Denying Self

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
—Matthew 16:24

OUR LORD’S WORDS WERE addressed to his disciples when Peter attempted to dissuade the Lord from risking his life by going to Jerusalem, and that his enemies were lying in wait to arrest and put him to death. Jesus had just rebuked Peter (vs. 23) and told him that his advice to not go to Jerusalem because of the danger involved was contrary to his own purpose in coming to the earth. It was a human viewpoint of self-preservation and, under the circumstances, out of harmony with the will of God.

He then addressed his little band of disciples in the words of our featured scripture, extending to them an invitation to suffer and die with him. He then added, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (vs. 25) To the disciples, the Master’s words must have sounded very strange, for how could one save his life by losing it?

It was strange to them because, in their acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah, they had no thought that it would lead to suffering and death. Having based their convictions on the promises of God, they believed that the Divine purpose through the Messiah was to give health and life. They understood that he was destined to establish a powerful government in Judea, one which would free the Jewish nation from its Roman captors. They believed it would extend its sphere of influence until the whole world would come under its control, and through its righteous administration receive the promised blessings of peace, joy, and life.


Jesus had a deeper insight into the Divine will and plan, and knew that what they expected was to be accomplished in a future age. But he did not leave them entirely uninformed concerning this wider application in the Divine plan. Seeing that they erroneously expected the kingdom of the Messiah to be established immediately, he gave them the parable of a certain nobleman representing himself, who went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then to return.—Luke 19:11,12

They learned from the parable that he was going away and returning later to set up his kingdom. This perhaps explains why they asked him the question on the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 24:3) The parable did not say that their Master would go away in death, so it was the manner of his leaving them that constituted a severe test upon their faith. In various ways Jesus indicated to his disciples that he expected to die. On one occasion he said that he would give his flesh for “the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Toward the close of his ministry, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24) Also, in the upper room on the occasion of the last supper, Jesus invited his disciples to partake of the cup which he said is my “blood of the new testament.”—Matt. 26:28

The disciples could not bring themselves to believe that these various teachings meant what they seemed to imply. As they viewed the matter, how could he possibly be the Messiah who would rule over the whole world if he surrendered to his enemies and allowed them to put him to death? It was to their consternation and confusion that he actually did this. We cannot fully appreciate the bitterness of their disappointment when they realized that their Lord and Master hung dead upon the cross.

As noble men having great confidence in the promises of God, they sought for the answer. Vaguely they perhaps recalled something which Jesus had said about being raised up in three days, and this may have bolstered their faith to some extent. After three days had passed, two of the disciples while journeying to Emmaus were joined by the resurrected Jesus. They no doubt had heard reports of his resurrection, but considered them to be idle tales. They did not recognize Jesus until he revealed himself to them. “Their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”—Luke 24:31,32


In Jesus’ teachings, he called his followers attention to the typical lessons found in Israel’s Day of Atonement services. A bullock and a goat were sacrificed, and their blood taken into the Most Holy, and sprinkled upon the mercy seat to effect reconciliation for the people. He probably also reminded them of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and how its blood was sprinkled upon the lintels and doorposts of the Israelites’ homes, thus sparing the firstborn from death, and preparing the way for the deliverance of all Egypt from bondage. He no doubt quoted from Isaiah’s prophecy, in chapter 53, which had foretold the suffering and death of the Messiah, showing that he would be led as a “lamb to the slaughter.” (vs. 7) Hearing this wonderful explanation concerning the necessity of Jesus’ death, the disciples were given a new vision. They saw, temporarily at least, that the death of Jesus did not mean a failure of the Divine plan, nor did it indicate that he was not the Messiah. Their faith in him, and in the Father’s purpose centered in him, was restored.


A few days before this, when Peter was determined that his Master should not be put to death by his enemies, and after the last supper, Jesus said to him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32) It required much instruction, discipline, and the revealing power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to convince Peter to understand and appreciate the necessity of Jesus’ death. To him, it seemed wrong that a man who had done no evil, and whose only aim in life was to help and bless others should be put to death.

