Jesus telling the crowd to "take up your cross"?


From today’s readings from the Gospel of Mark.

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”

I can’t see the term “take up your cross” meaning the same thing today as it did at the time BEFORE Christ’s crucifixion. I would assume that, with Romans (and others) hanging criminals on crosses, the term “take up your cross” (if actually used in those day) would refer more to a consequence of criminal behavior; not a “carry your burden” type connotation.

Can a scholar help me here with the actual Greek words/translations??



ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι/ take up his cross and follow me

This was one of many things that Jesus said which folks could not fully understand at the time He said it; but which, containing prophecies within them, would have much more powerful meanings later.



It refers to the fact that Christ would die the shameful death of a criminal, even though he had done no wrong. But death would not hold him, because in Chapter 8, 9, and 10 of Mark, he would foretell 3 times of his death that would be followed by his resurrection in 3 days.

So, the shame of his death was meaningless, because his righteousness ensured his resurrection.

And, the our resurrection is promised on the last day, if we live in righteousness…but in the meantime, even before our deaths, we will be treated in as if we were shameful because of living our lives as he commanded us to do.

So, we take up our cross, deny ourselves, and hold fast to the hope and promise of eternal life.

Fair winds and following seas!


No, of course not. But, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a similar point that Jesus made …

I would assume that, with Romans (and others) hanging criminals on crosses, the term “take up your cross” (if actually used in those day) would refer more to a consequence of criminal behavior; not a “carry your burden” type connotation.

First of all, let’s consider the context: Jesus has just told His disciples that he will be rejected by the Jewish leadership and killed. There is only one way to kill a person under the law in this context: capital punishment under the Romans. Jesus’ words here (to His disciples and the crowd) must have stung in the ears of the disciples: He just told them he was going to be killed, and now He makes an allusion to that very thing! Where the master leads, his disciples follow – and if the disciples have to bear a cross, what does that say about what the Master will do? We lose a bit of the sense of it in translation: when Jesus tells them about coming ‘after’ Him, He uses the word ὀπίσω, which means ‘behind’. He’s literally talking about them following in His footsteps!

Secondly, we need to look at the grammar here, and the sequence that the sentence presents. The verbs here (‘deny’, ‘bear’, and ‘follow’) are all imperatives: Jesus isn’t presenting a hypothetical, here; He’s literally saying “deny! bear! follow!”. Moreover, both ‘deny’ and ‘bear’ are in the aorist tense, while ‘follow’ is in the present. With the imperative, the force of the expression is that one is to deny and bear – as single events – and then follow (as an action that is ongoing). These two are ‘preconditions’ of sorts: one cannot commit to the ongoing process of ‘following’ without first denying and bearing.

Third, let’s look at the words themselves: the word translated as ‘deny’ is* ἀπαρνησάσθω*, which is a rather forceful word. It means ‘disown’ or ‘strongly reject.’ Here, Jesus is making a bold statement: one cannot be a disciple and care for his own life; one can only be a disciple by placing discipleship as one’s primary goal, at the (potential) expense of all others. The word translated as ‘take up’ (ἀράτω) can mean ‘pick up’, but it can also mean ‘bear’. It really does fit into this string of imperatives: Jesus realizes that the act of disowning one’s own life is a harsh command. In fact, it’s no less harsh than asking a person to share in act of his own execution. In this light, I don’t think that your original objection holds up: the command isn’t focusing on criminal punishment so much as it’s directing the crowd that they must actively cooperate in putting their very lives in second place to their discipleship.


Your hunch is correct. Actually, there was even no expression like that in those days. Crucifixion and the cross was rarely if ever mentioned in polite conversation, and saying things to someone like “Be hanged on a cross!” is essentially the ancient equivalent of the f-word: it was a grave insult. Mentioning things related to crucifixion in a non-serious way was offensive gallows humor: it’d be like somebody today cracking a joke or just talking in a light-hearted, casual way about things like suicide bombing.

In other words, when Jesus said to “take up your cross,” it’s wasn’t simply a metaphorical “carry your burdens, your troubles.” It’s something viscerally, literally real. “If you’re gonna follow me, be ready to die in the most horrific way imaginable (like I eventually will).”


There are many ways that we pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

It rains on your picnic day…do not complain and feel sorry for yourself, go out to dinner with your friends.

You didn’t get the job you really wanted…surrender and trust

A dear friend dies young…surrender and trust

You have a serious illness that takes much time to heal…surrender…

All those things and many more are difficult.

“My grace is sufficient!”

Sanctify us Lord!


Judas did not take up his cross:
He did not confess to Jesus that he was stealing from the common purse and seek absolution = he did not confess his “criminal being” and accept death by facing the “Judge” (Jesus) and awaiting sentence (he did not pick up his cross). In the end he lost his life because he tried to save it by pretending to be an honest and upright disciple.

That is part of the meaning, the humility of knowing and confessing who you are.


I think its telling us to ‘take up crosses’ in the world we live in today, fight for causes that glorify God, fight abortion, fight SSM, but do it to a degree that you do loose your secular life, in that you may find yourself in jail, or not being able to get a job,etc but you should always keep your eye on the big picture, what God wants, that is whats really important, living the secular life does not achieve what God desires.


Thank you all very much!:slight_smile:


I would say that in the context of the time that it makes sense that Jesus was talking about putting aside your own plans, and following in his footsteps. Jesus wasn’t doing anything criminal. Yet they tried him as a criminal. Jesus knew that his followers would also be treated unfairly, even killed like him. It is dangerous to speak the truth. Be prepared for many crosses. Even Socrates was put to death for seeking truth. Many people do not want to hear the truth. Because the truth is often difficult to hear. Jesus said anyone on the side of truth listens to him.


Very good point.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.


Here’s how Thomas a Kempis saw it in “The Imitation of Christ” Book 2 Chapter 12:



*Behold, in the cross is everything, and upon your dying on the cross everything depends. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way of the holy cross and daily mortification. Go where you will, seek what you will, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but safer way, than the way of the holy cross. Arrange and order everything to suit your will and judgment, and still you will find that some suffering must always be borne, willingly or unwillingly, and thus you will always find the cross.


Either you will experience bodily pain or you will undergo tribulation of spirit in your soul. At times you will be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of yourself. You cannot escape, you cannot be relieved by any remedy or comfort but must bear with it as long as God wills. For He wishes you to learn to bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to Him that you may become more humble through suffering. No one understands the passion of Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the man whose lot it is to suffer the like himself.


The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will – above, below, without, or within – you will find a cross in everything, and everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit an eternal crown.*

Hard stuff


Thanks for posting Jake. I’ll read the linked 12th chapter. I think you are right to highlight the importance of the cross in Christianity. Sometimes we are prone to overlook that importance.


Thanks, I’m flattered but it’s really Thomas a Kempis you should be thanking.


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