Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Messiah’s Crucifixion Tree

Most Christians have it firmly implanted in their minds that there were three crosses at Calvary -- the center one holding the crucified Messiah while the crosses on either side contained the two criminals. It may come as a surprise to realize that the Bible nowhere states that the Messiah was crucified on a Roman cross! In fact, the Bible clearly reveals that the Messiah and the two criminals were crucified together on a living, growing tree -- fulfilling detailed prophecy and symbolism found in the Old Testament.!

by John D. Keyser

In the Bible we read that Yeshua the Messiah was crucified between two criminals -- two sinners whom, one of them admitted, deserved the death that awaited them. Luke has the best record of these two men. In Luke 23:32-33 we read:

"Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left" (NIV).

According to St. John Chrysostom (Homil. v, c. i., on I Corinth.) the cross on which the Messiah was nailed was of the kind known as immissa, which means that the vertical trunk extended a certain height above the transverse beam; it was thus higher than the crosses of the two thieves, his crime being judged a graver one. This comment presupposes that there were three crosses at the crucifixion scene -- one for the Messiah and one each for the two criminals. And this is the scene commonly depicted in the artwork of the masters down through the ages. But if you read the above passage again -- and the parallel passages in the other gospel accounts -- NOTHING whatsoever is mentioned about three crosses! All Luke says is, "there they crucified him, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left". It has been ASSUMED that three crosses were employed at the crucifixion site.

However, when we take a close look at Scripture a totally different crucifixion scene is depicted -- one which is full of symbology pointing to the man that YEHOVAH God appointed and anointed to be the atonement for our sins and His first-born Son from a resurrection. Why, you might ask, does this detail of the crucifixion scene matter in the overall scheme of the gospel message? Two things: (1) YEHOVAH God's great plan for His creation is being implemented down to the minutest detail of prophecy, and (2) we should be seeking truth in all areas of our endeavors.

As Peter A Michas succinctly puts it: "As God designed prophetic pictures and patterns to reveal His Messiah, He also gave His Word for man to understand their meaning and spiritual significance. Deep study of Scripture, with the Spirit of Truth to bring understanding, reveals God's beautiful and precise plan. Knowing who our Creator is and what our Savior has done for us is a solid foundation of truth, not blind faith. Total trust in God comes from knowing who He is and what He has done for us. The greater our understanding, the greater our trust will be and the closer our personal relationship with Him will be" (The Rod of An Almond Tree in God's Plan, WinePress Publishing, Mukilteo, WA 1997, pp. 139-140).

In our devotion to truth, therefore, we should strive to gain an in-depth understanding of the prophetic fulfillment intimated in the crucifixion scene in order to gain an accurate picture of YEHOVAH's plan for Israel. One of the key elements in our study should be that of redemption -- how was it obtained and why is it necessary. We will find that delving into the Old Testament (or Tanakh) will uncover prophecies that point to the Messiah and his role in YEHOVAH's great plan.

The Alexandrian Influence

In Galatians 3:13 the apostle Paul makes the following statement when referring to the Messiah’s crucifixion: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a TREE. This, we will find, is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which says –

"When someone is convicted of a capital offense and is executed, and you hang him on a TREE, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall indeed bury him that same day. For anyone who is hanged is under God's curse; you must not defile your land which the LORD your God is giving to you as an inheritance" (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, translated by Abegg, Flint and Ulrich, HarperSanFrancisco 1999, p. 176).

According to Peter A. Michas:

"A controversy existed among the rabbis (Pharisees) as to whether this passage refers to a man being hanged on a TREE before or after death. The rabbinic interpretation was based upon humane considerations, and called for a quick death by strangulation, followed by hanging. However, there is evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (Temple Scroll and Nahum Commentary) that this same passage was originally interpreted to mean that a man was hanged on a TREE as the method of execution" (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p. 143).

"According to the Temple Scroll (Column 64)," states Michas, "those found guilty of certain capital offenses were killed by hanging on a tree:

'If a man informs against his people, and delivers up his people to a foreign nation, and does harm to his people, you shall hang him on a TREE and he shall die....And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and has defected into the midst of the nations, and has cursed his people and the children of Israel, you shall hang him also on the TREE, and he shall die (Yadin, The Temple Scroll, p. 206)'" (ibid., p. 143).

"According to the Sages," continues Michas, "only blasphemers and idolaters were to be hanged on a tree, though they abided by the more humane act of hanging after death. However, the Temple Scroll clearly shows that hanging [on a tree] could be used as a legitimate method of execution" (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p. 143-144).

Notice, now, what Yigael Yadin says –

"It is possible...that hanging alive goes back to the Second Temple period as the legitimate interpretation of the Bible’s command to execute by hanging, and that it was only the later Pharisaic halachah which gave a different interpretation, and condemned the practice of stringing up a condemned man while still alive. There is in fact proof of this in the Aramaic Targum (of a sentence in Ruth) which dwells on the four methods of carrying out judicial sentences of death. It affirms that the fourth type, which is strangulation in rabbinic terminology, is indeed hanging on a tree. And the late Israeli scholar Professor J. Heinemann pointed out that this Targum preserves an ancient pre-Tannaitic (i.e. Before the mishnaic sages) tradition of punishment by actual hanging -- namely, with hanging as the cause of death" (The Temple Scroll, The Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1984, pp. 207-208).

