Jesus, the Confusing Messiah
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
Yesterday, we began reflecting on Mark 8:27-33, the story in which Jesus asks his first disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They answered Jesus: “[S]ome say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the prophets” (8:28). Then Jesus became more incisively personal: “But who do you say I am?” (8:29).
Peter, always the impetuous one, answered quickly: “You are the Messiah” (8:29). When we read this confession, we’re apt to fill it with Christian meaning. For us, “Messiah,” or its equivalent, “Christ,” is a title for Jesus, if not virtually his last name. “Messiah” indicates his role as the one who died on the cross to save us from our sins. We might even think of “Messiah” as an indicator of Jesus’ divinity. Peter would not have thought this way, however. For him, the word “Messiah,” which meant “anointed one,” pointed to a human being who would save Israel from Roman domination and reestablish the kingdom of Israel.
Thus, when Jesus followed Peter’s confession of his messiahship by saying that he, as the Son of Man, would suffer and die, Peter “took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things” (8:32). The idea of a suffering Messiah had no place in Jewish expectations, and Peter felt the need to get Jesus back on track. Of course, Jesus’ response to Peter was less than appreciative: “Get away from me, Satan! . . . You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (8:33).
It’s easy for us, sitting on this side of Easter, to think of Peter as a fool. But, in fact, his response to Jesus made perfect sense in context. What Jesus had said about the suffering of the Messiah/Son of Man had no place in the Jewish understanding of the one who would come to deliver the Jews from the Romans and reestablish the kingdom of God. Peter was simply reflecting conventional wisdom, no doubt out of genuine concern for Jesus. Peter was confused, but understandably so. Jesus was indeed confusing.
And he still is today. Have you ever read something Jesus taught and thought to yourself, “I don’t get it”? Or have you read some account in the Gospels and wondered what in the world Jesus was doing? It is only when we admit that Jesus can confuse us that we are ready to delve more deeply into his mission and identity. Knowing Jesus truly almost always passes through the valley of confusion.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What confuses you about Jesus? What do you do when you are confused or even upset by something Jesus did or said? How has your understanding of Jesus grown through confusion?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I can certainly relate to Peter in this story. He thought he knew who you were, and he was right ... to a point. Yet he still had so much to learn. Your unique calling as the Messiah didn’t fit his expectations, so Peter was understandably confused.
In many ways, I am like Peter. Though, by your grace, I know you personally and have come to understand who you are, there is much I don’t quite get. So I ask you to help me, Lord, to know you more truly. May I lay my confusion before you, so that you might make yourself known to me more completely. Preserve me from the arrogance of thinking I have you all figured out. In humility, may I open my mind and heart to you. As I study the Gospels, teach me through your Word and by your Spirit. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
Some years ago, I wrote a book that was a result of my own wrestling with the identity and calling of Jesus. Jesus Revealed combines theological inquiry with practical application. If you’re seeking to know Jesus more deeply in light of Scripture, you might find this book to be helpful.