21 August 2011

"He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'" (vv. 15-16)


Jesus was causing quite a stir. People were talking about him and he wanted to know what they were saying. So he asked his followers in Caesarea Philippi, in the far north of Israel, two days' walk from the Sea of Galilee. They reported the general reaction, which tells us a great deal about what Jesus wasn't like: not 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild', but similar to one of the fearless prophets who challenged the rulers about injustice, hypocrisy and corruption. Simon Peter then acted as the spokesperson for the group and announced that they believed Jesus was more than a prophet; he was God's long-awaited messiah (the anointed king).

In Jesus' day (and now) many Jews believed that God would send the messiah to liberate Israel and to bring justice and peace to the world. What this person would be like and when he would come was the subject of much debate and considerable disagreement. Many expected a military figure that would defeat Israel's enemies, whilst others believed he would be a spiritual leader who would purge the temple in Jerusalem. Whoever he was, he would fulfil the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible (ie the Old Testament) and establish God's rule.

Simon Peter declared that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, and Jesus responded by naming him 'Peter', which means 'rock' or 'stone'. Jesus will build a new community, starting with Peter and including all who believe with him that Jesus is God's messiah. The radical nature of Jesus' messiahship was something Peter and the other disciples learned only later.

To Ponder

If Jesus were to say to you, "Who do you say I am?", how would you respond?

Why do you think Jesus began his new community with Peter? To what extent was he a good choice?

In the first century there were several would-be messiahs who came and went. How can we know whose message and leadership to trust today?

Bible notes author: The Revd Caroline Ainger

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