Carrying His Cross

As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, he explained exactly what it meant to be Israel’s Messiah and the Son of God, namely, suffering and death, an expectation contrary to popular expectations, including those of his disciples. Moreover, he also summoned every would-be disciple to take up the cross and emulate his example. Failure to do so will render a man or woman an object of shame before the Lord of Glory.

Although the Roman government was the instrument of his execution, Jesus placed much of the responsibility on the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” His crucifixion was instigated by the Torah-observant religious leaders of the Jewish nation who conspired to deliver him into the hands of Pontius Pilate - (Mark 8:31).

Rough Cross - Photo by Bobbie Wallace on Unsplash
[Photo by Bobbie Wallace on Unsplash]

As his entourage drew near the city, Jesus “b
egan to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the Scribes, and to be killed, and after three days, to rise.” In response, Peter took him aside and “reproved him.” For a disciple to rebuke his master in this way demonstrated how seriously Peter objected to his words.

The passage states that Jesus declared this “plainly.” This was no parable or enigmatic saying, and the fact that Peter reacted so quickly and sharply demonstrated that he understood his words but did not like what he heard.

The very idea that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah would be killed by the nation’s greatest enemy, and through the machinations of the priestly authorities no less, was intolerable to a devout and patriotic Jew.

In response, Jesus “turned around and looked at his disciples.” He then rebuked Satan. Although Peter said the words, his rebuke was for the benefit of all twelve disciples since he had voiced what they all were thinking.

Furthermore, Jesus recognized that Peter’s words originated from Satan. The Devil was determined to thwart him from his messianic mission, and this explains why he responded with such a sharp and immediate reprimand.

His mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds. But, as Scripture itself attested, the Messiah would accomplish this by suffering and self-sacrificial death:

  • Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and Yahweh laid on him the iniquity of us all” - (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Jesus said this in private to his disciples, and his words were clear.  An incorrect understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah would produce an incorrect understanding of what it meant to be his disciple. Just as God called him to self-denial and suffering, so he called his disciples to walk that same difficult path.

Thus, he exhorted his followers to deny themselves, “Take up the cross,” and follow him. This summons was made to the entire crowd, and not just to the twelve disciples.


His disciples must be willing to go where their Lord had preceded them even when doing so means shame, persecution, rejection, the loss of possessions, and possibly death. Doing so is not optional, for “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.”

In his explanation, Jesus had not yet predicted his death by crucifixion. But in his summons to follow him, he used the analogy of “taking up the cross.” Not only did this hint at how he would die, but he also presented his audience with a very grim image.

Crucifixion was employed by Rome for executing rebellious slaves and political revolutionaries. The condemned man was forced to carry the crossbar on which he would be hung to the execution site. This added to the condemned man’s humiliation.

Jesus added that the “Son of Man” would be ashamed of anyone who was ashamed of him in “this adulterous and sinful generation.” Any disciple who failed to deny himself and “take up the cross” would find himself in this predicament when he “came in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus thus identified himself with Isaiah’s ‘Suffering Servant’ and the “Son of Man” portrayed in the Book of Daniel. The former illustrated his suffering and death for his people, the latter his arrival in glory at the end of the age.

Both images are necessary for understanding him and his mission. While glory will come, it does NOT precede suffering, and death, but comes later and because of perseverance in and through trials and suffering.




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