Jesus tells his disciples that if they are to follow him they must take up their cross. If they seek to save their lives using the means the world offers to insure their existence, then their lives will be lost. Rather, they must be willing to lose their lives “for my sake” if they are to find life. Jesus is not telling his disciples that if they learn to live unselfishly they will live more satisfying lives. Rather, he says that any sacrifices they make must be done for his sake. The crosses they bear must be ones determined by his cross.
What Jesus asks of his disciples makes no sense if Jesus is not who he says he is. You do not ask those who follow you to follow you to a cross unless you are the Son of God. You do not ask your brothers and sisters to contemplate the death of those they love if you are not the Messiah. You do not make Peter the rock on whom the church is built if you are not the one who has inaugurated the new age. But Jesus is all this and more, requiring his disciples to live lives not determined by death.
Yet what Jesus asks of his disciples is not new. From the time he calls them to follow him they were beginning to lose their lives. At this dramatic moment at Caesarea Philippi, however, Jesus makes clear to them what has been the case from the beginning. He has led them through the cities and villages of Israel, but now he will turn toward Jerusalem to face those who conspire to kill him. He clearly indicates the journey on which they are about to embark. He does not coerce them to follow him. They follow him willingly but they will abandon him at the end.
Jesus concludes this extraordinary exchange with his disciples with a clear statement of the apocalyptic character of the time in which they stand. The Son of Man, the just judge who alone has the right to judge, has come. Jesus will face and endure death, but his death is judgment on the world constituted by the fear of death. This is no delayed kingdom, but rather the kingdom has come. This is the recreation of time that requires a reinterpretation of all time.
That some standing before Jesus will not taste death before they see the Son of Man come is the confirmation of Matthew’s claim at the beginning of the gospel that this is the “beginning” of the new age. We, therefore, rightly claim, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”