Crossan Historical Jesus (352f) notes that this is one of a small group of sayings that express the "opposition, hostility, rejection, and danger involved in accepting either the vision or the mission of Jesus:" 038 Serpents and Doves, 044 Carrying Ones Cross, 054 Dogs and Swine, 062 Spirit under Trial, 072 Fire on Earth, and 081 Strong Ones House. He traces the changes as the complex develops over time:
Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. [1Q: Luke 17:33=Matt 10:39]
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. [Mark 8:35 = Matt 16:25 = Luke 9:24]
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [John 12:25]
The italicized Markan and Johannine glosses are almost predictable development, but the original, as in the Sayings Gospel Q version, goes back to Jesus. To be rich is to be poor; to be poor is to be rich. To lose one's life is to save it; to save one's life is to lose it.
The International Q Project reconstructs the original Q saying as follows:
[The one who] finds one's life will lose it
and [the one who] loses one's life [for my sake] will find it.
Samuel T. Lachs
Lachs [Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament] (187f) cites the following ancient parallels to this saying now attributed to Jesus:
Alexander of Macedon asked the wise men of the South: 'What shall a man do that he may live?' They answered: 'Let him kill himself.' 'And what should a man do that he may die?' They answered: 'Let him keep himself alive.' [B.Tam. 32a]
R. Judah the Prince said: 'If you have performed His will as your will, you have not performed His will as His will; and if you have performed His will against your will, then you have performed His will; if it be your will that you should not die, die that you may not die; if it be your will that you should live, live not, so that you may live; it is better for you to die in this world against your will than to die in the world-to-come.' [ARN II(2), p. 36a]
Luedemann [Jesus] (58} describes this saying as "a profane proverb" whose authenticity is "extremely uncertain."
John P. Meier
Meier has an extended discussion of this complex in the third volume of A Marginal Jew, with its focus on the disciples and competitors of Jesus (see especially pages 56-64). He begins by noting the rare form of triple attestation enjoyed by this cluster: Q, Mark and John.
Meier argues that the pre-Markan tradition most likely did not include "for my sake and the gospel," and that the variants in Luke and Matthew are best understood as an independent (Q) tradition rather than as creative reworking of Mark by the later evangelists. Of the two variants, he considers Luke is "probably closer to the primitive Q version of the aphorism.
After offering one possible Aramaic retroversion of this primitive saying," Meier observes:
One must remember, however, that it is doubtful whether we can speak of one "original" form of the saying. Jesus may well have affirmed this teaching in different words at different times. We must also leave open the possibility that some of the variant forms of the saying in Greek go back to variant forms of the saying in Aramaic. The matter is complicated by a still further varaint of the saying found in John. (p. 61)
Such a pithy, paradoxical proverb that is attested in variant forms in Mark, Q, and John has a very good chance of going back to the historical Jesus. Rarely are the aphorisms of Jesus attested by this kind of striking Mark-Q-John "overlap." Moreoever, in this case the criterion of coherence supports multiple attestation, since Jesus' preaching (e.g., in the beatitudes, aphoristic sayings, and parables) often promised a paradoxical reversal of values and judgments on the last day.