Luke 9:18-27 - EXEGESIS
LUKE 9. ADAPTED FROM MARK
Luke uses Mark (written earlier) as one of his primary sources, but adapts this portion substantially:
• In Mark's version, Herod's question about Jesus' identity (Mark 6:14-16) is followed by an account of John's death (6:17-29), the feeding of the five Thousand (6:30-44), walking on water (6:45-52), healing the sick in Gennesaret (6:53-56), the discourse on the tradition of the Elders (7:1-23), the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30), curing a deaf man (7:31-37), the feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10), the demand for a sign (8:11-13), the discourse on the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod (8:14-21), and the cure of a blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26). • Luke omits the material from Mark 6:45-8:26 (most of the above), placing Peter's confession immediately after the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17) and in close proximity to Herod's question, "Who is this, about whom I hear such things?" (Luke 9:9). In a sense, then, Peter's confession answers Herod's question. • Also, Luke inserts a substantial body of teaching material (9:51 - 18:14) between the second and third passion predictions. The passion predictions are located at Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34 and Luke 9:21-22, 43-45; 18:31-34. Note the substantial separation between the second and third predictions in Luke.• Mark locates Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi, but the last geographical reference cited in Luke is Bethsaida (9:10). "Luke seems uninterested in geography here. His concern is to locate this event in the prayer life of Jesus" (see 3:21; 6:12; 9:18) (Craddock, Interpretation, 126).
LUKE 9:18-19. WHO DO THE MULTITUDES SAY THAT I AM?
18 And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" 19 They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again."
"the disciples" (v. 18). In preceding verses, Luke mentioned the twelve (v. 1, 12) and the apostles (v. 10), so we should take this reference, "the disciples," to mean only the twelve. In subsequent verses dealing with the Transfiguration (9:28-36) the field will narrow further to the inner circle-Peter, John, and James.
"Who do the multitudes say that I am?" (v. 18). Earlier the disciples asked, "Who is this, then, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?" (8:25). Then Herod asked, "Who is this, about whom I hear such things?" (9:9). Now Jesus shifts the focus to the crowds. "Who do the multitudes say that I am?"
The crowds have been important in this Gospel. The crowds went to be baptized by John (3:7). The crowds looked for Jesus (4:42), gathered to hear him and to be cured (5:15), and pressed in on him (8:42). Jesus taught the crowds (5:3), questioned them (7:24). Now Jesus asks who these crowds think that he is.
"John the Baptizer... Elijah... one of the old prophets" (v. 19). These were the same three possibilities that Herod entertained earlier (9:7-8).
"one of the old prophets" (v. 19). Jesus is a prophet, but he is more than a prophet. To call him a prophet is accurate but inadequate. To call him "one of the old prophets" is misleading, because that sounds as if he is one among many ancient prophets. While he is ancient (from the beginning with God) and a prophet, he is also unique - not one among many-but the only Son of God.
LUKE 9:20. BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
20 And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."
The phrasing of Jesus' question signals that he is looking for a better answer from the disciples than the crowds would give.
"The Christ (ton Christon) of God." The NRSV consistently translates Christos as Messiah, at least in Luke's Gospel. However, Christos is the Greek word for anointed, and Messias is the Hebrew word. Luke uses the Greek word (Christos), so it would seem better to translate it Christ rather than Messiah. Anointing with oil is a ceremony to consecrate a person to high office. In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed/consecrated to their respective offices. Their anointing both elevated their status among the people and imparted to them special responsibility. But Jesus needs no human anointing with oil, because he was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (3:21-22). Earlier, Jesus described this anointing:
"18 "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD." (Luke 4:18-19).
The Jewish people had, for centuries, looked for the Messiah-a deliverer. They anticipated that this Messiah would be a king of the type of King David, a mighty warrior who would liberate Israel from oppression (personified in Jesus' day by Roman soldiers occupying Israel) and restore the nation's former glory. When Peter says that Jesus is "The Christ of God," this is surely what he expects.
