SYNOPSIS – After Jesus healed a blind man, for a fleeting moment the eyes of Peter were opened to “see” just who he was – Mark 8:27-38.
The next event on the “way to Jerusalem” occurred in Caesarea Philippi, a Hellenistic city built by Herod Philip in honor of Augustus Caesar. Its population was predominately Gentile. In earlier times, it had been called Paneas in honor of the god, Pan. Paradoxically, Jesus was identified as the “Messiah” in a city that was dedicated to false gods and the veneration of the very emperor who claimed to be “Lord” of the world.
(Mark 8:27-30), “And Jesus departed and his disciples into the villages of Caesarea of Philip. And in the way he was questioning his disciples, saying to them, ‘Who are men saying [that] I am?’ And they answered him saying, ‘John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, and others, one of the prophets.’ And he was questioning them, ‘Yet who say you yourselves [that] I am?’ Having answered Peter says to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he charged them that they should tell no one concerning him.” – (Compare – Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 9:18-21).
Jesus queried his disciples while he was “on the way,” a clause that occurs nine times in chapters 8-12 of Mark. His march to Jerusalem and his own destruction was in fulfillment of the proclamation by John the Baptist about the “way of the Lord” – He continued “on the way” that led to his inevitable betrayal, arrest, and death in Jerusalem – (Mark 1:2-3).
When Jesus asked what others were saying about him, the disciples gave a threefold answer, one that matches the speculation of the crowds they heard earlier. (Mark 6:14-16):
- John the Baptist.
- “One of the prophets.”
At this point, as he approached Jerusalem, Jesus was identified plainly as the “Christ,” the Messiah. The gospel of Mark does not state whether he accepted this designation, although the fact that he commanded the disciples not to mention it to anyone else suggests that he did.Why did Jesus command them not to repeat this designation? Most likely, because in some circles “Messiah” was a politically-loaded term. Quite probably, he avoided the term so as not to be linked with such movements and ideas – His ministry was of a very different nature. And while the disciples now understood Jesus to be the Messiah, at least for a moment, they did not understand what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel.
This is the first time since the opening passage of Mark that Jesus is called “Christ” or Messiah, and a major turning point in this gospel. From here on the stress is on him as the Suffering Servant on the “way” to his inevitable doom at the hands of the leaders of the Jewish nation. Previously, only God and demons recognized who he was.
This is the first time in the gospel of Mark that Peter steps forward as the primary spokesman for the twelve disciples. From here on he represents their occasional insights and their far more frequent failures and blindness.
Suffering Son of Man
Jesus explained what it meant to be the Messiah by predicting his suffering and death. Three times in the gospel of Mark, he told them of his imminent arrest and execution – (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34).
(Mark 8:31-38) – “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
The idea of a suffering Messiah was contrary to popular expectations. There were different ideas about this figure current at the time. However, no devout Jew expected the Messiah of Israel to suffer death at the hands of the nation’s greatest enemy, the Roman Empire.
Although Rome was instrumental in his death, it was the actions of the “Elders and the chief priests and the Scribes” that resulted in the unjust and the violent death of Jesus. His execution was instigated by the Torah-observant Jewish religious leaders, not by egregious sinners or pagan Gentiles.
When Jesus first broached the subject, Peter began “to reprove” him over the very idea of his suffering and death, a term that emphasizes how seriously Peter objected to this prediction. Christ spoke “plainly” or “openly” to his disciples about his impending death – He intended for them to understand his words. This was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so sharply demonstrated that he understood Jesus, but he most certainly did not like what he heard.
Jesus recognized that Peter’s rebuke was motivated by Satan. The name “Satan” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning, “adversary.” The Devil was determined to thwart Christ from following God’s ordained path, therefore Jesus responded immediately with a sharp reprimand. He earlier announced that his mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds; however, that could only be accomplished in a most unexpected and paradoxical manner – by his death on a Roman cross – (Mark 1:24, 3:27).
An incorrect understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah would also result in an incorrect understanding of what it meant to be his disciple. Just as God called His Son to a path of self-denial and suffering, so the Messiah summoned all his disciples to follow the same path. The exhortation to deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus was made to the entire crowd – The call was and is applicable to every disciple.
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, and crucifixion that symbolized the irresistible power of Rome. To follow Jesus meant and still means to embrace the very things that the world despises.
Execution by crucifixion was a form of capital punishment inflicted by Rome on the lower classes and used especially for slaves, rebels, and political revolutionaries – Those considered threats to the established political order. Romans were so horrified by this form of execution that by law Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion (Romans guilty of capital crimes were beheaded).
The image of a disciple taking up a cross would have struck a grim chord with his audience. The customary Roman practice was to force the condemned man to carry the same cross on which he was to be hung to the place of execution, just like Jesus himself did in the end.
The phrase, “this adulterous and sinful generation,” echoes the past rebukes and condemnations of Israel by the prophets. The words, “whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” refer to the future return of Jesus. The main two images used 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, Hosea 2:2-6, Daniel 7:13-14).
The picture of the Suffering Servant was used by Jesus to portray his earthly ministry with an especial emphasis on his rejection, suffering, and death. Not exclusively so but most often, the term Son of Man was applied to his future coming in glory.
This section ends with a reference to the contemporaries of Jesus who would see the Kingdom “come in power.” This did not refer to his Second Coming. All three Synoptic Gospels place this saying just before the Transfiguration – (Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27).
The gospel writers clearly wanted their readers to understand that this prediction by Jesus began to be fulfilled in the Transfiguration. But it may also have in view his resurrection, for that event is what truly inaugurated the Kingdom and assured his disciples of ultimate victory and power.