The early Christians didn't have a New Testament. Instead, they read the Septuagint, which essentially consisted of what we consider today as the Old Testament. Immediately after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the story was communicated orally- people literally shouted it from the rooftops.
Imagine how exciting that time was. Friends and neighbors explained what had happened- that Galilean teacher who performed incredible miracles seemed to have met a horrific fate. He was crucified. In the vernacular of the time, he was "hung from a tree," until he died. Now, people are saying that he is still alive. Even more, there were hundreds of witnesses who had seen him alive.
The metaphor of a "tree" crucifixion actually originates in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 21, Moses describes the punishment God has instructed for anyone guilty of a sin worthy of death. That person is to be hung from a tree. Curiously, the instruction also includes a provision that the body should not be hung overnight on that tree. It' a pretty specific instruction.
Later, in the book of Joshua, we read of this faithful servant executing this prescribed punishment. Joshua is one of the first truly faithful to God. Certainly Moses is clearly obedient to God's instruction and arguably, his obedience leads him to incredible blessings. And yet, Moses is (like all of us) a flawed character. He doubts, he debates, he fears. Nonetheless, he has a closely personal relationship with God; despite his deep character flaws.
Joshua, on the other hand, is a soldier who obeys his Commander to the very letter of His orders. When God tells him to attack, armed only with trumpets, he does it. His character seems to be complete obedience to God. He does precisely what God tells him to do, no matter what.
It's a pretty grisly thought. Hanging a dead person from the tree for all to see. Think of the photos of Mussolini and his mistress after his capture, or the Internet video of the execution of Sadaam Hussein. On the one hand, they deserved it. But on the other hand, these were powerful and feared leaders. It's a shocking visual to see anyone fall from such a high place to a position of horrific death. I think the natural reaction of most people would be to instead give the dead some semblance of dignity.
But Joshua follows the Deuteronomy prescription. He conquers and kills the enemies of the Israelites. First he kills the King of Ai and hangs him from a tree. (Joshua 8:29). Later, he kills five enemy kings and hangs them from a tree. (Joshua 10:25) In both cases, he does not allow the bodies to hang overnight.
Now comes the really interesting part.
This is the last time this punishment is mentioned in the Old Testament.
But there is one final time that it is described in the Bible.
I'm sure you've figured it out. We read about a man who is hung from a tree. Curiously, he is killed by this hanging, and his body is displayed in punishment, as Moses originally instructed in Deuteronomy. It's almost a "super-punishment." Hanging one's body on a tree after death is grisly. Killing somone by hanging them on a tree seems beyond comprehension.
God prescribed it thousands of years earlier, reserving it for the very worst kinds of sin. A man who claimed to be God took this punishment upon himself, willingly, when he could have easily avoided it. And his body did not hang overnight. (Mark 15:25-47). It was, like everything else in the New Testament, in perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament writings.
There can be only one reason.
The man explained it himself.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
It's the only reasonable explanation.
Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978,1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.