One of the most challenging principles among all of Jesus' teachings is the call that one must "deny themselves." Is it hyperbole for emphasizing humility, or is it full-blown denial?
This rigorous mandate is found in all 3 of the synoptic gospels, so the point cannot by shirked. Let's look at the Matthew 16 reference (the other 2 are Mark 8 and Luke 9).
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
In the Matthew and Mark accounts, there is the event of Peter contradicting Jesus, followed by his rebuke using the term "satan." Many imagine the presence of a fallen angel in the room, as Jesus is chastising. Based on the context of the pronouns used, I believe that the Messiah is speaking directly to Peter when he uses the term "satan."
The Greek word "satanas" is a noun of designation, more than it is a proper name. It means "adversary - one who opposes another in purpose or act." That's precisely what Peter is doing as Jesus illuminates by his response: "You... do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."
What did Peter do to warrant such a harsh retort? It seems that his heart demonstrates allegiance to his teacher. Who would want someone they love and respect to go through such opposition which would result in demise?
Perhaps the notion of death is what provokes Jesus' rebuke. Is it not unsafe to assume that Peter only hears the darker aspects that precede the victorious outcome in Jesus resurrection? Notice how Peter seeks private audience with Jesus in his attempt to give him needed guidance. Perhaps Peter had hoped and envisioned something more triumphant and fulfilling. Maybe Jesus was dashing a "dream."
I imagine Jesus turning to the others from the isolation of Peter's embarrassing effort, and using the moment to address the rest. My 2011 ears here these words: "Listen up. If you really want to follow me, you've got to put everything you desire aside. I mean everything - even if you have to die. Do you want to follow your dreams in this life? Go ahead. You'll lose your life trying. But if you are really willing to lay everything aside, you will find the satisfying life that God has designed."
One common advertising tag line, goes something like "__________ will help you fulfill your dreams." The strategy is to tap into the person's longing for something. It may be a "dream house," a "dream vacation," a dream career," a "dream _________." Whatever it is, the "dream" is, without a doubt, subjective. It clearly involves self, there is no disputing that.
So what's wrong with that? Every body dreams, right? The answer is "yes" - and Jesus knows that.
Jesus came to teach the world about the Kingdom of God and what type of character exemplifies his reign. It is God's desire that "none should perish" and Christ reveals the very seeds of what lead to disengagement with the Divine. We see this explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus espouses here contradicts rampant subjective desire. Our dreams are wrapped up on human senses. If we pursue them, we're really not pursuing him.
Jesus emphasizes this truth with a question of irony that carries a Yiddish tone with it: "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"
One may misinterpret Jesus' intention by viewing him as a spoilsport. But he is no wet blanket. He is YHWH's Anointed One and he teaches truth that we may benefit from it for a duration that has no end. That is implied in his question that makes a clear distinction between the "world" and the "soul."
When reviewing the New Testament writers, there is precious that substantiates personal dreams. But there is plenty written in regards to hope.
Is there a difference between dream and hope? If you break them down, there seems to be a difference. Dreaming is subjective and tends to be exclusive. Hope is objective and much more inclusive. Dreams are individualized and fragmented. Hope can become a banner and unifying.
Paul teaches about the powerful unifying influence of hope in addressing the believers in Rome.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Hope is much bigger and more significant than the total sum of human dreams. Trace the history of dreams and they all have a shelf life.
Denial of self realizes this reality and results from a deep humility that puts immediate and even short-range ambitions aside. Hope sees the benefits or potential benefits through posthumous legacies.
Jesus' brutal encounter with Peter demonstrates this. Peter's aspirations are evident in much of the New Testament. His gaffes, recorded throughout the gospels, indicate his self-absorbed perspective of what he alone deems as noble. (What on earth is he thinking at the Transfiguration?) Immediately following the arrest of Jesus and prior to his execution, Peter's dreams become kindling for the fire he warms himself with. He doesn't fathom what Christ meant by denial of self. There's only one particular form of denial he abides by, and that is made evident when a few people recognize him as a companion of Jesus.
His dreams die and the seeds of hope are planted. They take root during a duration that begins with a rooster's crow, and continues with an early morning meal on a beach a few days later. "Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?
Peter is transformed from dreaming to hop. He offers a very deep insight in one of his own letters written toward the end of his earthly life.
1 Peter 1
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.