The scriptures show three general meanings of the cross. The first is the literal cross where Christ was crucified. (John 19:17-31)
The second is an illustration of the Christian life – willing to do God’s will under whatever circumstances He may permit. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (obeying God’s will and opposing our fallen flesh, the sinful world, and the devil), and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) We do not literally carry a cross around to show we are a Christian.
The third and most important is the cross symbolizes the death of Christ which is the center of the gospel message. By his death, eternal salvation is offered to all. By his death, we can be reconciled to God. “And that he might reconcile (call back into union and friendship) both unto God in one body by the cross,” Ephesians 2:6. “…having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:20.
How could Jesus’ death accomplish this reconciling? God condemned Adam for disobedience and his punishment of dying/dead was passed down to all of his children. “…in the day of your eating of it–dying you do die.” (Genesis 2:17 Young’s Literal Translation) (Note: there is no mention of hell, only death. See FAQ under Hell, Death/Grave.)
Jesus took Adam’s punishment upon himself. He died for Adam. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22) “It follows then that just as the result of a single transgression is a condemnation which extends to the whole race, so also the result of a single decree of righteousness is a life-giving acquittal which extends to the whole race. For as through the disobedience of the one individual the mass of mankind were constituted sinners, so also through the obedience of the One the mass of mankind will be constituted righteous.” (Romans 5:18, 19 Weymouth)
We can agree with John in Revelation 5:12, “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”