Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Luke 9:18-24




Luke uses Mark (written earlier) as one of his primary sources, but adapts this portion substantially:

• In Mark’s version, Herod’s question about Jesus’ identity (Mark 6:14-16) is followed by an account of John’s death (6:17-29), the feeding of the five Thousand (6:30-44), walking on water (6:45-52), healing the sick in Gennesaret (6:53-56), the discourse on the tradition of the Elders (7:1-23), the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30), curing a deaf man (7:31-37), the feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10), the demand for a sign (8:11-13), the discourse on the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod (8:14-21), and the cure of a blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26).

• Luke omits the material from Mark 6:45—8:26 (most of the above), placing Peter’s confession immediately after the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17) and in close proximity to Herod’s question, “Who is this, about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:9). In a sense, then, Peter’s confession answers Herod’s question.

• Also, Luke inserts a substantial body of teaching material (9:51 — 18:14) between the second and third passion predictions. The passion predictions are located at Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34 and Luke 9:21-22, 43-45; 18:31-34. Note the substantial separation between the second and third predictions in Luke.

• Mark locates Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, but the last geographical reference cited in Luke is Bethsaida (9:10). “Luke seems uninterested in geography here. His concern is to locate this event in the prayer life of Jesus” (see 3:21; 6:12; 9:18) (Craddock, Interpretation, 126).


18It happened, as he was praying alone, that the disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do the multitudes say that I am?” 19They answered, “‘John the Baptizer,’ but others say, ‘Elijah,’ and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again.”

“the disciples” (v. 18). In preceding verses, Luke mentioned the twelve (v. 1, 12) and the apostles (v. 10), so we should take this reference, “the disciples,” to mean only the twelve. In subsequent verses dealing with the Transfiguration (9:28-36) the field will narrow further to the inner circle—Peter, John, and James.

“Who do the multitudes say that I am?” (v. 18). Earlier the disciples asked, “Who is this, then, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (8:25). Then Herod asked, “Who is this, about whom I hear such things?” (9:9). Now Jesus shifts the focus to the crowds. “Who do the multitudes say that I am?”

The crowds have been important in this Gospel. The crowds went to be baptized by John (3:7). The crowds looked for Jesus (4:42), gathered to hear him and to be cured (5:15), and pressed in on him (8:42). Jesus taught the crowds (5:3), questioned them (7:24). Now Jesus asks who these crowds think that he is.

“John the Baptizer… Elijah… one of the old prophets” (v. 19). These were the same three possibilities that Herod entertained earlier (9:7-8).

• In Mark’s account, Herod concluded that Jesus was John the Baptist (whom Herod had killed) raised from the dead (Mark 6:16).

• The people were looking for Elijah or someone with Elijah’s spirit to return to usher in the age of the Messiah. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes” (Malachi 4:5). Note that Elijah will appear shortly at the Transfiguration (9:30).

“one of the old prophets” (v. 19). Jesus is a prophet, but he is more than a prophet. To call him a prophet is accurate but inadequate. To call him “one of the old prophets” is misleading, because that sounds as if he is one among many ancient prophets. While he is ancient (from the beginning with God) and a prophet, he is also unique — not one among many—but the only Son of God.


20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ (Greek: ton Christon) of God.”

The phrasing of Jesus’ question signals that he is looking for a better answer from the disciples than the crowds would give.

“The Christ (ton Christon) of God.” The NRSV consistently translates Christos as Messiah, at least in Luke’s Gospel. However, Christos is the Greek word for anointed, and Messias is the Hebrew word. Luke uses the Greek word (Christos), so it would seem better to translate it Christ rather than Messiah.

Anointing with oil is a ceremony to consecrate a person to high office. In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed/consecrated to their respective offices. Their anointing both elevated their status among the people and imparted to them special responsibility.

Jesus needs no human anointing with oil, because he was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (3:21-22). Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus described this anointing:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the broken hearted,
to proclaim release to the captives,
recovering of sight to the blind,
to deliver those who are crushed,
and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19).

The Jewish people had, for centuries, looked for the Messiah—a deliverer. They anticipated that this Messiah would be a king of the type of King David, a mighty warrior who would liberate Israel from oppression (personified in Jesus’ day by Roman soldiers occupying Israel) and restore the nation’s former glory. When Peter says that Jesus is “The Christ of God,” this is surely what he expects.


21But he warned them, and commanded (Greek: epitimesas) them to tell this to no one, 22saying, “The Son of Man must (Greek: dei—it is necessary) suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.”

