By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
The very heart of the New Testament message is the cross. It is the supreme manifestation of God’s agape love. At the cross, God met the just demands of the law on behalf of the human race; there Jesus Christ demonstrated God’s power by defeating Satan and sin. Paul uses “the cross” as a sort of shorthand for the good news, the gospel. He says, “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]. No wonder Satan doesn’t want us to understand the importance of the cross! No wonder he has shrouded it in darkness, causing the church to lose much of its power!
The devil is quite content for us to decorate our churches with the cross, to print the cross on our books, to hang crosses around our necks, even to preach about the cross — as long as we remain ignorant about the great truth of the cross.
But the truth of the cross will be, must be, restored. Before the end, the light flowing from the cross into the hearts of believers will illuminate the whole earth with God’s glory. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out,” Jesus said. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” [John 12:31-32].
In this chapter and the two chapters following it, we will be looking at the crucial subject of the cross from three viewpoints. The first of these is the cross in the light of the great controversy.
At the cross “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” [Revelation 12:9] was totally defeated, judged, and condemned. The great controversy, which began in heaven between Lucifer and Christ, met its determining conclusion at the cross. Here the great deceiver was fully exposed to the whole universe in his true character as a liar and a murderer. Only as we view Satan in the light of the cross will we see him for what he truly is.
In chapter 1, we saw how Lucifer, turned Satan, rebelled against God. He came to the place that he actually wanted to murder God’s Son so that he might have Jesus’ place of honor [see John 8:44]. Following his expulsion from heaven, Satan unlawfully took dominion of this earth from Adam and Eve. He began to use fallen men and women as his tools to develop this world into his own kingdom based on the principle of self-love. For more than 4,000 years after Adam’s fall, Satan kept secret his inner desire to murder the Son of God.
But one silent night on the hills surrounding Bethlehem, Satan and his angels heard strange music. A group of their old companions were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” [Luke 2:14]. Satan listened as an angel told the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” [verse 11].
Not only was this “good news of great joy” [verse 10] to the shepherds; it was good news to Satan as well. Here was a wonderful opportunity to satisfy his long-cherished desire. Now he could carry out what he had wanted to do in heaven — murder the Son of God. What better opportunity would he ever have? Christ, his bitter enemy, had risked His life to come as a helpless baby into the world that Satan controlled. Now he could take his revenge against this hated Foe who had defeated him in heaven and cast him out of his heavenly home!
Satan lost little time. Using Herod the Great as his agent, he schemed to kill Jesus through the decree to destroy every male child under two years old in Bethlehem [see Matthew 2:1-16]. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come. The Bible is almost silent about Jesus’ boyhood and early adult years, yet Satan must have continued trying to accomplish his purpose during this time. Then Jesus began His ministry, and the Bible records numerous attempts on His life, each one prompted by Satan himself. As just one example, the Bible says “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him [Jesus]” [John 10:31, emphasis supplied]. Repeatedly, Satan prompted men to kill Jesus. All these efforts failed for one reason. “His time had not yet come” [John 7:30, 8:20].
Then came Gethsemane. Jesus told the Satan-controlled mob that came to arrest Him, “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour — when darkness [Satan] reigns” [Luke 22:53]. Now Satan was to be allowed to have his way. The hour had come for Satan to be exposed to the universe as a murderer. “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” [John 8:44]. Like all sins, murder begins with a cherished desire; it doesn’t have to be an act [see Matthew 5:21-28]. From the beginning of the great controversy, Satan had murdered Christ in his mind. In heaven, he had wanted to get rid of Him and take His place. Now the time had come.
At the cross, Satan was given full control of Christ to do with Him as he pleased. Satan’s hidden desire, cherished in secret so long, could come into the open in no other way. Now the entire universe would be able to see what sin really is and what it will end up doing if it has the opportunity. Sin is rebellion against God and His law of self-sacrificing love. If allowed to have its own way, sin will actually murder God in its hatred of Him.
Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” [John 15:18]. Why should the world hate Jesus, who went about doing good? Because “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” [1 John 5:19], and the evil one, Satan, hates Christ. It’s not surprising, then, that the Jews followed Satan’s urging and screamed, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” [John 19:15]. At the cross, Satan revealed his hatred for God in all its hideous reality. That hatred caused him to put Jesus to public shame, inflict excruciating suffering upon Him, and finally murder Him. Nothing else would satisfy Satan’s frenzy.
Besides being a shameful death reserved only for the worst criminals and runaway slaves, crucifixion was also an unusually painful way to die. The flogging that preceded the crucifixion caused great suffering itself, sometimes even death. Then the condemned person was forced to drag his heavy cross on lacerated shoulders to the place of execution. There, nailed alive to the cross, the victim suffered beyond description.
It is of utmost importance that we realize the shame and suffering inflicted on Christ at the cross did not come from God. The cross was in God’s plan; He allowed it — in part, to expose Satan’s true character. But God was not responsible for the cross. It came as a direct result of Satan’s hatred and sin. This means that we must never equate the physical suffering and shame Christ endured on the cross with the sacrifice that saves us. We must never confuse what Satan did to Christ on the cross with what God did to His Son there. God and Satan were not partners at the cross.
Satan, who was solely responsible for Christ’s physical suffering on the cross, has somehow deceived Christians into believing that this suffering is the supreme sacrifice that accomplishes our salvation. Never! If so, then Satan has actually contributed to our salvation, and that can never be.
Satan revealed his true nature at the cross. In the eyes of the holy angels and unfallen worlds, this demonstration forever brought about his downfall. But the cross must also unveil Satan’s character to us. As Christians, we represent Christ on earth. Therefore, “the offense of the cross” that Christ endured for us must also become ours [see Galatians 5:11]. As Christians, we have said good-bye to our position in the world and have been crucified to the world in order to become one with Christ [see John 15:19; 17:16; Galatians 6:14]. This means that we have become enemies of Satan and his world. Therefore, what Satan and the world did to Christ on the cross they will do to us. This is the “offense of the cross” that all true believers must endure.
If the world today does not hate us or put us to shame, it is simply because the world does not see Christ in us. But let Him be revealed in our lives through the power of the gospel and the world will turn against us immediately. As it did Jesus, the world will hate us [see John 7:7; 17:14; 1 John 3:13], put us to shame [see Acts 5:41], and persecute us to the death [see John 16:33; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 3:12].
At the cross, the world under Satan had to make a choice between Christ (in whom Pilate said he could find no fault) and Barabbas (the worst criminal that could be found in the jail). Without hesitation, the world chose to release Barabbas and to crucify Christ. The world today is still under Satan, and it will make the same choice if forced to choose between one of its own and the most insignificant, but genuine, believer. This is the cost of discipleship.
At the time of the cross, the world was divided within itself. Jews were against Romans, Pharisees against Sadducees. But Christ was their common enemy and they united to oppose Him. Today, the world is also divided into many factions. But let the character of Christ be reproduced in His church and the world will unite against the saints. This will be the great tribulation that will come at the end of time, when the church will finally demonstrate the power of the gospel.
In heaven, Satan had struggled with Christ and was defeated. At the cross, they met once more in battle. This time, Satan was confident of victory, but his victory was turned into defeat once again, a defeat from which Satan will never recover. Praise the Lord for such a Saviour!