The Apple Of God's Eye

March 12, 2011

What Was Really Nailed To The Cross?

thegospelcoalition.org

Does Colossians 2:14-17 prove the Ten Commandments, Sabbaths and Holy Days were “against us,” “contrary to us,” and were therefore blotted out — “nailed to the cross”? Just what do these verses really mean?

Nineteen hundred years ago, on a stony slab of ground jutting upward near Jerusalem, a young man was nailed to an upright stake, suffering a uniquely harsh form of execution.

The one who was put to death was not merely a man — but also GOD in the flesh! And His death was a potential atonement for the sins of all mankind!

We know Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of our sins. But when He was nailed to that stake, what else was nailed there? Do you know?

A Much Misunderstood Scripture

Many fundamentalist theologians point to Colossians 2:14-17 in an attempt to prove that the entire law of God, sabbath days, and God’s annual festivals were done away — nullified and abrogated at the death of Christ. According to them, these verses say that the Ten Commandments were “against us,” and so Christ took them out of the way, “nailing them to His cross” when He died.

What do these verses in Colossians 2 really mean? Before examining Colossians 2:14-17 word by word and comparing it with other scriptures, let’s understand who the Colossians were, and why Paul wrote to them.

The City of Colossae

Colossae was a city in Asia Minor near Laodicea, in the province of Phrygia, on the south side of the Maeander river. At one time the city was controlled by the Macedonians. It was later transferred to the Seleucids, and finally became subject to Rome.

The Colossians were Gentiles and pagans. In the apostles’ time, the city, like the other cities of Asia Minor, was wholly given over to the worship of false gods and goddesses. Those of the saints who lived in Colossae had formerly been steeped in the same pagan idolatry.

Because pagan teachings and anti-Christian influences were rife in the city, and deceptive teachings of numerous religious philosophies abounded, the Apostle Paul was deeply concerned for the brethren in Colossae. He was actually alarmed lest false teachers, propounders of a mixture of Oriental philosophy and Judaistic beliefs, should again deceive them and subvert their faith in Christ.

In chapter 2, verse 8, Paul warned the brethren in Colossae: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [elements] of the world, and not after Christ.” (more…)

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September 28, 2009

The Day of Atonement and Your Future

Scene one: A young woman walks through a semitropical garden filled with beautiful trees loaded with luscious fruit. Everything looks so good — so right.  But is it?

Suddenly she is confronted by a talking serpent who asks about God’s commands. Subtly, the serpent reasons with her until she decides to eat the fruit forbidden her by her Creator. Her husband then follows her example of disobedience.

From that time forward, mankind continues to be subject to Satan’s influence. Consequently, all humans sin and fall short of God’s glory.

Scene two: A young man, once strong and virile, is nailed to a stake. Blood oozes from deep, gaping lacerations in His body, wounds inflicted by a savage beating. Tormentors surround Him, arrogantly jeering, “He can save others, but not Himself!”

But the man’s mind is not on revenge; it is on the ultimate purpose of His suffering, which is to provide the sacrifice necessary for mankind’s salvation.

Finally, after many hours of suffering, death comes suddenly. Three days later He is resurrected. He rejoins His Father, where He serves as High Priest and soon-coming King for all humanity.

Scene three: The earth has been devastated. Plant and aquatic life are almost nonexistent. The human population has been reduced to a small fraction of its former size by the terrifying events of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.

Everywhere there is destruction, but there is also hope. Jesus Christ has intervened in world affairs. One obstacle remains — the presence of Satan the devil, mankind’s enemy for 6,000 years.

To eliminate this threat to global peace, an angel is sent to bind Satan. Satan is taken to a place of restraint where he is prohibited from influencing mankind for a thousand years.

Is there a relationship between these scenes? The answer is yes. There is a profound relationship that can be understood by studying the meaning of one of God’s annual festivals — the Day of Atonement.

This Day is commanded

Most professing Christians don’t even know that this Festival of God exists. Many who have heard of it think that it is no longer to be kept. But what does God say?

