In the preceding verses, Jesus had been discussing the question of His true identity with the twelve. They all agreed that most people thought He was either John the Baptizer or one of the prophets who had come back to life. Peter, however, made his great confession of faith. "You are the Christ," he said. Just as He did with Jairus earlier in this chapter, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone. Actually, He did a little more than say not to tell. He warned them. The word here is epitimaō
Their discipleship, thus far, had been filled with the miraculous. There had been some controversy, but no real suffering. His popularity was increasing; the crowds were growing. Even the chief synagogue official had fallen down at His feet and invited Jesus to help his dying daughter. It looked as if Jesus was well on His way.
Jesus did not mince words with them. His had been an exciting, and very popular, ministry, but things were about to change. Hard days were coming. These disciples were not naive. They were His closest followers. If hard times were coming to Jesus, hard times were coming to them all. Hard times were coming to them all, that is, if they stayed.
It would have been easy to walk away at this point. Peter could simply have said, "I signed up to follow a wonder-working preacher, not a suffering, defeated martyr. I'm out of here." It would have been easy for them to think, "Dying doesn't help anyone! I'm not doing this!" In our time, they might well have quietly walked away. What is truly remarkable is that all twelve men stayed, despite His warning, all the way to the end. (The actions of Judas Iscariot are a discussion for another time.)
As followers of Christ, we need to recognize that Jesus has not promised us an "easy ride" or a "prosperity gospel". He has, in fact, promised us hard times and difficulties. With that possibility in mind, we must consider our committment to Christ. Are we willing to follow "no matter what"? We in the United States experience nothing of true persecution. We have never yet been told to renounce our faith as armed terrorists threaten to slaughter our children if we do not. We have not been asked to die for the cause of Christ, yet, all too often, we find it agonizingly difficult to simply live for Him. If we are not willing to lay down our lives for Jesus in a figurative sense in our daily lives, would we lay down our lives in a literal one?
Those disciples found that following Jesus was worth any price, and we do well to count the cost and examine our own commitment to Him, without hesitation or reservation. When we are willing to die rather than renounce our faith, we will find that the living for Him becomes much easier. Dying to self is not optional, and it must be done anew every single day.