Synopsis: To be the Messiah of Israel means suffering and death, though he is the promised Messiah and Lord over all things – Mark 8:31.
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, he began to explain just what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel – suffering and death. Two more times in the gospel of Mark, Christ predicted his imminent arrest and execution (Mark 9:31, 10:33-34).
This expectation was contrary to Jewish expectations about the Messiah. There were different ideas about the Messiah current at this time, but no faithful Jew expected his suffering and death at the hands of Israel’s greatest enemy, Rome.
Although Rome was the instrument of his death, it was the actions of the “the Elders and the chief priests and the Scribes” that resulted in the unjust and violent death of the Messiah. The execution of Jesus was instigated by Torah-observant Jewish religious leaders, not egregious sinners, Gentiles or the Roman government.
(Mark 8:31-9:1) – “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and to be rejected by the Elders and the chief-priests and the Scribes, and to be killed and after three days to rise. And he was speaking the word plainly. And Peter, having taken him aside, began to reprove him. Yet having turned round and beholding his disciples, he reproved Peter and says, ‘Go away behind me, Satan, because you are not considering the things of God but the things of men!’ And having summoned the multitude with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone desires to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and be following me. For whoever desires to save his soul will lose it, yet whoever will lose his soul on account of me and of the gospel, will save it. For what profits a man to gain the whole world and to forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever may be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he was saying to them, ‘Truly I am declaring to you that there are some here of those standing who will certainly not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God has come in power.” (cp. Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 9:18-21).
Peter began “to reprove” Jesus in reaction to the prediction of his death. This shows how seriously Peter objected to the words of Jesus and how aggressively he responded to him. The text states that Jesus began to declare this “plainly” to his disciples. This was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so quickly and sharply proves that he understood Jesus but did not like what he heard.
The passage states that just before his rebuke of Peter, Jesus “turned around and looked on his disciples and rebuked Peter.” Although Peter said the words and received the rebuke, all twelve disciples were the recipients of it. As the main spokesman of the group, Peter represented what some or all of them were thinking.
Jesus recognized the words of Peter to be from Satan. The name ‘Satan’ is derived from a Hebrew word for “adversary.” The Devil was determined to thwart Christ from God’s ordained path; this explains why he responded with such a sharp and immediate reprimand. His mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds; however, he had to accomplish by means of the Cross (Mark 1:24, 3:27).
What Jesus said was in private to his disciples. An incorrect understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel would result in an incorrect understanding of what it meant to be a disciple. Just as God called His Messiah to a path of self-denial and suffering, so Christ called his disciples to the same pathway.
The exhortation to deny self, take up the cross and to follow Jesus was made to the entire crowd. The call was applicable to everyone who desired to follow him; all must be willing to tread where he walked even when it means shame, persecution, rejection, the loss of possessions and violent death.
In contemporary western culture, the cross is a “Christian” symbol; little more than jewelry. In the first century, it was an image of repugnance, suffering, and shame that symbolized the irresistible power of Rome and its oppression. To follow Jesus means to embrace what the world despises.
Execution by crucifixion was a punishment inflicted on the lower classes of society. It was used to execute slaves and political enemies, rebels, and revolutionaries; those considered threats to the established political order. Romans were so horrified of this form of execution that Roman citizens by law were exempt from crucifixion. Instead, Romans guilty of capital crimes were beheaded.
The image of a disciple taking up a cross would have struck a grim chord with the audiences of Christ. The Roman practice was to force the condemned man to carry his own cross to the place of execution, just like Jesus did.
The phrase, “this adulterous and sinful generation,” echoes the rebukes and condemnations of Israel by the prophets of the past. The phrase, “whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” refers to the future return of Jesus. This theme is developed further the thirteenth chapter of the gospel of Mark. The most common images used by Jesus to portray his messianic role were the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and the ‘Son of Man’ from the book of Daniel (Isaiah 57:3-13, Ezekiel 16:32-41, Daniel 7:13-14, Hosea 2:2-6).
The Suffering Servant is used to stress the rejection, suffering, and death of the Messiah. Most often, the image of the Son of Man points to the future coming of Jesus in power and glory.
The paragraph from Mark ends by referring to some of the contemporaries of Christ who would see the Kingdom come in power. This does not refer to his Second Coming in glory and power. All three synoptic gospels place this saying prior to the Transfiguration. The gospel writers wanted their readers to understand this connection. This prediction began its fulfillment in the “transfiguration” of Jesus (Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27).
But the saying may also have in view the resurrection following his death and burial, for that event is what inaugurated the Kingdom and assured the disciples of Jesus of ultimate victory and power over sin, death, and Satan.