Is Revering the Cross Idolatry? Three Definitive Reasons Why It Is!March 29, 2023
The cross is undoubtedly the most prominent symbol that is associated with Christianity today. They appear on top of Church buildings, on the walls of Christian families and are even used as markers to indicate places of worship on most maps. However, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the cross was never used by Jesus, the Apostles or the early Church. So is it okay for Christians to honor the cross by sentiment or the act of venerating the cross idolatry?
By examining the Biblical definition of idolatry, the origin and history of the cross and a prophecy from Jesus himself, we will come to understand that revering the cross is merely idolatry that God forbids.
Examining the Cross: Idolatry by Definition
The act of idolatry is to exalt an object to the status of God. The Bible gives us a very clear understanding that venerating idols is an act of antipathy towards God the Creator.
Exodus 20:4-5 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”
The 2nd commandment of God’s 10 commandments defines an idol by stating “in the form of anything”. Nowhere in the Bible is it stated that the cross is an exception to this rule. So making the cross itself is to disobey God’s commandment, “do not make an idol.” God divides those who worship idols and those who detest idols into two categories.
Exodus 20:5 “…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Blessing will be given to those who worship God without making any idols. However, those who disobey this command and commit cross idolatry, they are classified under “those who hate God”. Let’s take a look at more Bible verses concerning God’s command of forbidding worshiping idols.
Leviticus 26:1 “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.”
God is the Creator of all things, including materials like stones and wood. To esteem such materials to the same level as the Creator is a detestable act in God’s eyes. That is why any images made of wood and stone made by human hands is considered idolatry. The cross too, is a mere idol made of materials like wood or metal. God instructed us to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24) rather than to turn to any visible image. Therefore, we should never cross idolatry with an expression of true faith in God.
How Did the Usage of the Cross Begin in Christian History?
When looking into Christian history, we can find no evidence of neither Jesus nor the early Church using the cross until centuries after Christ.
“The use of the cross as a form of punishment was adopted by the Greeks and Romans from the Phoenicians, Persians and Carthaginians…
The Public use of the cross was adopted by Christians as a symbol at the time of Constantine.
For early Christians, surrounded by crucifixion as a grim fact of common experience, there was no danger of beautifying the cross by sentiment.”
Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison, Baker Book House, 1973
“Crosses in Churches and chambers were introduced about 431; and set up on steeples about 568”
Harper’s Book of Facts, Joseph H. Willey, Harper & Brothers Publishers 1895
This shows that the cross had not been erected for almost 300 years, from the time of Jesus until the time of Constantine. This was very natural, because while the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, the cross was used as a tool to execute the saints.
Then, how come the cross got beautified and became a symbol of Christianity since the Constantine era? It’s because the Church began to be rapidly secularized after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. Those who converted to Christianity but did not completely abandon the practices of pagans, who are used to setting up images for their gods, began to place images such as the cross in the church. In other words, the cross has nothing to do with the faith in the Apostolic Age. It is an idol introduced later when the Church got secularized.
God, who knows the end from the beginning already knew this would happen and prophesied through a historical event the dangers of revering the cross.
A Prophecy of Cross Idolatry Through the Bronze Snake Incident
Numbers 21:4-6 “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”
During the time of the exodus of Israelites from Egypt, they spoke against God and were bitten by venomous snakes and died. After they repented and asked God for salvation, God showed them the way to live.
Numbers 21:7-9 “The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.”
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
How could the people who were dying, live? It was by looking at the Bronze Snake. However, its healing power does not come from the power of the Bronze Snake. They were saved because God said the words “anyone who looks at it will live”.
However, the Israelites foolishly thought that the bronze snake saved them, and worshiped it for a long time.
2 Kings 18:3-4 “In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”
About 800 years after the incident in the desert, during the time of King Hezekiah, we once again see the mention of the Bronze Snake that Moses had made. Except this time, the people were burning incense to it. In other words, they had been worshiping the bronze snake all the way until then.
At that time, Hezekiah broke the bronze snake along with many other idols and called it “Nehushtan”, meaning a piece of bronze.
To summarize, the bronze snake was first used by God as a tool to save his people. However it was turned into an idol and worshiped for a long time until Hezekiah recognized it as an idol and destroyed it. This history of the Old Testament serves as a prophecy of what will take place in the New Testament times.
John 3:4-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
In the above verse, the Son of Man being “lifted up” refers to Jesus being put on the cross. Through his great sacrifice of crucifixion, salvation can be given to dying souls. Just like at the time of the Bronze Snake, the cross is used by God as a tool to save His people from impending death. It is not the cross itself that saves us, but Christ’s blood shed on the cross. However, the foolish people have been worshiping the cross for a long time, because they mistakenly think that the cross has a special power.
Then, what kind of faith should we have in regard to the cross?
In the Old Testament times, Hezekiah, a religious reformer broke into pieces the idol that had been traditionally worshiped by the Israelites for a long time. He was commended by God as the one who “did right in the eyes of the Lord”. In this age, we, who are the religious reformers must recognize the cross as an idol and reject it.
Let’s get rid of worthless cross idolatry and receive much blessing by keeping God’s commandments.