Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jesus hung on a tree, or cross?

Hi Pastor,

 As I was reading the books of Acts, I noticed that Peter & disciples told the people that Jesus was hung on a tree. Why is this so? Isn’t Jesus hung on a cross? Any thoughts on this?




Dear Rico,

This is a good question. Well done! You have observed well! I wonder if anyone else had this anomaly in mind.

 There are five passages that talked about this. I have reproduced it below:

 Acts 5:30 (NIV) The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.

 Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,

 Acts 13:29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.

 Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

 1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

To understand the phrase “hung on a tree”, we need to look at the Old Testament, as the New Testament was being written then.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23

22 If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23 you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

There are two approaches to answer this. A simplistic logical way would be to say the cross is made of wood, which is from trees. Jesus was crucified and hung on the cross. Therefore in that sense, he is hung on a tree. That I think may not bring out the wealth of spiritual implication from the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament laws, when a man is hung on a tree, it represents a special mark of the curse of God, or what the Apostle Paul in Galatians puts it as, the “curse of the law.” We are all cursed in our sins and the just punishment is death and to be hung on a tree. But Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, and in that sense to be hung on the cross, or tree, on our behalf. He took our sins on His body, and hence the curse, literally implicating Himself with Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

The Jews understood this phrase “hung on a tree” well and appreciate the spiritual implication of the cross.


  1. Crucification is the Roman's worst punishment and being "hung on a tree" is the Jewish equivalent.
    Therefore, in Acts where the apostle was addressing the Jews, they choose the term to ensure that they understood the "gross injustice" that they did to the Messiah.

  2. Very insightful, Pr Chris.

    I also want to add my 'two cents' as to why the mention of Jesus 'hung on a tree' has a great symbolic and spiritual implication.

    When Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he was banished from the Garden of Eden and denied access to the tree of life.

    So just as sin started from a tree, God's redemptive grace was extended thru' Jesus being 'hung on a tree'. The Cross as a 'tree' thus became an instrument to restore what was originally intended by God.

    Rev 22:14 says: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates."

    Interestingly besides being 'hung on a tree', Jesus Himself (not the Cross) has also become the tree of life for us.

  3. I wondered if the term 'cross', although literal, is not an embodiment of all the sufferings that the Lord Jesus went through and the results of that suffering, whereas the 'tree' represents the actual, physical place of death. I agree with the previously mentioned points, but wonder, again, if the cross is a more inclusive term than just the actual physical element. The cross is a cross of shame (Hebrews 12:2, 3); a symbol of persecution and enmity (Galatians 6:12); a place of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20); a presentation of the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:18); and a means by which the Jew and Gentile have found common ground.

  4. I would certainly agree with your interpretations here. Great observations! You have a keen insight.

    The Scriptures present us often with the challenge of literal or figurative interpretation. The question we need to ask ourselves is, what does God intend us to know?

    Our goal in understanding the Bible is not in the preference of its literal meanings or figurative meanings. It is to understand what God intended the words to mean. Sometimes God intended a literal meaning, sometimes a figurative meaning, and occasionally both. We need to explore each context.

  5. Not only should we consider the word meaning and context we should also consult the grammar.

    Often people focus on just the meaning of the word by itself. Many times the context and grammar will actually change the meaning of the word, sometimes only slightly

  6. Hi Rico, in my opinion, the most important reason why jesus was hung on a tree is because he was the 'activator' or 'mediator' of the new covenant. (see hebrew 8)

    A covenant is cut, in blood, so that
    - there's a divine exchange. ie what is yours is mine and mine is urs
    - so that whoever who breaks it will die.

    now when jesus cut the new covenant - because he fufilled the law so that it has no long power of us, ie he paid the price. or sometimes paul describe it redeem us from the law, jesus has given us his blessings/authority/righteousness...etc

    A divine exchange has taken place.

    So in the old covenant, that was etched in stone, a man who is hung by a tree is curse. (then there's generation curses). Now in the new covenant, jesus took our place and took the curse. That's why in context in Galatians (mentioned in Ps. Chris' entry)

    Gal 3:10 Certainly all who depend on the works of the LAW are under a CURSE. For it is written, "A CURSE on everyone who does not obey everything that is written in the book of the law!"
    Gal 3:11 Now it is obvious that no one is justified in the sight of God by the law, because "The righteous will live by faith."
    Gal 3:12 But the law has nothing to do with faith. Instead, "The person who keeps the commandments will have life in them."
    Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, "A curse on everyone who is hung on a tree!"
    Gal 3:14 This happened in order that the blessing promised to Abraham would come to the gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

    so why is it important that jesus hung on a 'tree' so that we might

    1) receive
    2) the promised
    3) spirit through faith

    hallelujah, it's jesus is good news indeed! happy easter!