LUKE 9:21-22. THE SON OF MAN MUST UNDERGO GREAT SUFFERING
21 But He warned them and instructed (Greek: epitimesas) them not to tell this to anyone, 22 saying, "The Son of Man must suffer (Greek: dei-it is necessary) many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day."
"warned them, and commanded" (Greek: epitimesas) (v. 21). Earlier in this Gospel, the word epitimesas is translated "rebuke." Jesus rebuked demons (4:35, 41) and fevers (4:39) and stormy waves (8:24). Soon he will rebuke an unclean spirit (9:42). The verb is a strong prohibition.
"Son of Man." This title is less well defined in Jewish minds than Messiah. Jesus obviously uses it for himself here, and most likely does so because it carries less excess baggage than the word Messiah (see above for Jewish expectations of the Messiah).
"must" (Greek: dei) (v. 22). This little word, dei, is often referred to as the divine imperative, because it denotes a necessary component of God's plan of salvation.
"suffer many things" (v. 22). This, of course, is entirely contrary to the disciples' expectations. They assume that the Messiah will inflict great suffering on the Romans-not that he will undergo such suffering himself.
However, there have been hints in this Gospel about suffering. At the presentation in the temple, Simeon had warned Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul" (2:35). In Jesus hometown, the people tried to kill him after taking exception to his homily (4:29). The scribes and Pharisees discussed what to do with Jesus after he healed a man on the Sabbath (6:11). Herod, who had killed John the Baptist, tried to see Jesus (9:9). And, of course, the Old Testament foretold Jesus' sufferings. The Suffering Servant song of Isaiah spoke of the Messiah being despised-not respected-suffering-acquainted with disease -plagued -afflicted -pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:3-8, 11). The Psalms spoke of his rejection (Psalm 118:22). However, those passages didn't really begin to make sense to the people until after the resurrection.
"elders, chief priests, and scribes" (v. 22). The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, is made up of representatives of these three groups. "When appearing as a kind of triumvirate in the Lukan narrative, these groups are invariably joined in their hostility toward Jesus" (Green, 371). They will try Jesus, find him guilty, and turn him over to Pilate, insisting that Pilate execute him (22:66-23:25).
"and on the third day be raised up" (v. 22). Luke modifies Mark's "after three days," which could be more easily misconstrued. Jesus death, of course, makes no sense apart from his resurrection.
LUKE 9:23-24. IF ANY WANT TO BECOME MY FOLLOWERS
23 And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.
These are the first two of five discipleship sayings found first in Mark's earlier Gospel (Mark 8:34 - 9:1). Luke records them in the same sequence, but omits "and the gospel" (Mark 8:35). The five sayings are as follows:
"If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (v. 23). What is expected of the master is expected also of the disciples. Jesus will suffer and die, and so will his disciples. Self-denial for Jesus' sake takes with one hand and gives with the other:
The self-denying disciple is justified by grace as a gift (Romans 3:24).
The first of the five sayings (v. 23) has three verbs (deny, take up, follow), the first two of which are aorist tense, suggesting a one-time action-but the third of which, "follow" is present tense, suggesting a continuous action. This word, "follow," then, suggests that, for most Christians, the cost of discipleship is not paid in one large sum (suggested by the aorist tense), but in a series of smaller sums extended across a lifetime (suggested by the present tense). Discipleship is not a sometime thing.
"for my sake" (v. 24). The purpose is neither loss of life or self-denial, but service to Christ. Just as Jesus experienced terrible opposition during his lifetime, his disciples also experience opposition. Historically, many Christians have died as martyrs, and many are still dying today. This does not mean that we should aspire to martyrdom, which is not required for every disciple. Instead we should aspire to serve Christ even at the risk of death.
4. Luke 9: 24-27. Why we must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
a. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it: We must follow Jesus this way because it is the only way that we will ever find life. It sounds strange to say, "You will never live until you walk to your death with Jesus," but that is the idea. You can't gain resurrection life without dying first.
b. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world: Avoiding the walk to death with Jesus means that we may gain the whole world - and end up losing everything.
c. For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory: It isn't easy to walk death row with Jesus. It means that we have to associate ourselves with someone who was despised and executed - but if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us.
iii. Yet, some are ashamed. The ashamed man believes; you can't be ashamed of something you don't believe in. He believes, but doesn't take satisfaction and confidence in his belief.
iv. Some are ashamed out of fear, some out of social pressure, some out of intellectual or cultural pride. Objectively considered, such shame is a strange phenomenon.
d. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God: After this extreme call to follow Jesus unto death, He added a promise of significant glory (till they see the kingdom of God). Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn't all suffering and death, the end wasn't death.