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God…. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings’ ” (Lev. 23:26-28, 31).

This year the Day of Atonement falls on September 28. Some will reason that this command ceased to be in force after Christ’s crucifixion. Such reasoning is false! Jesus Christ did not come to nail God’s annual Holy Days to the cross (Matt. 5:17-18) .

The fact is that God’s festivals have only begun to be fulfilled. These days picture aspects of God’s plan of salvation (Col. 2:16-17), and must be observed by true Christians.

But what about the ritualistic laws that the Old Testament commanded with festival observance? Are they to be kept, or have they been fulfilled?

The purpose of the physical rituals God gave to ancient Israel was to remind the people of the need for the payment of their sins. The various sacrifices pointed ahead to the sacrifice of One who would come later in history as Savior of all mankind.

So the ritualistic laws were fulfilled by the events leading to and including Christ’s own sacrificial death. Therefore they need not be kept today, nor can they be, as there is no Aaronic priesthood to perform these physical duties (Heb. 9:8-10, 10:1-4, 9-12).

The ritualistic laws are no longer performed, but their various aspects still have symbolic meaning. For each festival, we seek to understand all the festival’s meanings, as revealed in the Bible, and as they relate to salvation.

The Tabernacle and the priesthood

Before we proceed with a study of these rituals and symbols, it is necessary for us to understand some things about the Tabernacle and the priesthood.

After making the covenant agreement with Israel, God told the nation to build a Tabernacle, which is a physical type of God’s habitation in heaven (Ex. 25-27, 30, Heb. 9:23-24). The Tabernacle consisted of an enclosed courtyard, containing an altar for animal sacrifices and a tent.

The tent was divided into two sections by a veil. The section behind the veil was called the “Most Holy” place or “Holiest of All.” The other section was the “holy place” (Ex. 26:33, Heb. 9:3). The most holy place represented God’s throne. Located here was the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments and other items (Deut. 10:2, 31:26, Ex. 16:33-34, Num. 17:1-10). The lid of the Ark was called the mercy seat; this was where God manifested Himself (Ex. 25:22).

The job of high priest was given to Aaron; his sons served as priests. As time passed, other of his descendants held these positions. As priests, they performed various animal sacrifices and ceremonies on behalf of Israel.

Rituals for Aaron

On the Day of Atonement, special animal sacrifices and ceremonies were conducted. These are explained in Leviticus 16.

This was the only day when Aaron was allowed to enter the most holy place. Before doing this, he had to bathe and dress himself in his priestly garments (Lev. 16:4). Then he had to offer on the altar a bullock as a sin offering for himself.

Once this was completed, he took a censer, a vessel that held burning coals, from the altar and entered the most holy place. He then took incense, an aromatic compound, and placed it on the burning coals. Next he sprinkled blood from the bullock on the mercy seat, which represented God’s throne (verses 11-14).

Why did Aaron do these things? What did they picture? Aaron had to first make atonement for himself as a sinning human before God. The word atonement means “to make at one with.”

Washing himself pictured having his conscience changed to accept God’s standard of righteousness (Heb. 10:22). His linen coat symbolized living a righteous life (Rev. 19:8). The incense pictured prayers ascending to God (Ps. 141:2, Rev. 5:8). The blood represented the way sins are forgiven (Heb. 9:13-14, Rom. 3:25).

Aaron, the high priest, was a type of Jesus Christ, who is now our High Priest (Heb. 3:1). By living a sinless life, Jesus qualified to offer Himself as a sin sacrifice for all humanity through His crucifixion.

After Jesus’ death, the veil in the Temple (the Temple had replaced the Tabernacle) was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:50-51). The torn veil represented the fact that we are now allowed direct contact with God the Father through prayer (Heb. 10:19-22, John 16:23).

This contact is something that those living before Christ’s resurrection did not have; their access was limited to the Word of God, the God of the Old Testament who became Jesus Christ.

The two goats

Now that Aaron had completed sacrifices for himself, what happened next?

