From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
We begin the long road to Jerusalem with these words of Jesus; from here on, the mission of the Messiah is the focus as Jesus tries to make His disciples understand what it means for Him to complete His messianic mission. He has not come to save Israel from the Romans and to restore it to its glory days as a great nation; He has come to save Mankind and establish an entirely different kind of kingdom.
Peter, after his mountaintop moment of divine revelation comes crashing back to earth, for he does not yet see what the mission is: “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (16:22b). Jesus’ response is swift and sure: “Get behind me Satan” (16:23). Peter’s expression of love was based upon purely human concerns; he didn’t want Jesus to have to suffer and die at the hands of the authorities, which is natural enough, but if his wishes were to come to pass, they would thwart entirely the eternal purposes of God.
This section will prove to be a lesson in counter-intuitive though processes, and thus we need to pay special attention, for our thought processes, like those of Peter, tend toward human understanding and desires.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (16:24-27)
This paragraph is marked by a contrast between the human will and perception, and the divine will and perception, much as in Paul’s “flesh versus spirit” passages. We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus, much as Paul would say that we must put the “old man” aside and live according to the Spirit. We may “find” our lives, and thus lose them by finding our human, earthly selves and live according to the ways of this world, or we may lose that life, and find eternal life with Christ; which will it be? To follow Jesus is to set aside the purely human and physical and take up a higher, heavenly calling based upon our hope for that which is unseen, and is thus counter-intuitive. Yet, Jesus had one more point to offer in this regard:
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (16:28)
It is my rather peculiar duty to point out that this verse is actually a controversial one in many quarters, for there are commentators who actually say that this verse is intended for our time, and refers to the Second Coming. Obviously, if one actually reads it, there is no way to assert anything other than the fact that Jesus was speaking of the Twelve who were right there listening to Him. Eleven of them would see the coming of the Kingdom at Pentecost in fact they would participate in the coming of the Kingdom on that day, and so the Kingdom has been with us ever since.
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