Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” — Matthew 16:24-28.
Cross (v.24-26) — Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity to point out that discipleship involves bearing the cross of death to self, by following Him. This is to be more important than any worldly gain, but will be rewarded by God finally. No matter what their worldly gain, those who refuse to die to self to follow Christ will lose their souls—a tragic and bad bargain.
Coming (v.27-28) — Jesus will come again in glory with His angels to deal with all people according to their works. Some of His disciples will see Him in His kingdom before they die. In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples/apostles did so on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2).
Jesus’ words, “take up his cross” would have evoked scenes of shamefully carrying the heavy cross through a jeering mob and marching on to one’s execution. Jesus had just been talking about his death and resurrection (16:1-4). Jesus anticipated literal death for himself and many of his disciples because his kingdom was ultimately incompatible with Rome’s claims. His followers would be forfeiting their lives the moment they decided to follow and imitate the Christ and the apostles.
Genuine Christians who wish to follow Christ should understand from the outset that they are surrendering their lives to Christ. Jesus came to save us from our sin, and accepting him must include recognizing his right to rule our lives. This does not imply that Christians are perfect; it does indicate that they recognize who their Lord is.
Jesus Is Worth Any Price We Must Pay to Follow Him (16:25-27)
Losing one’s life in this age would be a small price to preserve it in the eternal age to come. We must decide whether we desire to follow Jesus (Mt 16:24) or desire to save our lives (v. 25); we cannot have it both ways. The cross means death, and nothing less (cf. 10:38-39; Jn 12:25).
Yet the only way to ultimately preserve one’s life is to relinquish it in faith that the Son of Man will someday come with his angels to execute judgment (Mt 16:27; cf. 25:31; 2 Thess 1:7-8; Dan 7:9-14) according to each person’s works (for example, Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 11:15; Rev 22:12). Those who expected a period of great suffering before the time of the kingdom, as most Jewish people did, would hear in such words a radical call to perseverance (Mt 24:9-13).
Ultimately, God will reward us for what we have done, and eternal life matters more than our temporary lives in this age.