Galatians 5:11 – But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians around 500 B.C., perfected by the Romans in the days of Jesus, and not outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine, who ruled Rome in the fourth century A.D. In the days of Jesus, crucifixion was reserved for the most horrendous criminals. Even the worst Romans were beheaded rather than crucified. The Jews also considered crucifixion the most horrific mode of death, as Deuteronomy 21:22–23 says: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus called crucifixion “the most wretched of deaths.”1 The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero asked that decent Roman citizens not even speak of the cross because it was too disgraceful a subject for the ears of decent people.
Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, German soldiers crucified Jews at Dachau by running bayonets and knives through their legs, shoulders, throats, and testicles. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge performed crucifixions in Cambodia. Today, crucifixion continues in Sudan and other places to treat Christians like Christ was treated.
The pain of crucifixion is so horrendous that a word was invented to explain it: excruciating literally means “from the cross”. A crucified person could hang on the cross for days, passing in and out of consciousness as their lungs struggled to breathe while laboring under the weight of their body. It was not uncommon for those being crucified to slump on the cross in an effort to empty their lungs of air and thereby hasten their death.
At this point during a crucifixion, the victims labored to breathe as their body went into shock. Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer at them. They would curse at their tormentors while urinating on them and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross. Simply put, the cross was offensive.
Today, the cross remains offensive. In every generation, there is a parade of false teachers who like to teach that Jesus died only to be an example for us when facing injustice, and not as our substitute in our place for our sins.
In Paul’s day, and every day since, the cross remains offensive for one simple reason. The cross of Jesus Christ is the utter repudiation of human potential. If we were good people, had good hearts, and were evolving to fix our lives and right our wrongs, then Jesus’ death was a complete waste of time.
At the cross we see the heart of all humanity as we murdered God. At the cross we also see the heart of God as He died to give us grace.
Do you find the cross, and its’ repudiation of human potential, as an offense?
1Wilbur M. Smith, The Incomparable Book (Minneapolis, Minn.: Beacon, 1961), 9–10.