This, the first of Jesus' passion predictions, follows on from the confession of Peter where he openly declares his belief in Jesus as messiah. Jesus now expands the disciples' understanding of his messiahship. Jesus is a suffering messiah; he is the "Suffering Servant" spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus then makes a general call to all those who would follow him. He calls for surrender, not to a glorious messiah, but to a suffering servant, whose ignominious surrender to the divine-will paves the way to glory.
v21. Jesus had already alluded to his coming death, but now he openly "explains" it to the disciples. In speaking of his suffering, he uses the word "must". This is the Father's will and it "must" be accomplished.
v22. Peter strenuously rejects the idea of a suffering messiah. Peter has a big heart, but also a big mouth.
v23. Jesus turns, faces Peter, and rebukes him strongly. The words and actions of Jesus are obviously very striking and were well remembered. First, he compares Peter's words with Satan's temptation of a kingdom gained without suffering. The possibility of another way, rather than the "cup" of suffering, was a fearful temptation. Second, Peter, who was just described as the "fortress rock", the believing man upon whom Christ will build his church, is now described as a rock of stumbling, a rock to trip Christ up. Third, Peter, who had just declared a truth revealed by the Father, is now identified as a source of mere human thoughts, and corrupt at that.
v24. Crucifixion was a common event in Palestine, as was the sight of a person carrying part of their cross to the place of execution. When Jesus calls on his listeners to "take up their cross" he is calling on them to put their head on the chopping block, to take that dangerous step of faith and follow Christ. Often this image is understood in terms of cross-bearing discipleship, of faithful and obedient service to Christ, of disowning personal human rights for a greater good. Yet, although these words are directed to the disciples, they are for "anyone". The renunciation that Jesus speaks of here involves an embarrassing surrender to a suffering messiah, a commitment of faith to Jesus as Lord. If we wish to share in the glory of eternity then we will have to set aside all dependence on self and rely on the crucified one alone.
v25-26. If we, in the power of our own will, seek to preserve our self-being, our personal independent eternal self, then we will lose everything. Only by surrendering ourselves to the dying and rising Christ, by losing ourselves in him, can we find and preserve our eternal being, our "soul", our "life". Even possessing the whole world cannot compensate for the loss of our soul.
v27. In the day of judgment we will be rewarded on the basis of what we have done. In the context, the deed is our surrender to Christ. If we rest in faith on the cross of Christ, then we will be saved. Some argue that the deed is cross-bearing discipleship, in the sense of an exemplary Christian life, but this would leave us with a doctrine of salvation by works.
v28. This verse has many possible interpretations. Most commentators take "will not taste death" to mean "will not die", but a metaphorical sense is best, "will not face eternal annihilation." Those who opt for "will not die" tend to think that Jesus' words apply to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Certainly, some of those standing there that day, did see this terrible event. Yet, it is more likely that Jesus is saying that some in the crowd, a small band who have put their trust in him, will share eternity with him. They will be part of that throng without number who come with the Son of Man into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive glory, authority and power.
It is very common for us to find identity, meaning, personhood,.... the substance of our being, in the things we own, our job, our personal abilities.... Often the car we drive serves to define our character, or at least, defines it the way we want others to see it. Our home, furniture and boys-toys can be used in the same way.
Of course, we know only too well, it's all going to burn one day. Getting ourselves overly fussed with the accumulated debris of this world, enjoyable though it may be, is the height of foolishness - good fun, but foolishness. What gain is there in possessing all the world only to inevitably find that someone else gets to clean out our drawers and carry off all our gear. The real prize surely has to be an integral personhood, a "life", a "soul" that is eternal. Identity in our car, home, kids... is fleeting. Identity in Jesus, in the crucified and risen one, is eternal. Our true self, our eternal self, is only found in him; the rest is transitory. Authentic life is only found in all that Christ has freely done for broken humanity.
We can't live without "gear", without toys and all the clutter of survival, along with our dreams and aspirations, yet we don't have to surrender to them. To surrender is to die, but to surrender to Christ is life eternal. "What benefit is there to anyone if they gain the whole world but forfeit their own life?"
1. Why was Peter a "stumbling block"?
2. What does Jesus mean by "deny self"? Discuss the possible meanings and how such would apply to our life.
3. Research and discuss the many possible meanings for verse 28.