OVERVIEW – Jesus was the promised Messiah, but he fulfilled that role as the Suffering Servant on his way to die in Jerusalem. His disciple must likewise take up his cross and follow him – Mark 8:27-38.
On the “way to Jerusalem,” Jesus entered Caesarea Philippi and questioned his disciples about his identity – “Who do men say that I am?” Momentarily, Peter began to perceive and confess who and what he was – “You are the Messiah!”
But Jesus forbade his disciples from confessing this before others, for they did not yet understand what it meant to be the “Christ,” the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, or his disciple.
(Mark 8:27-30), “And Jesus and his disciples departed into the village of Caesarea of Philip. And on the way, he was questioning his disciples, saying, ‘Who are men saying that I am?’ And they answered, saying, ‘John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, and others, one of the prophets.’ And he was questioning them, ‘Yet who do you say that I am?’ Having answered, Peter said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he charged them that they should tell no one concerning him” – (Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 9:18-21).
The disciples gave a threefold answer, one that matched the speculations of the crowd – John the Baptist, Elijah, or “one of the prophets.” They had yet to “think outside the box.”
At this point, Peter declared quite explicitly that Jesus was the “Christ,” the Messiah of Israel. However, immediately he commanded the disciples not to repeat this to anyone. Why not? Possibly, Jesus wished to avoid associating his ministry with popular ideas about the “Messiah.” His call was of a different kind – He had not come to upset the political order or to lead Israel in revolt against Rome.
More specifically, as the context demonstrates, his disciples did not yet understand what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel, and therefore, one of his disciples. Until they did, they would be in no position to announce his arrival to Israel, or to anyone else.
This is the first time since its opening passage that the gospel of Mark has called Jesus “Christ,” and the present incident is a major turning point in this account. From this point, the stress will be on Jesus as the Suffering Son of Man who is on his “way” to an unjust death in Jerusalem. Previously, only demons recognized and confessed who he was.
Next, Jesus explained just what it meant to be the Messiah by predicting his suffering and death:
(Mark 8:31-38) – “And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spoke that saying openly. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things of God, but the things that are of men.”
The idea of a suffering Messiah was contrary to popular expectations. No devout Jew believed the Messiah would suffer death at the hands of Israel’s greatest enemy – Rome. Even worse was the suggestion that the priestly authorities from the Temple would be complicit in his death.
Jesus spoke “plainly” to his disciples about his impending death, but Peter began “to reprove” him. The fact that he reacted so sharply demonstrated that Peter understood Jesus and objected to what he heard.
Jesus recognized the rebuke was motivated by Satan – The Devil was determined to thwart him from following the path set by God, therefore, he responded with a sharp reprimand. Most certainly, he was sent to destroy works of the Devil, but that could only be accomplished in a most paradoxical manner – by enduring death on a Roman cross – (Mark 1:24, 3:27).
An incorrect understanding of the identity of the Messiah would result in a skewered view of discipleship. Just as God called His Son to the “way” of self-denial, so he summoned his disciples to follow the same path.
(Mark 8:34-38) – “And when he had called the people with his disciples also, he said to them, whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel 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? Whoever, 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 comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said to them, Verily I say to you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
In western culture, the cross is a “Christian” symbol, little more than jewelry. In the first century, it represented suffering, shame, and the irresistible power of Rome. To follow Jesus meant embracing the very things the world repudiated.
Crucifixion was inflicted by Rome on the lower classes, especially on slaves, rebels, and political revolutionaries – Those considered threats to the political order. The Greco-Roman society was so repelled by this form of execution that, by law, Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion (citizens found guilty of capital offenses were beheaded).
The image of a disciple carrying a cross would have struck a grim chord with this audience. The 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.The exhortation to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus was made to the entire crowd – The call was applicable to every disciple.
Jesus used two images from the Hebrew Bible to illustrate his messianic role – the Suffering Servant of Yahweh and the “Son of Man.” In his suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant. As the “Son of Man,” he would likewise suffer but also would receive the kingdom – (Isaiah 57:3-13, Daniel 7:13-14).
The paragraph ends with a reference to those men present who would see the Kingdom “come in power.” Some present on that day would see this event. All three synoptic gospels place this saying prior to the Transfiguration. While that incident may be the intended referent, more likely, the saying referred to the resurrection of Jesus, the event that inaugurated the kingdom and assured believers of his ultimate victory over death – (Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27).