Mark 8:31-9:1

On the heels of Peter’s remarkable confession that Jesus is the Christ, comes a surprising teaching from Jesus on what it means for him to be the Christ.  Peter may have used the correct term but as we shall see he was severely lacking an appropriate understanding  of what that term entails.  For Jesus, his role as Messiah means that he will suffer.  And just as his Messiahship means suffering, so our discipleship will signify the same thing.


#1 Messiahship means Jesus must suffer.

31And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mark 8:31-33

Notice that as Jesus describes what lies ahead for him, he does not talk about it in a theoretical way.  For instance, he does not say “I might suffer many things.” No, he says “the Son of Man must suffer many things.”  This is not a vague possibility for Jesus — it is a certainty.  He must suffer.  It is necessary that he face these things.

When it comes to the prospect of suffering, we are usually pulled in one of three directions:

  1. We choose to ignore the possibility of any future suffering altogether.
  2. We tolerate the possibility that we may suffer but still hope to avoid it.
  3. We accept the necessity of suffering as an instrument of redemption.

Which of these postures rings true for you?  Are  you drawn to naivety believing no real suffering will come your way?  Are you clinging to the hope that while suffering might be inevitable in a fallen world you might still escape relatively unharmed?  Or have you come to see the necessity and purpose of suffering in your life?

Jesus says that he must suffer.

We see now why Jesus forbid his disciples from telling others that he was the Messiah.  The issue was not that the Jews were unaware that a Messiah was coming but rather that they had an entirely wrong conception of who the Messiah would be.  They were looking for a warrior wielding a sword not a servant holding a towel.   They wanted a king who would forcibly break the bonds of Roman rule not a priest whose self-sacrifice would break the bonds of spiritual bondage.  They were looking for one who would be successful and victorious not one who would suffer, be rejected and ultimately killed.

Mark reports that Jesus “said this plainly.”  There could be no mistaking what Jesus said.  I will suffer, I will die, and three days later I will rise again.  Peter can bear this teaching no longer.  Just as Jesus “began to teach them (v.31)”, Peter “began to rebuke” (v.32) Jesus.  Can you imagine this?!  Peter rebuking the Son of God!

Jesus, in turn, sternly rebukes Peter.  If it is true that Peter was Mark’s primary source for the writing of his Gospel, it is interesting that this rebuke of Peter is included while the earlier praise for Peter which is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is here left out (c.f. Matthew 16:17-20 “…flesh and blood have not reached this to you…you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church…”).

“Get behind me Satan!”  It is clear that Jesus sees Peter’s words as not coming from Peter but from Satan.  Remember that Jesus had already been tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days.  One of those temptations was that he be handed “all the kingdoms of the world” if Jesus would but forsake his mission and worship Satan. It’s as if Satan was saying to Jesus, “Forget this whole suffering thing.  Forget the cross.  Just come to me and I will give you unending authority and glory.” Of course Jesus does not succumb to this or any temptation from Satan and so we are told in Luke 4:13 that Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”  Who would have ever imagined that that “opportune time” would come from the very lips of an apostle?!   That after his most remarkable confession that Jesus is the Christ, he would be used as an agent of Satan himself to tempt Jesus.

“You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Peter, you are thinking in a worldly manner.  It is reasonable.  It makes sense.  But it is wrong.

#2 Discipleship means we must suffer.

34And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37For what can a man give in return for his soul?”   Mark 8:34-37

After setting the disciples straight on what it means for him to be their Messiah, he explains to them what it will mean for them to be his disciples.  Messiahship and discipleship are deeply connected.  A misunderstanding of one necessarily leads to a misunderstanding of the other.  No one can accuse Jesus of seeking followers under false pretenses.  He makes no false promises.  He says “if anyone would come after me” this is what it will mean.  You will need to deny yourself and take up your cross.

Let him deny himself.  What a strange and alien concept to be told not to do whatever your heart finds to do, but rather to deny yourself.  But what does it mean to deny yourself?  Does this mean I must deny my feelings?  That I must deny all of my desires?  Does it mean that I must deny something (as some Christians do during Lent)?