Peter Michas points out that "in addition to this, Yigael Yadin has reinterpreted the Nahum Commentary in light of the Temple Scroll to support the contention that the Deuteronomy passage does indeed refer to hanging men alive on a TREE, as practiced in ancient Israel. Crucifixion, as a form of hanging, was also practiced later in Israel’s history" (The Rod of An Almond Tree in God's Master Plan, p. 144).

Explains Nancy Kuehl in A Book of Evidence: The Trials and Execution of Jesus, "While the Jewish 'hanging' was generally a procedure that occurred only after death, the Babylonian-Alexandrian priesthood had adopted the methods of their predecessor Alexander Jannaeus, who had hanged alive eight hundred Pharisees. The Qumran documents make it clear that the practice was clearly Alexandrian" (Resource Publications, Eugene, OR 2013, p. 192). Flavius Josephus -- the first-century-A.D. Jewish historian -- also refers to this incident in his Wars of the Jews (IV, 6). In light of this, it is fairly obvious what the Jewish leaders meant when they informed Pontius Pilate that they had a law, and by that law the Messiah must die:

"The Jews answered him: 'We have a law, and according to the law he [Yeshua] ought to die because he made himself God's son' (John 19:7, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures).

The New Testament makes it evident that Pilate had not wanted to put the Messiah to death and washed his hands of the entire affair because he knew the Messiah was innocent of any charge. Rather than standing up to the Jewish religious authorities, Pilate handed the case over to them, saying, "See to it yourselves" (Matthew 27:24). Adds Peter Michas, "Their response indicates they understood this action as a statement made according to Jewish law, absolving him of any responsibility for this action (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). In this way, Yeshua fulfilled prophecy according to Jewish law, NOT ROMAN LAW (Matthew 5:17; 26:54)" (The Rod of An Almond Tree in God's Master Plan, p. 145).

According to Ernest L. Martin: "There is no doubt that Christians up to the middle of the second century knew Christ was crucified on a LITERAL tree. Melito of Sardis [died c. 180] consistently said the 'cross' of Christ was a tree. He said: 'Just as from a tree came sin, so also from a TREE came salvation' (New Fragment, III. 4). The patibulum of Christ was, without doubt, nailed to a LIVING TREE!" (Secrets of Golgotha: The Forgotten History of Christ's Crucifixion, ASK Publications, Alhambra, CA 1988, p. 175). "It is also a matter of historical record," adds Peter Michas, "that before 326 C.E., the cross did not exist as a Christian symbol, but was derived from paganism" (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p.145). For a fascinating discussion of the origin and history of the cross, read Babylon Mystery Religion by Ralph Woodrow.

Tree Or a Cross?

As we saw at the beginning of this article, the New Testament simply DOES NOT support the traditional idea of three crosses at the crucifixion scene. As we shall see, certain versions of the Bible -- such as the KJV, the Jerusalem Bible and the NIV -- more accurately translate the following passages by referring to a crucifixion TREE. Notice –

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

"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a TREE" (Acts 5:30, KJV).

"It was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, but it was you who had him executed by hanging on a TREE" (Acts 5:30, Jerusalem Bible).

"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 10:39, NIV).

"And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a TREE" (Acts 10:39, KJV).

"Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a TREE" (Acts 10:39, Jerusalem Bible).

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

"When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the TREE and buried him in a tomb" (Acts 13:29, Jerusalem Bible).

"And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the TREE, and laid him in a sepulcher" (Acts 13:29, KJV).

"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' (Galatians 3:13, NIV).

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who is hanged on a TREE" (Galatians 3:13, Jerusalem Bible).

"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a TREE" (Galatians 3:13, KJV).

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the TREE..." (1 Peter 2:24, NIV).

"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the TREE..." (1 Peter 2:24, KJV).

If you check into the original Greek of the above passages you will see that the Greek word xulou (or xulon) is translated tree -- not "cross." In all these instances the tree was a living tree! The Messiah himself said at the very time he was being led to his crucifixion: "For if they do these things in (dative: with) a green tree, what shall be done in (dative: with) the dry?" (Luke 23:31). This comment clearly shows that the Messiah was crucified with (or by means of) a living tree. This was the instrument by which he was executed.

This is confirmed by Nancy L. Kuehl:

"Whatever one believes, we must believe Jesus was hanged alive on a living tree. The evidence is overwhelming. From the New Covenant, we have several references to it. Never is the word xulon translated as the 'cross.' The word for 'cross' would have been stauros, and even then the Greek word only reflects the upright nature of the tree! The word xulon, however, is the same that Luke uses in 23:31 for 'moist wood' and refers to a living tree! The Hebrew equivalent would be the 'ets (derived from 'atsah), which is also used as a term for 'gallows' in the book of Esther where Haman is 'hanged' (Esth. 5:14; 8:7). It is the same word used in Genesis 40:19 and Deuteronomy 21:22 to describe the hanging of an individual on a 'tree.' These 'gallows' DO NOT refer to a Roman cross. The word is even used to describe the fruit trees of the Garden of Eden, including the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the New Covenant, the disciples were quite clear about HOW Jesus was hanged, and it wasn't upon a Roman cross" (A Book of Evidence: The Trials and Execution of Jesus, p. 199).