COMMENTARY: What does this mean for me? (Luke 9:23-27)
We can learn all this great information, but if all we do is ascent to some sort of intellectual truth, and nothing about our lives changes, then we've missed the whole point. People who are Christians in "name only" (aka. nominal Christians) are not Christians at all. Just listen to Jesus' words.
Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (NIV®)
A disciple is a follower of Jesus. If you want to follow Jesus, you have to follow him into his suffering, into his rejection, and into his death. Our verse breaks discipleship into three parts:
a. Deny yourself (v. 24)
First, we deny ourselves. I think Jesus explains what he means by this in the very next verse. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (NIV®) The Greek word for life is "psychē"-which means "life, breath, soul" and really "encompasses the whole person." Modern psychology tries to understand what is going on in a person, in their mindset and thoughts. Are you willing to give up everything about you? Your life, breath, soul, mindset, thoughts? For Jesus? Are you willing to let Jesus touch and change everything about you? What you do with your money, how you treat your loved ones, how authentic and real you are with others, your gender identity, what you do with your life? Jesus promises that if you give him all these things, if you deny yourself, you'll find life.
This word "deny" is the same word used to describe Peter when he denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:57). Peter knew who Jesus was, the Messiah, but when his life was put at risk, and he might have to suffer with Jesus, he denies him. How often do we deny Jesus when the going get's hard? Peter denies Jesus three times, but in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" Each time Peter says, "You know I love you." What Jesus is doing is walking Peter back through his denials, but this time in the right direction. It hurt Peter and it may also hurt us to revisit those places we've denied Jesus (John 21:17).
In those places where you deny Jesus, those conversations with coworkers when you aren't honest about your faith, those choices you make to love money more than the things of God, those places where you elevated self above God and others, Jesus may make you walk back through them. He may ask you to go have another conversation with your coworker, give your money away, confess your selfishness to the ones you've hurt. Jesus gives us fresh opportunities to deny ourselves. Church tradition tells us Peter was nailed upside-down to a cross for Jesus. If Peter first denied Jesus to save his own life, then denied his own life for Jesus, there's hope for all of us. Deny yourself.
b. Pick up your cross daily (v. 25)
Luke 9:25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (NIV®) When the Romans crucified prisoners, they made them carry the horizontal beam (the "patibulum") of the cross to the place of their crucifixion. This walk was a final reminder that they had forfeited their life. This decision to follow Jesus isn't a one-time prayer, it's a daily dying of myself and embracing of Jesus. This means that every day we have an opportunity to say, "How would you have me carry the cross today, Lord?" "How can I give up myself and trying to gain this world to gain you today?" Jesus may give us a day of easy cross carrying on Tuesday, but Thursday it may be really hard. All he asks, is for us to keep carrying the crosses he gives us and following after him. Which leads me to...
c. Follow him (v. 26)
Luke 9:26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (NIV®)
To follow Jesus is to obey his words. What we find contained in the Scripture explains how we can live lives of obedience to Jesus everyday. When we obey what the Bible says to do, we're following Jesus. Obedience is hard, and we won't always get it right. But the question is, are we wiling to try? Or, like v. 26 asks us, are we ashamed of Jesus and his words?
Whose words matter more? The words of Jesus or the words of men? Sometimes I feel afraid to be honest about what I believe with others because I worry about what they will think if they knew that I believe, especially about the hard topics like sin, hell, and judgment. That shame can paralyze us, which is why we should not only focus on the difficult parts of our faith, but on Jesus, and the good news of forgiveness and grace he offers. We follow Jesus and his words.
