And Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him (8:29,30).
Caesarea Philippi lay 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. A city populated by Syrians and Greeks, it had long been a center for idolatry and was now dominated by the Roman empire and Caesar-worship.
“Who do people say I am?” was a natural, perhaps unexpected question. For two years Jesus’ fame had spread through Galilee. His miracles made people think he might be John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets raised back to life. God’s power was obviously at work in him as it had been in them.
Today opinions have shifted a bit. Jesus was a prophet (Islam). Jesus was a god (one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon, for example, or a created supernatural being according to Arians/Jehovah’s Witnesses). Jesus was a great moral teacher (generally held by secularists). Jesus was/is the Son of God. (Do they understand what they’re saying?) For a look at how some famous and infamous answered, go to http://powerpointparadise.com/blog/2010/08/what-famous-people-said-about-jesus/.
On this subject, I can’t ignore what C. S. Lewis famously wrote in response to the “great moral teacher” answer: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of Hell. . . . You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
“Who do you say I am?” Awkward silence? Disciples fascinated with their feet? Or did Peter blurt it right out? “You are the Christ.” “Christ” is Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah.” If this were a movie scene, a golden glow backed with heavenly harp music would surround the men. For us, familiarity takes the edge off. For Peter—did he really understand what he said?—it was breathtaking. Centuries. Pages of sacred prophecies. Endless longings. Desperate hope for downtrodden people. “You are the Messiah.”
Mark, sparing words, records no reactions. Did other disciples say, “I was just going to say that!”? Or did their jaws drop? Did Jesus nod, smile? All we know is he charged them to keep it a secret. He didn’t want more crowds and it wasn’t time to die. After Peter spoke, did he cover his mouth and wonder, “Did I really say that?”
Wait: they’re all in for a greater shock. He 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. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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” (8:31-33).
Messiah suffer, be rejected and killed? No wonder Peter rebuked Jesus! Months of miracles. Pages of prophecies of Messiah’s reign. Jesus himself announced he was bringing God’s kingdom near. No way the King could suffer! The Jewish authorities wouldn’t reject their Messiah! Messiah killed was insane!
We live later. We understand he had to die and be raised. Prophecies like Isaiah 53 are familiar. In Jesus’ day the people were so oppressed by Rome and their lackeys and so desperate for Messiah’s David-like kingdom, Conqueror-prophecies drowned out Sufferer-prophecies.
Jesus’ didn’t mince words. When Peter pulled him aside and rebuked him, Jesus rebuked him more harshly. He called Peter Satan. Accused Peter of thinking like a man not like God.
The conversation continued. We won’t follow it now. We’ll stop to highlight this point . . .
Here is the Great Divide of the Gospel. Mark 1:1-8:26 reports the Son of God’s kingdom coming with power. Jesus invaded Galilee with authority that sent demons screaming, cripples walking and the dead living. From here on, Mark reports the Son of God’s kingdom coming with suffering. A dizzying turn-around, with heavy implications for us.
Jesus’ question here is also the Great Divide of the Gospel for everyone. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Earlier I said this conversation changed the disciples’ lives and changes ours. And that change depends on how we answer Jesus’ question.
We know the right answer, right? “You are the Christ.” But this isn’t a school test—you know, parrot back the answer the teacher wants. This isn’t about information; it’s about devotion. It’s not about getting a grade; it’s about getting a life.
So here’s how we should do this . . . It’s just Jesus and you. Not the church or your family or your friends. You’re not at a concert or ball game. You’re outside in God’s creation. Just you and Jesus. It’s unlike standing alone with anyone else—sacred because he’s there. You can’t “spin” your answer because he sees your heart. Looking you straight in the eyes, he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
How do you answer?