With the aid of special instructions from the Lord and the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter did comprehend. Jesus had explained that he who would lose his life would save it. At first he could not understand this, but when Jesus was raised from the dead he realized that the Master had voluntarily given his life, and that it had now been saved by the power of the Father who had raised him from the dead.

In one of Jesus’ last appearances to his disciples, he said to Peter, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.”—John 21:18,19

Peter did not grasp the full import of these words until the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Then he understood that Jesus’ statement concerning the time when he would stretch forth his hand and allow another to gird him, meant that he would fully surrender himself to the Divine will. He would thus be girded for Divine service that would lead to sacrificial death. When one stretches forth his hand it implies surrender. It means full consecration to the Lord, and the doing of his will. Peter died a sacrificial death because he voluntarily surrendered to the will of his God, and permitted himself to be led in the narrow way of sacrifice to follow Jesus as he had been invited to do.


Most Christians who accept the inspired testimony of the Scriptures agree that Jesus voluntarily suffered and died for the sins of the world. But few seem clearly to realize that the true followers of Jesus are invited to likewise lay down their lives in voluntary sacrifice. The Apostle Paul explains, “If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”—Rom. 6:5-8

This is what Jesus was teaching his disciples when he told them to take up their cross and follow him. They were to follow him into death, even as Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Jesus is portrayed as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) He is also shown exalted on Mount Zion as “a lamb” with an hundred forty-four thousand faithful followers.—Rev. 14:1

Jesus died for the sin-cursed and dying earthly creation. He died that the way might be prepared for the children of Adam to return to life. Human reasoning might suggest that those who accept the provision of Jesus’ shed blood and obey his laws of righteousness should have life, and should escape from sickness and death. The Bible reveals that God has a plan that goes beyond the natural conclusions of human reasoning. It shows that in Christ’s future kingdom those who believe in God and obey the laws of his kingdom will indeed receive life, and that they will be restored to perfection of human life and will not become sick and die. This will be true of all sincere believers under the administration of that righteous kingdom.

Prior to the kingdom, during the present Gospel Age, another feature of the Divine plan is being accomplished. God in his wisdom, knew that it would be good to have representatives of the human race associated with Jesus in the great future work of restoration. He designed that those who would be chosen to this high position in his plan should be tested severely as to their heart-harmony with his great and loving redemptive program. He is giving them the opportunity of demonstrating their love and loyalty to him, and their love for the human family, by their willingness to suffer and die sacrificially even as Jesus did.

When Jesus invited his disciples to deny themselves he meant that they should deny themselves completely, not merely to forego certain earthly privileges, but to deny themselves the right to govern their own way of life, and instead, by giving up their own wills to accept the will of God through Christ. We are invited to give up, to deny and surrender ourselves to the Lord, not for a day or a year but for life, that we might be planted together in the likeness of his death. It is this thought that Jesus expressed in his invitation that we take up our cross and follow him.


The Apostle Peter evidently wrote his first epistle in obedience to his Master’s commission to strengthen the brethren in their voluntary suffering and death. In the opening chapter of his epistle, he lays the scriptural foundation for this doctrine by asserting what the prophets had foretold. “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”—I Pet. 1:11

This is in full harmony with Jesus’ discourse to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Peter carries the thought further than Jesus did on that occasion, for throughout the epistle he makes it clear that the followers of Jesus partake with him in the sufferings of the Christ which the prophets had foretold, and that those who are faithful will partake with him in the promised glory to follow. Peter speaks of this in other places of his epistle. He says, “What glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” (chap. 2:20,21) And again, he says, “It is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (chap. 3:17,18) The word ‘also’ in the apostle’s statement ‘Christ also hath once suffered for sins’ indicates that from the Divine standpoint Jesus’ followers suffer for sin. His explanation further points to the fact ‘that he might bring us to God.’

