LCN Article
The Message of the Stake

March / April 2024

Josh Lyons

In AD 31, six of the most consequential hours in history ticked slowly by as a man hung from a piece of wood, fastened to it with large nails through His hands and feet. That man was Jesus of Nazareth and, until a specific moment on that particular Wednesday, He had always been alive—because He was the Logos, the One whom the Old Testament calls YHVH, rendered in most English Bibles as “LORD” (John 1:1–14; Genesis 4:26).

What occurred during those momentous six hours was the crucifixion of the Ever-Living One. This monumental event was a key part of God’s plan “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

The Apostle Paul wrote much about Christ’s crucifixion, revealing how His death allows Christians to be forgiven of their sins and be saved from the death penalty those sins merit. Paul described this aspect of God’s plan as a specific “message” in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For those who are being saved, this message is nothing less than the very power of God.

The word translated here as “cross” is the Greek stauros—and while most professing Christians picture a T-shaped structure, the Greek word does not necessarily imply a crossbar, just an upright beam, or stake, to which a man could be nailed. And more than misunderstanding the stake itself, many misunderstand the message of that stake Paul was seeking to share. In this article, we’ll examine five commonly misunderstood or neglected points related to that message.

1: This Message Is Not About the Object on Which Christ Died

The cross might be the most popular religious symbol in the history of mankind, not only because Christianity has for centuries been the world’s largest religion, but also because it has for millennia been a popular symbol for other religions across many nations, even before Jesus’ lifetime. The cross is placed prominently on church buildings, set atop steeples, and used to decorate pulpits and homes. We find it emblazoned on Bibles, jewelry, art, clothing, tattoos, and more.

The most popular cross used in much of Christendom is called the Latin cross (or the crux immissa), shaped like a lowercase “t.” There are many other variations, including the Egyptian ankh, the Greek cross, the Byzantine cross, the papal cross, the Chi Rho (allegedly seen in a vision by Emperor Constantine), the tau cross, and St. Peter’s cross (an upside-down version). Some denominations commonly use a crucifixwhich is a false depiction of Jesus dying on a cross. Yet the Encyclopedia Britannica acknowledges that the cross wasn’t used by early Christians:

The representation of Christ on the cross has been an important subject of Western art since the early Middle Ages. Concerned primarily with simple symbolic affirmations of salvation and eternal life, and repelled by the ignominy [public shame, disgrace] of the punishment, the early Christians did not represent the Crucifixion realistically before the 5th century; instead, the event was symbolized first by a lamb and, after the official recognition of Christianity by the Roman state in the early 4th century, by a jeweled cross. By the 6th century, however, representations of the Crucifixion became numerous (“Crucifixion,”, June 16, 2023).

For more detail on the history of cross symbols used in Christianity and other religions, you can read Mr. Wyatt Ciesielka’s article “The Crucifix—A Christian or Pagan Symbol?” at Though the cross is the primary symbol of nearly all mainstream Christian denominations, God’s Church has never used the cross as art, decoration, or an object of reverence, in obedience to the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4–6). It’s also worth noting that Scripture does not describe in detail the actual object on which Jesus was crucified; it could have been any of a variety of shapes Roman executioners used to inflict extreme suffering and humiliation. Several scriptures describe Christ as crucified on a “tree” (e.g. Acts 5:30; 10:39).

Whatever the exact shape of the stauros, what is important is that, on a real Wednesday in AD 31, a real man was viciously hung on a real piece of wood with real nails. That Man’s true disciples do not hold in reverence the instrument used to torture Him. And while it is important to know what the message of the stake is not about, it is even more important to understand what it is about.

2: This Message Is About What Christ Endured and Gave When He Died

The stake Jesus carried was the literal object upon which He was crucified, and it also symbolically represented a vital reason why He came in the flesh. In the September–October 2005 issue of the Living Church News, Mr. John Ogwyn wrote, 

The stake that Jesus took up at the end of His life, as he walked from the Governor’s Palace to His place of execution, symbolized the purpose for which He had entered human flesh and come into the world. It was indeed the instrument of Christ’s execution. However, it was by His death and shed blood that He paid the penalty for sin and made possible our reconciliation to God. Additionally, He triumphed over Satan and all his works, ensuring the ultimate victory of all those who would follow Him (“How Deeply Are You Committed?”).

