"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves ... " (Luke 9:23)

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
This statement by Jesus' has been significantly mistranslated. Let's examine the translation using the original Greek texts:

Is Jesus referring only to disciples?

According to this translation, Jesus is saying, "Whoever wants to be my disciple..."

Other translations have been different. For example, the King James Version has translated Jesus' statement to sound like he is talking about people who are chasing him:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
Jesus isn't referring to people who are chasing after him. The Greek word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) means to "come" while the word ὀπίσω (opisō) means "after." Therefore, the phrase refers to those who come after. This means follower. Someone who follows Jesus.

A disciple is certainly a follower, but a follower doesn't have to be a disciple.

Didn't Jesus have many followers?

We know from other texts that Jesus had hundreds of followers. He also had many people who were clamoring to be healed or see some other miracle performed. And of these, Jesus also had a number of followers who became disciples. Earlier in Luke, 70 disciples were identified.

So becoming one of Jesus' followers - students or disciples - was of importance, to distinguish between those who simply clamored after Jesus or just wanted to be part of the big crowds.

In other words, Jesus is speaking of a follower as someone who hears his teachings and then follows those teachings.

What does 'denying themselves' mean?

According to this translation Jesus says, "let him deny himself."

Does Jesus literally mean they need to deny themselves? Let's say that a person wants to follow Jesus. Does he have to now tell himself and others that he is no longer himself? He's now someone else? Isn't this what denying oneself means?

This is not what Jesus was talking about. These words "deny himself" are being translated from the Greek phrase ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν. And yes, ἀρνησάσθω can mean "deny" either "someone" or "oneself" according to the lexicon. However, specific to this context, the lexicon explains that the word can mean "to disregard his own interests."

In this context, because Jesus is talking to people about becoming qualified to be one of his followers, we can know that Jesus is talking about giving up one's self-interest.

Yes, this was Jesus' prime qualification for becoming pleasing to him and to God: Giving up one's self-centered motives and living in such a way that is pleasing to Jesus and the Supreme Being.

Let's say that a young man wants to travel the world. Then he meets a girl and they "fall" for each other. Soon the young man finds that the girl doesn't want to travel. She wants to stay at home and have a family. What will the young man do? It depends. It depends on how much the young man cares about the girl. If he doesn't care that much, he'll go off traveling anyway. If he cares deeply about the girl, he will stick around.

What is this called? The young man would be giving up his own interests because he cares enough about the girl to do what she wants: Stay at home and have a family.

In its purest form, this is called love. But in the more mechanical view, he is giving up his own interests in order to please the girl. As to whether he truly feels love, that may be debatable.

Jesus is talking about giving up one's self-interest. Jesus is saying that in order to follow him, one must be willing to give up their self-centered interests. In the beginning, this may be mechanical. The intention is that this training can develop into love.

We might compare this to how a man might bring flowers to a woman. Buying the flowers may require a mechanical process - paying a flower vendor or going out and picking flowers. But the sacrifice itself is an expression. It may not be complete love, but it requires work and sacrifice that may turn into love.

In other words, Jesus is requesting the person wanting to follow must begin making the effort: To give up their self-centered goals, intentions, and aspirations as they begin to follow Jesus' teachings.

What about taking up 'their cross daily'?

Then supposedly Jesus says, "... and take up their cross daily..."

What? Is Jesus saying that to follow him they must be willing to pick up a cross? Every day? Let's look at this statement more closely.

The word "cross" is being translated from the Greek word σταυρός (stauros). Is the primary meaning of this word a cross? One might think so. But no. As often used in context by Greek philosophers during those times, the word refers to an upright stake with a point at one end.

Yet it could certainly be translated to "cross" if someone wanted to force such a meaning. But this would not only be out of context. It would be out of character, and not make sense. It wouldn't make sense that Jesus would be teaching his followers that they have to literally pick up a cross. A cross typically weighed hundreds of pounds. For this reason, crosses were dragged along in the dirt. They were too heavy to be picked up and carried by an individual.

