What distinguishes Jesus’ crucifixion from every other crucifixion performed by the Romans? Tens of thousands were crucified before Constantine abolished the practice in the fourth century. And it doesn’t take much for us to remember Spartacus, where the mass crucifixion of 6,000 people along the Appian Way has been immortalised (and mythologised!) in film. What makes Jesus’ death so different from theirs? What, in other words, is the significance of Jesus’ death?
Jesus’ death is unique because of what it achieved between God and humanity. And God hasn’t left us wondering what that achievement was; rather, in Scripture he has given us the categories by which to understand Jesus’ work on the cross. He has given us the language to describe what Jesus did, to comprehend the depth and wonder of the cross.
There are, for instance, certain images the Bible uses that help us understand the significance Jesus’ death (or ‘metaphors of the cross’ … or, if you prefer, ‘words ending in “–tion”’!): salvation, reconciliation, redemption, justification, sanctification and propitiation. And here we see one of the many majesties of the gospel: that the good news of Jesus Christ is something an infant can comprehend (“Jesus loves me, this I know”) and yet a mature adult can never tire of plumbing the depths of.
Christians can sometimes be tempted to move on from the cross through boredom or a longing for something new. We can grow tired of hearing the ‘old, old story’, and treat the gospel (whether in readings, songs, study groups, or preaching) with a secret complacency bred from familiarity. The solution to this problem—and it is a problem—is not to move away from the cross, but to dig deeper into the delights of God’s word about that cross, to delve the depths of Scripture that our interest might be renewed and our longing for something ‘new’ may be found in Christ. We need to keep listening to God to see the uniqueness of Christ’s crucifixion, to contemplate what his death achieved that no other death did do or could do.