I've visited the catacombs of Rome a couple of times, spending hours considering the lives of the people whose bones I was now casually walking past as a tourist. Each time I've been deeply moved. The catacombs in Rome are a series of passageways and burial shelfs dug into soft volcanic rock deep underground (about 20-60 feet or 6-20 meters).
Christianity became legalized in the year 312 and the State religion in 380. In the 250 years of Roman persecution the 40 catacombs discovered thus far, we find the remains of millions of believers. Those discovered cover a total of about 600 acres (2.4 square km) under Rome, and in the Catacombs of San Callisto alone there are over 500,000 of our early brothers and sisters in the Lord buried there. In St. Domitilla there are about 150,000, and those are just 2 of the 40.
The artwork in these underground chambers is quite amazing, not only for the images of the lives of the people buried there and the Bible stories depicted, but for the common theme: Death has no power and heaven is certain.
Something is missing in the art
What struck me and that which stays with me, is that there are no cross scenes depicted there. There are Bible scenes like Noah in the Ark and the '3 children' in the fiery furnace, but no crosses. Everything, and I mean everything, has to do with the resurrection. Their gospel was not one of the cross, but of the resurrection.
What they expressed in their art is consistent with the writers of the New Testament: Christ is in you! The resurrected Christ, the power of His resurrection, abides within you!
Do you realize...
...that 'cross' is only mentioned 12 times in the letters, and that between only 6 letters: I Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews. That's it! The word "crucified" is mentioned only 12 times among 5 letters.
By contrast as I've mentioned before and have emailed in an attachment to those who asked for it (and will do so if you'd like just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) there are at least 108 mentions of us being 'in Him' or Him in us; Christ in us or us in Him.
If you study Paul's letters especially you'll find he referenced the cross only to teach it as the means by which the Father brought salvation, but not something to focus on. He always moved on from there to focus on the resurrection and Christ in us. "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. Behold! Old things have passed away, and all things are made new." II Corinthians 5: 17
There is no cross in that verse - the focus is on the resurrection power of Christ in us, the new creation in Christ.
A good example is Ephesians 1: 3-14, which says it is the Father who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies (v3), and the Father adopted us by using Jesus to do so (v5), and it was the Father who purchased our forgiveness through the blood of His Son (v7).
Paul presents Jesus as the means by which the Father accomplished our salvation, and then he moves on to what being in the Royal Family means. Jesus is worthy of worship and honor for His role of course, but the Father used His Son to accomplish His will - great teamwork, but the cross is merely the means by which they brought us salvation and what we have now in Him.
In Ephesians 2:7 Paul says we are saved in this age "that in the ages to come He (Father) would continue to show us the riches of His kindness which is towards us in Christ Jesus."
Paul is not cross-minded other than to teach it as the tool used to bring salvation - and then he moves on to Christ in us.
When you walk into a Christian bookstore, compare the number of crosses you see against the number of empty tombs. Except at Resurrection Day, those scenes are not prominent. How many of us were raised in a denomination that included a processional of a priest carrying a large cross at the start of each service? What if that priest carried a scene of the empty tomb? How many reading this have crosses hanging on a wall in their home or sitting on a shelf? How many empty tomb scenes do you have? Are you cross minded, or as Paul and the early Christians were, resurrection power minded?
You may find this cynical, but consider...
Historically speaking, the New Testament does not focus on the cross, but on the resurrection, Christ in us, and the certainty of heaven. The artwork of the catacombs and writings of the earliest church fathers are consistent with this focus on the resurrection.
That all changed when Christianity was legalized in 312 and became the state religion in 380, and many of the pagan temples were taken over by the new State religion. As a tour guide told us there, the pagan temples fit perfectly with the crowds coming out of the homes, for the pagan temples had pews, a platform, a pulpit - and the auditorium church was born.
Forgive me for this observation if you need to, but from what I've studied and seen, the constant reminder of the cross and that we were sinners in the past serves in part, to keep the flock coming to the auditorium, keeps them weak in their faith and always looking over their shoulders at their past. One cannot look forward to resurrection power if constantly reminded of what you used to be.
When you study the dynamics of the early home and family based church that was focused on Christ in you and the power of the resurrection to live holy and purpose filled lives versus the continual reminder of what we used to be before Christ, the contrast is startling.
The ultimate finished vision
Whatever promise we have received now for our lives, for our loved ones, in this life, those promises are within larger promises of a finished vision. Like the Russian 'nesting dolls' in which one fits neatly inside a larger, and that inside a larger, and so on, so too is any promise we receive in this life. It is nested inside the larger Christ in us, heaven awaits us. The final scene in The Revelation is that of the city we call heaven coming to earth.
Paul directed the Philippians twice to remember our citizenship is in heaven (3: 17, 20), and to the Colossians he said, "You were raised with Christ, so set your mind on the things above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God the Father. For you died already, and your life is hidden in Christ with the Father God." (3: 1-4)
Learn what you have in Christ - can you imagine Who we have in us!? The One who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, lives in you! (Exodus 3: 14, John 8: 58) Be thankful for the cross by all means, but that cross bought us life in Christ, our newly created spirit man, created by the Spirit of God that we may walk with the Father and Son - so do that - focus on walking with the Father, our ultimate destination!
New topic next week, until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at email@example.com