People have asked about the "cross" that Simon of Cyrene had to carry for the Messiah to the crucifixion site on the Mount of Olives. What exactly did it consist of? First, the three synoptic gospels do not actually say that the Messiah took up his own cross at all, but rather that a "Simon of Cyrene" was compelled to carry the cross "as they went out" (Matthew 27:32) or "as they led him away" (Luke 23:26). John, on the other hand, simply tells us that the Messiah went out bearing his own cross" (John 19:17) -- and does not mention the incident with Simon at all. Our traditional conception of the story, then, attempts to harmonize these two gospel strands: The Messiah, having been scourged and thus already near death, stumbles and falls under the burden of his cross, and only then is Simon pressed into service by the Temple police. It is worth noting, too, from what is known of the actual Jewish practice of crucifixion, that the Messiah -- and Simon -- despite our traditional depictions, carried only the horizontal cross-beam, which would have been fixed to an upright at the crucifixion site -- whether an upright stake or a living tree.

One author has a variation on the "tree" model -- notice!

"And the Romans were ever a practical people. As known from the writings of Roman historians, the prescribed procedure was for the victim to carry only the patibulum, or crossbeam of the cross. The stipes, or upright -- usually a BEHEADED TREE-TRUNK still rooted in the ground -- remained permanently in position, so that the crossbeam carried by the victim could simply be lifted up and dropped into position for each fresh execution. That the upright was a simple TREE-TRUNK also makes sense of a later statement by Jesus' disciple Simon Peter that 'they killed him by hanging him on a tree' (Acts 10:39)" (Ian Wilson, Murder at Golgotha, St. Martin's Press, New York 2006, p. 87).

Regardless of the actual nature of the crucifixion tree (living or dead) more and more commentators and historians are coming to the realization that the Messiah was put to death on a tree rather than a Roman cross. This passage from Murder at Golgotha presupposes that the execution of the Messiah was undertaken by the Romans, which is simply NOT true -- it was undertaken by the Temple police under the control of the Jewish religious hierarchy. But that's for another article. 

According to The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible it was to this plank of wood (Latin: patibulum) that Yeshua was nailed at the wrists. (We should realize that the traditional depictions, showing nails through the hands, are physically impossible because the weight of the body would cause the nails to tear through the hands). The crossbar was then nailed to the TREE at which time the ankles were tied to the tree trunk.

"It is interesting to note," remarks Nancy L. Kuehl, "that the nailing of the feet is mentioned only once in the New Covenant (Luke 40); however, on closer examination we learn that the words 'and feet' have been interpolated from a late Greek manuscript. A few scholars, including Paulus [Das Leben Jesu, III, 669, 754], claim that his feet were not 'nailed.' The feet were usually tied with a rope to the tree" (A Book of Evidence, p. 195).

The Greek word stauros' is sometimes used in connection with the execution of the Messiah. There is no evidence, however, that this word here meant a "cross" such as the pagans used as a religious symbol for many centuries before the Messiah to denote the sun-god. In the classical Greek the word stauros' generally meant merely an upright stake or pale, or a pile such as is used for a foundation. The verb stau.ro'o meant to fence with pales, to form a stockade or palisade, and this is the verb used when the Jewish mob called for the Messiah to be crucified. While Vine and other expositors claim the word "stauros" was limited to a single upright beam -- and this was probably its original meaning -- by the time of the first century A.D. it had come to have a VARIETY of meanings.

For such interpreters to say that the word stauros had the exclusive meaning of an upright pole or stake in the first century is to deny the abundance of evidence which clearly indicates that it did not. Ernest L. Martin shows that

"it had at least THREE different meanings in the New Testament alone. Note that the board plank which supported the arms of Christ (called the patibulum in Latin) was itself called a stauros (Luke 23:26). But it had a further meaning. The actual pole or the tree-trunk on which the patibulum was nailed was also called a stauros (John 19:19). And the whole complex together (both patibulum and the bough of the tree reckoned as a single executionary devise) was called a stauros (John 19:25). This means that the living tree on which Christ was crucified was known itself as a stauros" (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 173).

The Two Criminals and Bullinger's Theory

When we look closely at the Book of John another fascinating aspect of the crucifixion scene comes into play -- one that is very different from what most people today have imagined! To pick up on this, let's focus on John 19, verses 31 to 33:

"It was the Preparation Day, and the Judeans did not want the BODIES [PLURAL] to remain on the STAKE [STAUROS -- SINGULAR] on Shabbat [weekly Sabbath], since it was an especially important Shabbat [Nisan 15]. So they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the BODIES [PLURAL] removed. The soldiers came and broke the legs of the FIRST MAN [one of the criminals] then the legs of the OTHER ONE; but WHEN THEY GOT TO YESHUA and saw that he was already dead, they didn't break his legs" (Jewish New Testament).

Do you see the apparent dichotomy here? Doesn't John say that there were BODIES (PLURAL) on a SINGULAR STAKE OR STAUROS? What these verses tell us is that three men were attached to ONE stake or stauros! Verse 32 of John 19 further substantiates this fact: The Greek word sunstaurothentos not only means that the two criminals were simply "with him," but that both of them were also crucified "together with him" -- "together with him" on the SAME living almond tree!

