Is the Cross an Idol?

February 21, 2023
Many people today regard the cross as holy. However, through Christian history and God's commandments, the cross is merely an idol.

Many people today regard the cross as holy and as a symbol of Christianity, however, when we examine the history of the cross in the context of God’s commandments, we can understand that the cross is merely an idol.

The Second Commandment

Let us first examine God’s commandment concerning idolatry.

Exodus 20:4-5 “You shall not make for yourself an image 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…”

In order to help God’s people from falling into sin, God made the second of the ten commandments regarding idolatry. In it, He said that we should not make an image (idol) in the form of anything, nor should we bow down and worship one. Since all of God’s commandments are given to us for our own benefit, we can understand that God did not want anything to come between us and Him, obscuring the love of God who saves us.

Then, should the cross be an exception? There is no word or teaching in the Bible that suggests the cross is an exception to God’s command. The cross is not something that is formed naturally on its own. It is an object that has to be crafted and made by human hands. And furthermore, once it has been shaped, many Christians revere it as an object of worship by regarding it as sacred.

Even if we do not bow down to the cross, if we render religious reverence or homage to it, it is an act of worship that goes against God’s command. If we want to obey the word of God faithfully, we must not make an exception for the cross, but recognize that the cross is indeed an idol, regardless of whether other people may revere it.

Warnings About Idolatry

Aside from the ten commandments, there are many words recorded in the bible about idolatry.

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.”

In the book of Leviticus, God again reminds us not to participate in idolatry, setting up an image or stone. Though God’s will is clearly written, it still remains that the cross, a man-made instrument, is set up in Christian churches and homes throughout the world today. Setting up the cross, whether it be in our homes, in our cars, or around our necks is idolatry in the eyes of God. For our salvation, God warns us not to follow the ways of the world.

Jeremiah 10:2-5 This is what the Lord says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations … For the practices of the peoples are worthless;they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them;they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”

As the cross is merely an idol, it contains no more power than an ordinary stone, or piece of metal or wood. It has no power to save us, let alone protect or bless us. Even if it is covered in fine adornments to increase its physical value and appeal, it is essentially useless in aiding us on our spiritual journey to the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, beyond its lack of power, the cross leads us to be cursed by God in the end, losing our salvation.

The Result of Idolatry

Deuteronomy 27:5 “Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret…”

As God’s children who desire to go to the kingdom of heaven, we must be blessed by God, not cursed. The way to receive God’s blessings is to follow God’s laws and commands. If we reject God’s commands, ignoring His warnings about idolatry, God will reject us the same way He rejected the idolaters in the Old Testament times. (Jer. 2:27-28)

History and Prophecy of the Cross

When we look at the history of the cross, we can see that its origins long precede Christianity by several centuries. For example, the ankh cross was used in the time of ancient Egypt. Not until after Roman Emperor Constantine promoted Christianity in the 4th century, did the cross begin to be widely used as a public symbol of Christianity.

The early Christian church, led by the Apostles after the crucifixion of Christ, never used the cross. Since the cross was used as an execution tool by the Romans and grim fact of common experience for many early Christians who were martyred via crucifixion, they had no desire of glorifying it or using it to remember the sacrifice of Christ. Instead, they preached Christ’s love and sacrifice and kept the New Covenant Passover as Jesus had commanded in commemoration of His holy sacrifice. (Luke 22:19)

Because God knew a time would come when people would put such emphasis on the cross, it was prophesied in the bible as a lesson for us.

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; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? 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, the Israelites began to grumble on the way to Canaan. When God heard their groaning, He sent venomous snakes to bite the people who were ungrateful, and they died as a result. This made the Israelites repent of their sin and ask God for help. In response, God showed them the way to be saved from the snakes.

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, they lived.

The way that the Israelites could be saved was by looking at the bronze snake that Moses had erected. After witnessing how they could be healed in its presence, they were in awe of it and began to worship it for generations to come.

Though the bronze snake was an inanimate object, fashioned by human hands, the Israelites thought it contained mystical powers. What they failed to realize was that God’s words, “look at it and live” held the power and authority to heal them from the venomous snake bite, not the bronze snake itself.

Not until the time of King Hezekiah, 800 years after Moses, was the bronze snake correctly recognized as an idol and destroyed.

2 Kings 18:3-4 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.)

Here, “he” refers to King Hezekiah. After celebrating the Passover, King Hezekiah did what was right in God’s eyes by destroying the bronze snake which had become an idol. The name given to the bronze snake, Nehushtan, translates to “a piece of bronze,” indicating that the bronze snake was nothing more than a piece of metal, not a manifestation of God. Although the Israelites placed much emphasis and reverence towards the bronze, the reality was that it was a mere piece of metal. In the process of revering the bronze snake, they lost sight of what was truly important and valuable for their salvation, the word of God.

This history of the bronze snake is a prophecy about cross reverence and Jesus’ work of salvation. Just as the Israelites worshiped the bronze snake, rather than God who used it as His instrument to save them, Christians would begin to worship the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified to save us, rather than acknowledging his sacrifice without falling into idolatry.

John 3:14-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Jesus being “lifted up” refers to His crucifixion on the cross. The bible compares this event to the bronze snake incident in order to remind us not to be fixated on the wrong things. What we should focus on the most is not the cross itself, but the love and sacrifice of Christ displayed on that day.

The Cross Is Definitely an Idol

By following God’s will to avoid idolatry, we will never lose sight of our salvation and draw closer to God as the kingdom of heaven approaches. Though many churches today do not heed God’s warning about idolatry, we must not follow the ways of the world, but stand firm in our faith until the end, just like the members of the early church and King Hezekiah did.

Looking forward to the day of glory, let us keep God’s command and revere only God, our true savior.