Gracefully Truthful

Cross,Digging Deeper,Faith,God,Gospel,Holy Spirit,Hope,Inheritance,Scripture,Suffering

Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
Become equipped to correctly handle the Word of Truth!

Read His Words Before Ours!

Matthew 16:24-28

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

26 For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?

27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each according to what he has done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The Original Intent

1) Why does Jesus use the phrase “take up his cross and follow me”? (verse 24)

Jesus’ decision to use “take up his cross and follow me” in Matthew 16:24 would have struck his Jewish disciples as odd, if not profoundly concerning. To understand the disciples’ perspective, we need to understand what the cross signified in Jewish law. If we go back to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Moses dictated that an offender’s execution on a tree was for the worst offenses.

Indeed, this mode of death was so offensive that “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” and the criminal’s body needed to be promptly buried as not to “defile the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (verse 23). In the first century, the Roman authorities did not view the cross any differently than the Jews. One ancient source stated, “Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.” (blueletterbible.org)

The cross, therefore, was not just a “symbol of pain, distress, and burden-bearing” (blueletterbible.org), it was also a deeply shameful way to die in the eyes of the Roman and the Jew. Hence, Jesus’ original audience would have been shocked to hear their teacher associate discipleship with this brutal form of execution.

If Jesus was the promised Messiah, wasn’t he supposed to free them from Roman oppression? Yet, Jesus was demonstrating through this phrase that following the Messiah was going to entail suffering. Indeed, Jesus embodied the real cost of discipleship when he carried His own cross to Golgotha, the place of His execution (John 19:17-18).

Paul would later write that to redeem us from the limitations of the law, Jesus became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). By taking up His cross, Jesus gave us a precious gift, we now “receive the promised [Holy] Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14) By taking on our curse of sin, He freed us to have access to God through the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit empowers the follower of Jesus to become increasingly like their humble Messiah, who proclaimed a counter-cultural understanding of discipleship.

The Everyday Application

1) Why does Jesus use the phrase “take up his cross and follow me”? (verse 24)

Today, we often see ornate crosses as decorative motifs. We hang these bejeweled ornaments as a final addition to a wall display of family portraits and Bible verses. However, a first-century observer would balk at proudly displaying this symbol of death in our homes. Yet, the Christian looks upon the cross with different eyes.

As Paul writes, the cross of Jesus bridges the divide between sinful humanity and our perfect God. (1 Corinthians 1:18Galatians 6:14Philippians 3:18Colossians 1:20) Additionally, Jesus’ atoning work on the cross unifies those from different socioeconomic classes, genders, and races (Ephesians 2:16).

It is by the cross that all our old “passions and desires” are put to death (Galatians 5:24), and we are made new. For the believer then, the mind-bending truth is this, the cross, once a symbol of execution and torture, becomes a symbol of hope and life. In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, the writer observes that taking up one’s cross means, “The man is to deny his whole self, all his natural motives and impulses, so far as they come into conflict with the claims of Christ…The self-denial here commanded has, accordingly, its highest type and pattern in the act by which the Son of God, in becoming man, emptied Himself of all that constituted, if we may so speak, the ‘self’ of His divine nature” (biblehub.com).

Let us then praise God for Jesus Christ, who redeems us from death that we would bring glory and honor to Him forever and ever.

The Original Intent

2) What does Jesus mean by “whoever loses his life because of me will find it” in verse 25?

If Jesus’ statement in verse 24 was not puzzling enough, what He said in the following verse was probably causing the twelve disciples to scratch their heads even more. How does one simultaneously lose their life and find it?

Let us first define what “life” would have meant to Jesus’ original audience. As modern readers, we get to the benefit of dozens of English Bible translations, but Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Greek. This Jewish writer’s choice to write his account in Greek, rather than Hebrew or Aramaic, makes sense since it was one of the official languages of the Roman Empire and, after all, he had served as a Roman tax collector. That being said, the Greek word “psuché” can mean either soul or life, depending on the context; this explains why some translations replace “life” with “soul” in verse 26 (biblehub.com).

Therefore, while life can allude to one’s physical existence, Jesus and the New Testament writers used this term figuratively: for immortality (Hebrews 7:16), conduct (Romans 6:4), salvation (John 3:16), and eternal life (Matthew 19:16-17) (blueletterbible.org). Thus, “life” here refers to more than a finite number of years, but to the place where our soul will find true rest for eternity.

While every person must ultimately die (“lose his life”), a believer who places their faith in the Gospel (“because of Me (Christ)”) enjoys eternal life (“will find it”) that surpasses the temporary pleasures of our physical existence. Indeed, “God and Christ [are] the absolute source and cause of all life” (John 1:4), so trying to find eternal satisfaction apart from our Triune God is foolishness that leads to death (blueletterbible.orgverse 26).

