Jesus, Cursed by God

Wayne Jackson
What is the symbolic meaning behind the statement that Jesus was hung on a tree when he was actually hung on a cross?

It was no coincidence that apostolic preachers of the gospel indicted the first century Jews with having murdered Jesus by hanging him on a tree. For example, Peter and his fellow apostles charged the Jewish Sanhedrin: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

At Caesarea, addressing Cornelius and his household, Peter declared about Christ: “whom also they [the Jews] slew, hanging him on a tree” (Acts 10:39; cf. 1 Pet. 2:24).

In a great sermon at Antioch of Pisidia, on his first missionary campaign, Paul stated:

And though they found no cause of death in him, yet asked they of Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb" (Acts 13:28-29).

Old Testament Background

These texts undoubtedly have roots that go back to the Old Testament. Moses said:

And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)" (Dt. 21:22-23).

Though Jesus committed no sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), nonetheless, in a sense, he was accursed of God.

Paul explains this in his letter to the Galatians. Here are the facts:

  • Everyone who does not keep the law of God perfectly, is “cursed” thereby (Gal. 3:10).
  • But no one could keep it perfectly (Rom. 3:10, 23).
  • Thus, everyone labored under the divine curse.

There is, however, another side to the picture. Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

As an innocent victim, Jesus stepped in and took our place. He bore the brunt of God’s curse (necessary to satisfy divine justice — Rom. 3:26), which we may appropriate when we obey the Lord (Acts 2:38).

Circle the term “tree” in the passages cited above, and in your margin note: See Galatians 3:13.