The gospels describe what happened to Jesus on that Passover day, sharing details regarding His torture in the early morning and His being ridiculed, scourged, beaten, spit on, stripped, and mockingly forced to wear a “crown” of thorns and scarlet robe (Matthew 27:26–31). Then, led to Golgotha, He was hoisted up on the stake at about 9:00 a.m. (Mark 15:25), where He endured more mocking as people said, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:33–40), reminding us of Satan’s words when tempting Jesus: “If You are the Son of God,” then do this or that to prove it (Matthew 4:3–6).

From about 9:00 a.m. to noon, Jesus hung on the stake in bright daylight as several of His disciples watched, with His mother perhaps the onlooker suffering most (John 19:25). Then, around noon, a supernatural darkness came over the land. Around 3:00 p.m., His physical life ended when a soldier thrust a spear into His side (Matthew 27:45–50; John 19:34). The Eternal One was dead, and would remain so for the next three days and three nights.

What unsettling thoughts must have been going through the minds of the mob of His accusers—the Roman soldiers, the criminals next to Him, and others as they stood there in total darkness at the peak of the day? What were His disciples thinking? After hanging on the stake for six hours, Jesus Christ, the Eternal God of the Old Testament, took His last breath and died. The creation groaned at its Creator’s death; the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom, an earthquake shook the land, and the graves of many deceased righteous people were opened (Matthew 27:51–53). The enormity of these events moved some of the guards, who answered their own mockery from a few hours before by saying, “Truly this was the Son of God,” as some of Christ’s disciples continued to watch (vv. 54–56). Then Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the stake, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb shortly before sunset (vv. 57–60).

This is a summary of what the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob endured while hanging on the instrument of His death. Paul later described that “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the [stauros]” (Philippians 2:8). These details are a vital part of what Paul called the message of the stake.

3: This Message Is About Grace, Justification, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness

Jesus Christ didn’t deserve to die—because He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He died to take what all other human beings deserve because of our sins. We’ve all sinned and therefore earned what is required in the law: death (Romans 6:23). By Christ’s death, by His shed blood, all believers who repent and are baptized can have their sins completely removed. The grace, justification, and forgiveness we each require are all made possible by Christ’s death.

We read that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Furthermore, “by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:20–21). And we learn that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Sin is the cause of human suffering, pain, and death. It is utterly horrific, separating the sinner from God. And there is only one way to bring cleansing, reconciliation, and forgiveness from the terrible, filthy, wretched state we enter into when we sin. Mr. Gerald Weston describes this core part of God’s plan in his booklet John 3:16: Hidden Truths of the Golden Verse, freely available at

The wage we earn when we transgress God’s law is death. But eternal life has been made possible because of God’s free gift to us, given when Jesus gave His life in our stead (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). God purchased us back from death by sacrificing something far more valuable than silver or gold—the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18–19)! And this was not a rash decision; it was all determined from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). There is no more important message in John 3:16 than this. No greater act of love is known to mankind!

As Colossians 2:13–14, Galatians 3:13, and 1 Peter 2:24 explain, every Christian’s sins, the guilt of those sins, and the curse of those sins (the death penalty), were placed on Christ and nailed with Him to the stake. As Mr. Weston explains:

Justification is the forgiveness of our sins, and is the result of our faith in Jesus’ having given His life in exchange for ours…. Because our sins are forgiven, we are now reconciled with God…. We are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, by faith in His shed blood. We can never earn that reconciliation. It is God’s free gift, which we often describe as grace.

Much of the New Testament revolves around one of the most miraculous events in history—the death of the Creator, which occurred through His agonizing execution. The love, grace, and mercy shown by God the Father and Jesus Christ in Their plan for Christ’s sacrifice allows Christians to be justified, reconciled, and forgiven—essential elements of the message of the stake.

4: This Message Is Vital to the New Covenant and the Gospel

In Lesson Nine of the Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course, the section titled “The Messenger of the Covenant” explains:

The third aspect of the New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah and proclaimed by Jesus Christ, involves the forgiveness and removal of sin. It is sin that cuts man off from His Creator and dooms him to death. Jesus Christ came to make possible the removal of sin and its penalties. He did this by giving His life as a ransom for ours, paying the death penalty that we have all incurred by our attitudes and actions. The New Covenant that Jesus Christ came proclaiming is at the heart and core of the Gospel.

This is described by Jeremiah’s famous prophecy regarding the New Covenant: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). (As an aside to highlight the importance of the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31–34 is the longest continuous Old Testament passage quoted in full in the New Testament. This quotation is found in Hebrews 8:8–12.) A core aspect of the New Covenant, of which Jesus Christ was the Mediator and Messenger, is the forgiveness of sins. 

