Photo by quicksandala on Morgue File.
Jesus’ pointed question to his disciples is a rather well-known dialogue. After all, for preachers such as myself, it makes for a very dramatic sermon title and message! There are a few things I would like to mention in relation to this seminal conversation and passage.
First, the event is found in two places: Matthew 16.13-20 and Mark 8.27-30. You will notice, just from verse count, Mark’s account is more concise than is Matthew’s. Of course, this is not anything unusual for Mark. Mark is known, at least as a writer, for his brevity and concision. I like to refer to Mark as the first-century equivalent of Detective Joe Friday! Detective Friday was known for his direct, to the point style: Just the facts, Ma’am!
Second, and this is something I’ve been thinking about a good deal lately, notice where this conversation takes place in each account. Or, perhaps I should say when. That is to say, in Matthew we find it at chapter sixteen and in Mark in chapter eight. In both then, it is found about half-way through (give or take) each account.
Well, as I have been preaching some of the early passages in Mark’s account again recently, this feature strikes me. In Mark, we find Jesus on eight different occasions giving the command, in essence, to keep quiet. We find him giving the command to both demons (whom he casts out of their host) and different individuals he healed. As an example we read, And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him (Mk. 1.34).
In another context, where Jesus healed a deaf man, we read, And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it (Mk. 7.36). This always has struck me as an incredible irony. On the one hand, Jesus told them not to tell, but hey did. On the other hand, Jesus has told us to tell the world (e.g. the Great Commission), but we seem to largely ignore it!
Nevertheless, we see Jesus keeping his true identity (i.e. as the Incarnate Son of God) close to the chest in the early portions of his ministry. Jesus’ early ministry was, for the most part, centered in the northern province of Galilee (his home region). What we see happening in Jesus’ life is the same we see throughout the corpus of Scripture: progressive revelation. Jesus is careful not to reveal too much about his identity and mission too soon. He knows that when that happens it will escalate the tensions and conflict between himself and the religious elite. This will of course bring events to a head, which will end with his betrayal, mock trial and crucifixion.
But, here early in Jesus’ public ministry, the time for all that is not yet.
There are however some exceptions to this general rule. For example, after healing the demonic from Garesenes (or Gadarenes) the man begs Jesus to go with him (cf. Mk. 5.18), but Jesus denied his request. Instead, Jesus told him, Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (5.19). Now, perhaps we could understand this to mean (in keeping with what we have said above) that Jesus simply meant for him to go back and glorify the God of heaven and not Jesus specifically. But, what we find is that the man, as would seem natural, praises Christ for what he has done for him (cf. 5.20).
Yet, on the whole, Jesus does not broadcast his divinity early on. As time moves forward, we definitely see him more open concerning these things. But again, Jesus understands the time for all that is not yet.
It is also striking to me that it is only after Peter’s confession in Mark eight that Jesus foretells of his death and resurrection. It is also after the confession that Jesus begins to teach in strict terms the cost of discipleship. And, it is after the confession that Jesus’ transfiguration takes place.
What we see from all this is that Jesus was (and is!) very much in control of what was happening. He ordered his steps, in obedience to his Father’s will, and accomplished his messianic mission.
Jesus makes it very clear that he was ultimately in control of his life and death. In John’s account we read, No one takes it [i.e. his life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (Jn. 10.18).
We see God’s perfect timing and fulfillment of his promises in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We also must remember that God works his timing in us as well. Sometimes God’s timing is at odds with our own. We often feel as though God is going the proverbial long way around. But, we must remember, God is sovereign and his timing is always right.
Life-Lessons Gleaned from the Pericope:
- Jesus was/is sovereign. Everything that transpired in his life, including his death, was according to the will and timing of the Father and under the authority of Christ. He was not waylayed or caught unaware by what happened, he knew it all fully and completely. He gave his life, so that he would be the propitiation for our sins.
- Jesus is divine. There are many today who deny this claim (e.g. Bart Ehrman), but the Gospel accounts clearly testify to this truth. Jesus was the unique and only Son of the Living God. Jesus was man and God–the Incarnate Word. Thus, he had authority and power that no one else could ever possess or rightly claim.
- The question asked his disciples that day is still pertinent for you and I: Who do you say I am? It is a question with eternal significance!