24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
We will take a closer look at this famous and confusing passage throughout this series, but first let’s look at the context. A few minutes ago, Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the Prophets”. Jesus then asked “Who do you think that I am?”. It is interesting here that only Peter answered. Peter was the only one who is recorded to have responded to this question, and he said that he thought Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus then blessed him.
After that, Jesus starts talking about how he will suffer at the hands of the elders. Peter brashly claims that it will never happen, and Jesus rebukes him. Now look at where Peter is coming from. He was the only one who answered Jesus’ question, and the Son of God blessed him! Since we know Peter, like any man, is sinful and fallible, he may (or may not) still be on a pedestal, proud of what he has just done.
Right after this, Jesus states the main paragraph in which we are talking about. I find this interesting, Jesus tell his disciples to take up their crosses after rebuking Peter for claiming that Jesus would not suffer at the hands of the elders. Perhaps Jesus is trying to say that like Him, we must take up our crosses. It is very interesting.
So, let’s take a look at verse 24, our first verse. It says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Notice it says whoever. This doesn’t mean that some Christians do it, or a special few, or most of them. This means that everyone that wants to be Jesus’ disciple, i.e. a Christian, must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. The word “said” in the Original Greek is lego, which actually means to “teach, command, direct, affirm, exhort, etc.” So, this means that Jesus is trying to teach the disciples, and/or to command and direct them. Either way, this means that Jesus is giving us a command. The word “want” is thelo, which means “desire, wish, want, etc.” Erchomai means “to come”, but can also mean “to follow.” So far we have this: “Jesus commanded and taught His disciples or us as Christians, ‘Everyone and anyone who wants, desires, or wishes to come or follow after me…’”
Now the next part is interesting: “He must deny”. All of this in Greek is actually one word: aparneomai. This word means “to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone” or “to forget one's self, lose sight of one's self and one's own interests”. And the next word is himself, so this means that what Jesus is saying is basically to affirm that you have no connection with yourself. This gets confusing. What does it mean to have no connection with yourself? The second explanation is a little easier to understand. If you desire to follow Jesus, then you must forget yourself, and lose sight of your interests. This basically means to lose sight of self-centered goals, and forget about yourself and focus more on others and God, instead of yourself and selfish desires.
Now this is where translating this passage gets tougher, surprisingly with the seemingly simple words “take up”, airo in Greek. There are many different meanings of this word. It could mean to simply “pick up”, or it could mean to carry, or it can be to bear, as if you have to bear a burden. It could mean to take and apply to any use. This might be translated as to go through rough times by taking up a cross, but that hard time will give you experience to help someone else going through it, or strengthen you in some other way so you may apply it. This is very interesting, look in the footnotes for more interpretations.
As most of you may know, the cross is used to torture and finally kill people through brutal means, usually used on criminals. When someone went to be crucified on a cross, they would be forced to carry the cross on the road to the place where they would die. Jesus is saying to carry your cross, instead of taking shortcuts in life, you should endure the pain. We can’t do it alone, we need God’s help. Instead of taking drugs or drinking when things go terrible, pray to God for strength. Instead of getting mad and closing out others when things go wrong, ask God for the power to endure, because at the end of the road, instead of death, Heaven awaits. You just have to make it there, and with God’s help, you can endure the pain, but only with God’s help.
Next it says, after taking up your cross, to follow Jesus. The word follow isn’t the same as used earlier (anyone who wants to come, or follow Jesus). This word is akoloutheō, which means not just to follow but to “follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him”, or “to join one as a disciple”.
So, we finished this first verse! I will give the entire verse translated as we have translated it, and then we shall end. This isn’t the end of this passage though, next time we will dig into the verses that follow this one. God bless you!
Jesus commanded His disciples and all Christians, “whoever, anyone, and everyone who wants or desires to come or follow after me, he must lose sight of himself and take up (still a confusing topic, see footnotes for complete translation) his cross and become my disciple and accompany me as my attendant.”
Bible verses taken from the NIV and NSAB
www.BlueLetterBible.com used for Greek references
For more on the word “take up” go to http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G142&t=NIV