Skip to content

Mark 8:34-38 – What is your final answer?

A few years ago, there was a popular game show where the host would ask the contestant a question and then give him four possible answers. After a certain amount of time, the contestant was required to give his best guess at the answer. However, when the contestant came to a conclusion, the host would ask a question meant to make him second-guess himself. He would ask, “Is that your final answer?” With as much as a million dollars on the line, you can imagine how this affected the contestant. At times he would be confident in his answer, while at other times, he would change his answer.

Today we will be looking at Mark 8:34-38 where Jesus seemed to be asking a similar question. But His question was more important because the answer given would affect the life of each person. The essence of Jesus’ question was, “Are you really willing to follow me?” Why would Jesus ask this question? Jesus asked this question after announcing to his disciples that He was going to be rejected, tortured, killed, and raised from the dead. The part about dying was so shocking that Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him. What they didn’t understand was that Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. But what the other thing they didn’t understand was following Jesus would require them to do.


What does it say?

Jesus called the people and His disciples to Him to talk with them. He told them that whoever wanted to follow Him (be His disciple) would have to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. He told them that whoever wanted to save his life would lose it while whoever lost his life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s would save it. He then asked them what profit would gaining the whole world be if the person lost his soul. He also asked what someone would give in exchange for getting his soul back. Finally, He told them that whoever was ashamed of Him in the current, adulterous, and sinful generation would find the Son of Man ashamed of him when He returned with the glory of His Father and with the angels.


What does it mean?

Notice that Jesus divides this paragraph into three parts. Each part involves a whoever that represents a person who wanted to follow Him as a disciple. That is what following Jesus meant. The person who followed Jesus would be willing to learn from Jesus and go with Him no matter what might result from doing so. In each of the “whoever” sections, we will see something Jesus teaches about being His disciples.


Being a disciple of Jesus requires commitment (Mark 8:34).

Jesus made it very clear that being His disciple was not something that would be easy. Those who desired to follow Him would have to do three things.

It requires self-denial.

Jesus told the would-be disciples that they would have to deny themselves. “Self-denial is not to deny one’s personality, to die as a martyr, or to deny ‘things’ (as in asceticism). Rather it is the denial of ‘self,’ turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness and every attempt to orient one’s life by the dictates of self-interest.”1 Someone who would be Jesus’ disciple would have to deny the desire to do other things. Following Jesus would have to take precedence over any other desire.

It requires the possibility of death.

Jesus told the would-be disciples that they would have to take up their own cross. While this phrase has been distorted today to mean going through struggles, this is not what Jesus meant. The people of Jesus’ day would have understood this to mean death. When someone was sentenced to be crucified, “the Romans compelled the condemned criminal to bear the cross-beam to the place of execution; to take up his cross meant that such a one was going to die. … The reference is not to the common sufferings experienced in life but to that shame and suffering which the disciple assumes because of his relationship to Jesus.”4 Jesus was telling His would-be disciples that they would have to be willing to die if necessary. As we know from the Book of Acts, this was a reality for a number of Jesus’ disciples.

It requires actively following Jesus.

Jesus told the would-be disciples that they would need to actively follow Him. The words used by Mark make this clear. “In Jesus words, Follow Me, ‘follow’ is a present imperative: ‘(So) let him keep following Me’.”1 Jesus was making it clear that following Him was not a one-time decision with no follow through. No, following Jesus would mean a daily commitment to following His teaching and proclaiming the gospel to others each day.


Being a disciple of Jesus will affect your life (Mark 8:35-37).

With that commitment in mind, Jesus noted that being His disciple was something that would affect their lives now and in the future. It was not just for the moment but for eternity. But how will being His disciple affect someone’s daily life?

It will save your life.

The person who is unwilling to deny himself, to die for Jesus, and to follow Him, would choose not to follow Jesus thinking that they would be saving their life from possible suffering and death. Those in the crowd, who may have been contemplating discipleship, now had a choice to make. The truth was that their own life might be forfeited if they chose to follow Jesus. If they backed off now, they might be able to save their own life. But there would be a negative result from this choice. Jesus said that these people would lose their life in the end. What they wanted to save would eventually be lost.

However, those who were willing to deny themselves, to die for Jesus, and to follow Him, would initially lose their life which would have included potential freedom, success, pleasure, and reputation. But to those who wanted to follow Jesus, these were not something to live for. Instead of living for self, they would give their life to Jesus and the gospel message. And in the end, they would find that they really had not lost anything worthwhile. True life, which Jesus gives to His disciples, is found by those who follow Jesus and will be used to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Notice that there is no middle ground between these two choices. “On the one hand, the gain is only temporal and a delusion while the loss is irreparable; on the other hand, the loss is only minor while the gain is immense and eternal.”7 Every person is either living for or denying himself. Every person is either trying to protect himself or is completely willing to give up his life for Jesus and the gospel. Every person is either doing his own thing or following Jesus.

It will keep you from terrible loss.

