“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself ...” (Matthew 16:24-25)

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

What does he mean by 'come after me'?

This isn't referring to those who literally walk behind or after Jesus. This refers to one who follows Jesus: A follower of Jesus.

To "come after me," translated from the Greek phrase, ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, means to follow in Jesus' footsteps.

Jesus' life and teachings indicate that he is God's loving servant. And he wanted us to follow him and also become the Supreme Being's loving servants.

How would a follower of Jesus 'deny himself'?

The phrase, "deny himself" is being translated from the Greek word, ἀπαρνέομαι (aparneomai) - which means, according to Thayer's lexicon, "to forget one's self, lose sight of one's self and one's own interests."

This means Jesus is speaking of the opposite of self-centeredness. Self-centeredness means to orient our focus and objectives in life around ourselves - or the supposed extensions of ourselves, the family of our physical body.

Self-centeredness, in fact, is the primary cause for the suffering that occurs within the physical world. All the bloodshed, greed and violence that occurs is a product of self-centeredness - those who consider their bodies or the bodies of their family and/or country or other organization of more importance than those of others.

In fact, the physical world itself is a product of self-centeredness. It is the reason we each are here in the physical world in the first place: Because we became self-centered.

The spiritual world is not a place of self-centeredness. It is a place of love among its residents. The only goal is to please the Supreme Being and work for the welfare of the Supreme Being's children.

But because love also requires freedom, each of us has the choice to love or not. Those of us who decided not to love, naturally became self-centered due to the emptiness created by not loving others.

In other words, we all need to love and care for someone. It is our nature. But if our love is not directed to the Supreme Being and His children, it naturally turns upon ourselves.

Once we became self-centered, we fell out of the spiritual realm. We took on these temporary physical bodies, and became residents of the temporary physical world.

In this world, we have no opportunity to see the spiritual realm and the Supreme Being with these physical instruments - the physical eyes and mind. This effectively satisfies our desire to get away from the Supreme Being and chase our self-centered dreams around.

What does 'take up his cross and follow me' mean?

This is a mistranslation. Why would Jesus speak of the cross? Certainly, when he spoke this he had not met with his crucifixion. Is he suggesting that his followers all be crucified?

Don't be ridiculous. Furthermore, Jesus did not even carry his own cross. A fellow named Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross that Jesus was crucified with. The reality is that Jesus is not speaking of his or anyone else's cross here.

The word "cross" is being translated from the Greek word σταυρός (stauros), which can mean a cross, but also means, according to the lexicon, "an upright "stake", esp. a pointed one, used as such in fences or palisades."

The most common use for the "stake" was to prop up grapevines, as well as fences and trees. In fact, we still maintain the expression that refers to what Jesus is talking about:
"pulling up stakes"
To "pull up stakes" is a metaphor that refers to a person leaving their current home or land. It comes from the time when farmers or landowners would take the stakes they had used to prop up their vines, trees, and fences with them and move from their current place.

This is what Jesus is referring to. He is metaphorically stating that if anyone wants to follow him, he must not give up self-centeredness, and give up a life that is oriented around self-centeredness. This means "pulling up stakes" from the various concerns and objectives we have and redirecting our lives towards coming to know, love, and serve the Supreme Being.

This is certainly what Jesus did. He left his home and began traveling to preach to others.

But does this mean that we have to leave our homes and our families? Not necessarily. Jesus is asking that we give up the notion that they are our real homes, and our sense that they belong to us, and our thinking that they will fulfill us.

What does 'whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it' mean?

"Loses his life" is not referring to our physical body. It does not refer to being killed or murdered, or committing suicide. Jesus is speaking of leaving behind a life of self-centeredness.

Currently, our lives are absorbed by ourselves. We are always thinking of our own welfare. The status of our physical well-being, what others think of us, how wealthy or powerful we are. This is the consciousness that Jesus is referring to.

Leaving that consciousness behind means putting the Supreme Being first in our lives. Leaving behind our self-centeredness for Jesus means putting God first in our lives. This is to follow Jesus.

This is the key to happiness. Those who seek self-centered happiness never find it. Rather, one who leaves behind self-centeredness and seeks to come to know, love and serve the Supreme Being and His children will find happiness even though he is not seeking it.