Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and must take up his cross, and then follow me. Bible other translations

“Then Jesus said to his disciples.” This record is in Matthew 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-9:1; and Luke 9:23-27. Matthew says Jesus is speaking with his disciples, which was the major intent of what he was saying, however, Mark and Luke point out that the multitude was there also and was listening to this part of what he was teaching. What Jesus taught about him being the Messiah and suffering and dying was only taught to the disciples, which is why for this teaching he had to call the multitude to him.

“he must.” Jesus’ statement contains three imperative verbs: “deny,” “take up” [lift up], and “follow.” In some cases, the imperative verb has the sense of an invitation, hence the traditional translation, “let him.” In this context, however, the sense of the verse is not an invitation, but a command, and a number of versions pick up on that fact (cp. HCSB; NAB; NET; NIV; and The Source New Testament). However, in this case the first two imperatives are aorist while the last is present tense, which makes a difference (see commentary on Mark 8:34).

“take up his cross.” To “take up one’s cross” is to be willing to do what is right for the sake of Christ even if you do not want to (like Christ in Gethsemane who did not want to be crucified), and also to suffer for Christ if doing the will of God means suffering (1 Pet. 3:17; 4:9. Cp. Phil. 1:29). Carrying one’s own cross is mentioned several times in the Gospels (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27).

The phrase “take up one’s cross” comes from the Roman custom of crucifixion and the fact that it often occurred that the person about to be crucified had to carry his own cross or a piece of it, just as Jesus and then Simon had to carry the cross-piece of Jesus’ cross (John 19:16-17; Matt. 27:31-32). Although the custom of crucifixion was Roman, the dominance of Rome at the time of Christ was such that the whole Mediterranean world and the Middle East were familiar with it, and thus understood what Jesus said when he said that anyone who followed him must take up their cross.

Sadly, the term “taking up one’s cross” or “bearing one’s cross” has been misunderstood and misused in Christendom. It does not refer to “suffering” in general. The wicked suffer for many reasons, but they do not suffer for the cross. Furthermore, much of the suffering righteous people endure is not related to following Jesus.

Jesus was not speaking of the fact that everyone suffers, he was specifically referring to the fact that godly people who openly follow him will suffer (cp. 2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus knew that the Devil has so orchestrated life that people who live godly lives will suffer, and it is not right or godly for a disciple of Christ to act like the people of the world act and thus try to avoid the suffering that comes with being a follower of Christ. Jesus said, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The true disciple “must” be willing to suffer for Christ, as difficult as that suffering can be.

It should be noted that in Luke 9:23 Jesus says that one must take up their cross “daily.” The difficulties of life and the ongoing war between Good and Evil is such that there can be daily struggles, and the believer must be mentally prepared to take up their cross and struggle against evil day after day.

[For more on the transfer of the cross from Jesus to Simon, see commentary on John 19:17. For more on the chronology of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, see commentary on John 18:13].

Commentary for: Matthew 16:24