What is the Cross?
Matt 23:34; Matt 27:32. Crucifixion is a mode of execution of great antiquity, and still prevails among the Hindoos and Chinese. It was regarded by the Romans as the basest and most ignominious death, deserved only by traitors and slaves. Luke 23:32. It was an accursed death. Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13. Hence the force of the expressions 1 Cor 1:23; Phil 2:8; Heb 12:2. As soon as the sentence was pronounced, "Thou shalt be crucified," the person was stripped and fastened to a post about as high as the waist, and was then scourged with rods or whips made of leather strips armed with small bits of lead or bone, and often so severely as to occasion death. After the scourging the person was compelled to bear his own cross to the place of execution. This was usually an elevated place without the city, and near the highway. There are three forms of the cross-one in which the two pieces of wood cross below the top, one in which they are placed one on the top of the other, and one in which they are placed diagonally: Three Forms of the Cross. The first is the usual form; the second' is probably the oldest. The monogram of Christ used by the early Christians and by Constantine represents the cross with the initials of the name of Christ (the X and the P), thus: The cross was so fixed into the earth that the feet of the sulferer were usually about 2 feet from the ground. In or near the middle of the upright post there was a projection, to which he was raised by cords; and being previously divested of his clothing, he was first bound to the cross-beam, and then nailed by his hands, with strong iron spikes, to its extremities. There is conclusive evidence from profane history that the hands were pierced in this way, and that it was peculiar to the punishment of crucifixion, but whether the feet were nailed separately, or whether a single nail transfixed them both, or whether they were merely tied to the beam by a cord, is doubtful. In order to lessen the pain, it was customary to give the sufferer wine medicated with myrrh, etc. Our Redeemer rejected this draught, Mark 15:23, choosing to suffer to the full extent the pains of death. Vinegar, too, was a refreshing and sustaining drink, and was offered to him. Matt 27:48. The criminal was fastened to the cross by four soldiers appointed for the purpose, who were allowed the apparel of the sufferer as the perquisite of their office. Matt 27:35. Over the cross was commonly placed a writing or superscription, indicating the offence for which the individual was put to death. It was called by the Romans titulus, or the title. John 19:19-22. Among the Romans the prisoner often remained upon the cross till his body fell to the earth by its own weight, but the Jews were permitted, in obedience to the precept of their law, Deut 21:22-23, to terminate the sufferings of the malefactor before sundown. This was effected in various ways-sometimes by setting fire to the foot of the cross, and at others by breaking the limbs with a hammer or piercing the body with a lance. John 19:31-37. The agonies of this death were extreme. Cicero says: "The executioner, the covering of the head, the very name of the cross, should be removed afar, not only from the body, but from the thoughts, the eyes, the ears, of Roman citizens; for of all these things, not only the actual occurrence and endurance, but the very contingency and expectation-nay, the mention itself-is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a freeman." The judges denominated it "the utmost torment, the extremest punishment." The extension of the limbs just after so severe a scourging, and the impossibility of making the slightest motion without occasioning suffering, the piercing of the hands and feet in the parts most susceptible of acute and agonizing pain, the exposure of the wounded and lacerated flesh to the action of the sun and air hour after hour, the loss of blood, and the sense of the indignity and contempt, which, as shown to our Saviour, was the most bitter, malicious, and unsparing that can be conceived,-all conspired to make it, to the very last degree, a death of pain. Often the strength of the malefactor lingered for three days, and even longer. Hence the surprise of Pilate. Mark 15:44. The figure of a cross has often been represented on the banners of contending armies, thus: With the conversion of the Roman empire, the cross, from a sign of shame, became a sign of honor. It reminds us of the great price of our salvation, and points the true way to immortality and glory: "No cross, no crown." The cross is often used figuratively for those reproaches, self-denials, and sacrifices which the true followers of Christ must be expected to endure if they faithfully maintain their profession. Matt 16:24. The classic work upon the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus is Justus Lipsius's (d. 1606) De Cruce, 1595. But in 1878, Herman Fulda, pastor near Halle, Germany, issued a work entitled Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, which maintains that Lipsius and all his followers are wrong. This statement he fortifies by a fresh examination of the sources. According to Fulda, the cross of Jesus was a post. His hands were nailed on either side of it; his feet, the knees being much bent, were fastened by a stout cord to this post, but not nailed, and they, together with the nailed hands, supported the body. Owing to haste, he deems it probable that the customary "seat" fastened to the cross as a partial support was wanting. Fulda finds in this extremely painful position one reason for the speedy death of Jesus, which occasioned Pilate's incredulity.