- Physical Instrument of Execution: This is the most common way of referring to the cross in the New Testament. The cross is mentioned in its literal sense most frequently in the Gospels, because of the Gospel narratives which focus on the actual crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew 27:42 recalls the jeers of the crowd as they cried for Christ to “come down from the cross.” In the Epistles, Hebrews 12:2 recounts that Jesus “endured the death of the cross.” One of the more confusing references to the cross of Christ occurs in Colossians 2:14. Here, Paul writes that Christ, through His death, was “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” Some have become confused when trying to interpret the referent of the pronoun “it.” Clearly, it does not refer to an actual legal document which contained all of the charges against all of humanity for all of history. That would be absurd. Rather, the “ordinances” refer to sins attached to the account of Christ, the One who took all of mankind’s sin upon Himself, and was nailed to a physical cross. Other physical references to the cross of Christ include Matt. 27:32, Matt. 27:40, Mark 15:21, Mark 15:30, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:26, John 19:17, John 19:19, John 19:25, John 19:31, Phil. 2:8, Col. 1:20, Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, Gal. 3:13, and I Pet. 2:24.
- Symbolic of True Discipleship: The Gospel writers recall Christ’s words to His would-be followers “take up” or “bear” their cross seven different times. In this way, Christ related to an audience under Roman rule the staggering cost of discipleship. Those familiar with execution via crucifixion would understand that Christ’s call to true discipleship should be understood as a call for His followers to abandon self, and be willing to die for their new Master. These symbolic references can be found in Matt. 10:38, Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Mark 10:21, Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:27
- Symbolic of Redemption: The word “cross” is one of several words in the New Testament with theological implications which symbolize redemption. The cross of Christ was the agent with which Christ bought sinners back to Himself from the slave market of sin. The symbol of redemption appears most often in the Epistles (I Cor. 1:17, I Cor. 1:18, Gal. 5:11, Gal. 6:12, Gal. 6:14, Eph. 2:16, Phil. 3:18, Col. 1:20). Since justification is at the heart of the gospel, and redemption through the cross is necessary for justification, the cross is therefore at the heart of the gospel.
Frequency of Occurrences
In the Gospels & Acts:
- Matthew – 5x (Matt. 10:38,16:24, 27:32, 27:40, 27:42)
- Mark – 5x (Mark 8:34, 10:21, 15:21, 15:30, 15:32)
- Luke – 3x (Luke 9:23, 14:27, 23:26)
- John – 4x (John 19:17, 19:19, 19:25, 19:31)
- Acts – The word “cross” does not occur in Acts, but there are three references to the “tree,” which are contextually synonymous with “cross.” (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29)
- I Corinthians – 2x (I Cor. 1:17, 1:18)
- Galatians – 4x (Gal. 3:13, 5:11, 6:12, 6:14)
- Ephesians – 1x (Eph. 2:16)
- Philippians – 2x (Phil. 2:8, 3:18,)
- Colossians – 2x (Co. 1:20, 2:14)
- Hebrews – 1x (Heb. 12:2)
- I Peter – 1x (I Pet. 2:24)
- “His cross” 6x – Referring to would-be followers of Christ. (Matt. 10:38, Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27)
- “His cross” 5x – Referring to Christ. (Matt. 27:32, Mark 15:21, John 19:17, Col. 1:20, Col. 2:14)
- “The cross” 13x – (Matt. 27:40, Matt. 27:42, Mark 10:21, Mark 15:30, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:26, John 19:19, John 19:31, I Cor. 1:18, Gal. 5:11, Eph. 2:16, Phil. 2:8, Heb. 12:2)
- “The cross of Jesus” 1x – (John 19:25)
- “The cross of Christ”3x – (I Cor. 1:17, Gal. 6:12, Phil. 3:18)
- “The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1x – (Gal. 6:14)
- “A/the tree” 5x – (Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, Gal. 3:13, I Pet. 2:24)
- Genitive (12x)
- Accusative (11x)
- Dative (4x)
- Nominative (1x)
- No preposition (19x)
- apo (4x)
- epi (2x)
- en (2x)
- para (1x)
- dia (1x)
Occurrences of the Word “Cross” in the Old Testament: The word “cross” does not actually occur in the Old Testament. However, there are three occurrences of the word “tree” which are used in a context referring to execution by crucifixion. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, the Israelites were given a command as part of their law that said, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.” During Israel’s conquests, the book of Joshua also indicates that the king of Ai was hanged on a tree when it says in Joshua 8:29 that, “the king of AI he hanged on a tree until eventide.”