Now we get to an even more conclusive fact -- one that has caused various researchers to indulge in mathematical gymnastics in trying to solve the puzzle. Let Ernest Martin outline the problem:

"If one robber was crucified on a separate cross on Christ's LEFT side (as is normally depicted), and the other robber on another cross on his RIGHT (so that there were THREE crosses placed side by side with one another -- with Christ Jesus situated in the MIDDLE), we then have a MAJOR PROBLEM with the deaths of the two robbers. This is because the soldiers killed FIRST the two robbers and LAST of all they came to Christ in the MIDDLE to slay him. Being in the "middle" should have made Christ the SECOND to be killed" (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 176).

Because Dr. Bullinger in his Companion Bible failed to understand that the Messiah was crucified on a living tree, he concocted a radical theory to try and explain how the Roman soldiers killed first the two robbers and last of all came to the Messiah in the middle to slay him. According to Bullinger there were actually four others besides Yeshua who were crucified that day. He claimed that the Bible was showing there were two others on each side of the Messiah who were crucified with him. His reasoning was as follows: Since the New Testament called those crucified with the Messiah both robbers (Matthew 27:38) and also malefactors (criminals) (Luke 23:32), Bullinger came to the erroneous conclusion that there were two malefactors and also two robbers! This is why Bullinger came to believe that the two malefactors on one side had their legs broken first and then the soldiers came to the Messiah in the middle of the two malefactors and the two robbers.

While Bullinger’s hypothesis was ingenious, the Bible nowhere supports such an interpretation. In fact, all robbers are criminals (malefactors), but it is NOT true that all criminals are robbers. Luke simply used the generic term malefactors (criminals) to refer to the two robbers who were crucified with the Messiah.

However, Bullinger had a real point. How could the soldiers first break the legs of the two robbers and then come to Yeshua who was in the middle of them? Actually, the answer is quite simple! Notice what Ernest Martin wrote –

"Since we are told by the apostle John (who was an eyewitness to the crucifixion) that all three were crucified on ONE stauros (i.e. a single tree), it is easy to see how the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the robber in the Messiah’s right side (who had his back to the Messiah and was located on the northeast side of him) and then they broke the legs of the robber on the Messiah’s left side (who also had his back to the Messiah but was located on the southeast side of him). So, proceeding from the northeast side of the tree of crucifixion, the soldiers killed the first robber, went to the southeast side and killed the second robber, but they then came to the Messiah who was facing (let us say) westward towards his Father’s Temple. When they reached Yeshua they found him dead already" (Secrets of Golgotha: The Forgotten History of Christ's Crucifixion, pp. 176-177).

All of this is perfectly logical and is actually what happened. There is no need to resort to the outlandish theories of Bullinger, or anyone else for that matter! It is now easy to understand how these men could have conversed with each other despite their agony and difficulty in speaking! Now we can clearly see that the soldiers came first to one thief, second to the next thief, and lastly to the Messiah -- as they walked AROUND the tree breaking legs as necessary to hasten death!

The symbolic picture represented by the three men nailed to the same tree is truly significant and will be discussed later in this article.

The Two Trees

Those of us who attended the headquarters' congregations of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, California, during the time Herbert W. Armstrong was alive, can clearly recall the almost weekly sermons by Mr. Armstrong concerning the Garden of Eden and the two trees. While he was trying in all earnestness to get across to us the two ways of life represented by the trees -- that of giving and that of getting -- I don't believe that he ever made the connection between the Crucifixion Tree and the Tree of Life. A former faculty member of Ambassador College did, however, see the link:

"What we need to recognize, however, is that the Tree of Life was reckoned by the early Jews to have been the almond tree. And early Christians considered the tree on which Christ was crucified as being the Tree of Life....In Christian symbolism, the real 'fruit' of the Tree of Life is symbolically represented as the 'flesh of Christ' (John 6:51-58). He was the actual 'edible part' that all people must consume in order to inherit everlasting life. The life-giving fruit hanging on that symbolic Tree of Life (represented by the almond tree?) was reckoned by early Christians as the spiritual 'fruit' of immortality (John 6:51ff)" (Ernest L. Martin, Secrets of Golgotha, p. 257).

Peter Michas writes that the evidence in support of the TREE -- rather than the Roman cross -- for the crucifixion of the Messiah is overwhelming and opens the door to making a profound connection between the crucifixion TREE and the Tree of Life. As we have already seen, the Greek word xulou (or xulon) was used to refer to the crucifixion tree. In contrast, the Greek word dendron -- which refers to a living tree primarily known for its fruit -- was NEVER used in this way.

It is indeed significant that the Greek word (xulou/xulon) means a living tree and not a Roman cross. It is also used to refer to the Tree of Life in the Book of Revelation! Notice!

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree [xulon] of life, which is in the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7).

"...And on either side of the river was the tree [xulon] of life....yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).

"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree [xulon] of life, and may enter by the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14).

"...And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree [xulon] of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:19).

The use of the same Greek word confirms a DIRECT LINK between the Tree of Life and the crucifixion tree. "That link -- both LITERAL and SYMBOLIC -- has been traced from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the crucifixion tree on the Mount of Olives" confirms Peter Michas.

