in Christ, the Gospel on November 9, 2017
The cross and the crown of Jesus represent basically the two major aspects of His work. The cross represents His humiliation which includes His incarnation, demonstration, and crucifixion. The crown represents His exaltation which includes His resurrection, ascension, coronation, and revelation. More specifically the cross has come to represent the crucifixion, atonement, and His role as Savior while the crown represents His coronation, kingdom and His role as King.
Historically there has been a fragile relationship between these two major elements of the Christian faith. Due in part to our tendency to polarize what we cannot harmonize, the church has swung back and forth between these two truths: a pendulum swinging reductionalism.1
During much of the 20th century there have been reactionary debates between those who focused on the cross and those who emphasized the kingdom/crown. As mainline denominations began to emphasize the need to usher in the kingdom now, they either marginalized or dismissed the necessity of the atonement/cross. More conservative camps reacted by emphasizing the cross and personal redemption thereby marginalizing the crown or relegating it to a future (eschatological) dimension. The unintended consequence was a truncated gospel of sin management in which salvation is essential but discipleship is an elective.
The tension resurfaced in the latter part of the 20th century when there was a debate over “Lordship Salvation”. It pitted the view that belief in Jesus as Savior was all that was required against those who stressed the need to believe in Him as Savior and Lord.
More recently the “missional movement” stressed the gospel through the lens of restoring our culture in light of the kingdom. Much like the earlier movements, the focus on kingdom living polarized the discussion as it tended to marginalize the cross and the atonement.
A second contributor to this polarization is found in the overall theme we ascribe to Scripture. Most would agree that the grand theme is the revelation of God, but what is it after that? Various unifying themes have been promoted: Atonement, redemption, kingdom, Christ, etc. The chosen theme can unintentionally create a tension in the union between the cross and the crown.
A third contributor to this tension is the influence of symbols. Throughout Christian and secular history the cross has survived as the primary symbol for the Christian faith. It has not always been so. The cross was rarely used as a symbol during the first four hundred years of Christianity. Prior to Constantine the early church used various symbols of faith.
“Early Christians used a wide variety of symbols to express their faith. The second-century Christian teacher Clement of Alexandria identified a dove, a fish, a ship, a lyre, and an anchor as suitable images to be engraved on Christians’ signet-rings (or seals).” 2 Archaeologists have confirmed this in various discoveries.
“Among the symbols employed by the early Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ, Greek for fish) is an acronym a word formed from the first letters of several words. It translates to “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior,” in ancient Greek.”3
The symbol of the cross and crown together never quite caught on which is unfortunate in my opinion. One reason could be that to draw a cross is much simpler than drawing a crown. It is fairly easy to make the “sign of the cross” but the “sign of the crown” would take a lot more coordination! So out of convenience we disconnected the theme of the kingdom of God and the atonement.
The atonement of Christ has both an individual and kingdom component. Through the cross man’s rebellion to God’s authority (sin) has been dealt with and God’s wrath averted. But the atonement has also set us free from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of God. The atonement is both a substitution and a transference. We have been brought into His story where we can now find our significance, identity, and responsibility.
I am sure the symbol of the cross originally carried with it the entire story of Jesus Christ the Lord. But overtime and changing cultures, it has lost the context of the kingdom. I am not crusading for a new, revised Christian symbol but rather a renewed union of the cross and the crown. When the cross and the crown are united in our minds as the central theme of the gospel, then discipleship on the resurrection side of the cross will no longer be an elective but an essential and natural response.
- The practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it. For more background read The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat, Zondervan, pg. 26
- Christianity Today, February, 2009, “When did the cross supplant the ichthus (fish) as a symbol of the Christian faith?” Everett Ferguson
- New World Encyclopedia “Christian Symbolism”