27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
(Mark 8:27-30 NIV)
In our last post, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethsaida, where people bring a blind man to Jesus. The people begged Jesus to restore the man’s sight. Jesus honored the friends’ request but did so in private.
In today’s passage, Jesus is on the move again. Jesus and His disciples move on from Bethsaida, visiting other villages in the region of Caesarea Philippi, north and east of Bethsaida. Caesarea Philippi is a pagan area, with temples to many Greek gods as well as to Caesar, the Roman king who proclaimed himself to be a deity, a god to be worshiped.
As they are walking between villages, Jesus asks His disciples a question: “Who do people say I am?”
The disciples have a variety of answers, none of which are revelatory. Both the disciples and Jesus have heard all these responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, and a prophet like one of the prophets of old. We were introduced to this idea back in 6:14-15, where Jesus’ name was well known, even in the halls of government, all the way up to Herod the governor.
This was an easy response for Jesus’ disciples. Parroting back public opinion or what others were saying was easy. There was no emotional, personal, or intellectual investment on behalf of the disciples.
Jesus then asked a much more personal question: “Who do you say I am?”
The response goes from a lighthearted poll to a serious matter. Putting on our informed imaginations for a moment, the disciples probably looked nervously at each other, not sure how to answer the question. This now required an investment on their part. How would they respond to Jesus’ inquiry? Jesus wanted to know – He had been teaching them and dropping hints all along. Had anyone been paying attention, or were their hearts still disconnected from the truth of who Jesus is?
Peter replies, not with his opinion, but with his proclamation: “You are the Messiah.”
Peter’s answer is the turning point in the book of Mark. Jesus’ question and Peter’s response form the pinnacle, the hinge point in Mark’s Gospel account. Mark had begun his gospel with the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah (1:1); now Mark uses Peter’s confession as the other bookend of the first half of his gospel.
Peter’s proclamation is from the heart; Peter believes it to the core of his being, but at the same time has no idea what implications his answer will have. Mark leaves out Jesus’ blessing on Peter for his answer found in Matthew 16:18.
Earlier in my career, I was working for my company’s customer service, distribution, and logistics department. One day my boss came back from a meeting, called me into his office, and excitedly informed me about a new initiative the company was launching within our division. We had waited a long time for this project to be approved! I was to provide the computer and data services for the initiative. Before I could ask my third clarifying question, my boss stopped me and said, “Kevin, I’ve already told you more than I know.”
And so it was with Peter. He knew and boldly proclaimed the truth, but knew nothing of the enormity of the cost and implications of such a declaration.
If we take a sneak peek at verse 31, Mark notes that Jesus shifts His ministry and training for the disciples from healing, exorcism, and preaching to preparation for His impending death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus had to teach His disciples what Messiah really meant. As we shall see, Jewish folklore and Jesus ‘reality of Messiah were worlds apart.
After Jesus’ question and Peter’s confession in verse 29, Jesus commands His disciples to silence about He is. There will be a time to unveil who Jesus is, but this is not that time.
Like Peter, may we commit all we are to all the Jesus we know. Looking forward, it may feel like a giant leap of faith; looking back, it may seem like baby steps.
In both giant leaps and baby steps, God honors our faith as we grow to be more like Him.