The Copper Serpent and Redemption

According to Peter Michas there is evidence that Aaron’s rod -- a branch from the Tree of Life -- was planted on the Mount of Olives at the place of sin sacrifice, by King David. Even though Hezekiah later destroyed the copper serpent attached to its trunk, the tree remained for YEHOVAH God to work His ultimate redemptive plan for all humankind.

Yeshua the Messiah made clear the prophetic meaning of the wilderness event involving the copper serpent when he told Nicodemus: ...just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life. (John 3:14-15) Like the copper serpent that Moses placed on a pole in the wilderness, the Messiah was impaled or fastened on a tree, thus appearing to many as an evildoer and a sinner, like a snake, being in the position of one cursed (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). In the wilderness a person who had been bitten by one of the poisonous serpents that YEHOVAH sent among the Israelites evidently had to gaze at the copper serpent in faith for healing. Similarly, to gain everlasting life through the Messiah, one needs to look to him in faith.

"As the serpent was lifted up high so that all could see it," explains Michas, "likewise Yeshua was lifted up on the highest place in Jerusalem [Mount of Olives], so that all could see him. And all who look to him find total spiritual healing and eternal life" (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p. 146).

In Bible times almonds were an important food item and featured in many stories. For instance, Aaron’s rod miraculously sprouted leaves and almond blossoms at the same time -- YEHOVAH God’s sign that Aaron and his tribe was chosen as priests. Because of their beauty, the buds and blossoms of the almond modeled for the Tabernacle’s candelabra. During the seven years of famine, Jacob sent almonds -- considered a delicacy -- to the Egyptian pharaoh.  In Ecclesiastes, the almond symbolizes old age -- its white blossoms are reminiscent of white hair.

The biblical town Luz, mentioned in Genesis 28:19, probably received its name because their hills abounded with almond trees. Still today, in January and February, the hills around Jerusalem are dotted with blooming almond trees.

The root from the Hebrew word shaked -- almond -- is the word shoked, meaning to watch diligently or to wait. In Jeremiah, Israel’s watchman, it’s used as wordplay. The LORD asks him, what he sees. "An almond (shaked) tree-branch," he answers. The LORD replies, "I will watch (shoked) over my Word to perform it."

The Pulpit Commentary says of Verse 12 -- "I will hasten my word; literally, I am wakeful over my word; alluding to the meaning of the Hebrew word for almond. The LORD will hasten to perform His judgments of Jerusalem which He proclaimed in His word to Jeremiah."

According to the law of nature, all living things have a beginning and an end. However, this was not the case with Aaron’s rod, for YEHOVAH gave it a new lease of life. This miracle also hinted at the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah: Even though death came to the world because of the actions of the first man, Adam, resurrection from the dead would come about on account of the Messiah. Hence, when the Messiah was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he told Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live (John 11:25).

Therefore, Jeremiah’s vision of the rod of an almond tree and YEHOVAH God’s promise to watch over His Word (to perform the act of redemption) was fulfilled at the crucifixion. In this way, the Tree of Life, the source of the almond rod, is both literally and symbolically represented in the redemption of all Israel through the Messiah -- the Fruit of the Tree of Life who gives eternal life to all who trust in him and YEHOVAH God the Father!

The miracle of Aaron’s rod also reminds us that we, as Christians, were once sinners -- indistinguishable from others in the world. However, when YEHOVAH God chose us, He bestowed us with power and honor, and the privilege to partake in His holy work. The apostle Paul understood this truth, for he said, But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our achievements are like the budding of Aaron’s rod: they are only possible because of YEHOVAH God.

In response to Korah’s rebellion, YEHOVAH God gave a sign to the Israelites: He made Aaron’s rod sprout, blossom and bear ripe almonds. By doing so, He put an end to their doubts and re-affirmed Aaron’s position as high priest. However, the miracle also pointed forward to the coming Messiah, specifically his resurrection, which established him as the everlasting High Priest. As Christians, we should trust in the leadership and guidance of this everlasting High Priest with a submissive and humble heart.

Some critics have denied the idea that the Messiah was crucified to an almond tree -- saying that such a tree was not large enough (or high enough) to serve such a purpose. However -- according to Wikipedia -- the almond tree can grow to a height of 33 feet with a trunk diameter of 12 inches. This, it would seem, should be more than adequate for the purposes of a crucifixion.

Sin Offering and the Messiah's Sacrifice

Since sin separates man from a spiritual relationship with his Creator, the sin offering is the most important of all sacrifices in the Old Testament. This sacrifice made atonement for the individual person when they sinned unintentionally -- or did what was forbidden in any of YEHOVAH’s commands (Leviticus 4:2). The idea is that some sins are unintentional and were committed through ignorance, hurry, lack of consideration, or carelessness, as opposed to the sins which are deliberate and knowingly done in rebellion against YEHOVAH God and the commandments He set for all people to follow. Even though these sins were unintentional, that did not free the person from the guilt of the sin or from the wrath of YEHOVAH God and therefore the sin offering was essential.

