Episode 82 - Peter's Confession of the Christ, part 1 - Opening Up the Gospels

In the last episode we saw Jesus back in Galilee just briefly where he had another confrontation with Pharisees and Sadducees in Magdala and healed a blind man in Bethsaida. I talked about how Jesus was giving an object lesson to the disciples about their spiritual eyes by laying his hands on the blind man twice and having him only see partially after the first time. They must have learned something from that because of what we’re going to see in this episode. We know that from Bethsaida, Jesus heads north to Caesarea Philippi. But before we continue on in Mark 8, I want to give us some context. Without the context, what Peter says to Jesus in this scene today won’t make nearly as much sense as it should. So let’s rewind a bit and look at our timeline. We’ll go all the way back to episode 72 where we talked about the sending of the Twelve. Jesus had sent out the Twelve with power and authority to bear witness of who He was and to seek the fruits of repentance from Israel. They come back after being sent out, all excited and ready to tell Jesus what had happened. They get on a boat and head to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where they are met by the crowds at the shore. That’s when Jesus spends the whole day ministering to them and feeds them from 5 loaves and two fish. But when they try to make Him the ruler by force because He just did some very Moses-like things, He slips away and sends the disciples back to the other side. That evening, He walks on the water, meets His disciples, and then they immediately end up on the other side. He then heals the multitudes in the plain of Gennesaret, and then on the way back to Capernaum he has a controversy with the Pharisees. Remember that? He blows up the scene and comes against them in the strongest of terms. That must have been so hard for the disciples. I don’t think they were ever fully connected to why Jesus was doing what He was doing. It’s like whenever the important people from Jerusalem show up, He makes them really mad. Well then probably just the next day we see Jesus back in Capernaum, specifically in the synagogue. This is where He gives the discourse of John 6, the “eat my flesh, drink my blood” sermon. And that’s when everybody leaves and says “alright Jesus, we liked what you did for us the other day but this is too hard – we think we’re done.” Remember, they were just about to make Him the ruler a few days before! The disciples must have been thinking: “great, things are finally picking up! Jesus is going to be the ruler, and we knew it all along!” And Jesus says “no”, rejecting their request on the night of the feeding of the 5000. Then a day or two later, He’s in the synagogue giving this sermon that makes the crowd all abandon Him and no longer follow Him. And the disciples are saying “Jesus, what are you doing?!” and He looks at them and says “are you going to leave too?” And they say back to Him “no Jesus. We don’t understand you and we really don’t have any idea what you just said, but we have nowhere else to go.” This is so significant – right there in John 6, they pass a test. Think about how hard that would have been for them. Everybody’s leaving, and there’s the Twelve, with Him again. That was a big deal. What happened next? Jesus doesn’t travel and minister in Galilee anymore. He’s basically rejected Galilee and instead of going to the Passover feast in Jerusalem He heads north to Tyre and Sidon where He ministers to Gentiles. The disciples believed from day 1 that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, the promised king from David’s line who would crush Israel’s enemies and reign from Jerusalem. But He didn’t even go to the Passover feast that year and is now ministering to Gentiles! What must the disciples have been thinking? If that wasn’t enough to perplex them, Jesus then heads to the Decapolis and feeds the 4000, then He heads back over the Sea of Galilee to Magdala and meets Pharisees again. They say “Jesus, give us a sign…” And Jesus says “no! All you’re getting is the sign of Jonah.” I bet the disciples were just as confused as the Pharisees were. “Jonah?! How random is that?! You’re going to be in the belly of a fish for 3 days and then come out?!” It must have been so perplexing to them. I really wonder if they ever thought that Jesus had gone mad. After that, they head to Bethsaida where He gives them the lesson through the blind man, and from there we can pick up in Mark 8. Let’s read from there: “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” (Mark 8:27–30 ESV) This well-known confession happened somewhere on the road from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. This journey was about 25-30 miles, and they were probably taking a break by the side of the road somewhere. Luke’s account in Luke 9 adds the detail that Jesus was praying alone, and so we can probably assume the disciples came to Him then. He asks them two important questions. First, “who do men say that I am?” They say that some people think He’s John the Baptist. Why? Perhaps because He preached the same message as John, the call for Israel to repent. Others say that He is one of the prophets. Why? The prophets often delivered difficult messages to Israel, calling them to return to the Lord and be faithful to the covenant they had made with God. Matthew’s account of this scene in Matthew 16 adds that some said He was Jeremiah, who was a severely persecuted prophet in Israel. And still, others said Jesus was Elijah. Why? According to Malachi 4:5, Elijah was supposed to return before the great day of the LORD. After the disciples finish answering, Jesus asks them who they think He is. And Peter responds with the well-known confession, “you are the Christ”. It’s so important to see that this is NOT a novel revelation for Peter. Remember, the word “Christ” and “Messiah” have the same meaning – for Jesus to be the Christ or the Messiah means that He is the final king from David’s line that will rule from Jerusalem, as God had promised in His covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. By calling Jesus “the Christ”, Peter is not confessing that Jesus is going to save him from his sins by dying on the cross. Though Jesus of course will do that very thing, that’s not what Peter was saying here. Go back and watch the supplemental episode called “Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ” if you missed that. So what Peter is saying about Jesus was not an epiphany or new revelation He had received for this moment. Remember back to Episode 45 and 46 where we looked at John 1 and the very first few days of Jesus’ ministry. There, the first disciples confessed and believed that Jesus was the Christ. Go take a look at John 1:41 to refresh your memory. So what’s the big deal here? Why does Jesus seem really encouraged after Peter makes this confession? It’s because Peter’s confession was a tested confession. Think about everything the Twelve had been through, everything I talked about a few minutes ago. They had all the reasons in the world to believe Jesus was NOT the king they were hoping for. But in light of everything that had happened, Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and is in essence saying “we still believe! Despite everything that’s happened, we still believe you’re the promised one.” Now Matthew’s account includes Peter saying that Jesus is “the son of the living God”. One thing I want to point out here that is often a point of confusion – we often think the phrase “son of God” means Jesus is divine. But Peter is not saying that Jesus is divine here. He’s not saying “Jesus, you are God!”. Again, though that is very true about Jesus, and though Peter will say that about Him later on, Matthew is including this to make a point for his readers. This all goes back to God’s covenant with David, and is reiterated again several times in the Gospels, one of which we looked at back in Episode 41 when Jesus was baptized. There’s a very specific phrase in the Davidic covenant, let’s read it from 2 Samuel: “… I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12–14 ESV) Do you see that last phrase? God said about the king of Israel who would come from David’s line: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.” In other words, the relationship between God and this king from David’s line would be like the relationship between a father and a son. Divinity is not in view here, and I don’t think David would have understood it that way. So back to Peter’s confession, that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God”, I think we have a simple parallelism going on here. Jesus is the Christ, the one who has that father/son relationship with God as 2 Samuel said. The other Gospels simply record Peter saying that Jesus is “the Christ”, so I think that’s the primary way we ought to understand what’s going on here. Now in response, Jesus continues with more detail in Matthew’s account: “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16–17 ESV) Jesus is saying that God Himself has revealed that truth to Peter. Jesus is saying “I just did the complete opposite of everything that men were expecting of me and what they thought about me – and it’s clear that your faith is not resting on what they’ve said about me but on what the Father has said about me. Well done Peter, I am the Christ.” This is huge! This God-given confirmation is what leads Jesus to say what He says next. If recent events haven’t challenged the disciples enough, just wait for what Jesus is about to say.