The forgiveness of sins, made possible by Christ’s sacrifice, is not only a central part of the New Covenant—it is also central to the Gospel: 

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).

Paul also explained that “we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:23–24).

The message that Jesus died on our behalf to pay the penalty we deserve because of sins is in every way good news. That Christ was murdered on a stake is part of the overall message of the coming Kingdom of God, revealing how Christians can be forgiven—a key step in God’s plan of salvation. No one will inherit the Kingdom of God without accepting Christ as their personal Savior, and thus having their sins washed away by the Savior’s shed blood.

5: This Message Is Remembered Every Year at Passover

Passover is the most referenced and described Feast in the New Testament. As He kept the Passover, Jesus instituted new symbols that memorialize His sacrifice:

When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:14–20).

Christ’s blood was shed through beatings, scourging, the crown of thorns, being nailed to the stake, and then finally and most fully when a soldier pierced His side with a spear—all “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Through the literal blood that came from Jesus Christ’s body, which the Bible calls “precious” (1 Peter 1:19), the sins of the world are cleansed. It is the only way.

Paul explains that this vital part of God’s plan—the New Covenant, containing the message of the stake—is to be proclaimed every year at Passover: “In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25–26). For nearly 2,000 years since Jesus of Nazareth died in AD 31, Passover has annually remembered Christ’s death, memorializing the message of the stake.

We Must Respond with Repentance

Once believers accept in faith the message of the stake, they must respond to it. Action is required. Our living Christianity does not leave Christ on the stake, and Dr. Roderick C. Meredith explained this concept in his booklet The Holy Days: God’s Master Plan:

Salvation is a process. We are now “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and ultimately shall be saved—if we endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). Paul explains, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). If we observe just the Passover, we leave God’s plan incomplete. We leave Jesus hanging dead on a cross—end of story! Yet remember—our Savior rose again! And it is through His resurrected life that we shall be saved (p. 18).

This is where much of mainstream Christianity leaves the message of the stake incomplete by minimizing—or outright ignoring—repentance, obedience, and surrender to God and His laws. We could say that the “message of the stake” must be followed by the “message of repentance,” rehearsed every year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which teaches the lesson of responding to Christ’s sacrifice with deep repentance and letting Christ live in us. Repentance was part of Christ’s message from the very beginning of His ministry (Mark 1:15).

The message of the stake, commemorated every year at Passover, reminds us of what God the Father and Jesus Christ did. At that first step in the process of salvation, the Christian must accept Christ as Savior and must accept God’s grace and forgiveness in faith. The next step required is a response to God’s grace—deep repentance. Jesus explained this message in terms of crucifixion, a horrific torture that He knew was in His future, and which He had likely seen other people suffer: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Essentially, Christ was describing the baptized Christian’s need to live a life of crucifying their old, sinful way of living, while now living a new life free of sin (Romans 6:4–11).

The Festival that follows Passover is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which pictures our striving to replace sin (leaven) in our lives with righteousness (unleavened bread). Christians, accepting Christ as Savior, realize the enormity of what He was willing to endure—giving up existence as a God-being and then suffering the excruciating pain of separation from His Father and death while nailed to a beam of wood. 

In response to that sacrifice, grateful Christians will do everything in their power to sincerely repent, strive to obey God, and turn away from sin for the rest of their lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because sin is horrific. Sin is filthy. Sin is costly. Sin is the cause of the problems and suffering in the world. Sin is why Jesus Christ had to die. Christians who understand the message of the stake will never take sin lightly, but will strive to crucify their sinful passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).

They will also take seriously Scripture’s warning that “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4–6). If there’s anything in our lifetimes that we absolutely never want to do, it is to crucify Jesus Christ again. For that reason, the message of repentance must follow the message of the stake.

Let’s conclude by looking again at 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For true Christians, the message of the stake is the power of Almighty God. Why such a strong statement? Because as horrific, filthy, and costly as our sins are, we are totally and completely cleansed of them.

The message of the stake is not a message meant to elevate or honor an implement of torture, but rather a message of the Savior’s willing sacrifice for usPaul sought to convey the message of the stake and everything that it means spiritually to the Church members in Corinth—and to us.

This is the truth and the message of the greatest act of love: God the Father giving His Son to be crucified and thereby forgive the sins of the world, washing them away in His shed blood. That is the message of the stauros, the stake—and it is the power of God.