And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:38 (KJV)
Cross – We know what this means, right? Yeshua is evidently talking about the cross on which He was crucified. We should be willing to suffer as He did and follow Yeshua wherever He may go, willingly.
But there’s a problem here. Yeshua said these words way before any idea of His crucifixion on a cross. So there’s no way this could have meant that to the people who first heard these words. What did it mean to them — to the people He’s specifically talking to?
Rather than just reading through the verse and applying our 21st century understanding to it, we need to dig further. Our 21st century understanding is not 1st century Israelite understanding.
There’s a few things going on here.
1. Maybe this is an idiom
There’s speculation that “taking up the cross” was a common saying among the zealots who already knew about the Roman practice of crucifixion and had already witnessed many other zealots crucified. So is Yeshua asking for a zealot-like willingness to die for Him? Certainly this is possible.
2. The word’s alternative meaning
Stauros, the Greek word for “cross,” has another meaning. It can also mean “a wooden fence pole or staff.” This can branch in different directions of meaning. In one instance there’s belief it relates to the yoke that Yeshua later refers to in Matthew 11. In another way this could reference taking one’s staff and walking after Him. A staff was a common tool used to take long journeys.
3. The verse was added
Would it surprise you to know that this verse isn’t in the Hebrew Matthew? This could be a verse later added by someone with an agenda to impose their paradigm on the text.
In any instance, it can’t refer to His crucifixion on the cross because that wasn’t something anyone knew was going to happen. So when Yeshua says to “take up your cross” the people didn’t imagine Yeshua carrying His cross to the place of execution as we might today. It’s always important to place ourselves in their shoes. What did they know, and how would they have understood the words of Yeshua?