“warned them, and commanded” (Greek: epitimesas) (v. 21). Earlier in this Gospel, the word epitimesas is translated “rebuke.” Jesus rebuked demons (4:35, 41) and fevers (4:39) and stormy waves (8:24). Soon he will rebuke an unclean spirit (9:42). The verb is a strong prohibition.

“Son of Man.” This title is less well defined in Jewish minds than Messiah. Jesus obviously uses it for himself here, and most likely does so because it carries less excess baggage than the word Messiah (see above for Jewish expectations of the Messiah).

“must” (Greek: dei) (v. 22). This little word, dei, is often referred to as the divine imperative, because it denotes a necessary component of God’s plan of salvation.

“suffer many things” (v. 22). This, of course, is entirely contrary to the disciples’ expectations. They assume that the Messiah will inflict great suffering on the Romans—not that he will undergo such suffering himself.

However, there have been hints in this Gospel about suffering. At the presentation in the temple, Simeon had warned Mary, “a sword will pierce through your own soul” (2:35). In Jesus hometown, the people tried to kill him after taking exception to his homily (4:29). The scribes and Pharisees discussed what to do with Jesus after he healed a man on the Sabbath (6:11). Herod, who had killed John the Baptist, tried to see Jesus (9:9).

And, of course, the Old Testament foretold Jesus’ sufferings. The Suffering Servant song of Isaiah spoke of the Messiah being despised—not respected—suffering—acquainted with disease —plagued —afflicted —pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:3-8, 11). The Psalms spoke of his rejection (Psalm 118:22). However, those passages didn’t really begin to make sense to the people until after the resurrection.

“elders, chief priests, and scribes” (v. 22). The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, is made up of representatives of these three groups. “When appearing as a kind of triumvirate in the Lukan narrative, these groups are invariably joined in their hostility toward Jesus” (Green, 371). They will try Jesus, find him guilty, and turn him over to Pilate, insisting that Pilate execute him (22:66—23:25).

“and on the third day be raised up” (v. 22). Luke modifies Mark’s “after three days,” which could be more easily misconstrued. Jesus death, of course, makes no sense apart from his resurrection.


23He said to all, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 24For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will save it.”

These are the first two of five discipleship sayings found first in Mark’s earlier Gospel (Mark 8:34 — 9:1). Luke records them in the same sequence, but omits “and the gospel” (Mark 8:35). The five sayings are as follows:

1. Mark 8:34 = Luke 9:23: deny, take up cross, follow

2. Mark 8:35 = Luke 9:24: save/lose, lose/save

3. Mark 8:36-37 = Luke 9:25: gain the whole world, forfeit his life

4. Mark 8:38 = Luke 9:26: ashamed of me, ashamed of him

5. Mark 9:1 = Luke 9:27: some standing here will in no way taste death

Jesus will repeat the first saying, slightly modified and addressed to the crowds, at 14:27.

“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (v. 23). What is expected of the master is expected also of the disciples. Jesus will suffer and die, and so will his disciples.

Self-denial for Jesus’ sake takes with one hand and gives with the other:

• The self-denying disciple is justified by grace as a gift (Romans 3:24).

• The person who is baptized into Christ’s death is then raised to walk in newness of life with Christ (Romans 6:3-4).

• The person who is crucified with Christ is no longer enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).

• The person who puts away their old, corrupt self is clothed with a new self, “created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The first of the five sayings (v. 23) has three verbs (deny, take up, follow), the first two of which are aorist tense, suggesting a one-time action—but the third of which, “follow” is present tense, suggesting a continuous action. This word, “follow,” then, suggests that, for most Christians, the cost of discipleship is not paid in one large sum (suggested by the aorist tense), but in a series of smaller sums extended across a lifetime (suggested by the present tense). Discipleship is not a sometime thing.

“for my sake” (v. 24). The purpose is neither loss of life or self-denial, but service to Christ. Just as Jesus experienced terrible opposition during his lifetime, his disciples also experience opposition. Historically, many Christians have died as martyrs, and many are still dying today. This does not mean that we should aspire to martyrdom, which is not required for every disciple. Instead we should aspire to serve Christ even at the risk of death.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)

Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)

Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)

Gilmour, S. MacLean & Knox, John, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)

Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)

Lockyer, Herbert, Sr. (ed.), Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)

Myers, Allen C., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)

Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)

Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)

Copyright 2004, 2010, 2012, Richard Niell Donovan