It’s Good Friday today, and in church this morning, the stage has been given an Easter theme with a depiction of Golgotha and three crosses. After looking at this for a moment, I suddenly had a weird thought (not too uncommon for me, I suppose) Why three crosses?
Easter was, after all, about Jesus the Messiah who was crucified during the time of Pontius Pilate.
It is Jesus’ death that brings forgiveness and healing to the world, only Jesus’ death. What place did the other two crosses have?
Well it seems when you look back through the Bible, God often does things with three people, or three types of people. We see this fairly clearly with Abram.
God comes to him and promises to bless him. But God does more than that. In Genesis 12 we read:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)
If we look at this verse, we see that there are three classes of people –
- Abram (and his descendants);
- those who bless Abram; and
- those who dishonour Abram.
And attached to these three classes of people are certain outcomes.
- Abram (and his descendants) will be blessed;
- those who bless Abram will be blessed by God; but
- those who treat Abram with contempt will be cursed by God
So how people treat Abram determines how people are treated by God. Those who bless Abram, those who show respect and honour to Abram, will be blessed. But those who despise Abram, those who ignore him and treat him with contempt, will be cursed by God.
Now if we look back further in Genesis we can see this same pattern emerge even right after Adam and his wife were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Adam had three sons: Cain, Abel and Seth.
- Abel was blessed by God because his sacrifice was accepted.
- Cain despised Abel, eventually killing him and then was cursed by God.
- Seth respected Abel and inherited the blessings of Abel. (Gen 4: 25-26)
Noah also had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. In Genesis 9:25-27, Noah prophesies about his sons.
- Shem is to be blessed by God in a special way
- Ham is cursed, because he didn’t respect his father
- Japheth will “live in the tents of Shem”. He will inherit and share the special blessing of God given to Shem.
When we move forward to the New Testament and the arrival of Jesus into the world, we see the same group of three emerge. John 3:17-18 is a prime example.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn. 3:17-18 ESV)
So here we see Jesus, God’s Messiah, through whom all the blessings of God will be given to the world.
- Jesus is blessed by God to be a blessing, after the same pattern as Abram in Genesis 12. But there are then two other types of people in the world.
- Those who believe in Jesus (and bless Him, respect Him)
- Those who do not believe in Jesus (those who ignore or despise Jesus)
And different outcomes:
- Jesus is now Lord of all
- Those who believe will not be condemned, they will live forever under God’s blessing; but
- Those who don’t believe are already condemned, they will be cursed by God and excluded from His blessing.
So then of course there had to be three crosses on Golgotha.
- The thief on one side of Jesus cursed Jesus, and was excluded from God’s kingdom.
- The thief on the other side recognised Jesus as innocent and blessed him. To him, Jesus gave the promise of eternal life in Paradise.
- And Jesus’ cross was in the middle, representing the dividing of humanity into these two camps.
There was no fourth cross.