Mark 8:27–9:1—Who do you say I am?

27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.” 29 Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” 30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man, would suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and three days later he would rise again. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and told him he shouldn’t say things like that. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples and then said to Peter very sternly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” 34 Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. 36 And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If a person is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in the glory of my Father with the holy angels.” 9:1 Jesus went on to say, “I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

Points of Interest:

  • ‘Who do people say I am?’—This passage marks the mid-point of Mark’s story, and in this passage we see a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Among other things, the first half of the story is about Jesus’ identity. Jesus has said and done amazing things—heal the sick, cast out demons, calm the waves, raise the dead—that provoke the question, ‘Who is this guy?’ And there have been many answers to the question. John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets seem to be the dominant answers: the people are tossing around these answers and Peter repeats them here. Other answers to the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ include the carpenter’s son, the servant of the prince of demons, and a crazy man. Everyone is interested in the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ and everyone has an opinion.
  • ‘Who do you say I am?’—Jesus indicates with this question that Peter’s answer should be different from all the rest. Just like Jesus’ question of the blind man led the blind man to stare intently, Jesus’ question of Peter makes him think carefully. And Peter, who has been a bit blind recently, sees clearly: ‘You are the Messiah,’ who is the king and savior of the Jews.
  • ‘Peter took him aside and told him he shouldn’t say things like that’—The first half of the gospel of Mark provokes and addresses the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ In this passage, we hear the definitive answer: Jesus is the Messiah. The second half of Mark’s story addresses the question, ‘What is the Messiah and what does it mean for me?’ Even though Peter has just declared that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, Peter thinks he has a better idea of what the Messiah ought to be than Jesus does. In Peter’s view, the Messiah should be a glorious conqueror who rallies all of Israel behind him and conquers their enemies. To Peter, Jesus’ prediction of his death is an unseemly loss of nerve. He thinks Jesus is being defeatist: ‘I’m the Messiah, but I don’t think it’s ever going to work because the Pharisees don’t like me.’
  • ‘Get away from me, Satan!’—Jesus reaction to Peter is strong. Satan’s role so far in the book of Mark has been to tempt Jesus and to fight him. Peter thinks he is being helpful and encouraging to Jesus, but he’s really taking Satan’s role: he’s tempting Jesus away from God’s will, and he is working against the kingdom of God. Jesus has to sternly warn Peter.
  • ‘If any of you wants to be my follower’—Peter rebukes Jesus because Jesus says that he is going to be killed. In response, Jesus ups the ante by saying anyone who is his follower will also be killed. All of the disciples have made previous decisions to follow Jesus: they left behind their old identities and picked up the identity of his disciples. Now, Jesus significantly changes the game. He is no longer simply inviting them to follow him around Galilee performing miracles; he is asking them to follow him to execution. In light of this new calling, he renews the offer to follow: he gives the disciples a chance to go back, and he invited anyone from the crowd who would like to join.
  • ‘If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it’—Now comes the good news. Jesus isn’t defeatist, and he isn’t a masochist. He is offering everyone a solution to the problem, how do I save my life? All of us want to save our lives, but we can’t. No matter how successful we are at living, we spend a day of our lives every day, and we can’t get that day back. We are constantly moving one step closer to death. No level of safety can protect us from death, and no amount of money can buy us out of death. Jesus is asking everything of his followers: he is asking their lives. But, he is only asking of them something that they are slowly losing anyway. And, in exchange, he offers what we all want: true, heavenly, eternal life. This is why he rebukes Peter so strongly. By telling Jesus to save himself, he is directing him toward losing his life—and toward ruining everyone else’s opportunity to gain life.

Taking it Home:

  • For you: ‘And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?’—What are your big plans for giving yourself a good life? The bad news is that Jesus says the plans will fail. The good news is that he offers a better one. What would you have to put aside in order to take up Jesus’ offer? Are you ready for it? Start by laying aside your plan for giving yourself a good day today. Ask Jesus what his plan for your day is. That plan will probably involve some death, and even more life.
  • For your 6: Jesus asks Peter a question that helps Peter to see clearly. Ask Jesus to give you clarifying questions to ask your friends.
  • For our church: Peter gets carried away by his unbelievably fortunate circumstances. He finds himself the most prominent follower of the man who turns out to be the one and only Messiah. In his enthusiasm, he slips into a human perspective on it: he wants it to be easy and flashy. We are incredibly fortunate to be a part of what Jesus is doing. Pray that we would look at our success from a divine point of view, and embrace both the suffering and the blessing that comes with it.