Foreshadowing of the Cross of Christ through the Exodus: Since the seminal event of the Old Testament is the Exodus, and the seminal event of the New Testament is the crucifixion, it should come as no surprise to find significant foreshadowing of the crucifixion in the Old Testament’s depiction of the Exodus. A few significant parallels are noted:
- Both the exodus and the cross provided a means of deliverance. (Ex. 3:8, Col. 1:20)
- Both the exodus and the cross were effective for the elect. (Ex. 19:3, Matt. 1:21)
- Both the exodus and the cross involved the shedding of blood. (Col. 1:20, Ex. 12:7)
- Both the exodus and the cross involved a physical representation of a cross. (Ex. 12:7, John 19:19)
- Psalm 22 includes a definite foreshadowing of the events surrounding the cross of Christ. This Psalm includes references to Christ’s rejection by God (v. 1), the mockery of Christ by the thief on the cross (v. 8), the physical torment of the cross (vv. 14-17), and the casting of lots for Christ’s clothing (v. 18). Though not explicitly mentioned, the cross of Christ is definitely foreshadowed in this chapter.
- The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 also includes prophetic statements regarding the events of Calvary. It talks about Christ’s rejection (v. 3), His willingness to bear His people’s sin (v. 4), His physical torment (vv. 4-5, 7, 10), His ultimate death (v. 9), and his efficient substitutionary atonement (v.11). Again, the parallels between this passage and the events on the cross of Christ are too great to ignore.
The Cross of Christ is Central to the Theology of the New Testament.
- The narrative of the events of the Cross of Christ occurs in each of the synoptic gospels, as well as the book of John (Matt. 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). Each narrative occupies a significant amount of room in its respective book, indicating its importance.
- The cross of Christ completed the atonement as the sinless sacrifice was killed. Christ’s own testimony following the events of His crucifixion was “It is finished (John 19:39)!”
- The cross of Christ reconciled God to man (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20).
- The events of Christ’s cross and His resurrection initiated e a new covenant whereby the law is defeated, and grace through Christ reigns. (Gal. 5:11)
The Cross of Christ is the Identity Under which New Testament Believers Live.
- Despite all of Paul’s accomplishments, His only boast was in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).
- The identity of the cross of Christ will often be accompanied by persecution and suffering (Gal. 6:12).
- As a picture of discipleship, the cross of Christ indicates the worth of the disciple who is willing to bear it (Matt. 10:38).
 It can become tempting to believe that physical references to an object preclude any sort of significance regarding theological ramifications. This is decidedly not the case with the cross of Christ. The crucifixion, as the seminal moment in the New Testament, carries with it tremendous ramifications. That being the case, every detail of the Gospel narratives, and every mention of the physical cross of Christ is of vital theological import to the New Testament text.
 Often, these allusions have been misconstrued to contain references to every-day trials. The popular saying “this is the cross that I must bear” can be used to refer to anything from a common head-cold, to a hectic work schedule. This interpretation is decidedly not the point of Christ’s challenge, and is a sad ignoral of authorial intent.
 Because the seminal moment of New Testament history is the crucifixion, many other words are used to refer to that momentous occasion, and to allude to the redemption that it provided. Such words include “blood,” “sacrifice,” “death,” and others. Time will not allow us to explore all of the words used to describe the redemption, so the focus here will stay on the implications of the cross of Christ.
 Like Acts, the reference here is to a “tree.”
 Again, the reference is to a “tree.”
 This verse also poignantly adds a foreshadowing of the severity of the sacrifice made by Christ during his death on the cross when it says, “he that is hanged is accursed of God.” Christ’s sinlessness and his death in an accursed manner made Him an acceptable sacrifice for our sins.
 In accordance with the law previously discussed, the verse goes on to say that “as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones.”
 This list of parallels is by no means meant to be exhaustive. An exhaustive list detailing the parallels between the cross and the exodus could continue ad infinitum. Since this paper focuses specifically on New Testament theology, I have included only four.
 I am aware of the danger of an allegorical or sensational hermeneutic applied to an Old Testament text that may seem to be present in this instance. That is not my intention here. However, it is my belief after consultation with multiple sources that such an interpretation can be justly applied to this text in Exodus 12, and defended equally as well.
 Again, time will not allow this list to be exhaustive. The centrality of the cross of Christ, or the events surrounding the cross of Christ could be documented throughout just about every page in the New Testament. The list included is merely a representation of that centrality.