Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

What does Jesus mean here? What kind of cross is he referring to?

6 Answers 6


There are at least two questions here, probably three. What would his hearers have understood by it before and after his arrest and crucifixion? And again after his resurrection? Jesus spoke in Aramaic, translated into Greek by Luke and later into English. To complicate things further, the word he used for cross was probably the Latin furca, a fork. This was a term used in the Roman Army for a backpack, and as slang for a punishment yoke or gallows, not the cross used in crucifixion as Romans were mainly exempt. General Marius devised cross-shaped backpacks for his men, capable of carrying large loads, reducing the need for baggage trains. This resulted in the men being nicknamed Marius's Mules. Each day they would take up their packs and march. You asked what Jesus would have meant by it. That will no doubt be answered fully by other contributors. Comments by him and others point to literal and non-literal answers. He knew what he was heading towards. Outside Roman slang there was no reason not to extend the use of furca for a crucifixion cross or a burden carried to that end. Non-Romans probably did.

  • 1
    If he spoke in Aramaic which was then translated into Greek, where does Latin come into it???
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 3:41
  • The occupying Roman soldiers spoke Latin, certainly in their slang and many of these terms would have been adopted in the regions they occupied. Greek, of the type used in the New Testament, was the common commercial language but their home lanquage was latin.
    – Tony
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 14:26

This is not a literal cross. Cross deals with the common trials ,problems, sickness, temptations, and persecutions encountered by Christians. Sometimes serving the Lord requires some suffering, the following verses explains it.

Philippians 1:29 ~ For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

1 Peter 4:13 ~ But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.


Jesus was all about counting the cost of being His followers. To them He promised a life of self-denial, difficulty, and even death. All but one of His original disciples, tradition has it, met an untimely death, becoming martyrs for the faith. John, alone, likely died of old age during his exile on the island of Patmos.

With this concept of self-denial and cross-bearing in mind, Jesus said in each Gospel,

"'If anyone would come after me [my emphasis],

  • he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34).

  • he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23, my emphasis).

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus also said,

  • "'If anyone comes to Me and does not hate . . . even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple'" (Luke 14:27, 28; my emphasis).

  • "'. . . and he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me'" (Matthew 10:39, 40, my emphasis).

The Greek word for cross in each of the above verses, at least in the NIV, is stauros, which to this day is a common Greek surname, as in Mr. and Mrs. Stavros (or Mr. and Mrs. Cross).

In summary thus far, by conflating the above verses, we have Jesus saying,

"If you would be a disciple worthy of My name, then think well in advance of taking the first step whether or not you really want to do this. Only then should you come after me and follow me, because by doing so you will be required to deny yourself by dying to yourself, each and every day. I will lead the way, because I am not the kind of teacher who requires you to do what I myself am not willing to do by way of example."

At this point, Jesus presents us with a paradox, a trope He was fond of using, and that paradox is:

"'For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me [and for the gospel] will find [and save] it'" (Matthew 16:25 and Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24).

Jim Elliot, Christian missionary and martyr for the faith in the 1950s, paraphrased this paradox as follows:

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."

How apt. In other words, if we hold on to what is not ours to keep, we will in fact lose it. But if we let go freely of what is not ours to keep, we will end up keeping and saving it for all eternity. As Jesus said elsewhere, and I paraphrase,

"'Even if moths destroy your finest clothes, rust claims your pricey luxury car, and thieves steal your most valued and priceless treasures, if you've taken what God has given you in this life and deposited it back into God's gracious hands as a token of sacrificial worship, then God will pay you back with interest for all eternity, because He is no man's debtor.'"

In summary, then, in taking up and carrying our own cross, we signify spiritually that we are voluntarily dying to ourselves and our selfish, earthbound, and impossible-to-satisfy carnal and worldly desires, appetites, and enthusiasms. The good news, however, is that in doing so, we are identifying with our Savior's own death and are raised to newness of life--eternal life--in Him. As the apostle Paul put it,

". . . we have been buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. . . . Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we could not longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is free from sin" (Romans 6:4-7, excerpts).

Or, as the plaque in my godly grandfather's kitchen used to read:

"Only one life,

Twill soon be past.

Only what's done for Christ

Will last."


In “take up your cross daily” what does “cross” refer to?

Luke 9:20-26 He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God. And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.

One of the methods of crime prevention the Romans used was to crucify criminals such as thieves. Two of them were executed with Jesus. This was done in as much of a public way as possible including having the condemned carry their cross to the place of execution. One might imagine the concerned mother of a wayward boy taking him to see such a spectacle and warning him that if he continued to steal, this was likely to be his fate.

In this context, the cross is emblematic of the continual shame and humiliation that being a disciple of Jesus will bring. The fact that it is to be taken up daily places an emphasis more on the public ridicule aspect of the cross over the death part.

The aspect of death is still present and represents the ultimate in "denying self". This willingness to surrender even one's life is also a component in the imagery of the cross;

Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

We have the disciples (the ones who argued about who was going to have the place of honor in the kingdom) being told to expect the opposite of honor. They should expect to be reviled as one who is forced to carry his cross to the place of execution. The cross imagery also includes the acceptance of the possibility of even being put to death because they follow Jesus.


Ephesians 6;6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 1 John 3;16-18 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. .....Denying one's self daily is taking up the cross.


Tony's answer has just confirm some convictions i have. Nowadays, i think us as christians are too much obsessed by self-justification through suffering. I think it's a trap of the human mind to think that we should suffer to be able to say that we are real christians. We should not expect to be persecuted and hated, which is not really the case for most of the christians in the world. The first disciples of Jesus as the stones of the christianity foundations (cornerstones) have suffered as Christ had. But, we don't have to seek persecution or suffering in order to define ourselves as true christians.

Being christian is a having a new nature (off Adam, now through Christ),and that nature "naturally" seeks justice, fights to defend the weakest, and in this present word with a lot of bad people, working for good and justice to prevail (even through the mean of weapons) is our duty as christians, getting involved in our local communities or having impacts on remote communities to make justice prevail must be our duty, we deny ourselves by dying in Adam and reborn Saint in Christ by our baptism, and now in our daily lives we should support our communities and fight against injustice towards others christians. That is from my point the role of a christian in the current time.


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