The Everyday Application

2) What does Jesus mean by “whoever loses his life because of me will find it” in verse 25?

I admit that experiencing suffering, or watching others go through it, is not pleasant. Rather than run towards a friend who is suffering, I cringe, keep silent, and watch from a safe distance. I comfort myself with the belief that the sufferer needs space, time to grieve, and process their loss. Yet, I am only trying to protect myself. My heart whispers the lie, “Perhaps I will be spared personal pain if I avoid their grief.” However, the writer C.S. Lewis warns this is pure foolishness on my part.

In The Problem of Pain, he writes, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself” (brainpickings.com). Indeed, the examples of Jesus Christ and His disciples promise us that suffering is inevitable. Indeed, Jesus promises in John 16:33 that trials will come, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.

By “world,” Jesus means every evil power, temptation, and sin that would lead us astray. Through Him, we can lose our lives for His sake as John Gill observes, “[the disciple] is willing to forego all the pleasures and comforts of life, and be subject to poverty and distress, and to lay down life itself, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, rather than deny Him, and part with truth, shall find it; in the other world, to great advantage; he shall enjoy an immortal and eternal life, free from all uneasiness and affliction, and full of endless joys and pleasures” (biblehub.com).

As disciples, our eyes must be focused on things of eternal value rather than those of temporary, worldly gain.

The Original Intent

3) Where else can we find “Son of Man” in Scripture?

When Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” he is not referring to humankind generally, but to a unique title for the Savior taken from Daniel 7:13-14 (blueletterbible.org). “And suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” 

In this vision, the prophet Daniel sees the “true humanity of our Lord. He had a true body and a rational soul. He was a perfect man” (blueletterbible.org). While Jesus’ followers do not refer to their teacher as the “Son of Man,” our Savior uses this term for Himself at least forty-three times throughout the four Gospels (blueletterbible.orgbibleproject.com).

As the Bible Project points out, “The biblical story begins with God appointing humans as His royal images, that is, representatives who will rule creation on His behalf and in partnership with Him. Humanity is a glorious being, destined for even greater glory, to rule over heaven and earth (Genesis 1:26-28) Tragically, humanity forfeits this destiny when we are deceived by dark spiritual powers and lured into embracing our own self-destruction” (bibleproject.com).

Unlike the long line of broken, flawed Jewish leaders whose stories fill the pages of the Old Testament, Jesus is indicating He is “the hope for a new humanity who will finally realize the ideal purpose that God has for the human family.” (bibleproject.com)

The Everyday Application

3) Where else can we find “Son of Man” in Scripture?

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, is one of my favorite people from the New Testament. A decade ago, I committed to reading through the entire Bible when I was coming out of a difficult emotional and spiritual period in my life. One night, I sat in my quiet bedroom, utterly mesmerized by Stephen’s ministry and death found in Acts 6-7. Not only was Stephen a powerful preacher, but he was “full of grace and power…performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

Before his death at the hands of Jewish religious leaders, he gave a remarkable sermon that was 52 verses long (Acts 7:2-53)It is the “first apology for the universalism of the gospel as a message to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. It is the longest speech contained in the Acts,” which suggests that the author was drawing attention to its importance (blueletterbible.org).

This disciple understood what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) Indeed, Stephen saw the Son of Man in all His glory at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56) Stephen was not spared from suffering, but prayed God would forgive those who were stoning him to death. (Acts 7:57-60)

Just as I did ten years ago, I still cry every time I read Stephen’s story. Not merely because of his remarkable faith, but because he understood what few do. Stephen knew Jesus would indeed return one day as “the Son of Man…seated on the cloud, with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” (Revelation 14:14)

As John Gill writes, the white cloud represents “the purity, uprightness, and justness of [Jesus’] proceedings in judgment” and the golden crown is “an ensign of royal majesty, showing that his kingdom was now come, the time for Him to reign personally with His saints on earth a thousand years; and that it was a very glorious one; and that He should now reign before His ancients gloriously; and that it was pure, solid, and durable” (biblestudytools.com).

Jesus holds a sharp sickle, a farming tool used for gathering and cutting down, in His hand, because He will institute perfect judgment and power over all nations (biblestudytools.com). The Son of Man is the better King David, King Solomon, and other Jewish leaders who briefly reflected God’s glory only to fall repeatedly into sin and rebellion.

In our time of suffering, we can look to the Son of Man to encourage us and sustain us through every trial of this life.

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