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The Iconography of Pagan Worship
   Those who have come from nominal Christian backgrounds would be familiar with the iconography in worship. Paintings, statues, candles, crucifixes, popes, “saints,” virgin Mary and just about everything that is created, rather than the Creator Himself (Rom 1:25), Who forbids idols and pagan practices.
   The Bible does however give a few symbols which are permitted in worship such as the shofar (ram’s horn) for declaring the new moons and appointed times; the menorah (lampstand); oil for anointing, and lambs for Passover. Yet none of these ever became the focus of worship, but were used as commanded during worship.
   What about the cross? Is there Biblical evidence that Yahshua really died on the T-shaped cross? Is this an appropriate symbol in worship? Did the first century believers in Messiah walk around with crucifix necklaces or have crosses in their assembly halls? What does the Bible say concerning this matter?

Roman Methods of Execution
   The Romans had many gruesome penalties for executing unruly subjects including burning alive, impalement-crucifixion. In the New Testament, the word “cross” is from the Greek word σταυρός stauros, which Dr. James Strong defined in his Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, as “a stake or post … a pole or cross.” Similarly, Dr. Joseph Thayer in his lexicon translated this word as “an upright stake, especially a pointed one … a cross.” Notice the primary definition both scholars give is “stake” but “cross” is a secondary translation.
   When the apostles referred to the execution of Messiah, the other word used is clearer. In the Greek manuscripts, it is ξύλον (xu-lon) which means wood (i.e. timber) or a tree:
      The Elohim of our fathers raised up Yahshua, Whom you slew and hanged on a tree, Acts 5:30.
      And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; Whom they slew and hanged on a tree, Acts 10:39.
      And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took [Him] down from the tree, and laid [Him] in a sepulcher, Acts 13:29.
      Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, “Cursed [is] every one that hangs on a tree,” Galatians 3:13.
      Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by Whose stripes you were healed, 1 Peter 2:24.

   These verses prove that Yahshua was executed either on an upright piece of timber (stake or wood) or on a tree itself. Since Yahshua had to carry His stake (Luke 23:26), it is probably more likely that “wood” is the best translation. Further since vinegar was given to quench Yahshua’s thirst by attaching a sponge to the end of a stick (Matt. 27:48, Mark 15:36), this suggests the wooden pole for execution was probably suspended from some height. If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which Yahweh your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of Elohim, Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

Torah Prescription for Execution
   Notice how criminals were punished under Torah. “he is [first] put to death, and [then] you hang him [i.e. display his body] on a tree.” They were not to kill by hanging, but rather their dead bodies were hanged afterwards to serve as a deterrent to sin (Deut. 13:11; 17:13; 19:20; 21:21).
   An example: When the Jews executed judgment on Haman’s ten sons, they afterwards displayed their bodies on the gallows as a warning to the other Jewish enemies (Est. 9:5-14).
   Interestingly, this is contrasted with Haman who wanted to kill Mordecai by hanging (Est. 5:14), yet instead it fell on Haman’s own head by the king’s command (Est. 7:9-10).
   The Jewish leaders understood the Torah that a criminal’s body could not remain displayed overnight on the tree but had to be taken down and buried before sunset, otherwise the land would be defiled.
   Leaving Yahshua’s body on the stake would be a violation of this command. Thus, though the Sanhedrin transgressed the Torah by urging Pilate to execute Yahshua by impalement, they regarded the immediate removal of His body, as it is written:
   It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover week [actually, the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread]). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down, John 19:31 (NLT). (For further study, read our mini-study entitled Why Passover is NOT a High Day).
   This is further evidence that Yahshua was executed on a wooden pole or tree according to the Torah, not a cross. Simply put, the Torah was prophesying the very form of death Messiah should suffer! Indeed, the penalty that should have been exacted upon our body for sin, was inflicted upon the Master’s body, and so He bore our punishment as a criminal.
   For He (Yahweh) has made Him (Yahshua) [to be] sin for (instead of) us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of Elohim in (through) Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
   Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the law (i.e., the punishment for sin), being made a curse for (instead of) us: for it is written, “Cursed [is] every one that hangs on a tree,” Galatians 3:13.
   Like the apostle, who said, “I, Sha’ul (Paul), became a servant … fill up in my flesh what is lacking in Messiah’s afflictions” (Col. 1:23-24), we need to be walking in the footsteps of Yahshua and carrying our own burden.
   And when He had called the people [to Him] with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his [own] stake, and follow Me, Mark 8:34.
   We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of Elohim, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete, 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 (ESV).

   So how do we carry the stake of Messiah and our own? We carry our own by the putting away of sin and walking in Yahweh’s righteous laws. We carry the stake of Messiah by suffering for righteousness’ sake. This is what Yahweh wants, not for us to embrace images and worship with outward show. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My Word,” (Isa. 66:2).

-Brother Rohan John (Australia)

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