Jesus used two questions to highlight what had just been said. The first question asks what profit there would be in gaining everything in the world and losing your soul. If someone chose not to follow Jesus and gained everything in the world (riches, fame, reputation) would it be worth losing his soul? The obvious answer is no. The allure of the world is great and it pulls many people away. But at the end of their lives, without Jesus, such people will have lost their soul. They will die and face God’s judgment in Hell. Would it be worth it?

In the second question, Jesus asks what could be given in exchange for someone’s soul. What exactly does this mean, and why would Jesus say that here? I think we have to understand it in conjunction with the previous verse. When someone has rejected Jesus and lived to gain everything from the world, he loses his soul. The question that follows is this. After you have lost your soul, what can you give (of all that you have gained in the world) to get your soul back? The clear answer is nothing. At the end of your life, there is no way to purchase your soul back. No amount of money, real estate, or fame can be exchanged for your soul.


Being a disciple of Jesus requires loyalty (Mark 8:38).

Jesus made it very clear that being His disciple was only for those who would be loyal to Him under the pressure of a wicked world. This can be seen in two statements based on Mark 8:38.

It will involve standing up for Jesus during evil times.

Jesus described that generation as adulterous and sinful. What exactly does that mean? “Adulterous is best taken figuratively as denoting the spiritual unfaithfulness of the people.”5 Along with being unfaithful to the Lord, they were also openly sinful. This is not much different from what the Old Testament people were like. Compare what Jesus said to what the Old Testament prophets said in Isaiah 57:3-5, Ezekiel 16:31-34, and Hosea 2:2. The language is a bit graphic but is very similar to how Jesus described the current group of people.

The people in the crowd lived among spiritually adulterous and sinful people who had no desire to hear God’s message or to follow Jesus. But they had a choice to make. Would they be ashamed of Jesus and His message or would they stand up for Him and His message? When the majority of people are doing what is right, it is easier to do it. But when the majority of people are mocking Jesus and His message, it is time to make a decision. True disciples will stand up for Jesus despite the “world’s contempt”2

It will involve a reward when Jesus returns.

Although the disciples would not have understood this yet, the New Testament tells us that Jesus will return at a future, unexpected time. He will return in the clouds to gather Christians to their heavenly home. We call this the Rapture. At a later time, called His Second Coming, Jesus will actually step foot on the Mount of Olives, conquer His enemies, and begin His kingdom on earth. It is probable that Jesus is referring to the second event. In any case, when Jesus returns, He will be revealed to the world in the glory of His Father and will be accompanied by the holy angels. During His first appearance, Jesus came as a humble teacher and Savior. But His second appearance will be glorious and triumphant.

At this point, the people and disciples had only seen Jesus in his humility. The religious leaders had rejected Him already and were against anyone who followed Him. With such hostility and the possibility of being shamed by these leaders, it would have been easy for a would-be disciple to be quiet or to be ashamed to side with Jesus. Fierce opposition often causes people to be ashamed of Jesus when they should not be. But when Jesus (the Son of Man) returns, there will be a reckoning. Those who have been ashamed to stand for Jesus will find that Jesus will be ashamed of them at that time.


How does it apply?

As we come to the conclusion of our study, we have to ask ourselves some of the same questions Jesus asked the crowd and His disciples.

Am I a committed follower of Jesus?

Jesus talked about what that would mean. Someone who is committed to following Jesus will deny himself, be willing to die, and be committed to a daily following of Jesus. Is that what your commitment looks like? Or are you too concerned with what you want to do with your life? Are you so concerned with taking care of yourself that you would not be willing to suffer for Jesus if necessary? Are you thinking every day of how you can serve the Lord and accomplish His will? All of these questions lead us back to the first. Are you a committed follower of Jesus?

Am I willing to lose my life to follow Jesus?

While most of us haven’t left careers or fame to follow Jesus, there is still a cost to being His disciple. Instead of living our lives for ourselves, we need to give our lives to live for Him. It may be that you have been thinking about the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus. You might think that the cost is too high. But think of the cost of not giving your life to Him. Are you willing to live this short life for yourself and then lose everything in eternity? It isn’t a good trade.

Am I ashamed of Jesus and His words?

With this question, I want you to think of only two options. If you are a follower of Jesus, you will not be ashamed of Him. Why? You won’t be ashamed of Him because you are actively denying yourself, you are willing to die for Him, and you are daily following Him. But if you are ashamed of Him, it may be that you are not a committed follower of Jesus. Why is that? Why are you unwilling to stand up for Jesus? Perhaps you have been ashamed of Him because you haven’t been denying yourself and you have been thinking too much about your own comfort in this life. If this is you, will you repent of that and begin to follow Him again?

Conclusion

In today’s study, we have heard the challenge of Jesus. He addressed his challenge to His disciples as well as to the people in the crowd. I wonder how the people responded. I imagine that they may have been surprised by the seriousness of Jesus’ words. They probably left with much to think about. I would imagine that each of us may leave in the same way. We have much to think about. But the big question still remains. Will you be a committed follower of Jesus?

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 141.
2 Grassmick 142.
3 McGee 197.
4 Hiebert 239.
5 Hiebert 241.
6 Edwards 258.
7 Lenski 351.

Bibliography

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.