After shocking His disciples with His own plans to die as a martyr, the Master told His disciples that they too must be ready to lay down their lives in martyrdom for His sake:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
The Talmud contains a close parallel to this cryptic saying of Yeshua:
He asked them, “What shall a man do to live?” They replied, “Let him kill himself.” He asked them, “What should a man do to kill himself?” They replied, “Let him keep himself alive.” (b.Tamid 32a).
In Yeshua’s teaching, the one who “wishes to save his life” is the disciple who chooses to deny association and allegiance with Yeshua in order to avoid persecution, loss, or threat to life. He denies the Master to save his life. But there is a broader scope of application behind this saying. It equally applies to the person who chooses not to become a disciple or follower of Yeshua because he loves “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). This person “wishes to save his life” to pursue his own desires, but in so doing, he loses eternal life. He forfeits reward in the kingdom and in the world to come for the sake of survival in this age and success in this current world.
The Master asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Material and physical success—wealth, health, prestige, honor, and fortune—cannot buy eternal life:
Even those who trust in their wealth and boast in the abundance of their riches, no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly … But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” (Psalm 49:6-8, 15)
Yeshua says that the one who “loses his life” for the sake of allegiance to him and to the message of the kingdom will actually save his life. The disciple who chooses martyrdom for Yeshua’s sake does not “fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Likewise, the person consciously chooses Yeshua and His kingdom above the passing pleasures of sin and the selfish ways of the world has forfeited the whole world but saved his soul. This person will find his life and preserve it because he will live again in the kingdom and inherit a portion in the world to come.