17 February 2011

Mark 8:27-33

"But who do you say that I am?" (v. 29)


Today's passage marks a turning point in Mark's Gospel. So far Jesus has spent much time in public preaching and teaching, combined with private sessions with his disciples. From now on he will make his way to Jerusalem and most of his conversation will be with the disciples. Chapter 8 has already focussed on the issue of insight into the significance of Jesus and his activities. Verses 22-26 told the story of a man coming to sight by stages. Today's passage shows the disciples, through Peter on their behalf, taking the first step in understanding, but by their reaction in verse 32 reveals that they still have a long way to go.

There was a belief that before the Messiah came to usher in God's rule, one of the prophets of the past would return to announce his coming (see Malachi 4:5 and compare with Deuteronomy 18:15). Popular speculation is that Jesus is such a figure. The disciples (Peter at least) can see that he is more than that.

Why does Jesus order them to keep silent? The answer must lie in verse 31. The title "Messiah" was applied to many different types of saviour-figure: a military leader, a king, a priest, a religious teacher. Unqualified use of the title in connection with Jesus could lead to all kinds of popular reaction. The truth is that he will bring salvation through his rejection, death and resurrection. The disciples resist this, but only when that truth has been grasped, as it will be after the resurrection, can the title be freely used.

Earlier in his Gospel, Mark has shown Jesus being tested by Satan (Mark 1:13). His reaction to Peter in verse 33 suggests not only that Peter is being misled, but that Jesus too finds his future calling hard to face up to, and Peter's words are a temptation.

To Ponder

How would you express the significance of Jesus in a way that people today might understand?

Verse 31 presents Jesus' suffering as a necessity. Why do you think that should be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..