Luke 9:18–27 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
Peter's Declaration, Jesus' Prediction
Are you ready to delve into this famous two-part passage? There are times when we're called upon to clearly state what we believe. Part one — Peter's Declaration — will demonstrate one of those times for you and Jesus' disciples. In part two — Jesus' Prediction — the disciples have left the crowds behind to spend time intimately with Jesus. He's been praying and now he asks who they think he is. Peter answers boldly: "God's Messiah." Everyone is silent for a moment as the wonder of that statement sinks in. Then Jesus solemnly warns them not to say more at this time.
Jesus, grieving over the murder of Cousin John the Baptist, seeks solitude where the crowds won't follow (e.g., last week's study of The Feeding of the Five Thousand). Matthew's and Mark's accounts indicate that Jesus now heads for Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city about 20 miles north of the northern shore of the sea of Galilee. Jesus didn't go to teach or preach but to be alone and pray, preparing himself for the next part of his mission — a much more difficult and confrontational time, far from the familiar towns and villages of his native Galilee. Things are ready to change, and they change quickly.
Today's part-one passage presents a turning point in Jesus' life and ministry. Prior to this he ministered in Galilee, training his disciples and helping them understand who he was. From now on his ministry will orbit around his destiny in the Holy City, Jerusalem: his death. As Jesus prepares for it, so also must he prepare his disciples for it.
Part One: Peter's Declaration (vv.18–21)
Praying privately, then asking his question (vv. 18–19) Ever wonder what it would have been like to be around Jesus for three years and watch him pray as a way of life? Before his disciples started "hanging out" and traveling with Jesus, prayer for them probably consisted of rote prayers when breaking bread; however, prayer wasn't likely "a way of life" for them. As Jesus had prayed all night prior to calling the Twelve Apostles, now he draws apart for a special, private time of prayer with his disciples.
He seems to be in the midst of his prayer time when he turns from his Father to his disciples and asks a simple first question: "Who do the crowds say I am?" (emphasis added) Before he asks the disciples his second, much more personal question, to prevent speculation and tentativeness, he first allows the disciples to voice all the speculations: John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets of long ago. The disciples' report ended; they'd voiced the rumors; now they were silent.
Personal faith and confession, then a command for secrecy (vv. 20–21) The time for reporting others' theories is over. Jesus now asks his disciples what they believe: "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" That's a question that leaves us quite defenseless. Yet, Peter answers for the disciples with simplicity and directness saying, You are the Christ of God. (The Greek word christos [transliterated "Christ"] and the Hebrew word mashiah [transliterated "Messiah"] mean exactly the same thing: "anointed one"; literally, one who's had oil rubbed or poured on him.) So when Peter answered Jesus' second question, it was a powerful declaration that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who'd act for God and bring about Israel's long-promised salvation.
Jesus' follow-up command of secrecy (v. 21) doesn't mean that Peter's identification was wrong: It was right! But while Jesus clearly acknowledges that he's the Messiah, he wants to keep this hushed for now. If he publicly claimed to be the Messiah, he'd rapidly attract a following with political and revolutionary goals, and his ministry would be cut short by prison and death. To prolong the ministry that his Father has laid out for him, Jesus instead calls himself the more ambiguous "Son of Man."
Part Two: Jesus' Prediction (vv. 22–27)
Predicting Jesus' death and taking up the cross (vv. 22–23) Now Jesus moves from the heady theme of him being the Messiah to a topic that all steadfastly refuse to understand: Jesus predicts his horrible death.
How does the Messiah prepare his disciples to understand the unthinkable? He can't, really. He just repeats it several times, so that, after the unthinkable occurs, the disciples will understand that this wasn't a mistake; it was God's plan from the beginning. Let's consider the elements of Jesus' first prediction.
a. The Son of Man Notice that Jesus doesn't take on the new title of Messiah. Instead he reverts to his accustomed self-designation — Son of Man — taken from Daniel 7:13–14.
b. . . . suffer many things The Greek pascho means to "suffer, endure, undergo." The idea of the glorious Son of Man suffering is reminiscent of Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:4–5). In that chapter, we see the key to understanding Jesus' death. In some way he bears upon himself our sins, our punishment, and our wounds.
c. . . . be rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes Realize that "the elders, chief priests, and scribes" implies Jerusalem, where the Israeli elders make up the city's Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, and where the chief priests have charge of the temple worship. Matthew's record of Jesus' first prediction notes explicitly, "he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things..." (Matthew 16:21).
