After Jesus healed a blind man, for a fleeting moment, the eyes of Peter and the disciples were opened to “see” just who he was – Mark 8:27-38.
Jesus queried his disciples while he was “on the way” to Jerusalem: Who do men say that I am? At least nine times Mark declares that Jesus was “on the way.” His march to Jerusalem, and to his inevitable death, fulfilled the proclamation of John the Baptist from the words of Isaiah: “I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way.”
The next event occurred in Caesarea Philippi, a Hellenistic city built by Herod Philip to honor Augustus Caesar, and with a predominately Gentile population. In earlier times, it was called Paneas, after the god Pan. Paradoxically, Jesus was about to be identified as the Messiah of Israel in a city dedicated to false gods and the veneration of the emperor, who claimed to be the Lord of the world.
- (Mark 8:27-30), “And Jesus and his disciples departed to the villages of Caesarea of Philip. And on 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.”
When he asked what others were saying about him, the disciples gave a threefold answer, one that matches the speculation of the crowds heard earlier; John the Baptist, Elijah, or “one of the prophets.”
As he approached Jerusalem, to his disciples, Jesus was identified plainly as the “Christ,” the Messiah, though he commanded them not to mention this to anyone else; most likely, because “Messiah” was a politically charged term.
Quite probably, he avoided the term so as not to be linked with movements and ideas that were contrary to his mission and ministry. And, while the disciples understood him to be the Messiah, at least momentarily, they did not yet understand what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel.
This is the first time since the opening passage of Mark that he is called “Christ” or Messiah, and at a major turning point in this account. From here on, the stress is on Jesus as the Suffering Servant on the “way” to his inevitable doom at the hands of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation. Previously, only God and demons recognized him to be the “Christ.”
SUFFERING SON OF MAN. By predicting his suffering and death, Jesus explained precisely what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel. Three times in 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 spoke 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 behind me, Satan: for you savor not the things of God, but the things of men. And when he had called the people to him, with his disciples also, he said to 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 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, till they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
The very idea of a suffering Messiah was contrary to popular expectations. At the time, there were different ideas about this figure, but no devout Jew expected the Messiah of Israel to suffer death at the hands of the nation’s greatest enemy, Rome. But though the empire was instrumental in his carrying out the sentence, it was the machinations of the “elders and the chief priests and the scribes” that caused his unjust execution.
When Jesus first broached the subject of suffering, Peter began “to reprove” him over the very notion, a term emphasizing how seriously he objected to the prediction. Christ spoke “plainly” or “openly” about his impending death. This was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so sharply demonstrated that he understood perfectly what Jesus said.
Jesus recognized Peter’s rebuke originated with Satan. “Satan” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “adversary.” He was determined to thwart Christ from following God’s ordained path, therefore, Jesus responded immediately with a sharp reprimand. Previously, he had 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 means to be the Messiah results in an incorrect understanding of what it means to be his disciple. Just as God called His Son to a path of self-denial and suffering, so the Messiah summons all his disciples to follow the same path.
The exhortation to deny self, take up the cross, and to follow Jesus was made to the entire crowd, not just to the disciples. The call is applicable to every disciple.
In the first century, the cross was a repugnant image of suffering and shame. Crucifixion symbolized the irresistible power of Rome. To follow Jesus meant, and still means today, to embrace the very things that the world despises.
Execution by crucifixion was a form of capital punishment inflicted on the lower classes, used on especially slaves, rebels, and political revolutionaries; the very ones considered to be 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 about to be hung to the place of execution.
“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 that of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah, and of the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel – (Isaiah 57:3-13, Ezekiel 16:32-41, Hosea 2:2-6, Daniel 7:13-14).
Jesus used the image the Suffering Servant to portray his earthly ministry, with special emphasis on his rejection, suffering, and death. Not exclusively so, but most often in the gospels, the term Son of Man is applied to his future coming in glory.
Some present that day would see the Kingdom “come in power.” All three synoptic gospels place this saying just before the Transfiguration. The gospel writers clearly want their readers to understand that this prediction began its fulfillment in that event. 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 by the subsequent gift of the Spirit.