  7. aiyah.. i preview only become post liao.. hahaha.

  8. "hung on a tree" means hung on a tree. He was lynched. Just because a tree is made out of wood and a cross can be made from wood, doesn't mean He was nailed to a cross. If he was wouldn't you think the writers would've said so?
    Lets go to Acts5:30 KJV to get as close to original text when translated as possible. Acts5:30 KJV "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree."
    Now if the writer meant he was nailed to the cross why didn't he mention it?
    The problem is we're believing whatever a person in the pulpit is tell us as he or she twist scriptures. Instead of researching and studying ourselves.
    2 Tim 2:15 tells us this plainly.
    Hosea 4:6 tells us it will cost us if we don't study for ourselves.
    My advise to you Rico, is that YOU research this matter yourself, praying for the spirit of truth to guide as you study.

  9. The word for cross meant a "cross member." The word tree is the Greek word for a living tree. He was both nailed to a cross (member) and a living tree.

  10. To the last couple of anonymous posters....please...also remember to never take scripture from the Bible out of context as it is a perversion and a twisting of the Word of God.

  11. so much spin im dizzy. yall might as well throw phrases in a hat and draw....biblical phrases can be meant to mean whatever really

  12. Best Answer - Chosen by Asker
    True Christians do not use the cross in worship. One important reason is that Jesus Christ did not die on a cross. The Greek word generally translated “cross” is stau·ros′. It basically means “an upright pale or stake.” The Companion Bible points out: “[Stau·ros′] never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle . . . There is nothing in the Greek of the [New Testament] even to imply two pieces of timber.”
    In several texts, Bible writers use another word for the instrument of Jesus’ death. It is the Greek word xy′lon. (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) This word simply means “timber” or “a stick, club, or tree.”
    Explaining why a simple stake was often used for executions, the book Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung (The Cross and the Crucifixion), by Hermann Fulda, states: “Trees were not everywhere available at the places chosen for public execution. So a simple beam was sunk into the ground. On this the outlaws, with hands raised upward and often also with their feet, were bound or nailed.”
    The most convincing proof of all, however, comes from God’s Word. The apostle Paul says: “Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us, because it is written: ‘Accursed is every man hanged upon a stake [“a tree,” King James Version].’” (Galatians 3:13) Here Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, which clearly refers to a stake, not a cross. Since such a means of execution made the person “a curse,” it would not be proper for Christians to decorate their homes with images of Christ impaled.
    There is no evidence that for the first 300 years after Christ’s death, those claiming to be Christians used the cross in worship. In the fourth century, however, pagan Emperor Constantine became a convert to apostate Christianity and promoted the cross as its symbol. Whatever Constantine’s motives, the cross had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The cross is, in fact, pagan in origin. The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: “The cross is found in both pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures.” Various other authorities have linked the cross with nature worship and pagan sex rites.
    Why, then, was this pagan symbol promoted? Apparently, to make it easier for pagans to accept “Christianity.” Nevertheless, devotion to any pagan symbol is clearly condemned by the Bible. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) The Scriptures also forbid all forms of idolatry. (Exodus 20:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 10:14) With very good reason, therefore, true Christians do not use the cross in worship.

    1. Thank for your comments above. I agree with you that Christians can be misinformed on the understanding of the cross. Often we misappropriate the object to mean more than it should, for example attributing divine power to its use. Hence the thin line separating it from idolatry. If we ever use the cross, it should never be more than a symbolic representation of what Jesus had done on the cross. Some people wear their crosses for protection. That to me is wrong, if not bordering on an idolatrous use of the object. It is Jesus that protects us, not the cross as an object itself.

