Did Jesus die on a cross, or a tree? Some verses say Jesus dies on a cross. Others say Jesus dies on a tree. The short answer is both, but why so? And it is not just a matter of a word study for theologians. There are very important reasons for Jesus dying both on a cross and on a tree.
I will show how “dying on a cross” proves the prophetic. It also ties Jesus directly to acts of covenant making in the Old and New Testaments. We will see “Why on a tree” also ties to the prophetic. In addition, there is more insight into covenant making, breaking, and redeeming mankind from Adam’s fall.
Did Jesus die on a cross?
Yes. The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All tell different aspects of the same story of the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. All include his death on the cross. Only one Greek word is used in all the Gospels, stauros. Stauros is used 28 times. It describes a device used in Roman times. It is a well-known instrument of most cruel public punishment and execution. The cross is a wooden device with a vertical pole to raise up and display the victim. It also has a lintel, a horizontal structural element to which they attach the arms.
Why did Jesus die on a Roman Cross?
Jesus Christ, Messiah, came to earth in the fullness of time. It had to be in the right place, born of a virgin and so much more. He is fulfilling a multitude of prophecies in birth, ministry, and the manner of his death. Jews must live in Israel, worship in a temple in Jerusalem, and yet be oppressed by another nation when the Messiah comes.
When the Jews do not accept their Messiah he must die in Jerusalem after torture publicly, in a way reserved for cursed heinous sinners. Public viewing, scorn and ridicule must be part of the ordeal. Startling specific events on the cross are recorded hundreds of years before there were Romans or crucifixions, in Psalm 22. These even include words he spoke while on the cross. Only this form or execution would fulfill the prophecies of the manner of the death of the Messiah.
How is Jesus’ death on the cross fulfilling a blood covenant promise?
Father God told Abraham when, where, and how to sacrifice his son as an act of faith and obedience to their blood covenant. Because Abraham understands blood covenant, he does not hesitate to do what God asks him to do. Abraham fully expected his son to raise from the dead, because it was this son from whom Abraham’s covenant-promised family would come.
In the book of Genesis, you will discover many parallels in the sacrifices of Isaac and Jesus. The secret is that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son only to legally obligate himself to do the same. God meets his covenant obligation to also sacrifice His son, Jesus, for Abraham and us. Many details, even sacrificing Jesus on a wooden alter parallel the earlier event. See Genesis 22:1-14.
Blood on the post and lintel
Here is one other amazing picture of a blood covenant promise fulfilled in the death of Jesus on the cross. Abraham’s family multiplies while at first guests, and later as slaves in Egypt. On the night of their redemption and deliverance out of Egypt Moses instructs them to have a covenant meal. This will protect their homes from death.
The Children of Abraham are to eat the sacrifice lamb. They also protect their homes by placing the blood of the sacrifice lamb on the post and lintel. These are the upright and crossbeam parts of the wooden frame of their doorways. When death comes it will see the blood of the lamb and not enter their homes. Jesus put his blood on the upright post and crossbeam lintel of the cross, and his blood redeems us.
Did Jesus die on a tree?
Yes. In addition to the Gospels, other books of the New Testament refer to the death of Jesus. The other books use a different Greek word for something made of wood, xylon. They do not use the word for cross.
In the context xylon can be wood itself, something made of wood, or a tree, which is of course also made of wood. It is not limited to depicting the device used by Romans. But in several verses it is clearly referring to His death on the cross.
For wood to be in the form of a tree, it does not have to have leaves, but it does have to a have an upright member, its trunk. And it needs to have branches, or cross members, that branch out from the trunk. So we see that indeed a cross meets the criteria for being in essence a crude and cruel form of tree. This is why the word for tree can be referring to any tree, or the tree-like cross. Interesting that the thorns of an acacia tree are also present on the head of Jesus.
Why did Jesus die on a tree?
In the Old Testament a tree could be used in much the same way as the cross of a much later era. You may be familiar with the phrase from Galatians 3:13, Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree. This is referring to the Law in Deuteronomy. Hanging someone on a tree represents not only the person dying, but also being cursed. Joshua (Joshua 8:29) acutally does this to Israel’s enemies more that once. Joshua kills the king of Ai, an evil enemy. To make a public spectacle and discourage other kings, he hung the King of Ai from a tree. Also, in keeping with the Deuteronomy instructions he took the body down by sundown. They also took the body of Jesus down before sundown.
Dying and hanging on a tree equates to a cursed death. Jesus accepted this fate even though he did not deserve it, to die on a tree for us.
Galatians 3:13 (AMPC)
Christ purchased our freedom [redeeming us] from the curse (doom) of the Law [and its condemnation] by [Himself] becoming a curse for us, for it is written [in the Scriptures], Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (is crucified);
Why does God make a tree part of the redemption plan?
We have seen that the cross was a type of a tree. Jesus could die of a cross, and meet the criteria of being on a tree. Also we see that dying on a tree takes on a curse as God instructed in Levitical Law. But what might have prompted God to use this important imagery in the story of the literal death of Jesus?
The Adam Connection
The death and resurrection of Jesus does not just temporarily cover the sin problem separating mankind from God. It eliminates all the penalty for all who accept it. This all goes back to the first man, Adam. What did Adam do to break fellowship with Father God and fall into rebellion? What act of disobedience brought death and the curse? It was to take and eat from the tree of good and evil. Adam doubted God’s word that the fruit would bring evil, death and a curse. He ate, and it did.
One act of obedience to cancel debt for all disobedience
The New Testament calls the Adam in Genesis the first Adam. It calls Jesus the last Adam. The first Adam doubted God. His disobedience in taking from the tree would bring about his death. Jesus knew that His obedience in giving Himself to the tree would bring about His death. Jesus places himself on a cross/tree to accept the penalty in the place of Adam and all mankind. On a tree that is identifies Him with death, sin, and curses, His obedience cancels out the fruit and penalty of Adam and all of our disobedience.
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