Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27). When Christ asked questions, it wasn’t for the reason that we usually do. We ask questions to get information; He asked questions to help people find answers. Here, He wanted His disciples to see and understand that despite all the positive responses He had received from the multitudes—they didn’t grasp the reality of who He was. Their faith was real but it was superficial and underdeveloped. As His ambassadors, the disciples needed to understand that.
His follow-up question (“Who do you say I am?”) builds upon this. They wouldn’t be able to make a difference in the lives of others if they didn’t understand who He was. Peter replied that Jesus was “the Messiah” (v. 29). Whether he was speaking for himself or the group is debatable, but his answer is not. Jesus is the Messiah. This is the first time Jesus has been recognized as the Messiah since Mark introduced his gospel in 1:1 (Wessel and Strauss).
Jesus then “warned” them not to tell anyone. This might seem odd; He’s leased that they understand who He is (see Matthew 16:17ff)—why would He want them not to tell anyone? One reason is the Messianic expectations the Jewish people had. They were convinced He would help them to overthrow Rome. (You know, the way we’re convinced that God is going to help our side win the next election). But Christ didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, so people knowing He was the Messiah and having to deal with their false expectations would just make His mission more difficult (see John 6:14-15).
The other reason is that Peter and the other disciples apparently shared the same Messianic expectations as their countrymen. When Christ began to explain to him and the rest of the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah (suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection), Peter had a meltdown! Like the blind man Jesus healed in two stages (v. 22-26), Peter saw but he didn’t see. In the height of irony, he pulled the One he confessed as the Messiah aside and began to rebuke Him. Peter’s actions are painful to ponder because they remind us of the times we’ve confessed that Jesus is our Lord and then done something in total denial of that. We’ve stood where he was and know what it feels like.
Peter’s problem was that he thought you could have a Christ-centered faith without having a cross-centered faith. He didn’t grasp the suffering the Scripture spoke of the Messiah enduing in connection with our sin (Luke 24:44ff). He wanted nothing to do with a messy Messiah who got down in the dirt of rejection, scorn, mockery, suffering, and death in dealing with our sin—he wanted a majestic Messiah!
He’s not alone in that. We don’t always want a messy Messiah either. It’s amazingly easy to pay lip service to the cross and then “move on” to appropriate Jesus for whatever we want Him to be. For Peter and others in the first century, it was a deliverance from Rome. For us today, it could be anything from helping us to get ahead in life to padding our resume as a good person.
But in doing this, Peter was guilty of using Jesus and Christ did not mince His words, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (v. 33). The stripped down reality is we need a Savior! We need a messy Messiah who by virtue of His suffering and death on the cross brings us forgiveness and life with God. This is exactly who Christ revealed Himself to be at Caesarea Philippi.
But there’s more than just a revealing in the text. There’s also a corresponding response Christ calls us to. He “called the crowd to Him” (v. 34) and explained discipleship to them not in church terms of believing and being baptized (Peter and the other disciples had done that), but in terms of following Him by denying themselves and taking up their cross. If they wanted to save their lives, they had to lose them.
And with this, Jesus has taken them to the heart of what it means to be in His kingdom. It means we renounce our personal agenda and take up God’s. In the words of the model prayer, we pray not for our kingdom to come but for His kingdom to come and His will to be done. That doesn’t mean that we stop being the people we are and enter a monastery, but it does mean that we get off the throne of our heart and put Jesus there. It means we replace “How do I want to live?” with “How does God want me to live?” We seek His kingdom first. Christ reveals Himself at the cross and and calls for us to respond by taking up our cross.
This is radical (we woul1d like a shortcut or substitute); it is paradoxical (it calls for faith), and personal (no one can do it for me). But it is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do. It is the way to LIFE!