The effect of the sin offering was forgiveness of the sin (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10; 12:8; 14:20; 16:19). In the New Testament the Messiah atoned for the believer’s sin (Hebrews 13:12), he stood in the sinners place as his substitute and he is shown as actually burdened with the believer’s sin. Isaiah 53:12 gives a good example of typology for the sin offering and the Messiah bearing the sins of the people. …because he poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12b). 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.

YEHOVAH God required animal sacrifices to provide a temporary covering of sins because the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23) and life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11) -- and to foreshadow the perfect and complete sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Leviticus 4:35,5:10). Animal sacrifice is an important theme found throughout the Bible because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). When Adam and Eve sinned, animals were killed by YEHOVAH to provide clothing for them (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to YEHOVAH. Cain's was unacceptable because he brought fruit, while Abel's was acceptable because it was the firstborn of his flock (Genesis 4:4-5). After the flood receded, Noah sacrificed animals to YEHOVAH God (Genesis 8:20-21. However, as noted above, animal sacrifice could only provide a temporary solution for the atonement of sin.

Regarding the first sin sacrifice, Peter Michas makes the following observation:

"Understanding how precisely God works, it is likely that the place of the first sin sacrifice by God was the same place where Adam was directed to build the first sacrificial altar. This altar was repeatedly rebuilt and reused through the generations by Abel, Noah and Abraham (Genesis 22:9)...the Mount of Olives [was believed to be] the site of this altar.  Furthermore, the most holy sin sacrifice, the Red Heifer, is known to have been offered on the summit of the Mount of Olives, 'where God was worshiped' (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p. 147).

The majority of Christian Bible commentators who understand the Red Heifer sacrifice view the command of YEHOVAH God for Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac to be of even greater significance and to prefigure YEHOVAH's plan to have His own adopted Son, , die on the tree as a  substitute for all Israel -- much like the ram YEHOVAH God provided for Abraham. This fulfilled Abraham's reply to Isaac's question of where was the animal that would be used for the sacrifice; Abraham's affirmation that "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering" is seen as a prophetic foreshadow of the promise of the Lamb of YEHOVAH God.

Abraham's willingness to give up his own son Isaac is seen, in this view, as foreshadowing the willingness of YEHOVAH God the Father to sacrifice his Son. Also contrasted is Isaac's submission in the whole ordeal with the Messiah's -- the two choosing to lay down their own lives in order for the will of YEHOVAH God to be accomplished, as no struggle is mentioned in the Genesis account. The Torah Anthology makes it clear that Isaac was not a child at this point in time, but a young man quite capable of overcoming his father (Vol. 2, pp. 333-334). Indeed, both stories portray the participants carrying the wood for their own sacrifice up a mountain.

Animal sacrifices were commanded by YEHOVAH God so that the individual could experience forgiveness of sin and re-establish a relationship with YEHOVAH God. The animal served as a substitute -- that is, the animal died in place of the sinner, but only temporarily, which is why the sacrifices needed to be offered over and over again. Animal sacrifices stopped with the Messiah's death. Yeshua the Messiah was the ultimate sacrificial substitute once for all time (Hebrews 7:27) and is now the ONLY mediator between YEHOVAH God and Israel (1 Timothy 2:5). Animal sacrifices foreshadowed the Messiah’s sacrifice on our behalf. The only basis on which an animal sacrifice could provide forgiveness of sins is the Messiah who would sacrifice himself for our sins, providing the forgiveness that animal sacrifices could only illustrate and foreshadow.

The Symbology of the Second Temple Menorah

One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the Menorah -- which is a seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple priests lit the Menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups. It has been said that the Menorah is a symbol of the nation of Israel and that it is the Israelites' mission to be "a light unto the nations."

The history of the Menorah begins with one Bezalel, who created the first six-branched lamp in accordance to YEHOVAH God's detailed instructions. These instructions are recorded in Exodus 25:31-32:

"And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knops, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candle-stick out of the other side thereof…"

After completing the First Temple King Solomon placed Bezalel’s Menorah inside where it stood together with nine other Menorahs. They stood there for four hundred years until 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, destroyed the Temple and all its content -- including the ten pure gold Menorahs.

Seventy years later the Second Temple was build and once it was completed, one seven-branched Menorah -- made out of pure gold -- was placed inside.

After the great victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple only to find the golden Menorah broken. They repaired the Menorah and decided to light the holy lamp. Unfortunately, they could only find enough oil that would last them for one day. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days, giving them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the Menorah lit. This is celebrated today by Jews and is called Hanukah.

In 70 A.D. the Temple was destroyed again -- this time by the Romans -- and the Menorah was taken to Rome by Titus, the Roman general, who displayed the Menorah during the triumphant homecoming parade where humiliated Jewish captives were forced to carry the Menorah as a symbol of their own defeat. A depiction of this event is preserved on the Arch of Titus that still stands today in Rome.

Following the destruction of the Temple, the Menorah became an important symbol of Jewish history. It is a reminder of the sovereignty of the Temple. And even though the location of the original Menorah is unknown today -- the symbolism lives on; the national emblem of the State of Israel is a Menorah, flanked by two olive branches.