Those who follow Christ are invited to participate with him in the work of reconciliation, and of bringing the world to God. They do this by their faithful use of the ‘word of reconciliation’ now, thus proving worthy of association with him in his future glory, when, through the Divine Christ, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9) Peter again emphasizes, “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”—I Pet. 4:16

If anyone deny self and die with Jesus, they are thus reckoned by the Lord as dying for sin because they lay down their lives reconciling the sinful world to God. Paul expresses a similar thought. “If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Rom. 6:5) He then explains what that likeness is, “In that he [Christ] died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”—vss. 10,11

Jesus did not die ‘unto sin’ as a sinner under condemnation to death, but as a sin offering. Paul thus admonishes, ‘Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.’ Jesus died that he might bring the world to God, and we are invited to share in this work of reconciling the world. When sacrificing our lives in this great purpose, Paul authorizes us to ‘reckon’ it as an offering for sin.

The world of mankind is sin-sick and dying, and the Heavenly Father, the great Physician, purposes to heal the sick and to restore life to all the willing and obedient. Before this could be done, the Divine penalty of death must be set aside by the Redeemer. This is the work of Jesus. “He is the propitiation [corresponding price] for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”—I John 2:2

When we consider our Lord Jesus as the chief physician who came into personal contact with the dying patient, we might say that he is the one who removes the malignant cancer of sin and thereby makes possible the recovery of the patient. In a hospital, there are also underphysicians and the nurses and attendants to help nurse the patient back to health after the cancer is removed. So, too, are we invited to share in the work of reconciling the world to God, and in restoring the sin-sick and dying to health and life.

That is why Paul says we are to reckon our dying with Jesus as being unto sin. It does not add to the purchase price by which the world is ransomed from death but, in the Divine plan, is necessary in the actual restoration of the ransomed world. It is God’s design to make provision for the blood of Christ to cleanse us in his sight from all unrighteousness, and thus make us acceptable as sacrifices. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1


The blood of the bullock and the blood of the goat on Israel’s typical Day of Atonement pointed forward to the blood of Christ. In the type, the blood of the bullock was first carried into the Most Holy and sprinkled on the mercy seat. This pointed forward to the time when Jesus would ascend to the heavenly courts. The apostle says, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”—Heb. 9:24

Jesus’ blood is sufficient to be a propitiation, not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world, even though when first sprinkled it was only for ‘us.’ This suggests that the blood of Christ has been utilized through the present age to make acceptable the sacrifice of the church, which is represented by the slaying of the goat on Israel’s typical Day of Atonement. The Apostle Paul shows clearly that the followers of Jesus were typified in that service, as he explained, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”—Heb. 13:10-13

Blood is symbolic of life, and we as members of the fallen and dying race have no life of our own—that is, which is not under condemnation. We have no life that we could offer to God in sacrifice. However, through faith in Christ we receive his life, and this is what makes it possible for us to offer ourselves in sacrifice to God.

When writing to the brethren at Galatia, Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) We have no life outside of Christ. In the type, the blood of the bullock was given to the goat as a basis for life that could thus be offered in sacrifice. When the blood of the typical goat was taken into the Most Holy for sin, it pictured a second sprinkling of the blood of Christ. This sprinkling was applied for the whole world.

The apostle emphasizes that Christ offered himself but once. Then he explains that he entered into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us. He then says, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:28) That is without a sin offering, or having again offered himself in sacrifice.

The Greek word translated ‘look’ in the expression, ‘them that look for him,’ is the same word rendered “waiteth” where Paul wrote to the brethren at Rome, saying, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19) The ‘sons of God’ are Christ and his church, those who deny themselves and follow him. These will be with him when the glory of the kingdom is manifest and the whole creation, waiting in pain and sorrow until now, will receive the blessings purchased for them by the blood of Christ.

What marvelous grace that in return for self-denial and faithfulness in sharing in Christ’s death, we may have the blessing of being associated with him in his glorious future work of extending human salvation to all mankind. We are not worthy in our own merit, nor could we be faithful in our own strength. As the Father promised to hold the hand of his beloved Son Jesus to give him strength (Isa. 42:6), so also has he promised to preserve us. (Isa. 49:8) We can surely depend upon this promise and thus attain the great objective for which our denial of self and our sacrifice unto death is designed.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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