When Jesus Christ is mentioned, many notions form on people’s mind depending on their outlook. For some, He is the blue-eyed guy with shoulder-length hair patting a lamb, or making odd hand gestures, hanged on their walls. For others, He is a mighty prophet renowned for His miracles but is now long gone. Dead. Still, some only deem Him as a historical figure that Christians never stop babbling about, and even worship. When Festus the Governor consulted with King Agrippa about Paul’s charges, he says that his accusers ‘had some points of disputes with him about their own superstition and about a dead man named Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive’ (Acts 25:19). Out of sheer ignorance, Festus presumed Jesus to be a dead man. But when Paul later explains to them his encounter with the risen Christ, unbelief replaced Festus’ ignorance. Although having been told of a testimony backed with Scriptural evidence of what ‘the Moses and the Prophets said would happen’ (26:v22), Festus would simply not believe. He in fact shouts, ‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane’ (v24), to which Paul replies, ‘I am not insane most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (v25). Paul asserted Christ’s Deity till the end, because he believed in the crucified Christ, not any other.
The central message in all of Paul’s teachings was the crucified Christ. He recalls, ‘For I determined to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). In one of his first public proclamations after his conversion, Paul says, ‘The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed’ (Acts 13:27-28). He continues to explain that, ‘When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb’ (v29). This was the focal point of Paul’s message, because it introduces the meat of the entire Gospel; ‘But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people’ (v30-31). Paul’s messages never failed to mention the death of Christ because without the crucified Christ, there is not the resurrected Christ, and without the resurrected Christ, there is no Gospel to preach. ‘By this gospel, you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:2).
The death of Jesus is central to the Gospel. Jesus did not die any death, but was crucified. He teaches Nicodemus saying, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15). Jesus likens His death to the bronze snake saga whereby ‘the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died’ (Numbers 21:6), because they spoke against God. After the people asked Moses to pray that the snakes be taken away, God then instructs Moses to, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live’ (v8). Moses does so, and sure enough, ‘when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived’ (v9). Notice that God did not prevent the snakes from biting the people, but rather offered a remedy for those bitten. Jesus likening His death to the bronze snake Moses lifted is not coincidental, but to fulfil the prophecy birthed during that time.
Just like the bronze snake brought about a remedy that an actual snake caused, Jesus had to be crucified because it is only via a tree (cross is made from tree), that mankind could find remedy for death caused by his eating from ‘the tree’ (Genesis 3:11). God did not prevent mankind from death, like He did not prevent the snakes from biting the Israelites. He instead provided a solution to counter the problem. And just like anyone who looked at the bronze snake lived, anyone who looks to Jesus, one whose feet is ‘like bronze’ (Revelation 1:15), would be restored back the eternal life humanity once had. Paul observes, ‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man’ (1 Corinthians 15:21). And to paraphrase this; just as death came through a tree, life came through a tree, the cross. Although the people were bitten by snakes, they could care less because they knew that they would live. In the same way, although ‘it is appointed for man to die once’ (Hebrews 9:27), those who have looked to Jesus could care less, because they know that they will live. They can comfortably say, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55, Hosea 13:14). That is why Jesus said to Martha, ‘He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26).
Jesus Christ also had to be crucified because this Roman execution style was done publicly. Anyone passing could see those crucified. Isaiah prophesies, ‘On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever’ (Isaiah 25:7-8). Sure enough, Jesus was crucified in Golgotha, a place accessible to passers-by so that, ‘those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads’ (Matthew 27:39). That is why while testifying of the crucified Christ before King Agrippa and Governor Festus, Paul tells Agrippa, ‘The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner’ (Acts 26:26). Jesus Christ’s crucifixion was public to everyone, because it literally shook the whole of Jerusalem. The least to the greatest knew about it. Paul again writes of the crucified Christ, ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15). Thus, the crucified Christ is open and accessible to all. He is not the ‘Christ’ presented by cults, secret and members-only establishments, and false religions.
The devil knowing the significance of the crucified Christ tried to talk Him out of it. After Jesus predicted His death saying that, ‘he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life’ (Matthew 16:21), the devil got the shock of his life. He then tries to prevent it. Using Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, the devil whispers into His ear, saying, ‘Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!’ (v22). Jesus rebukes him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an offence to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’ (v23). Since Satan could not prevent the death of Jesus, he tries to discredit His resurrection. The guards who had witnessed reported the miraculous occurrence to the chief priests. Under Satanic influence, the chief priests in turn ‘met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep’ (28:v12-13). Since the chief priests could not stand being proven wrong about the Supremacy of Christ they had previously disregarded, they spread false stories. ‘So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed; and this story is commonly reported among the Jews until this day’ (v15).
And to this very day, some discredit the resurrection of Christ. In fact, ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). Under Satanic influence, many have arisen to discredit the significance and authority of the cross. Such ‘introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute’ (2 Peter 2:1-2). But the crucified Christ silences such using His servants. Paul for instance says, ‘And for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? . . . If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised’ (1 Corinthians 15:30, 32). Are followers of Christ willing to be hated by the world and persecuted for merely human reasons? Or do missionaries who carry the Gospel in danger zones do so for merely human reasons? Surely not. Believers put faith in the crucified Christ because He is the risen Christ. So, Paul concludes, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ is not risen, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (v13-14). Again he says, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (v17). But the Gospel exists because ‘Christ has indeed risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (v20). ‘But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him’ (v23). And so all Believers have taken the way of the crucified Christ, waiting for their Third Day.
‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ ~ Galatians 2:20