Consider the example of Peter.  Peter will later deny Jesus.  In what way did he deny Jesus?  Well, he denied that he had any knowledge of Jesus.  Mark 14:71: “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  This is what it means for us to deny ourselves.  We must say with the same force to ourselves, “I do no belong to myself.  I do not know the selfish desires of the one whom I see in the mirror.”  To deny yourself means to deny a right to yourself.  It means to deny your self-lordship.  I will not be governed by my own desires and wishes but by my Savior’s desires.

And take up his cross and follow me.  This is among those misunderstood sayings of Jesus.  It is frequently applied to unwanted burdens we must carry like putting up with a difficult relationship, or persevering through an undesirable work situation, or having to adopt some restrictive diet.  These all might be burdens Jesus is asking you to carry but that is not the significance of this teaching of Jesus to take up your cross.

The cross was an instrument used for the execution of condemned criminals.  In the Roman world of Jesus’ day, when you saw a person carrying a cross, you knew what lie ahead for that person.  He was for all practical purposes done living.  F.F. Bruce in his excellent book The Hard Sayings of Jesus reminds us that “a person on the way to public execution was compelled to abandon all earthly hopes and ambitions (Loc 1485).”  When Dante passed through the gates of Hell he saw a sign that read “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”  Taking up our cross does not mean abandoning all hope in the Lord but it does mean abandoning all earthly hope.  One commentator puts it this way: “Jesus calls his followers to think of ourselves as already dead, to bury all our earthly hopes and dreams, to bury the plans and agendas we made for ourselves.  He will either resurrect our dreams or replace them with dreams and plans of his own (essay by Darrell Johnson found in Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden, p.29).”

For whoever will would save his life will lose it.  If we are to follow Jesus, we must be willing to give up our right to ourselves.  And if we insist on pursuing our own selfish desires, those desires will in the end consume us. And the promise here is that if we give up our life for my sake and the gospel’s, we will save our life.  True living is found not in pursuing our own selfish desires but in a properly-ordered life where God and not ourself is in the center.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  The “me-first” mentality and the exaltation of the individual that we see in our day, will never truly satisfy anyone.  We are meant to live for something bigger than ourselves.  That something is the glory of God.  There is nothing worth receiving in this world, if it means we must give up our soul.

“38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 1And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” Mark 8:38-9:1

Jesus concludes by filling out the picture of his Messiahship a bit more.  He has come first as a lamb to be sacrificed but later he will come as a lion to rule and to reign in glory.  Do not be ashamed of him now while he is perceived as a lamb because he will soon coming as a lion.  He makes a promise to those amongst his disciples and the crowd who heard him that day.  Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.  This verse has perplexed commentators through the ages.  Some believe that he has his second coming in mind.  This possibility does not seem right since all of those to whom Jesus spoke have most certainly tasted death and he has not returned for a second time.  Others believe that he is referring to his coming transfiguration.  This too does not make sense because Mark says in the very next verse that it was six days after this saying that the transfiguration took place.  If Jesus intended the transfiguration to be the fulfillment of the promise, why didn’t he say something like “some of you won’t have to wait a week until you see the kingdom”?  The most convincing possibility is that Jesus’ promise of coming kingdom was fulfilled in his last days at his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring out of his Holy Spirit on the church.  Yet we acknowledge that we do not know with certainty what Jesus had in mind here.

Discussion Questions

  1. Immediately after Peter’s confession of the Christ, comes an explanation from Jesus about what it means for him to be the Christ.  What do we learn in this passage about Jesus’ view of being the Christ?
  2. Why do you think Peter began to rebuke to Jesus?  What was it about Jesus’ teaching that he could not accept?
  3. Why do you think Jesus in turn rebuked Peter so harshly?  In what way did Peter have in mind “the things of men?”
  4. How can we make sure we have in mind the things of God and not the things of men?
  5. Summarize Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in this passage.
  6. What does it practically look like to deny yourself and take up your cross?
  7. Where specifically do you need to ask God’s help in this area of denying yourself and taking up your cross?
  8. In what ways are we tempted to save our life rather than losing our life for Jesus and the gospel?
  9. What is the promise found in 8:38 and 9:1?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?




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