It’s well known that Jesus died on a cross and died in a manner normally set aside for *Roman citizens and not a normal punishment for people of the Jewish community. Even at Jesus’ trial, Pilate did not believe Jesus to be deserving of such a horrible punishment. In fact, Pilate states, “I find no fault in this man.” Thus, he tried to find alternatives to appease the ever-growing angry crowd. Sending Him to Herod, flogging Him, Mocking Him and attempting to release Him rather than Barabbas; were all attempts to prevent death on the Cross. So then, why the Cross?
One interesting fact to point out is that Jesus did indeed ask God the Father for the cup of judgement to be turned away from Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prays “…My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 (NASB) Now, it is not the fear of the cross that prompted Jesus to say this prayer, but rather the fact that with death on the cross came the completion of all prophecies, His hour is coming near. With His hour nearing the human side of Jesus was fully aware that the sins of the world are about to be poured on Him, symbolized by “this cup”. The divine wrath of God was to be cast upon Jesus rather than mankind. Understand that though Jesus is God, He is also fully man, 100% God, yet 100% man. Hard to grasp, but He couldn’t have accomplished what He did if he wasn’t 100% in both aspects. Don’t mistake this to be an attempt to cast aside the will of God the Father. Jesus’ prayer is simply asking that if this cup could be poured out, but not on man, then let it. If not however, your will be done, “…nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” This also shows us that Jesus voluntarily did the Father’s will; it was not by force that He went to the Cross. There was simply no other way the cup of judgement could overlook the sin of man. This cup traditionally was passed upon beast. Ever wonder where the term “scapegoat” came from? Well here’s where it originates.
20 “When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions [o]in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (NASB)
Scapegoat literally translates to “goat of removal” so; we see now that the cup had to be poured somewhere, Jesus was the first and last Human scapegoat. With Jesus’ sacrifice, the cup of wrath was poured out upon Him for the sake of mankind. What love God has for us! *note – there’s quite a bit more to the story in Leviticus and I strongly encourage you to read more into it.
Therefore, we understand that the Cross is necessary for the completion of prophecy and for the covering of our sins. Yet, what is so important about the Cross? Why is it a part of prophecy?
Looking into scripture, we see that the Old Testament prophecies all point to Jesus and in many ways, the cross.
13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:13-16 (NASB)
Many people when reading this passage skim through it and are more widely drawn to the famous John 3:16 than anything else. Not that it’s wrong, but there is so much more there than most realize. What is the beginning talking about? In verse 14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” What is this serpent? Why is it significant? If you look back in the Book of Numbers, we see a time in Israel’s history where they are wandering through the wilderness as punishment for their lack of faith and not taking the Promised Land as instructed. Even with the signs and wonders shown to them in the land of Egypt, they continue to doubt God will provide for them. The story of the serpent begins in Number 21:5 – The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” (NASB) Again, we see here another account of lack of faith. Once again, they cry to Moses claiming God has lead them to their deaths. In response to this God calls fiery serpents into their camp. Numbers 21:6-9 – The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (NASB)
So how does the serpent compare to the cross? A question I encourage you to seek an answer for, because there are many answers to this question. I’m going to write what I see and an answer that answers the question in the broadest sense. Looking at the cross, we see Jesus lifted up for all to see, who in a spiritual sense has taken upon Himself the cause of our spiritual deaths. Without Jesus we can never be saved spiritually, death is born of sin, thus by taking our sins upon Himself; He has also taken our death. By this, spiritual life is made possible. If you look at the cross and understand whom it is that is lifted up then life in Christ is your reward. If you reject Christ and refuse to look at the cross then in your sins, you will die.
Likewise, looking at the serpent, we see a serpent lifted up so all may see and be healed. Healed, not in spiritual terms however. This healing the serpent offered was solely physical. When the people of Israel looked upon the serpent, it cleansed them of the venom flowing through their bodies and stopped the physical collapse of their body. Those who still refused to look upon it were killed, death their reward for not using the serpent as their scapegoat.
The judgement cup fell among those who didn’t have faith in God and rather than having saving grace save them, they paid the price for sin in full; death physically and spiritually. Therefore, in simpler terms, Sin flows through us all, only through Jesus can we be healed, John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (ESV) Just as sin brings forth spiritual death, venom flowing through us brings forth physical death.
I encourage you as the reader to look into this further and to learn whether by your own study or in a group study. Much can be learned when comparing prophecy being foretold and prophecy being completed. A more solid understanding is developed when the two are studied together. Any comments or maybe even concerns with what I have said I would be happy to look over.
The Bible – In the Book of John 3:13-16, 14:6/ In the Book of Matthew – 26:39/ In the Book of Leviticus – 16:20-22/ In The Book of Numbers – 21:5, 21:6-9
The MacArthur Study Bible study notes written by: John MacArthur (Theologian) – Using his study notes to better explain the scripture written above.
*note: My father reminded me that crucifixion was considered too horrible a death for “true” roman citizens to endure. The reason why I say “true” is that many people groups became a part of Rome by conquest. Thus, true Roman citizens are only so by blood. So then, crucifixion was left for the conquered citizens, to discourage any uprising, as to say, “This is the might of Rome.” The reason it was uncommon for Jews is that Rome believed that the best way to control conquered regions was to allow their cultural practices to continue, so long as it didn’t defy Roman rule. This is the reason why Pilate tells the Jews to judge Jesus by their own laws, which for blasphemy, would’ve been death by stoning.