What does Matthew 10:38 mean?
ESV: And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
NIV: Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
NASB: And the one who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
CSB: And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
NLT: If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
KJV: And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
NKJV: And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Verse Commentary:
Who is worthy to follow Jesus? He has made clear to His disciples that He demands to be loved above all other relationships, including parents and children (Matthew 10:37). Only God could make such a demand. To love God is the greatest commandment. Those who refuse to choose Jesus first make themselves unworthy of being His disciples. They disobey God's command to love Him with everything they have.

Now Jesus deepens the power of this teaching. Most people living in the Roman Empire at this time would have had a vivid picture in mind of condemned criminals carrying the beam of their own cross toward the place of their execution. The Romans forced prisoners to do this as a kind of confession. By participating in their own execution, they were admitting—or, at least, submitting to the claim—that the Roman government was right to put them to death. Christ said this before His own death on the cross. What could He possibly mean when He says that those who do not take up their cross and follow Him are not worthy of Him?

Jesus said to those who would follow Him that they must also participate in putting themselves to death. His meaning, in the context of His other teachings, is that a believer must die to themselves. They must be willing to let go of their own agendas and personal dreams and ways of living. They must willingly submit to walking the difficult path of Christ all the way to the end of their lives. Nobody can call himself or herself a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, follow their own path, do things their own way, ignore the righteous life God has called them to. Those who will not die to themselves and live for Jesus are not worthy to follow Him.

Notice that this issue of worthiness to live as a disciple of Jesus is one of self-selection. That is, all must choose to love Jesus more than everyone else—or not. All must choose to die to themselves and live for Him alone—or not. To choose "not" is to become unworthy of following Him. Jesus does not declare them unworthy for following Him badly. Those who will "not," who refuse, make themselves unworthy because of their lack of complete and total commitment to Him.
Verse Context:
Matthew 10:34–39 contains some of Jesus' most challenging words. As usual, they can be easily misinterpreted when taken out of context. Christ's arrival in the world will bring division to Israel, as even family members turn on each other over the issue of whether He is the Messiah. Jesus says those who love family more than Him are not worthy of Him. He further heightens this idea of radical loyalty by comparing it to carrying one's own cross: a metaphor for death. Those who do follow Him, though, will find the life that is true. Those who go their own way will lose their lives, no matter what they find on earth. This passage follows Jesus' instructions to the Twelve as they prepare to spread the gospel (Matthew 10:5–7).
Chapter Summary:
Jesus gives His authority over disease, demons, and even death to His twelve hand-picked apostles. He gives them instructions in preparation both for a short-term trip to the towns of Galilee and their ministry after He has left the earth. First, they will preach His message of the kingdom in Israelite towns as they heal and cast out demons to demonstrate His power. Later, they will suffer great persecution as they represent Him before both Jews and Gentiles. They should not be afraid, though, and trust their Father to be with them and to reward them.
Chapter Context:
Jesus has recently expressed compassion for the people of Israel, who are spiritually lost. Matthew 10 is a record of Jesus' instructions to His twelve core apostles, as He sends them on a short-term trip to the towns of Galilee. He also includes warnings and encouragements about the persecution they will eventually experience. In chapter 11, Jesus will continue to proclaim truth to the people of Israel, leading to further conflict with local religious leaders.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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