23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:23-27 ESV
When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought Him to be, Peter quickly responded with the correct answer: “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:209 ESV). But Jesus knew that Peter had a somewhat cloudy understanding of what his statement even meant. Like the blind man Jesus had just healed (Mark 8:22-26), Peter was experiencing blurry vision – a fuzzy and incomplete understanding of Jesus’ identity. And Peter was not the only one of the disciples who was suffering from a foggy perspective concerning Jesus.
So, in an attempt to add context and clarity to Peter’s answer, Jesus began to teach that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22 ESV).
When Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, he had none of these things in mind. The suffering, rejection, and murder of Jesus were not on his radar screen. There was no place for such things in his concept of the Messiah. And without them, there was certainly no need for a resurrection.
This announcement from Jesus would have made no sense to the disciples. They knew He and the religious leaders didn’t get along, but they would never have dreamed that these holy men would attempt to kill the Messiah of Israel. Yet Jesus made it clear that “the elders and chief priests and scribes” would be the ones behind His death. Men from these three groups populated the 70-member Sanhedrin, the high council of Israel. These were powerful and influential religious leaders who were revered for their righteousness by the common people. They were considered the spiritual elite of the day. And to think that they would conspire to kill Jesus was incomprehensible to the disciples.
Peter had been so appalled by this grim announcement that he had pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him. But Jesus had responded quickly and harshly.
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:33 ESV
Jesus accused the very man who had just confessed Him to be the Christ of being “Satan.” This public rebuke was meant to send a message, not just to Peter but to every one of the disciples. By declaring his opposition to the revealed will of God, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the enemy. When Peter had shouted, “God forbid,” it was almost as if he was demanding that God alter His plans. Jesus had just revealed the Father’s will for His life but Peter didn’t approve. He found any mention of suffering, rejection, and death to be unfathomable and, therefore, unacceptable.
Matthew adds that Jesus accused Peter of being a skandalon, a stumbling block. Rather than assisting Jesus in His God-ordained mission, Peter was acting as an impediment. His well-meaning desire to prevent Jesus from experiencing suffering and death was more in line with the will of Satan than it was with God’s divine redemptive plan. Satan had been trying to derail the mission of Jesus from the beginning. All the way back at Jesus’ birth, Satan had attempted to use King Herod to eliminate the Christ child. And more than 30 years later, after Jesus was baptized by John and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Satan had repeatedly tempted Jesus, trying to convince Him to abandon His mission.
Now, here was Peter, one of the 12, declaring his opposition to the divinely-ordained ministry of Jesus the Christ. Jesus had made it plain and simple. He must suffer, die, and then rise again. Every aspect of God’s plan non-negotiable and completely necessary. Jesus had come to fulfill the will of His Father. And Jesus revealed to Peter that his perspective was skewed.
“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Mark 8:33 NLT
Without realizing it, Peter had been demanding that his will be done. He had put his expectations and desires ahead of God’s. He could see no personal benefit from Jesus suffering and dying. He had no need for a dead Messiah. Or so he thought.
Peter didn’t realize that his wish for Jesus to escape death was actually a nightmare waiting to happen. Little did he know that, without Jesus’ death, there would be no kingdom. There would be no forgiveness of sin. As Jesus had made clear, He had to be “lifted up.” Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and brought healing to all those who were guilty of sin and facing death, so Jesus must be lifted up on the cross so that mankind’s sin debt might be paid in full. It was only through Jesus’ sacrificial death that sinful men and women could find restoration and redemption. Clinging to a living Jesus was not going to save Peter. He was going to have to embrace the crucified Christ as his only hope of being reconciled to God.
And Matthew records that this encounter launched an ongoing series of lessons from Jesus to His disciples. He began to prepare them for what was to come. This would not be a one-time discussion, but a oft-repeated lecture on the Messiah’s role and God-ordained fate.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:21 ESV
Having rebuked Peter in front of his peers, Jesus turned His attention to the entire band of disciples. And the message He delivered to them was intended to provide them with further insight into His mission and their role in it.
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23 NLT
Jesus was calling Peter and his companions to abandon their agendas. He knew they had all kinds of expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. They were hoping that when Jesus finally got around to establishing His Kingdom on earth, they would play vital roles in His royal administration. But Jesus was letting them know that those who would be citizens of His kingdom would be required to sacrifice. Just as He was going to be required to take up His cross, so would they. He was going to willingly lay down His life so that He might take it up again (John 10:17-18), and He was expecting them to follow His example.
Peter and the rest of the disciples couldn’t help but focus all their attention on the present. They were living for the moment. In a real sense, they had joined Jesus with selfish motives. They were in it for what they thought they could get out of it. But Jesus had a much-longer perspective. He realized that humiliation must precede glorification. Death had to come before life. Sacrifice would the key to obtaining the riches of God’s goodness and grace.
The disciples had short-term outlooks. They were interested in immediate gratification and were hoping to enjoy their best life in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. But their over-emphasis on the physical world was misguided and missing a very crucial point. Their desire to “gain the whole world” in this life was short-sighted, and Jesus wanted them to understand that their perspective would actually result in loss. Mark records that Jesus put the comparison in spiritual terms.
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” –Mark 8:36-37 ESV
Jesus’ emphasis on the soul was meant to realign their thinking by reminding them that there was a spiritual dimension to their lives. Their souls would outlast their physical bodies. They were eternal creatures living in a temporal world, and Jesus was trying to clarify their vision so that they might embrace God’s plan of redemption with open arms and willing hearts.
Years later, long after Jesus had suffered, died, been resurrected, and had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would write these powerful words of admonition and encouragement. His audience was made up of believers living near the end of the 1st-Century who were facing persecution, suffering, and even death because of their faith in Christ. They were living out in daily life what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. But they were constantly being tempted to lose sight of the future and to pursue the pleasures of the present. So, John warned them:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT
And Jesus closed out His message with a sobering word that was clearly intended for the ears of His disciples.
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” – Luke 9:26 NLT
Jesus was not insinuating that Peter was in danger of losing his status as one of God’s chosen. He was simply warning Peter and the other disciples that they were about to face a difficult period of time that was going to test their allegiance and tempt them to abandon all hope. But notice that Jesus assures them that, in spite of all that was going to happen, He would be coming back. That was to be their focus. Yes, they would see Him arrested, tried, humiliated, crucified, killed, and buried. But they would also be eye-witnesses to His resurrection and watch Him ascend into heaven. And just before He returned to His Father’s side, He would leave His disciples with comforting words concerning His eventual return.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.