Even Jesus didn't pick up the cross according to the Bible. For example, it states later in Luke:
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
So we find that Jesus did not carry the cross. Rather, a man was seized and forced to carry - rather, drag, as these crosses were heavy - the cross to where Jesus' body was to be crucified.

So is Jesus now really asking his followers to pick up and carry a cross around every day? Like on their back or something?

No. The word "cross," is being translated from the Greek word σταυρός (stauros). The more precise translation, according to the lexicon, is "stake with a point." This might be compared to a stake used to prop an olive tree, or a grapevine - these have been traditionally single straight poles with a sharp end on one end so they can be stuck into the ground: a grapevine stake or a tree stake.

Let's now look at the words around this and see how they work. The words after σταυρὸν include καθ’ - from κατά (kata) which means "everyday" "daily". This means that whatever Jesus is referring to, they will need to be doing that every day.

So is Jesus saying that his followers will need to think of being crucified every day?

Don't be ridiculous.

What kind of teacher would require this?

Let's say that a new - even radical - teacher came on to the scene and suddenly announced that if someone wants to follow him they better be prepared to carry around an instrument used to murder himself. Perhaps putting this in a modern-day perspective - this could mean a violent end of their life is necessary in order to follow him.

What would happen? The FBI would likely raid the teacher's compound and arrest the teacher as a possible terrorist.

And of course, Jesus wasn't saying that in order to follow him his students need to be prepared to end their physical lives on a daily basis.

Plus Jesus didn't say the word "carry" here as many have assumed "take up" to mean.

The verb or action word used here - αἴρω (airō) - does not mean to carry at all. It means to "pick up" or "elevate" or "lift up."

So is Jesus saying that to follow him a person has to become a weight-lifter? Crosses certainly were extremely heavy and they could not be lifted up by the user - they were partly lifted but then dragged along.

Rather, Jesus was speaking about a stake, not a cross - as identified above. Planting stakes were typical among farming communities like the ones Jesus traveled through. A stake is used to hold up a vine or a small tree as it grows.

And a stake is typically lifted up as it is taken out of the ground when one needs to move the stake to prop up another plant - or moved to another farm or vineyard.

Jesus often spoke of agricultural terms in his parables - such as the farmer and the seed, the slaves and the harvest and so on. Why? Because these were terms that his audience could relate to.

But why would Jesus be talking about lifting up a stake out of the ground?

The analogy is when a person is growing a vine, tree or other crop and they pull up the stakes in order to move the stakes to other trees - or even another farm.

Yes, we even have an English saying that is derived from this notion:

"Pull up stakes."

What does it mean to "pull up stakes"?

To "pull up stakes" typically refers to giving up our current place and moving elsewhere.

And this is what Jesus was talking about. Just consider what he was doing, and what many of Jesus' disciples and students were doing: They had given up their jobs and families and were now dedicating their lives to Jesus' service of preaching the glories of God throughout the region.

They had each effectively "pulled up stakes" from their respective families, jobs, homes, and towns and began following Jesus. And Jesus "pulled up stakes" from his own home and was traveling on his mission to serve the Supreme Being.

Thus we can see that in this context of time and circumstance, Jesus is talking about them giving up their attachments - as one becomes attached to one's family, job, and so on.

And yes, this is not only practical, but it would also be appropriate to say: That if someone wanted to follow Jesus, he better be prepared to leave their current attachments related to the material world - and follow Jesus' teachings.

Pull up stakes and follow Jesus?

Jesus says, "... and follow me." Was Jesus being followed by others?

Yes. This is what we saw among Jesus' closest followers. Many but not all had left their homes and villages and were literally following Jesus around the countryside, from town to town as he preached. They were helping him.

Is Jesus speaking about literally following him by walking behind him? When we say a person "has many followers" is it that their followers will always be walking behind the teacher where ever he or she goes?

