Luke 9 (23-25) says (quoting Yeshua):
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
Most christians believe and teach that this quote means that a person must be willing to give up their life (and indeed to die) for Yeshua. However, a close reading of this passage along with a sound understanding of Semitic idioms brings the true meaning to light.
First of all, we see the idiom “deny the self.” To the Semitic mind this is a simple enough idiom. It means “to set aside self interest.” This is precisely what is meant by the Semitic idiom “lose oneself.” A form of this idiom appears in this quote in the statement, “whoever loses his life for me…” Interestingly, in this passage, Yeshua uses this same phrase twice. Once to mean "deny the self," and once to mean "forfeit the soul." While the various Greek versions of this passage lose this subtlety, the Aramaic maintains it.The extant Greek versions all say, in verse 24: apolesê tên psuchên - "[whoever] might lose his soul." In verse 25, they all say: eauton de apolesas - "himself, yet, losing." This shift from using the Greek word psuche for "self" to the pronoun eauton "himself" does two things. One, it undermines the wordplay here, and two it indicates that the intended meaning of psuche is indeed "self."
The Aramaic Peshitta, in verse 24, uses D'NaOB'eD N'PShH - "he is losing [his] self." In verse 25, it says: N'PShH DYN NaOB'eD "[his] soul, yet, he loses."
Plato, the foremost of the Greek philosophers, believed that the soul was a fallen divinity that had prior existence outside the body and that the soul contains all knowledge. He taught that it is up to each person to gnôti sauton - "come to know the self" - through reason and education. It was this self knowledge which led, in Plato's view to "inner harmony." Alternatively, Yeshua believed and taught that the way to shalowm - "harmony" is through service to others and to God, “denying” or “losing” the self. It is the idea of gnoti sauton that Yeshua is referring to here. He uses the word nephish to refer to both to the "self" of the Greek philosophers and the soul of the Hebrews-a clever wordplay.
Now, the word used for “cross” in Greek is Stauros – Greek – “a stake or post” from the Greek word, histemi “to stand.” Stauros does not mean “cross” per se. But, rather, it means “a standing beam.”
The Aramaic word for “to stand” is z’kaf.
In the Aramaic Peshitta, the words used for “take up his cross” are oon’sh’qool z’kifa.
Oon’sh’qool – “and he takes up (as with the hands)”
Z’kifa – n. “cudgel” “club” “rod” from the Aramaic word Z'KAF “to stand.” The word came to mean “rod” because Z’KAF, in addition to meaning “to stand” means “to lift up” or “to take up (as in one’s hand).”
A cudgel or rod was one of the primary tools of the shepherd. The rod specifically was used as a weapon to defend the flock. Idiomatically, to “take up the rod” was to pursue the work of the shepherd and defend the flock.
Thus, to the Semitic mind, what Yeshua was saying was that one must “take up his rod.” Now what does that mean exactly?
The scriptures say:
Exd 4:17 And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.
Exd 4:20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the
Exd 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as Yahweh commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that [were] in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that [were] in the river were turned to blood.
Exd 17:5 And Yahweh said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of
Num 17:9 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of
Num 20:11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts [also].
Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for [their] journey, save a rod (rhabdos – “a rod”) only; no scrip, no bread, no money in [their] purse:
To “take up the rod” means to prepare to do the work of God. This at once demonstrates willingness and action.In other words, in order to follow Yeshua, one need not be willing to die for him, but rather willing to live for him.
A better translation….
"If anyone would follow me, he must set aside his own self-interest and demonstrate willingness to work every day and accompany me. For whoever wants to be selfish will lose his soul, but whoever loses his self interest for me will preserve [his soul]. For, what good is it for a man to gain [even as much as] the entire universe, and yet lose his soul?"