In Matt 16:24 Jesus tells His disciples to pick up their crosses and follow Him. How would the apostles have understood what He was saying? He spoke these words before He was crucified, so the mention of a cross is a bit strange to me. The Greek word is "stauros" or "stauron" which means an upright stake. Jesus does tell the apostles in verse 16:21 what would shortly come to pass (His crucifixion) but the verse doesn't make any mention of crucifixion. We could surmise that Jesus told them that He would be crucified and the text just doesn't explicitly mention it, that could be a reasonable explanation, but what if He didn't give them those details? It creates a dilemma of sorts. I'd be interested in hearing how other people understand this passage.

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    Feb 18 at 23:33

3 Answers 3


The word is never in the plural ; it is always 'take up his cross'. Which paves the way for doctrine . . . . 'I am crucified with Christ' : union with Christ in his sufferings and in his death.

Jesus has already mentioned the concept in Matthew 10:38, see also the other uses of the word. The disciples would have previously noted the expression and have had opportunity to ask a question about it.

The 'stake' was a specific method of Roman execution and the meaning would be plain to the hearers of Jesus, in a nation which had been subjugated both by force, by frequent (and public) executions and by strictly monitored taxation.

The expression may already have been an idiom in the region, prompted by the enforced carrying of the prisoner's means of execution as they went to their death, thronged by onlookers.

  • I appreciate the response. I wrote it as "crosses" for the audience, I wasn't trying to say the Greek word used was plural. That's the thing, do we know he was nailed to a cross, or was it a stake, an upright stake without a patibulum? I haven't found anything that's definitive yet. You could be right, but I'm asking for evidence that supports your argument, both the idea of an existing idiom and an actual cross. Thank you.
    – Yahuchanan
    Feb 24 at 17:32

Let's start here:

The Greek word is "stauros" or "stauron" which means an upright stake.

Are you sure about that? In Matthew 27:32, the same word appears; "they compelled [Simon] to carry [Jesus'] cross". The prevailing historical opinion is that v32 refers to the patibulum, not to the stipes.

If we therefore make the not-entirely-unreasonable assumption that Jesus' audience would have the same understanding, then "σταυρὸν" would be understood (by an audience familiar with Roman crucifixions!) as a very heavy load, likely signifying that the one carrying it is condemned to a torturous death.

Thus, to paraphrase, "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up an immense burden which will result in suffering and horrific death and follow me". Seems pretty straight forward. If anything, I suspect us modern readers have grown somewhat insensitive to the meaning that a pre-Crucifixion listener would have understood.

Note that this isn't entirely dependent on the patibulum/stipes distinction; so long as the audience was familiar with crucifixion as a form of capital punishment (they were) and with the Roman practice of requiring the victim to carry some part of the instrument thereof to the place of execution, the analogy works. Whichever part was carried, it would have been heavy, but the connotation of the cross as an instrument of execution are at least as important as its physical weight.

  • The word in Matt 27:32 is stauron. I'm trying to find out if there was indeed a patibulum, or if Jesus was nailed to an upright timber or stake. It may have been an idiom, I'm looking for convincing evidence. Others say we have "cross" written in our Bibles due to pagan influences rather then the objective meaning of the word being used.
    – Yahuchanan
    Feb 24 at 17:37
  • @Yahuchanan, see christianity.stackexchange.com/search?q=cross+or+stake. The prevailing belief seems to be that "cross" is correct. The stake / pagan influences claim seems to be mainly put forth by JWs, whose theology is so far from mainstream that, while JWs claim themselves to be Christian, all other Christians disagree.
    – Matthew
    Feb 25 at 2:00

The Romans crucified many criminals and rebels both before and after they crucified our Lord. The disciples would have been able to realize that following Jesus meant a self-sacrificial life.

  • I understand where you're coming from, as we've all heard similar reasoning. I'm looking for concrete evidence. The text says stauros or stauron, an upright timber, a pole or cross, etc. Maybe an exhaustive Greek lexicon would reveal more, I don't know. The apostles weren't even aware He was going to be executed, they seemed oblivious to the obvious many times within the gospels. I definitely agree He was teaching one had to deny themselves if they were going to follow Him. I'm just looking for concrete evidence, maybe none exists?
    – Yahuchanan
    Feb 24 at 17:42

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