I vividly remember the first time I had a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness about the Cross. I was in my second year of Bible College and had only been a Christian for a little longer than two years. I already had a heart for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but didn’t know much about them.
Becky, my mother and myself were out eating at a “Happy Joe’s Pizza” in Dubuque, IA when a big group of people came into the restaurant. They were dressed up and looked as if they had just come from a formal meeting. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I kept an eye on them and they ended up sitting right behind us. The group was so large that they had to place a number of tables together so they could all sit together.
We finished our meal, put on our jackets and were in the process of leaving when I couldn’t stand it any longer. I just had to say something. I turned around in my seat and asked if they were celebrating something special since they were all dressed up. The older gentleman I was speaking with mentioned that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and had just left a meeting at their Kingdom Hall. Being much bolder then than I am now (if you can believe that), I started asking doctrinal questions about the Deity of Christ. The JW ignored my questions and focused on my jacket. I was wearing a bleached out blue jean jacket that has a number of Christian buttons, pins and various other items on it. It also has a number of crosses pinned in different places.
This older gentleman was irritated at how many crosses I had on and blurted out, “Are you proud of all of those crosses?” I was confused at what he was getting at, but confidently replied, “Of course I am.” He then asked me a question that I never expected.
“If your brother was killed with a shotgun, would you hang a shotgun around your neck?” I will never forget what happened next. I didn’t even think about an answer. I just opened my mouth and God fell out. “I would if he died for my sins.” The JW was stunned and looked as if someone had just punched him in the face. His whole table was eerily silent. I took it as an opportunity to preach the gospel. I focused on the Deity of Christ while the JW sat there with his mouth open.
At that point in my Christian walk, I had no clue why JW’s disdain the Cross. JW’s believe that Jesus was impaled on an upright stake with His hands above His head and not crucified on a cross. A JW work mentions the following about the cross;
According to history, Tammuz was a Babylonian god, and the cross was used as his symbol. From its beginning in the days of Nimrod, Babylon was against Jehovah and an enemy of true worship. (Gen. 10:8-10; Jer. 50:29) So by cherishing the cross, a person is honoring a symbol of worship that is opposed to the true God. (Reasoning from the Scriptures p.92)
Even if the origins of the cross are pagan, that is no reason to think that pagan Romans would hesitate to crucify Jesus on a cross. The question that should be asked is, “Does the Scripture support a death on a cross or death on an upright stake?
John 20:25 states, “So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Notice that Thomas mentions that there are “nails” and not a single nail that was placed into the hands of Jesus. The Watchtower always portrays Jesus with one nail in His hands. If His hands were above His head, there would be no reason to use two nails.
Matthew 27:37 “And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” If Jesus had His hands above His head, wouldn’t the sign be above His hands and not His head?
John 21:18-19 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!” Jesus prophesies that Peter will die and even reveals by what means. The inspired narrative in verse nineteen points this out. What did Jesus say about Peter’s hands? They were going to be stretched out, not up. By traditional accounts, Peter was crucified on a cross up-side-down.
In spite of the evidence above, many former Jehovah’s Witnesses still have uneasy feelings about the cross. They may understand that Jesus did indeed die on a cross, but may still have trouble wearing one and accepting it as a legitimate part of Christian worship. Looking at a couple of passages in the scripture may help ease these feelings.
1st Corinthians 1:17-18– For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The word of the cross is equated with the gospel. God uses foolish things of this world to show His power. Isn’t it just like God to take a pagan symbol and turn it into the power of God for our salvation?
Galatians 6:14– But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, boasts in the cross. If the cross is something to be abhorred, why is Paul bragging about it? This is hardly acceptable if we are to avoid it. The fact of the matter is, it is a symbol of our salvation. Wedding rings are a symbol of our love, faithfulness, and the unique relationship we have with our spouses. Christians worship the cross no more than they worship the bands on their ring fingers.
One final use of symbolism may be useful in having a proper view of the cross. Think about the two beams of wood that make up a cross. One is vertical and the other is horizontal. God chose the cross to bridge the gap between Himself and Mankind. It is through what Christ accomplished for us on the cross that allows us to have proper relationships with God and our fellow man. One relationship is horizontal, the other is vertical.