Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 8
The Meaning of the Cross

O.J. Gibson

The cross is the most recognized symbol of the Christian faith. It was upon a cross that our Savior died. When the gospel is preached, it must include the “message of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Millions have been taught that Christ died on the cross for our sins. What does that phrase mean? Why was it necessary? What did it accomplish? These questions often leave those who profess to be Christians in a state of confusion.

The Necessity of the Cross

Why was Christ’s death upon the cross necessary? Consider this:

1. God is Righteous and Holy
God is holy (Isaiah 6:2-3; 1 Peter 1:16). Nothing that defiles can enter His presence (Revelation 21:27).

2. Sin Must Be Judged
As a righteous Judge, God must punish sin (Romans 2:3,12). He will not acquit the guilty (Exodus 34:7; Job 10:14). All the world is guilty before God (Romans 3:19). Sin demands capital punishment, which is death (Romans 6:23).

Sin’s penalty must be paid. That should strike fear in every human heart. How can a righteous God be entirely just and punish our sin, yet be able to justify the sinner (Romans 3:26)? How can God’s justice and righteousness satisfy the law’s demand for death and still show grace, mercy, and love to the sinner?

The Principle of Substitution

When one person takes the place of another person, it is called substitution. In the Old Testament, sinners could approach God with substitutionary animal sacrifices for their sins. The Passover lamb was sacrificed to spare the firstborn sons from God’s judgment in Egypt (Exodus 12:3-17). Millions of animal sacrifices were offered to God, according to His commandment. Such offerings made atonement (Leviticus 5:10), which means that the innocent victim’s death covered the sin but did not take it away.

It is important to note that John the Baptist publicly hailed Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). No longer would sin merely be covered; it would be removed, never to be remembered again (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25). John saw in Jesus the One who would be the perfect sacrifice for sins and toward whom all previous sacrifices had been pointing. He was the one true and final substitute. The prophets predicted that God’s judgment for our sins would fall on the coming Messiah. He suffered and died as our substitute – notice the words “our,” “we,” and “us” (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Peter 3:18). It is the heart of the Christian proclamation that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The Scriptures which teach this substitutionary death should be carefully studied (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). The Savior took the sinner’s place. The Just One died instead of the unjust sinner. And, the innocent took the place of the guilty. Jesus did not die as a moral example, but for our offenses against God (Romans 4:25). It was according to the counsel of God (Acts 2:23). He offered Himself willingly in our place, and no man took His life from Him (John 10:17-18). He gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4) and was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). If Jesus had not died in our place, we would be hopelessly and forever lost (Matthew 18:11; John 3:18).

Jesus paid the ransom to redeem us to God (Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18-19). He “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20). The sinner is justified or declared righteous and is reconciled to God by the death of Jesus (Romans 5:9-10).

The Perfection of the Sacrifice

Sacrifice is a word repeatedly used in the Bible and is at the heart of the Christian message. Consider the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus in the following ways. His death is:

1. A Blood Sacrifice
“Without shedding of blood there is no remission,” or forgiveness, of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

2. A Human Sacrifice
Only a man can die in place of another man to satisfy God’s justice (Hebrews 9:12-14; 10:4).

3. A Sinless Sacrifice
Only the One without sin can die for the sins of another (John 8:29, 46; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19).

4. A Divine Sacrifice
God Himself purged our sins which means He cleansed and purified us from our sins (2 Corinthians 5:19; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3). God alone can blot out your transgressions (Isaiah 43:25).

5. A Loving Sacrifice
Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful men (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 1:5).

6. A Sufficient Sacrifice
He thoroughly and finally satisfied every claim of perfect justice (Hebrews 10:14; 1 John 2:2).

The Finished Work

The Lord Jesus said to the Father, “I have finished the work which You gave Me to do” (John 17:4). On the cross, His final, triumphant cry was, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). What was the great work that He came to finish? “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “The Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). His mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Consider how fully Jesus completed the work which He came to accomplish.

1. He satisfied the full requirements of the Law (Romans 8:3-4).

2. He justified us from all things from which we could not be justified by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39).

3. He freed us from all condemnation (Romans 8:1).

4. His righteousness and holiness were satisfied (Psalm 85:10).

5. His work is sufficient to save all sinners (John 1:29; 12:32; 1 John 2:2) but He cannot do so unless they come to Him (Matthew 23:37).

6. He “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). No one can add to His finished work on the cross. His sacrifice completely satisfied the justice of God and is the sole basis for putting away our sins.

The Proof of Acceptance

The consistent proclamation of the early church was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. On this basis, men were called to believe upon Him (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 10:40; 16:31).

1. He rose according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4). He fulfilled a thousand-year-old prophecy by doing so (Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:35-37).

2. He rose according to His own words (Matthew 12:39-40; 16:21; Luke 18:31-33). He specified the exact day of His resurrection (Matthew 27:63).

3. He rose despite a Roman guard watching over His tomb. The Roman government made every attempt to prevent an imaginary resurrection (Matthew 27:63-66). Over 500 eye-witnesses saw Him after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

4. He rose by the power of God and convincingly proved that all He said and did was fully accepted by God (Romans 1:3-4; Ephesians 1:19-20).

5. He rose because His resurrection is essential to our justification (Romans 4:25).

The greatness of this work does not change the necessity of man’s response. The payment for sin has been made for all humanity, but sinners are not automatically or universally saved from judgment. Every individual must personally respond to Jesus Christ and believe in Him to escape condemnation (John 3:18; Acts 3:19). Will you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?

SBC Lesson 8 Study Guide
The Meaning of the Cross

Millions say they believe that Jesus died on the cross for man’s sins, but they do not understand how that affects them. Prayerfully consider your understanding of this great truth by answering the following:

  1. Jesus died on the cross because (select one)
    1. He was a victim of circumstance
    2. He was a victim of a tragic mistake
    3. God must judge sin to restore our relationship with Him
    4. He could not escape from either the Romans or Jewish leaders
  2. God can free sinners from the penalty of death by (select one)
    1. Allowing them to do penance
    2. Overlooking their failures due to His love
    3. Providing a perfect sacrifice for sins
    4. Doing whatever He pleases because He is God
  3. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) 1 Peter 3:18 or Isaiah 53:4-5.
  4. If God loved His Son, why did He allow Him to suffer and die at the cross (Romans 4:25; 5:6-8)?
  5. If Jesus had not died on the cross, we would have been (select one)
    1. Hopelessly and forever lost
    2. Taught an equally acceptable way to God
    3. Forced to work harder to please God
    4. Accepted on the ground of His love.
  6. For whom did Jesus die (John 3:16; I John 2:2)?
  7. What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30)?
  8. Name one convincing proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  9. What do you say? Explain in your own words why Jesus died on the cross.
  10. We want to encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is:

John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”