The ever-present question of Jesus’ identity throughout the gospel of Mark reaches a climax in this exchange in the northern, and strongly Roman, area of Caesarea Philippi.
This time the question is asked by Jesus himself. The answers should puzzle; sure don’t they know he is not John the Baptist? What’s going on with thinking he is Elijah or one of the OT prophets?
The Elijah / OT Prophet motif reveals an inadequate interpretation of Jesus as another in a long line of prophets of God. This is big news given the hundreds of years of prophetic silence, but even this is an inadequate understanding.
These answers do not include the Messiah despite all that has happened – it is only Peter who grasps that Jesus is the promised annointed one of God. Here is not one more prophet, here is the one to whom all the prophets witnessed.
And not only this, but to Peter’s consternation, Jesus takes the opportunity for a teaching moment. Rejecting popular expectations and reinterpreting Peter’s confession using the ambiguous Son of Man, he shares his messianic self-understanding in a way that shatters all expectations; a suffering, executed Messiah. All who would follow this Messiah, like him, choose a path of self-denial and death.
Reflection:Surprising paradox is built into the fabric of Christian faith. Just as it appears to be nonsense for God’ s chosen glorious Messiah to finally appear only to die, so it appears nonsense that all who would truly find life must ‘die’ if they are to find life. And in an astonishing way, Jesus simply equates finding life with following him. Such a message was outrageous then and remains outrageous today.
Peter’s Confession of Christ
27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28They 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 Christ.”
30Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”