The first surviving visual representation of Jesus’ crucifixion comes from graffiti scratched on a stone in a guardroom on Palatine Hill near the Circus Maximus in Rome. (Open your web browser and Google ”The Alexamenos Graffito.”) It is a crude drawing of a man with the head of a donkey hanging on a cross. To the left of the cross another man raises his hand in a gesture of worship. Scribbled underneath are the words “Alexamenos worships his God.”
Before the onset of Christianity, the Jews had been accused of onolatry, i.e., worshiping a donkey. Among Greco-Roman writers, the reason for this association between the Jews and a donkey is varied; nevertheless, it’s clear that this defamation was eventually transferred to Jesus. After all, early Christianity was popularly perceived as a variant ofJudaism. As repulsive as the picture is to Christians today, it does convey how contemptible a crucified Lord was to pagan thinking (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23).
Increasingly so, Christians in America can sympathize with Alexamenos, who had to endure mockery for worshiping a crucified man. To be sure, the situation in America today is nowhere near as dire as it was in first-century Rome, but no one can deny that the demonization of Christianity and its adherents has intensified over the last few decades. It’s difficult to field the taunts, criticisms, and insults of others, but we must withstand the ridicule. Jesus did, and He expects us to do so as well (1 Pet. 2:21-25).
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).