Read This Week’s Passage: Hebrews 9–10
The Motif of the Cross
The idea that a man found guilty and executed on a cross should be worshiped as God was offensive to the ancient mind. Sparse reference to the cross in Roman literature shows their aversion to the idea. For the Jews, the law declared that a man hung on a tree was cursed by God (Deut. 21:23).
Thus, the first motifs that we find in the Christian paintings of the catacombs were the peacock (supposedly symbolizing immortality), a dove, the athlete’s victory palm, and the fish. Later, other themes appeared: Noah’s ark, Abraham sacrificing the ram instead of Isaac, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah being spit out by the fish, a shepherd carrying a lamb, or depictions of miracles like the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Lazarus. These were symbols of salvation, victory, and care. The cross, on the other hand, conveyed a sense of defeat and shame. Yet, it was the cross that became the emblem of Christianity. In fact, Paul simply called the gospel “the word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18, ESV).
This week we will look at the cross as it appears in the book of Hebrews.