Exodus 25 goes on to say that "three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lamp stand. And on the lamp stand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms" (verse 33). Earlier in this article I mentioned that the Messiah was crucified on a tree with two criminals who -- according to the Greek of the New Testament -- were attached to the SAME tree as the Messiah. This scenario, when viewed from the perspective of the information we have learned about the Menorah representing the Tree of Life, leads us to a fascinating symbolism! According to Ernest L. Martin:

"This would have meant that there were six arms [of the Messiah and the two criminals] extending upwards around the tree itself. This scene could provide a symbolic spectacle of a living Menorah (the seven-branched lamp stand). The Menorah did in fact represent the Tree of Life and the Light of the World...Their six arms extending upwards around a central trunk of a tree (the trunk being the seventh 'arm') could be reckoned as a symbol of a living Menorah. Christ was pictured after his resurrection as standing in the midst of the seven branched lamp stand (Rev. 1:3) in a glorious and living existence with all the power of the universe at his beck and call.

"Was his crucifixion intended to show as opposite signification on a 'Menorah' of degradation and shame? Whereas he should have been sitting on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, he was in a diametrically contrary situation as a SIN OFFERING being crucified near the outside altar of the Sanctuary. The scene, from the Christian point of view, would have been totally opposite from what should have been.

"If there is anything to this symbolism, then the national symbol of the modern State of Israel (the seven branched lamp stand) represents CHRIST BEING CRUCIFIED BETWEEN TWO ROBBERS (his 'cherubim') FOR THE SINS OF [ISRAEL]. This would mean that THE MENORAH IS THE SYMBOLIC CRUCIFIX OF CHRIST, not the kind that is normally seen in Christian society today" (Secrets of Golgotha, pp. 261-262).

"In this symbolic parallel," adds Peter Michas, "Yeshua represents the fruit of the Tree of Life. Accepting his sacrifice for atonement of sin provides the only way of salvation and eternal life. Thus, the Tree of Life is seen to be both literally and symbolically connected to the crucifixion and what Yeshua did for us in his sacrifice" (The Rod of An Almond Tree, p. 234).

The symbolism of the Menorah -- and the almond tree as the Tree of Life and the instrument of the Messiah's death -- is clearly reflected in the following passage from the Book of John:

"Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life' (John 8:12).

Catholic Deception and the Fate of the Crucifixion Tree

According to legend, Helena Augustas, mother of Constantine the "Great", at the age of 80 traveled to Jerusalem and supposedly found the True Cross -- the "cross" upon which the Messiah was believed to have been crucified.

This visit took place around 325, and Helena visited the Holy Land as a representative of the emperor in order to view the places where the Messiah had lived and died. She became interested in locating the instrument of the Messiah's death -- which was known as the "True Cross." There are a number of versions on how the "cross" was found. In some, Helena had dreams telling her where the "cross" was buried. In another tradition -- the Ethiopian Coptic tradition still celebrated as Mesquel -- she supposedly follows smoke from a bonfire to the site.

However, in the version that received the most circulation and became popular in the middle ages, she asks the people of Jerusalem to tell her the location. When the Jewish leaders of the city are silent, she places one of them, a man named Judas Quiriacus, in a well until he agrees to show her the site. After seven days, he prays to God for guidance and reveals the location. As a result, Helena conveniently finds the "three crosses," nails, and title under a pagan temple! As if the story could become any more fantastic, a dead girl is brought to the site to determine which is the right "cross." Upon being touched by the "True Cross," she is restored to life!

Helena was made a saint for her role in finding the "cross." According to this Catholic mythology, a portion of the cross remained in Jerusalem, where it was exhibited on certain Holy Days. The remainder was divided between Rome and Constantinople. A portion of the title was sent to Rome, where it was hidden and then found again in the 16th century.

In line with all these pagan fantasies there are several legends surrounding the nails. In one, a nail is tossed into an angry sea to provide safe passage for the relics. In another, the nail becomes part of the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. A third has a nail becoming part of Constantine’s helmet and -- supposedly to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy -- formed into a bit for his horse!

Within fifteen years, Cyril, the bishop of Jerusalem, announced the wide spread distribution of the "True Cross" as a relic: "The holy wood of the cross gives witness: it is here to be seen in this very day, and through these who take [pieces] from it in faith, it has from here already filled almost the whole world" (Jan Willem Drijvers, Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992, p. 82)) 

The pilgrim Egeria in the late fourth century writes about viewing the "True Cross" in the basilica on Good Friday -- and that each celebrant touched their forehead and then kissed the piece of the cross while held by the bishop. Celebrants were watched closely. Egeria reports that one man had taken a bite out of the cross during this ceremony. The veneration of the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem spread into Western practices. As Catholicism developed into a fully pagan mystery religion -- and the relic received greater distribution -- the Veneration of the Cross feasts on September 14 emerged, which involved similar blatantly unbiblical observances.

As Ernest L. Martin observes:

"All rational people today realize that all such 'discoveries' are nothing more than PIOUS FRAUDS. But what needs to be recognized is that the so-called 'true' cross was EQUALLY SPURIOUS. This is especially true since it can be demonstrated that Christ was NOT even crucified on a Latin or Greek cross.

"People should realize that Judas Quiriacus was simply an opportunist and they should have dismissed his so-called 'discovery' of the cross of Christ. But that was an age of credulity -- when dreams, visions and signs ruled the day. The common people, and even theologians, began to accept the evidence afforded by this great outpouring of 'miracles' in the fourth century, and to the people living at the time such supernatural occurrences proved to be of more authority in locating Christian holy places and artifacts than historical documents" (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 134).

