The underlying theme that ties this whole passage together is getting a proper image of Jesus inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s too easy to forget this all takes place in the context of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture. A royal heir typically gained his full vestment of authority after taking command of his father’s army and conquering all resistance to that authority.
Right away we have to remind ourselves that Satan does not resist that authority; humans do. Satan is a loyal servant of God whose job involves handling disobedient soul. He is our enemy, not God’s. So Jesus could order Satan around from the beginning. It was humans who refused to acknowledge His Lordship. But the goal of the Messiah was not to engage in literal military conquest, as the Jews so deeply desired. It was to engage in a conquest of hearts, for the Kingdom of Heaven is in the hearts of people, not in the politics of humanity.
We understand the Father does not want slaves chained to His will, but servants who share His will and walk through the fires of temptation to embrace His offer of adoption as family members. Satan’s job is to provide those temptations and their penalties. We live in a crucible, but it’s the only way out of the Curse. While we yet exist in this crucible, it’s impossible to fully understand all that’s involved, but we are told the revelation has been opened to us in stages across the ages, until the Son came as the final and ultimate revelation. His short life on this earth was the final battle against resistance to His authority. He fought it and paid the ultimate price, but rose again so that we can enter into that battle for ourselves individually. The battlefield is not the whole earth; it is within our own individual lives.
But for each of us who volunteers for His army, our personal victories can enable victories for others. Each of us has a unique mission within his Kingdom Army.
This passage begins some days after the previous lesson. Jesus and His disciples hiked northward from Bethsaida to Cesarea Philippi. As they approached the city, Jesus asked them what people had been saying about Him. It varied between several major prophetic figures. Then He asked just who they thought He was. Peter, as the eldest of the Twelve, blurted out the answer: “You are the Messiah, the Heir of Jehovah.” This was tantamount to a fresh declaration of feudal loyalty in the most ultimate sense. They acknowledged no higher authority, and their lives were already pledged to His dominion. They surely viewed this as the period of time when Jesus as Heir to the Throne of Heaven would gather His army and conquer whomever it was the Father had designated as the rebels.
Only by the convictions of his heart could Peter have made this confession. It was the truth written by the Creator on the very core of his soul. As many ANE lords did, Jesus exercised the authority to give His servant a new title: Peter. We should all know the semantics here — Peter (Petros) the little stone was a chip off the underlying bedrock (Petra) of His future marshaled forces (ekklesia: “called out assembly” for any purpose). His new office was keyholder. What isn’t so obvious is that in the ANE, a keyholder had only one mission: to recognize the Master and unlock the doors for him whenever he came to gain access to some facility. If he didn’t unlock the door, the Master did not enter.
We can be sure Peter contemplated this, as did the others. We know that Peter later exercised that office by allowing first Samaritans and then Gentiles into the Kingdom by sharing the gospel with them and letting them join the early Hebrew churches. But that was long after they finally understood that the Kingdom of Heaven could not be an earthly kingdom. They were still stuck in the mental trap of the Jewish mythology of false Messianic expectations. So when Jesus outlined for them how He planned to accomplish His mission on earth, Peter told Him to stop scaring them. They simply could not reconcile a lifetime of deception with what Jesus was saying about crucifixion, and they simply didn’t seem to hear the part about resurrection.
Jesus responded to Peter with the equivalent of, “Get out of My way.” He went on to let Peter know that this was not opening the doors as a keyholder should, but a hindrance to His mission. On another level, He warned him this was another lie of the Devil, trying to deceive Peter just as with Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was for sure Jesus was not deceived about the real mission here.
So He opened the discussion with the rest of the disciples. They claimed to follow Him as good soldiers, but the battle required they carry their own crosses, not battle dress with weapons. If you cling to this fallen existence, not only will you lose it, but everything else you should have had. You have to destroy your life here to gain one in Heaven. Even if you managed to capture the whole world, you still couldn’t trade it for eternity. It’s not a question of driving out the Romans and other Gentiles, nor putting the Sanhedrin in their place. The battle is in your own soul; your fallen nature is your enemy.
Most people choke on these last two verses by pulling them out of context. Typical English translations are clumsy here. Contingent directly on the admonition to carry your individual cross and expend you life here, Jesus talks about that final victory parade in Heaven. Within the cultural context of His times, that term “reward” does not raise the picture of a final payoff, but a transition from war-time uniform to royal administration. It’s a promotion to some better position within the now-peaceful kingdom.
This is what He refers to in that last verse of this chapter. Since Judas is standing there, it’s a promise that doesn’t apply to all of them. But the others would at some point defeat their internal deceptions enough to be trusted with a new mission in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Holy Spirit would fall upon their lives and empower them to serve effectively.