Mark 8:27-33 27 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?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
It is hard to comprehend how difficult it would have been to follow Jesus as one of the twelve disciples. It would have been amazing to see the miracles performed and to hear God in the flesh speak perfectly and act perfectly in every way in accordance with the Law of God but how hard it would have been at the same time. For Jesus was revealing the Kingdom of God to mankind in a manner which was previously unknown. He fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies as promised to the nation of Israel but the establishment of a spiritual kingdom on earth was a mystery to everyone. No single person understood what was about to happen through Jesus of Nazareth. Although many were looking for the Christ and had been directed by John the Baptist to follow Jesus, this question that Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” was a much more difficult question to answer now than on those first days after Jesus had been baptized by John and He had entered into public ministry. When Jesus was first revealed, as recorded in Mark 1, very few who saw and heard Him would have doubted that He was the Christ. Everyone was caught up in the excitement. But what kind of Christ; what kind of Saviour, were they looking for? Were they looking for the health and wealth Christ that could heal their illnesses and miraculously provide food? Were they looking for the political Christ who would set them free from the rule of Rome? All the Jews, even the ones who had genuinely been born again by repenting of their sin nature and believing in the Christ who was to come, did not understand this new Kingdom of God that Jesus was establishing. And so as Jesus is establishing this perfect Kingdom of God upon earth in which He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He is continually stretching and expanding His disciples' understanding about who He was and what He was accomplishing. This is what makes Peter’s response at this point, “You are the Christ” so amazing! In spite of the fact that the Kingdom of God under Jesus was new and different and surprising- not what they were expecting, Peter still said, “You are the Christ.”
Jesus had just completed a tour on the outskirts of Israel contrasting the lack of faith in the Jewish religious leaders and the lack of faith among the people in Israel who were already beginning to turn away from Him with the newfound faith of Gentile believers. This was shown with the Gentile woman who begged for the scraps from the table (Mark 7:24-30) and it was shown in the miraculous feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10). Jesus heals a deaf man and a blind man and warns them of the yeast of the Pharisees. They were dangerous men proclaiming a false Gospel. But the true Gospel message that Jesus proclaimed and the Kingdom of God that He was establishing was dependent upon a direct relationship to Him. The Kingdom of God would be manifested on earth in and through Jesus Christ as His followers were united to Him and this Kingdom would be established over the whole earth! The Gentiles, the scum of the earth as the Jews saw them (the dogs), would be equal with the Jews in this spiritual Kingdom. No longer would Israel be above the other nations but rather the Church would be established. In the Church Jews and Gentiles would be equal and the Church would be the spiritual representation of this new Kingdom of God established by Jesus Christ.
This would have been very difficult for the disciples to accept. And so Jesus tests His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. This was a place where many pagan gods were worshipped. You can almost sense the angst of the disciples as they were in the midst of such an evil place. Jesus was saying in a sense, “Even here, I came to call people unto Myself. I came to save even these wicked Gentiles and to bring them into My Kingdom and they will be more righteous than the Pharisees that you have been taught to look up to. Who do you say that I am?” In spite of the difficulty in responding, Peter still says, “You are the Christ.”
But Jesus does not leave them here. He has stretched the disciples so far already. Now He goes further. He declares that He, as the Christ, will die by the very men that are supposed to be teaching the people about the Christ. The elders and the chief priests and the scribes do not only fail to recognize Jesus as the Christ but they will kill the Saviour. Jesus will die and He predicts His own death. Not that He might die but that He must suffer many things and die and rise again. Once again the disciples are confused and Peter, the very disciple who confessed Jesus as the Christ now contradicts his revelation by saying that Jesus must not die. How could Jesus of Nazareth be the Christ if He was to die? How could this new spiritual Kingdom of God continue to exist if Jesus was no longer ruling over it? How could God die?
Do you see how difficult it was to follow Jesus as one of the twelve disciples? Jesus’ ministry to the twelve in person occurred just over three years. How intense would it have been! How amazing but how difficult! Jesus had to die to fully provide the way into the Kingdom of God, not only for the Jew but also for the Gentile. Without the shedding of His blood, there is no way our sins could be covered. Without His death there could be no life. Eternal life could never be achieved apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection for those who truly believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ- the Saviour of mankind.
Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ? Do you really believe? Or, are you still believing in a false Christ? Is He a saviour of your own imagination or the false teaching of others? Has Jesus turned your understanding upside down in your pursuit of Him or has everything been easy and clear to you? All of us, no matter who we are, have been misled in our understanding of who Jesus really is. All of us, if we are genuinely seeking God with all of our heart, will go through similar struggles as the disciples did in coming to terms with the reality that Jesus is indeed the Christ. To follow Jesus is difficult. It is not easy. He is a treasure to be found and not all will find Him. He continually challenges us in our pursuit of Him. Keep seeking Him!
Pastor Murray Hack