So what happened to the tree that the Messiah was actually crucified upon? While the fate of the crucifixion tree is not known with any certainty, it can be assumed that it was eventually chopped down and destroyed by fire because such a tree was considered accursed by the Jews. Some believe that it may have been destroyed soon after the Messiah’s crucifixion, however, if this did not occur, it was probably cut down by the Romans during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to provide wood for the Roman crosses that escaping Jews were nailed to (see Josephus, Wars of the Jews, V.XI.1; VI.1.1). Either way, it could not have survived the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and surrounding areas.

It should be noted that the Messiah was charged by the Jewish authorities with the most heinous of crimes -- that of blasphemy (see Matthew 26:65). This meant that he was looked upon by the people as accursed of God, and this is exactly how the apostle Paul described him in Galatians 3:13. This was a reference to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in the Old Testament -- where it explains that such an accursed person even defiled the very soil where his execution took place. This defilement also applied to the TREE on which a person was hanged or crucified. In the Book of Hebrews Paul said that the tree (the stauros) was considered a shame (Hebrews 12:2) and the crosspiece (Latin: patibulum) the reproach (Hebrews 13:13). All the instruments of crucifixion were accursed because they came into contact with the accursed one. Writes Ernest Martin –

"The essential teaching on how to cleanse the land of such accursedness is found in Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, and in the previous verse 21 it says this purging was to be done by burning (Hebrew: bahgar). In the Old Testament example of such purging, it was thought necessary to burn the possessions of such an 'accursed one' because the abominable sin of the person was even transferred to the things owned by the sinner (since he had touched them and this reckoned even his possessions 'accursed')" (Secrets of Golgotha, pp. 179-180).

We see this with the possessions of Achan, who lived during the time of Joshua (Joshua 7:15, 24-26). He sinned so grievously that he was killed -- along with his children and animals -- and all his accursed things were burnt up with him. This practice of complete and utter destruction was deemed the only way to purify the land of Israel from such defilements.

Taking this as the cardinal example of what happened to an accursed one and the accursed things which he had come in contact with, it is almost certain that the tree on which the Messiah was crucified was burnt to ashes by the Jewish authorities. It was reckoned a shame -- itself accursed. To keep the land from being polluted, Yeshua had to be destroyed before sundown of the Preparation Day and the accursed stauros had to be burnt up so that no person could ever touch it again.

The Role of Joseph of Arimathea

The Jewish authorities of the day wanted to take the dead body of the Messiah and the accursed (shameful) tree and burn them up together just like the example of Achan in the Old Testament. It was for this reason that Joseph of Arimathea went before Pontius Pilate to ask for the Messiah’s body so that he could arrange for its burial before the authorities committed it to the flames (Mark 15:43). If Pilate had refused to release the body of the Messiah to Joseph, it would indeed have been consumed by fire along with the tree he died on.

In fact, there was a prophecy which many people at the time believed referred to the Messiah and his death. Martin explains –

"It [the prophecy] showed that the tree and the person on the tree would be destroyed together. Though the original teaching of this Old Testament prophecy seemed to refer to the prophet Jeremiah, later Christians came to feel that it was a direct prophecy of what happened to Christ at his crucifixion. The prophecy is found in Jeremiah 11:19.

"For I was like a docile lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that it was against me they fashioned their plots: 'Let us destroy the TREE WITH ITS FRUIT [or 'sap'], let us cut him off from the land of the living. That his name be remembered no more!' (Italics mine -- the subsidiary word 'ox' in the King James Version is not in the original Hebrew)" (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 181).

The Anglican Commentary (London: 1875) provides an interesting quote from Jerome in the 4th century regarding this very verse:

"Jerome well says on this verse; 'all the churches agree in understanding that under the person of Jeremiah these things are said of Christ. For he is the lamb brought to the slaughter that opened not its mouth. The TREE is his cross, and the bread [fruit] his body: for he says himself, "I am the bread that came down from heaven. And of him they purposed to cut him off from the land of the living that his name should no more be remembered"'" (vol. V, p. 395).

Even though later Christians interpreted Jeremiah 11:19 in a number of ways, it is a fact that the Hebrew makes one think that the tree, along WITH the fruit (the body) were prophesied to be destroyed together! While this prophecy -- acknowledged by Christians as referring to the Messiah -- has the crucifixion tree destroyed along WITH the Messiah, we know that Joseph of Arimathea was able, at the last moment, to rescue Yeshua’s body from such a fate.

However, this Old Testament passage still clearly shows that the tree itself was destroyed. And typically, in the judgment rendered by the Sanhedrin against the Messiah, it could be reckoned that Yeshua was destroyed along with the tree (at least he should have been destroyed with the tree) had not Joseph of Arimathea rescued his body from being committed to the flames.

The prophecy of Jeremiah 11:19, as understood in the original Hebrew and correctly referring to the Messiah and the tree he died on, is further proof that early Christians knew the crucifixion tree itself was not spared from destruction.

 

Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 2186
Temple City, CA 91780, U.S.A.
www.hope-of-israel.org
Scan with your
Smartphone for
more information