      Whether we should use a cross because of a pagan origin is debatable. In the same manner, some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas. When Christianity goes to a new culture, we often look into its practices and context and imbibe new meanings to them. For e.g. the word “logos” in the Gospel of John. Apostle John took a word with a different meaning and context in his time, redeem the word by putting in a new understanding to mean Jesus. In the same way, Christian missionaries to China, in attempting to translate the word “God’, used a word “shen” which in that context means a deity of the land, and imbibe a new understanding to mean the Christian God.

      This is in some sense contextualizing the Gospel to the local culture, which we can be in the world but not of the world. I don’t presume this to be an easy task, but the real goal is help people understand the Gospel in the way they can. On a side note, what do we use for Holy Communion if a culture does not have bread and wine as their staple diet? It was during Jesus’ time, but not necessarily so in a Hawaiian island!

  13. Well, I think pst chris is right, because when Jesus resurrected he showed him selves to the disciples and thomas doubted him until she showed him the holes in his hands and legs. With this proove, Jesus was crucified on a cross not hanged on a tree

  14. I'm certainly no scholar in any form or fashion.. But in my studies of Romans with a small group of guys we uncovered some really cool things the Holy Spirit allowed to be revealed. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a choice of mankind taking on the responsibility of the whole law. God knew no created being could ever succeed in this slavery. Only the promised redeemer could break the curse. Upon further studies I happed to be reading in the book of Mark. I came across a familiar yet always puzzling event that took place 4 days before Christ was to free us from this curse. After breaking Roman law he ultimately charged with of claiming to be a King, he came back to Jeresalum where he would ultimately pass judgment on the "worship" procedures in the temple. On his way in he stopped by a Fig tree and makes mention even though leaves were there and the tree was promising food to quench his hunger, the tree was absent of any fruit. I believe this tree was THE tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and for the first time Jesus cursed a living thing. After kicking butt and taking names in the temple he goes back with the deciples and tells them in their surprise or the trees withering that by Faith Anything is possible with God! Its my thought this would have been the spot of his crime against Rome and it being on hill aslo a public place which would have been a perfect choice for death penalty to be issued.

    Think of the beauty in our God who allowed sin to enter the world through the first Adam and the one tree and the second Adam, Jesus, fulfilling his purpose of taking on our Curse and separation hanging on that same tree!

    If you are not convinced the tree of Knowledge was a fig tree, think of Adam and Eve's first action after eating from the tree. They realized they were naked and covered themselves in.... Fig Leaves!

    I also believe the singular tree in the New Jeruselam that stands on both sides of the River from the throne represents the first and the second covenant. Gods laws and Jesus' redemption. The fig tree did no good in hiding Adam and Eve from God, but with Jesus cursing the fig tree and hanging from it he fulfills his own prophecy preached to the crowd after they came back for more miraculas loaves and fishes. He said that if they did not eat of his flesh and drink of his blood they would not live. That's why I believe Rev 22 says there was no more curse and the leaves were good for the healing of the nations.

    All this is a really simple truth of the Gospel good news that we can't earn our way to God. He paid our ransom took on our curse and defeated the grave so that we could be Spiritually born again and live righteous only by the power of His Spirit.

    1. Peter,

      Thank you for your comments. The challenge in Bible studies is either we can read too much into it, or too little. Having a good grasp of the whole Bible therefore helps us interpret things within its context. I like your keen insight into "figs". Much has been written about this. One good post can be found here:

      I appreciate your insights but would be apprehensive about equating the fig tree in Mark to the tree in Genesis. You had taken a literal view. It would have been acceptable if you had taken a symbolic view.

      I like what’s written in a commentary about this:

      This section has a “sandwich” structure (cf. 3:20-35; 5:21-43; 6:7-31). The account of Jesus’ judgment on the fig tree (11:12-14, 20-26) is divided by the account of His cleansing the temple precincts (vv. 15-19). This structure suggests that each episode helps explain the other. Like the fig tree, Israel flourished with the “leaves” of ritual religion but lacked the “fruit” of righteousness God demanded. Both episodes signify God’s impending judgment on Israel for religious hypocrisy (cf. comments on 7:6). Matthew telescoped the incidents into two separate, successive accounts without the precise time intervals Mark noted (Matt. 21:12-17, 18-22).

      Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:157). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

  15. The hung on a tree reference in Acts is most likely an older oral tradition that the writer has used as a source. Nothing more. Different Gosepl writers are referencing similar and different traditons when compiling their works. No need to get too technical and theological here. It simply reflects an older tradition about the crucifixion.