“The two goats he must place in front of the Eternal at the entrance to the Trysting tent [Tabernacle]; Aaron shall cast lots over the goats, one lot for the Eternal and the other for Azazel the demon; the goat that falls by lot to the Eternal shall be brought forward and offered as a sin-offering, but the goat that falls by lot to Azazel shall be set free in presence of the Eternal, that Aaron may perform expiatory rites over it and send it away for Azazel into the desert” (Lev. 16:7-10, Moffatt).

Whom did this slain goat, whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat and the altar for the sins of the people (Lev. 16:15-19), represent? The answer is Christ, who was slain and whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Heb. 9:12, 22-26).

But Christ’s death has not completed the job of making atonement for the sins of humanity. Why? Because Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the minds of most people. Consequently, mankind rejects the true Gospel, which includes accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and living a righteous life (II Cor. 4:3-4, Rev. 12:9).

So how will the job of atonement be completed? How will mankind be made at one with God?

The answer is revealed through the symbolism of the live goat — the azazel, in Hebrew.

Says The Comprehensive Commentary: “[According to] the oldest opinions of the Hebrews and Christians … Azazel is the name of the Devil … the word signified the goat which went away.” The Azazel was the goat that was sent into the wilderness.

This Azazel is sometimes referred to as the “escape goat” or “scapegoat.” But these terms make the meaning unclear. Scapegoat has come to mean “one who bears blame or guilt for others.” This is not the case with Satan. He is guilty of influencing mankind into disobeying God (Eph. 2:2). And he will be punished for it — Satan will bear his own guilt! He will not be allowed to escape.

Symbolism,

The live goat was brought before Aaron, who, as we have seen, is a type of Jesus Christ, our High Priest. Aaron laid hands on this goat, confessing upon it the people’s sins. Then it was led by another individual into the wilderness where it was released (Lev. 16:20-22).

How is this symbolism going to be fulfilled? Jesus is coming to this earth again, this time to rule. He will order Satan bound and taken to a place of restraint for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).

The world will then become free of Satan’s influence and responsive to God’s way of life; man’s sins will be laid to Satan’s charge. The change will be remarkable. Humanity as a whole will accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and live according to God’s law (Isa. 11:9). Finally, there will be universal peace, joy and happiness (Jer. 31:12-14).

What about fasting?

In addition to the symbolism of the sacrifices, there is another aspect of this Festival that we must consider. Notice Leviticus 16:29:

“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who sojourns among you.”

What does it mean “afflict your soul”? The word afflict (Hebrew anah) is translated “humble” in Psalm 35:13, where David said, “I humbled myself with fasting.” So afflicting oneself means to fast.

Biblical examples show that fasting means to go without food and water (Deut. 9:9, 18, Esther 4:16, Acts 9:8-9). This is the only day when we are commanded to fast. It is so important that in the New Testament we see this Festival referred to as “the Fast” (Acts 27:9).

The purpose of fasting is to humble ourselves, to see our insignificance and realize our need for and utter dependence on God (Jas. 4:9-10). God does not hold us guiltless for the sins that Satan influences us to commit. We bear a responsibility for yielding to Satan’s temptations.

God wants you to examine yourself so you will recognize your shortcomings and overcome them. These are the conditions of a proper fast that will cause God to intervene on your behalf.

Keep this Festival

The Day of Atonement, then, is a solemn, serious occasion, and yet, because of what it pictures, this Festival is a tremendously positive and encouraging day.

Besides revealing vital understanding about God’s plan of salvation, the Day of Atonement can bring you much closer to God, if you obey God’s command to observe this day.

Don’t deny yourself this relationship with God. Decide now to keep the Day of Atonement!

Source: The Good News, August 1983

March 3, 2009

The Cross Versus The Stake, Which One Is Correct?

Many have tackled the subject of whether Christ died on the cross or stake, yet as far as I can tell, there is still no conclusive answer among debaters. To say that it is assumed that the instrument of torture was a cross is a gross understatement. The vast majority believe this fact, but we have to remember that the majority is not always right.

