Is Jesus saying that to follow him they must be willing to pick up a cross ? Let’s examine this verse a little more closely.
The word “cross” is being translated from the Greek word σταυρός (stauros). Its primary meaning is an upright stake with a point at one end. On the other hand, it could certainly be translated to “cross” if someone really wanted to force the issue. But remember, if Jesus really meant “cross”, this statement would be anachronistic. He hadn’t yet been crucified nor had he revealed to anyone His impending crucifixion. His audience would have thought this was a very strange statement indeed.
Furthermore, Jesus didn’t use the word “carry” here as many have assumed “take up” to mean. The verb or action word used here – αἴρω (airō) – does not mean to carry at all. It means to “raise up” or “lift up.” But why would Jesus be talking about lifting up a stake out of the ground?
We actually have a common English saying that is derived from this very notion: “Pulling up stakes.” To pull up stakes typically refers to leaving our current home and moving somewhere else. And this, I believe is exactly what Jesus was talking about. Just consider what many of Jesus’ disciples were doing: They had given up their jobs and families and were now dedicating their lives to following this itinerant preacher throughout the region.
For once, I believe, Jesus was being very literal. His teachings were often couched in parables and allegory but occasionally He came right to the point. It would be not only practical but also appropriate to say: That if someone wanted to follow Jesus, he had better be prepared to leave his current worldly attachments and do as Jesus taught.