Mark 8:34-35 is a “hard saying,” not because it is difficult to understand, but because it is hard to receive. Many simply cannot believe Jesus really meant what He said. The text reads: ” . . . Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Why did Jesus refer to a “cross”? Because the Romans crucified dangerous criminals by this method. The cross was the symbol of execution. What Jesus is saying is that one willing to become a Christian could expect this kind of treatment, for this is what the Romans would do to Him. What did He warn His disciples? He said: “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you . . . . ” (John 15:20). Was this promise limited to the disciples of Christ’s day only? Of course not! The common idea today is that “bearing one’s cross” simply means bearing a burden. It can certainly include that, but means much more. Jesus used the word “cross” to emphasize what really may be required of those who become His disciples-martyrdom!
When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to place her sons on His right hand and left hand in His kingdom, what did Jesus say? “. . . Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? . . . ” (Matt. 20:22). This baptism was martyrdom. They replied: ” . . . We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (vv. 22-23). Both tradition and history reveal that most of the Apostles suffered martyred for the work of God. They indeed did suffer the same “baptism” Jesus did! Christ specifically told Peter: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God . . . ” (John 21:18-19).
The first martyr among the Apostles was James, the brother of John. This is recorded in Acts 12:1-2. “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” As far as the New Testament account is concerned, there were no other Apostles mentioned as martyrs, though the Apostle Paul wrote around AD 66 that he soon would be (2 Tim. 4:6). As noted, tradition and history tell us that most of the original Apostles became martyrs. Jesus made it plain that becoming His disciple means that one could die as a martyr. When He said, ” . . . Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34), He meant one may be required to give up his life in order to obey God. This is a “hard saying” for many even today, who do not realize the extent to which some Communist governments have severely persecuted Christians. The fact is: There have been Christians martyrs from the time of Christ down to our day. The Bible foretells a great martyrdom of saints that will occur just before Christ’s second coming (Matt. 24:3, 9, 21-22, Rev. 20:4). This coming martyrdom most certainly refers to the time period in which we live!
For the next “hard saying,” let us go to Matthew 16:28. Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Christ has not yet returned, yet His disciples died many years ago. What did He mean by this expression?
The answer is given in the next chapter.
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only (Matt. 17:1-8).
From the above it should not be difficult to see what Jesus meant. He gave His disciples a preview of the Kingdom of God. What was this preview? It was a vision! “And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matt. 17:9). The disciples saw the resurrected Moses and Elijah in the glorified form they will possess in God’s Kingdom. A description of Christ in His glorified form is given in Revelation 1:13-16.
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
The Bible tells us that no man can look on God and live (Ex. 33:20). The above description should tell us why. These disciples were privileged to have a preview of this magnificent glory, which all saints will possess in God’s Kingdom (Matt. 13:43, 1 John 3:2).
Another “hard saying” is found in Mark 10:17-18. “And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” Why would Jesus make a remark like this? Surely as the Son of God, He was good.
It is generally believed, and with some basis, that Jesus was saying that the word “good” should not be applied to men, and since He was God in the flesh, the term should not be applied to Him. The Bible certainly indicates that men are far from good, in spite of the fact that many today believe man has an incredible potential for amelioration, and is progressively getting better. What is taking place in the world today belies that notion. The fact is: Men have been deceived into believing human nature is intrinsically good. The Bible revelation tells us the opposite. It does not paint a pretty picture of human nature.
Notice what Jesus said: “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man . . . ” (Matt. 15:19-20). “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22).
The Apostle Paul adds:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom. 1:28-32).
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:10-18).
Jesus certainly recognized the weaknesses and limitations of the flesh. He experienced it. Notice: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:7-8). Since He was God in the flesh, He knew the pulls of human nature. The Bible tells us He was tempted just as we are. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).
Jesus knew that only God the Father was altogether good. Human beings have a nature that is capable of both good and evil. Many human beings are good in the sense that they do not deliberately practice evil. However, the Apostle Paul described human nature quite well when he wrote:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom.7:14-24).
Paul knew the only solution to overcoming the pulls of human nature was God’s help. This is why he wrote: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). It was by the power of God Jesus never committed a sin (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 2:21-22). He said all the credit belonged to God the Father. “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). This is why He said not to call Him good. He knew that the Father was the only One who was altogether good. Men who refer to other men as “good” do not really comprehend the goodness of God.
The next “hard saying” is found in Luke 9:57-60:
Here is the account:
And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
What did Jesus mean by the remark, “Let the dead bury their dead”?
What is clear from the Scriptures is that when God begins to work with someone, the time element is extremely important. This is seen in the example of Elisha’s call into the ministry. When Elijah chose Elisha, notice what happened.
So he [Elijah] departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him (1 Kings 19:19-21).
In the above example Elijah allowed Elisha sufficient time to hold a feast and to bid his family farewell, but admonished him to remember that God had selected him for a work. The time involved here was relatively short. The man that spoke to Jesus wanted to return home in order to bury his father. Anyone familiar with burial practices during the time of Christ knows that the dead were buried the same day they died. So, the time involved would have been quite short. The key to understanding what Jesus meant is the word “bury” in Luke 9:59. It is in the aorist tense in the Greek language, meaning that it points to a fact or an event without any time reference. The implication is that the man who wanted to bury his father wanted to wait until his father died, not that his father had just died. Jesus emphasized that preaching the Kingdom of God was more important than taking care of secular affairs, and that those who were not called to the Truth during this dispensation were “spiritually dead.” Let those who are “spiritually dead” bury the “spiritually dead,” Jesus said, but told the man that he should immediately come into God’s service. He emphasized again the need to be dedicated to God by not looking back. Any man who looks back, Jesus said, is not fit for the Kingdom of God (v. 62).