The meaning of the word "cross" is "stake," (Gr. stauros), an instrument on which criminals were put to death (crucified) by the Romans in the first century.
The meaning of the word "crucify" is "to crucify," (Gr. stauroo), to put to death on a stake or a cross.
Jesus said to His followers during His ministry on earth, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake, shall find it." Matt. 10:38,39.
Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it." Matt. 16:24,25.
And He (Jesus) was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." Luke 9:23.
Jesus said, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:27.
"And after they had mocked Him (Jesus), they ...... led Him away to crucify Him." Matt. 27:31.
"They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of the Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha." John 19:17.
Jesus sent Paul to preach .... "that the cross of Christ should not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Cor. 1:17,18.
Paul said, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Gal. 6:14.
Paul said, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (1st Timothy 1:8-10).
The writer of Hebrews said, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1,2.
First of all, from reviewing the above pertinent scriptures, it is clear that Jesus wanted His followers to understand that they each had a "cross" to carry that was uniquely each oneís own "cross". What did the word "cross" mean in the context that Jesus spoke? I have heard some Christians of today express the opinion that the word "cross"in this context is a symbol representing the myriads of trials, tribulations, and frustrations Christians must bear in their fleshly life. A common idea seems to be that if Christians bear up and accept the burdens of everyday life, especially unjust persecutions that sometimes arise, one will in the end be justly rewarded by the Lord for a job well done.
But this understanding scarcely accommodates the actual meaning of this word "cross." In Greek it meant a "stake", a big one, which was used by the Romans of the first century as a means of torturing criminals and putting them to death. The "stake" likely was made from a wooden tree-trunk with a cross piece fixed near the top; thus, to the Romans it was a "cross." The criminal who received a sentence of "crucifixion" was nailed to the "stake" and then the "stake" was set up vertically in the ground with the criminal hanging thereon, suspended by the nails through the flesh of his hands and feet. The criminal was left hanging from the "stake," undergoing hours of torture, until he died.
From Scripture we know that this is the way that Jesus was put to death. But, at the time that Jesus made the statement concerning His followers "carrying their own cross," He had not yet been crucified. No true follower of Jesus expected Him to be put to death in this way. Was there any prophecy in the Old Testament Scriptures foretelling the manner in which the Messiah would be put to death? If there was, it was veiled. So what were the listeners to the words of Jesus to understand by this statement, Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple?
The statement implies that people have a "cross", an instrument of death, to bear, and that they could only successfully deal with it by "taking it up" and following Jesus to become His disciple. I doubt that anyone fully understood this statement of Jesus at the time for it was not understood that such an instrument of death as a "cross" was to be involved in the lives of anyone, including even Jesus Himself. Apparently the first mention by Jesus of a "cross" being involved in the lives of His followers was, in part, a prophecy foretelling the manner of the substitutionary death that He Himself was to die for His followers. Later, after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the Apostles received guidance from the Holy Spirit to understand the full meaning of His death and the "cross" upon which He died. Although the statements concerning a personís own "cross" were veiled at the time Jesus made them, they became clear as the prophecies contained in the statements were fulfilled, that is, when Jesus Himself was tortured and put to death upon the "cross" which rightfully belonged to His followers!
So what does the statement mean to followers of Jesus today? Was Jesus speaking to Christians today when He said, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me? Yes. His admonitions to His followers of the first century were almost always admonitions to His future followers as well. But what specifically does it mean to us today to take up oneís own cross? Surely it means far more than merely bearing up under the petty trying inconveniences of the fleshly life. My heart cries out that this is not what He meant by "cross"! To Jesus a cross was not a mere inconvenience of the fleshly life.. All of His fleshly life on earth Jesus bore in His mind the knowledge of the way His fleshly life would end, separated from God the Father, with His body nailed to a rugged wooden cross on which He would be tortured and die for sins not His own!
I must understand that the "cross" that He bore was not His own. IT WAS MINE! It was the horrible symbol of the future that Satan had in mind for ME, the symbol of the judgement for MY SINS! And Jesus willingly substituted Himself for ME and bore MY CROSS! If my judgement of death on my cross is to be cancelled in the substitutionary death of Jesus on my cross, I must take up my cross; that is, I must acknowledge my cross which is the righjteous judgement against me, and I must pursue Jesus as His disciple! That is the meaning of Jesusí statement, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it."