d. . . . be killed The Greek verb apokteino means to "kill someone," generally including killing in war, suicide, accidental death, epidemics, or execution. Since Roman law prevailed, the Jewish leaders were required to get the Romans to carry out an execution, for the leaders appealed, "We have no right to execute anyone" (John 18:31). Crucifixion was the sanctioned form of Roman execution and it was assumed in that "be killed" statement, since Jesus immediately speaks of taking up a cross in v. 23. His reference to the cross would have no meaning unless death by crucifixion were understood in v. 22.
e. . . . on the third day be raised In every one of Jesus' death predictions he tells them that on the third day he'll be raised. Although his disciples don't remember his predictions, Jesus' enemies do (Matthew 27:63). The angels at the tomb have to remind the disciples that Jesus had indeed told them this (Luke 24:6–8).
Bearing one's cross (v. 23a) The phrase, "then he said to them all," indicates that while the prediction of his death is for the Twelves' ears only, what he says now is for a more general application, said regularly to all of his followers. It's clear that Jesus is making a general statement to all would-be disciples, anyone who'd become his true follower. The key to understanding this passage is to discern the meaning of "take up his cross." Unfortunately, our understanding of this phrase is clouded by the way the English language uses the phrase. Perhaps you'll see a clearer translation in the Christian poem "It's Your Cross to Bear" by Barbara Philbrook, which reads: "It's your cross to bear and I can't carry the burden for you, as much as I wish that is what I could do." In effect, for us to bear the cross is to carry or endure a severe burden that tries our virtue, steadfastness, or patience.
Taking up one's cross daily (v. 23b) Jesus isn't talking about a mere burden, trial, or challenge; he's talking about death. The context in v. 23 is, he must be killed. Make no mistake, Jesus is not speaking figuratively here. The first aspect of Jesus' teaching here is "he must deny himself," followed by the second: to "take up his cross." Jesus seems to be saying that, just as a condemned man is forced to carry the crossbeam of his own cross, we're also to "carry our cross." In other words, "let the disciples take the position of a man already condemned to death, carrying the weight of his crossbeam to the place of execution. The third aspect of Jesus' instruction is to do it "every day." This phrase is found only in Luke's gospel, but the meaning is implied in Matthew and Mark. The fourth and final aspect of Jesus' saying is to "follow me." The Greek akoloutheo means to "accompany, go along with," figuratively to "follow someone as a disciple," walking along with him wherever he leads.
The paradox of saving and losing one's life (v. 24) When you realize that only one of the Twelve Apostles died a natural death, you realize that Jesus isn't speaking figuratively about saving and losing one's life (v. 24). The earliest disciples took Jesus' saying literally, denying themselves, taking up their own execution, and following Jesus wherever he leads them. Of course, when we fail to deny ourselves and fail to seek Jesus' will for our lives, we're looking to preserve our own future. Surrender and trust are the way of the disciple. The temptation to focus on material things is both strong and wrong! Jesus' saying in v. 24 is a paradox. We'd expect that, by attempting to save ourselves, we'd succeed. But Jesus warns that just the opposite is required: Only by self-denial and surrender to Jesus' will do we save our lives in a truly lasting, eternal sense.
Gaining the whole world while losing your soul (v. 25) To lose one's self, life, or soul is catastrophic! No one should gamble with his or her eternal life. The choice to become an active, faithful, reliable disciple of Jesus is not an option for Christian believers; it's a necessity. Discipleship is not a more difficult path in Christianity; it's the only path to life. We either follow Jesus' path or we get lost.
Being ashamed of Jesus and his words (v. 26) We cannot be "closet Christians," ashamed of what Jesus stands for and seeking to avoid the slander and persecution that comes with following him faithfully. We must decide whether or not we'll identify ourselves publicly with Jesus. If we're ashamed of him, he'll be ashamed of us on the Day when he returns in his glory.
Seeing the kingdom in its glory (v. 27) After instructing his disciples about their need to take up their cross daily, Jesus then makes an amazing promise. Within a few days, three of the disciples will see his glory revealed when he's transfigured before them. (Come back next week!)
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 Why did Jesus first ask what "the crowd" believed before he asked his disciples what they believed?
- Q. 2 What does it mean to take up your cross daily? If it doesn't mean bearing your own life's burdens, what does it mean?
This Week's Passage
Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"
19They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
20"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "God's Messiah."
Jesus Predicts His Death
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
23Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26Whoever 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.
27"Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."