Many Christians traditionally remember Good Friday as the day Jesus died on the Cross. To learn a little about the significance of the The Cross, please read the brief article here. Today, I want to talk about one of the more startling but often missed aspects of Jesus’ experience on the Cross. To get the context, let’s step back a couple weeks before that pivotal moment in history.
Several days before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus took his leadership team to Philipi-Ceasarea. This region was historically known as Bashan.
For the ancient Israelite, Bashan was the realm of nightmares. It was the land of shadow. Fearsome and demonic monsters lived and ruled there. If the Hebrews were Gondor, Bashan was Mordor. And I’m being more literal than you might suppose.
The Mountain of the Serpent
God birthed Israel into freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. But then he led them to Mordor, because he wanted his Gondor to wipe out the evil stain that was Bashan. Says Dr. Heiser:
The Israelites eventually made their way into a region known as Bashan. The place had a terrifying reputation. In ancient literature outside the Bible, Bashan was known as “the place of the serpent.”
Two of its major cities, Ashtaroth and Edrei, both mentioned in connection with this journey (Deut. 1:4; Josh. 13:12), were considered gateways to the underworld realm of the dead. In the context of Israel’s supernatural worldview, God had led the Israelites to the gates of hell. 1
Centuries later, in Jesus’ day, the highest mountain of Bashan, Mt. Hermon, had numerous occult temples and sacrificial sites for demonic worship. Jesus took his leadership team into this heart of darkness, to Mount Doom, the very gates of hell.
Again from Dr. Heiser:
Jesus was challenging the powers of darkness. At the fall, humanity lost eternal life with God and earned instead a fate of death and eternal separation from God. The lord of the dead—the Serpent, known as Satan and the Devil—had claim over humanity. Every human would join him in the realm of the dead. But God had other ideas. 2
Jesus took the inner core of his leadership team up Mt. Doom, and something uber-supernatural happened.
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus… And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
I call this the cosmic flipping off of Jesus to Satan. Dr. Heiser calls it, “Come and get me.” Jesus transformed from his mortal body into a state that revealed his Deity. Then the Old Testament representatives of the Law and the Prophets appeared. Until then, how you could know God was through the Law and the Prophets. But then God speaks and says to stop looking to the Law and the Prophets, but look only to Jesus. God then took away the Law and the Prophets, leaving only Jesus.
You want to know God? Look to Jesus.
After this event, Jesus tells his disciple of his impending death and resurrection. They were baffled. They make their way directly to Jerusalem. Jesus has his Triumphant Entry and a week later, he’s hanging on the Cross.
What Jesus Saw From the Cross
When Jesus was crucified, he hung on the cross much of the day, and he said a few things that witnesses recorded. One of the things he said was, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is a quote from Psalm 22, which was written centuries before Jesus lived and before crucifixion was ever implemented as a means of execution. Psalm 22 famously describes many aspects of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and how death by crucifixion actually happens. It’s horrific.
But it also includes an extra terrifying vision, which Jesus probably saw from the Cross.
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
Says Dr. Heiser:
The creepy part of this description is the fierce bulls from Bashan. As we noted earlier, in Old Testament times, Bashan was ground zero to demonic gods and the realm of the dead. The area was a leading center for the worship of Baal, symbolized by bulls and cows. “Bulls from the land of Bashan” is a reference to demons, the powers of darkness. 3
Dr. Heiser likens this to the scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when Aslan is killed. I have agreed with this description in this article.
The “Bulls of Bashan” encompassing Jesus on the cross must have looked far more terrifying, and Jesus could see them.
The New Testament authors record that the demons celebrated and orchestrated Jesus’ death. But they didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Jesus descended to Hell and spoke to the demons and fallen angels already there, announcing they had actually lost, not won. God then resurrected Jesus, and in doing so, God disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities (demons) and put them to open shame, triumphing over them in Jesus. Later, the Apostle Paul wrote that if the demons had known what was going to happen, they wouldn’t have crucified Jesus.
So Jesus looked down from the Cross, the instrument recognized as the most humiliating, torturous and cruel of deaths devised by the ancient Romans, and espied the demons celebrating their supposed victory, when all along, it was on the Cross that Jesus was defeating them.
This is why demons will flee at the Name of Jesus, the only Jesus who died on the Cross and rose again.
Supernatural by Dr. Heiser
Image of Mt Hermon from Brisco, Thomas V. Holman Bible Atlas. Holman Reference. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.
Image of Nimrod’s Fortress from Isachar, Hanan. Images of the Holy Land. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997.
Image of Hill of the Skull from Isachar, Hanan. Images of the Holy Land. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997.