When Christ came to earth as a human being, it was NOT the majority which believed what He said, but the minority. Remember, there were only 120 disciples at the time of Pentecost (Acts 1:15), even after Jesus Christ preached to multiple thousands and had the disciples teach far and wide. Then, as now, the vast majority is WRONG . The teaching about Jesus Christ as the central figure of the gospel is incorrect and glosses over the fact that Christ said he came to tell the world about the gospel, or message, from the Father. He, unlike Christian religions today, did not glorify himself.

The doctrine of the cross has been carefully cultivated from that ancient Babylonian Mystery religion furthered by a particular church at Rome. Anything coming from this paganised denomination masquerading as a religion is not something God would ever associate with his Son, or His true Church. This is the subject we will discuss now.

Different views on form of wood

The New Testament does not specifically describe the instrument upon which Christ died. Writers hold various views on the form of the device used in the public execution of Jesus, and differ about the meaning of the Greek word “stauros” (σταυρός) and xylon (ξύλον). Though these words do not indicate the precise shape of the instrument, they give us vital clues.

The following accounts use the Greek word xulon which, when translated “tree,” can also mean “a stick, club…or other wooden articles” (Strong’s).

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

“And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 10:39).

“And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre” (Acts 13:28-29).

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Pet. 2:24).

Stauros defined

The word Xulon is unlike dendron which is used of a living, or green tree, as in Matthew 21:8; Revelation 7:1, 3; 8:7; 9:4 etc.  Stauros (an upright stake) can also be used in place of the word Xulon, the instrument to which criminals were nailed for execution.

A lot of the confusion arises from the English word cross, which believers try to forcefully insert into scripture.This word is “the translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word ‘stick’ means a ‘crutch’…. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always of one piece alone…. There is nothing in the Greek of the N.T. even to imply two pieces of timber.” (The Companion Bible)

The Imperial Bible Dictionary also denies the connection to the cross: “The Greek word for cross, stauros’, properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground…. Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole, and this always remained the more prominent part.”

In his book, “The Non-Christian Cross,” John Denham Parsons wrote: “There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross.”

Hermann Fulda, another author, agrees in his own writings, “The Cross and Crucifixion”: “Jesus died on a simple death-stake: In support of this there speak (a) the then customary usage of this means of execution in the Orient, (b) indirectly the history itself of Jesus’ sufferings and (c) many expressions of the early church fathers.” Fulda also points out that some of the oldest illustrations of Jesus impaled depict him on a simple pole.

Pagan sources

It is the Catholic church which later capitalized on the imagery of the cross, and blatantly used it as a symbol of their faith contrary to the Ten Commandments they profess to keep. To the Catholic church, the sign and image of the cross are all in all. No prayer can be said, no worship engaged in, no step can be taken without the frequent use of the sign of the cross. It is looked upon as a refuge from all dangers and the infallible protection from all powers of darkness. It is adored with all the homage due only to the Most High, which makes it such an abomination to God.

“To say that such superstitious feelings and worship for the cross ever grew out of the saying of Paul, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is absolute absurdity, a shallow subterfuge and a foolish pretence.” Those fully indoctrinated by that Romish Pagan (Catholic) mother church now support the use of the cross with relatively recent (though debatable in their connection) archeological findings and historical accounts, while wholly ignoring “the ancient Babylonian Mysteries which were applied by paganism to the same magic purposes, honoured with the same honours as the Catholic church gives it today. That which is now called the Christian cross was originally no Christian emblem at all, but was the mystic Tau of the Chaldeans and Egyptians – the true original form of the letter T – the initial of the name of Tammuz.” (The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop)

The cross had further uses especially in Egypt. It represents the Tree of Life, the age-old fertility symbol, combining the vertical male and horizontal female principles, either as an ordinary cross, or better known in the form of the crus ansata, the Egyptian ankh (sometimes called: the Tau cross), which had been carried over into our modern-day symbol of the female, well known in biology.

