focal point of all history. The hill of Calvary is the pinnacle of the history of the universe.

And just like those unbelieving Jews and Gentiles of Jesus' days on earth, the unbelieving world has put forth many mistaken ideas about the cross of Jesus Christ during the last 2,000 years. In the secular world, many say that Jesus was merely a martyr for a political or social cause. Others say that Jesus was merely providing the ultimate example of personal sacrifice for others to follow. And still others say that Jesus was a deluded man who had a Messiah-complex, and naturally such a man would come to this kind of an end.

Much of the Organized Church Does Not Understand the Cross

In the organized church throughout its history, there has been, and still is, much wrong teaching about the cross. Roman Catholicism says that Jesus died in order to perpetuate a line of human priests who would be the conduits of salvation for man through the mass.

In the postmodern Evangelical church today, we hear statements like this one that I heard recently from the mouth of a well-known, supposedly fundamentalist, radio preacher in southern California. He said that "Jesus died so that you can be everything that you've always wanted to be, deep down inside."

And in Reformed and Evangelical churches today, there is false teaching about the cross of Jesus Christ. A growing number of so-called Reformed teachers are saying that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is not sufficient. They say we must add a righteousness of our own to the work of Christ, in order to be able to stand before Him on the Day of Judgment.

Beloved, all of these things are simply wrong. These things are not what the Bible says about the cross of Jesus Christ. We must be careful to let Scripture speak for itself concerning the cross. As the Apostle Paul declares in I Corinthians chapters one and two, we must not, indeed cannot, preach the Gospel with enticing words of human wisdom. If we preach human theories about the cross instead of the inspired truth of God, we empty the cross of its power.

Jesus Did Not Die for These Reasons

Jesus did not come to bring freedom from the bondage of political oppression, but to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and death and Hell (Galatians 5:1).

Jesus did not come to exercise political power, or to place political power in the hands of His people, but to bring "the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).

Jesus did not die on the cross to provide the ultimate moral example for sinners, to help them to appear more righteous in their own eyes, but to provide for them His perfect righteousness which is not their own (Philippians 3:8-9).

Jesus did not die on the cross so that we might be able to fulfill our own selfish aspirations in life. He died to make atonement for sinners, so that they might be made perfect in the eyes of God and serve Him (Hebrews 9:14, 12:22-24).

Jesus did not die on the cross to provide an incomplete work to which we must add something. We are not redeemed from our sins on the installment plan. Christ's cross-work is a finished work to which we can add absolutely nothing (Titus 3:4-7).

Tetelestai: The Glory of the Accomplishments of the Cross

The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ must hold onto Biblical truth about the cross. We must give the lost and dying world that truth, unmixed with error. We must recognize that those who advance un-Biblical theories about the cross of Jesus Christ are in fact the enemies of the cross - even if they are professing Christians within the visible church. That is what the Apostle Paul calls them by divine inspiration in Philippians 3:18.

Paul tells us in First Corinthians chapter one that the true "message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1:18) because "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty." He has chosen, literally, "the insignificant and lowly things of the world and the things which are despised...and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1:27-29).

There is no glory in the world's view of the cross, only vainglory. But for believers, the apostle says, the cross is a different matter: "To us who are saved it is the power of God" (1:18). "But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord' " (1:30-31).

As Paul says in Galatians 6:14, "God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

From that cross Jesus shouted, "It is finished!" In the original Greek of the New Testament this is a single word: Tetelestai. It means, "It is accomplished" or "It is complete." What is accomplished? What is complete? What is finished? What did our Lord mean by these words? I would like to submit to you, briefly, nine things that the Scriptures tell us are finished and accomplished by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on a cross of shame, on our behalf. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but as we continue in our next article let us consider, in very brief form, what Christ has accomplished by His cross.


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