Why has the cross become a major symbol of Christianity?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The cross or crucifix is a reminder of the suffering Jesus of Nazareth experienced during his lifetime through being persecuted and treated as a heretic, and finally in his death by crucifixion. When most people who have experience with Christianity see the cross, they are reminded of his death. In fast, some crucifixes bear the image of Jesus of Nazareth as he was nailed and bound to the wood of the cross. This is a very powerful image even beyond the immediate connotations of violent punishment and suffering. We must consider why Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion, and what that means for people who seek the spiritual guidance of Jesus of Nazareth through one of the many Christian churches.

So, why was Jesus of Nazareth put to death by crucifixion? Jesus had grown up in the Jewish faith and became a Rabbi as an adult. Scripture tells us that Jesus also had a unique course in life as the Son of God. The story goes that he was sent in human form to encourage the humans on Earth to "wake up" and change the ways in which they had become neglectful. When Jesus told others that he was the Son of God and had been sent to save humanity, a lot of people took offense. Imagine if someone came to you today and told you that they were the child of God and were there to save you! It would probably feel very strange, and you might think that person had some delusions about the world. In the Christian faith, people believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God, and that people who did not believe him decided to kill him for speaking against their understanding of God and religion.

That brings us to our next question- why would Jesus willingly be put to death on the cross? When he heard that people wanted to kill him for the things he was saying, why wouldn't he just lie and save his own skin? We can consider the possibility that he was very deluded and believed so firmly that he was the Son of God that he couldn't possibly be hurt by the crucifixion, but this is not what the Christian faith teaches. The narrative of Christianity-- which emerged only after the death of Jesus-- is that he believed so fully that it was his duty in life to set an example for others that if it required him to suffer and die, he would do it. The narrative is that Jesus loved humankind so fully that he was willing to die in order for them to take his message seriously.

So what does it mean for people of the Christian faith today? Or for anyone who looks up to Jesus as a spiritual figure? Jesus wanted to set an example through his teaching, his works of ministry, and even in his death. He wanted to show others that the way to creating more happiness and peace in the world was through the generosity and love humans show one another. Jesus wanted to show others that love can sometimes involve bearing through suffering, and as long as it is for a good cause, this should be endured. What reason could Jesus have had to go willingly to his death, and what would have eased his suffering on the cross? The Christian faith believes that Jesus loved humans so deeply that he was willing to suffer for them, and that the love they might show one another made it worth his pain. While Jesus' death did not have much of an immediate impact on the world, his death has certainly been an inspiration to many for the past two thousand years. The image of Jesus on the cross, or the crucifix on its own, inspires many to ask, "How can I go above and beyond for those I love in my life?" 

I would like to mention that I am not a member of the Christian faith but enjoy studying the development of Christianity. Because I'm not a member of the Church, I may not have offered the best insider perspective, but I think that much of what I have said above is true for Christianity.