Questions and Answers

There are some incidental arguements (parodied the same way) all over the internet which some state as proof of a cross over a stake, yet they can easily be explained.

1. Question: If Jesus was crucified on an upright stake, then why does John 20:25 say that “nails” were used as opposed to a single “nail”? And why did both hands of Christ show holes?

Answer: One nail through both hands leaves a hole in both the left and right hand. Though the word “nails” is used, [ἧλος or hēlos] implies the singular — “of uncertain affinity; a stud, that is, spike: – nail.”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible states: “That nails were used in the crucifixion of Christ, is certain …How many were used, whether three, as some, or four, as others, or more, as were sometimes used, is not certain, nor material to know. The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Persic versions read, “the place of the nails”; that is, the place where the nails were drove.”

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2. Question: In view of John 21:18-19, how can a crucifixion be on an upright stake if the hands are outstretched?

Answer: Outstretched simply means fully extended especially in length. Hands can be outstretched up or sideways.

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3. Question: If Jesus was crucified on an upright stake, then why does Matthew 27:37 say a sign was put above Jesus’ head instead of above His hands?

Answer: Whether a sign is put above his head or above his hands, it would still constitute being above His head. This arguement is an agonizing way of splitting hairs.

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4. Question: The sign should have fitted three rows of properly readable letters from a distance. Could such a sign have fit in between the head and the points where the hands where pierced by either a ‘nail’ or ‘nails’.

Answer: The answer to this requires a small degree of common sense. Please reread the answer to the previous question.

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5. Question: The thieves that died with Him were described as being on the right hand and the left, as opposed to “at the side of” or “at His left and right”

Answer: This is merely colourful use of verbiage. “Right hand” is Strong’s # 1188 (δεξιός or dexios); meaning the right side or (feminine) hand (as that which usually takes): – right (hand, side). For example, Jesus who sits on the right hand (side) of God – I Pet. 3:22.

Conclusion

Some state that only Christ’s sacrifice for us — not the exact shape of the wood on which He died — is important. But I am not persuaded that the relative lack of detail on the subject in the Bible is proof that we should take this approach. I Thess. 5:21 admonishes us to prove all things.

Others say that the cross was used as a means to an end — the punishment or death of a criminal — therefore Jesus Christ did not choose his instrument of death. But didn’t He? Only people thinking carnally (without the Holy Spirit), would utter such a statement. Do not various prophecies of old (such as Psalm 22) point to the instrument of death before the event happened? Or do we simply ignore Old Testament prophecies because some erroneously believe they are no longer in effect?

We must remember that God is a God of miracles. He foretold the method of His death and would certainly know in advance that the symbolism of this pagan sign would be (and was) appropriated for the use by religion today. This does not however in any way mean that God would allow the physical use of the pagan cross in the death of His Son. Any student of the Bible who has even a rudimentary understanding of the loathing God has for anything pagan, will know this is a ludicrous assertion.

So the mere fact that the traditional cross figures so prominently in pagan religious custom today (which includes mainstream religion), ought to give serious pause for thought. The symbol, and the supposed means, were later substituted by a church which impersonated the “little flock” of Jesus Christ. The Cross was adopted in an attempt to make Christianity more familiar and “friendly” to the pagan converts.

I believe that God purposely left out the information on the shape of the “stake” because He knew pagan counterfeit religions would indeed appropriate the symbol of the cross. Yet lack of Biblical information on this subject is actually a strong indicator of faith needed, as well as vigorous study required, to understand that this symbol is NOT associated in any way with the true Church of God, including its very Head and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, true Christians do not wear crosses, as a mere physical object does not assist in worshipping God. Their use is needed to keep the mind of adherents physically focused on objects, rather than understand that their faith is dead and empty. True Christians deeply appreciate Christ’s sacrifice and God the Father’s eternal love for them in giving up His only Son. They walk by the faith of Christ, not by sight of eyes (II Cor. 5:7). The Bible plainly states that God is Spirit and we are to worship Him in both spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

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