No. A follower doesn't necessarily literally follow the teacher around. They follow their teachings. They follow their instructions. They change their lives to be in sync with their teacher's teachings.

So a person can physically be anywhere and still follow their spiritual teacher if they are living their lives in concert with that teacher's teachings. We know from his exchanges with some students such as Martha that some of Jesus' "beloved" students remained in their villages and simply made the appropriate changes in their lifestyles in order to follow Jesus' teachings.

Because Jesus is saying that in order to follow his instructions they will need to give up following their own instructions - their self-centered goals and desires - and give up their attachments.

Let's relate this again to the notion of "pulling up stakes." The metaphorical action of "pulling up stakes" in the context here means to basically give up one's attachments in life and follow Jesus.

Because spiritual life opposes a self-centered physical existence, one must give up one to follow the other. Consider this statement by Jesus:
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Luke 16:13)
Of course this word "money" is a mistranslation of the word μαμωνᾶς (mamōnas). The word μαμωνᾶς (mamōnas) refers more generally to wealth or specifically to "mammon" according to the lexicon - and "mammon" is how the word is translated in the King James Version.

In other words, "You cannot serve both God and mammon." The word "mammon" not only refers to the prospect of wealth, but it refers to the various attractions of the material world. This is also referred to as materialism.

Isn't Jesus speaking of self-centeredness?

We can relate this statement to Jesus' statement above and arrive at the clear conclusion that Jesus was saying that in order to follow him a person must give up their self-centered aspirations and attachments.

And we must note again the word "daily" here - κατά (kata). This means Jesus is putting the emphasis on the fact that it is an ongoing process. It is not as if we can say "I'm saved" and we're done.

Giving up our self-centered aspirations and attachments and actively following Jesus' instructions - centered around loving and serving the Supreme Being - is a daily struggle. We have to contend with the illusory nature of the physical world and our self-centered desires every day that we dwell within these physical bodies. Therefore it is not easy. We must have determination. We must continue the process even if we slip and fall: We must get back up, dust off ourselves and continue to follow his instructions as best we can.

Let's say that a building was on fire and a fireman climbs into the window of a burning apartment to find a woman inside sorting out her clothes and shoes - preparing to pack them up so she can take them with her as she escapes the burning building.

When the fireman comes through the window he will have one thing to say: "Drop all of that stuff and follow me to the window so I can get you out of this burning building!"

And in order to prevent being killed in the fire, the woman will have to strictly follow the fireman's instructions. She can't dawdle around a little - and grab just a few pairs of shoes. She has to drop everything.

This is what Jesus is essentially saying. We are each stuck in the physical world - blinded by our identification with these temporary physical bodies, and their various attractions and attachments. In this way, we think the house we live in is our home and the people we call our family belong to us, and the money we have in the bank and the goodies around us are all our possessions.

But they are not. While these things we are attached to exist, they do not belong to us. They will each be here in one molecular form or another after our body is long dead and decomposed.

We are each being hosted within a temporary physical body. Soon our body will die and we will leave it. And with that, we will lose everything we thought we owned or thought were ours: Everything will be gone - as if all blown away - at the time of death.

Where will we go when our bodies die? We will continue to suffer in another physical body (that is the meaning of "going to hell") unless we have made the proper preparations to return to the spiritual realm.

If we remain attached to the things of the world and our self-interested aspirations, we will not be prepared to return to the spiritual realm.

This is what Jesus is trying to teach them. He is trying to prepare those around him - and all of us who try to follow his teachings - to return to the spiritual realm. He is trying to lead us out of hell and back to our home in the spiritual realm so that we can once again be fixed in our loving service relationship with the Supreme Being.

Here is the translation of this statement from the Lost Gospels of Jesus:
hen he told them all, “If one wants to follow me he must deny himself and pull up his stake daily and follow me."