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail the next knight to try and cross the Bridge of Death is asked the original three questions. "What... is your name?" "Sir Galahad of Camelot." "What... is your quest?" "I seek the grail." What... is your favorite color?" And he says, "Blue... no yellow!" And he is launched into the chasm. We need to answer today's questions with certainty, like our lives depended on them.
Who is Jesus? The Messiah! Why did he come? To suffer, be rejected, die, and rise again! What does this mean for me? I will deny myself, pick up my cross daily, and follow Jesus. And when I'm done following him in this life, I will follow him into his resurrection.
The final knight comes up to the bridge to cross. "What... is your name?" asks the bridge-keeper. "It is Arthur King of the Britons" he says in a commanding voice. "What... is your quest?" "To seek the Holy Grail." "What... is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" King Arthur says, "What do you mean? An African or a European swallow?" The bridge-keeper says, "Hu?! I don't know that!" And the bridge-keeper is launched into the chasm. We also have a King who has defeated death itself, King Jesus. And now he offers us the Holy Grail, eternal life.
King Jesus defeated death by doing long ago what he asks us to do today. He only asks us to carry our crosses because he already carried the one cross that matters. Now As we approach the bridge of death, we no longer need fear death itself because King Jesus has won. Come. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross. Follow him.
Luke 9:23-25 Commentary
Jesus presents the choice between clinging to our former lives or letting go and entrusting our new lives to His care. He points out that all the riches of the world mean nothing without a spiritual life-a life that will not be held captive by the grave. We might have some years of glorious living in a physical sense, but inevitably, the same event happens to us all.
He emphasizes the tremendous waste of squandering the opportunity for eternal life in exchange for a little more fun or comfort today. Christ reminds His followers that He will be coming again to reward people for the choices they made-whether they valued Him and sought Him, or were ashamed of Him and sought the dead things of this world.
One other instruction appears here: the command to deny oneself. He is not advocating asceticism but allowing God to set the terms of one's life. It is about renouncing one's own life in favor of the life that Christ is offering-one far better but more costly.
To follow after Him, we must willingly reject-even disown-any aspect of life that is not in subjection to Him. This involves putting to death the works of the flesh and purging the love of the world, including the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). We must hold at bay all those things embedded deep in our human nature that prevent our being worthy of Him.
We must realize that to carry a stauros is not a brisk walk with a little stick softly resting on one shoulder. The stake, or the crossbeam, was a thick and heavy piece of wood. It weighed down the bearer and hindered normal mobility.
Similarly, some aspects of our calling and conversion burden us and make it impossible to walk as others do-and that is by design. Becoming a follower of Christ has never meant having an easy life. It has tremendous benefits and blessings, but it also has its burdens because of the nature that remains inside us, weighing us down as it fights for dominance. This is why in Galatians 5:24 Paul says that "Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for" (Phillips' Translation).
The fact that we must take up our cross daily means that we must lift that crossbeam every morning and crucify our carnal nature up until we go to sleep. Then the next morning we rise and shoulder afresh those things we have to bear, crucifying the flesh again. This routine begins at baptism, but it does not end until our final breath.
I John 5:3 says that God's commands are not burdensome, yet the carnality that remains within us considers them to be so. Many believers have had to face the dilemma of being offered a better-paying job if they were willing to break the fourth commandment and work on the Sabbath, or the ninth commandment by misrepresenting ourselves. Similarly, they could have more money by breaking the eighth commandment and robbing God of His tithe. If we are accustomed to getting our way, then these behavioral limits will seem burdensome, but only because we still lack the perspective of the divine Lawgiver.
Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). In Christ, we still have burdens, but they are far easier to bear when He is providing the strength. As we become aligned with His standard of conduct, the burdens become less about the conflict within ourselves because of what we feel God will not let us do and more about the conflict we will encounter from the world as God's way of life offends them. There can be external conflict but internal peace because we are in alignment with God.
But until we are of the same mind as the Lawgiver, our carnality will tirelessly pressure us to ease our burdens by playing fast and loose with God's instructions. That is part of the cross we have to bear until our perfecting. God's law is not the problem-it is the carnal mind feeling vexed that makes our obligations feel heavy.