In its general acceptation the cross is regarded as an instrument of punishment, and metaphorically is used to convey the idea of the punishment itself and the pain which it inflicts. The sign of the cross, however, even among many ancient nations, was invariably emblematic of immortality. This serves to show the difference between these two concepts of the cross, since human suffering or punishment can last only so long as there seems to be a human or mortal will opposed to the divine. As soon as this false sense of a life or mind apart from God is relinquished, mortality is put off and immortality is put on.
The International Encyclopedia states that "in the history of the cross as a Christian symbol, it is evident that it was used at first as an emblem of triumph, not of suffering." This is undoubtedly due to the fact that since Jesus was able to overcome "even the death of the cross," which was considered the most dishonorable death, he was able to rise above all the hate and malignity which the carnal mind could heap upon him, and since he had said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also," his immediate disciples, taking his words very seriously, strove to follow him by doing the same works. Finding that they were eminently successful in overcoming sin, healing disease, and even in raising the dead, the import of the cross was to them not the suffering endured by their Master, but rather his victory over death.
Unfortunately, Christians gradually lost the power to heal by the Christ-method, and in time came to look upon the cross as a symbol of unavoidable human suffering. Today many have their thought so riveted to the passing of our Lord that they entirely forget his subsequent resurrection and its joyful lesson. To such his crucifixion means that while on earth human beings must suffer untold agonies, but if patiently borne this suffering may prepare them for heaven when they die. There is, however, nothing in the Bible, nothing in Jesus' teaching, to justify this interpretation either of his life or of the significance of the cross.