1. Where did Jesus and his disciples go and why (27)? What was common in the two questions Jesus asked (28-29a)? What does the people’s view of Jesus tell us about him? Why is it important to know who Jesus is (Jn 17:3; Ac 4:12)?
2. Read verse 29. What did Peter mean by confessing, “You are the Messiah" (Jer 23:5; Mk 1:1,11)? What does confessing Jesus as the Messiah mean to us personally (Ro 10:9-10)? Why did he warn them not to tell anyone (30)?
3. After hearing Peter's confession, what did Jesus begin to teach his disciples (31)? Why “must” the Messiah do these things (Isa 53:4-5,10; 1 Pet 2:24)? In what respect was it hard for Peter to accept Jesus’ teaching (32)? Why did Jesus rebuke Peter, calling him “Satan” (33)?
4. Read verse 34. What does Jesus require of anyone who would follow him? What does it mean to “deny themselves,” “take up their cross,” and “follow” Jesus?
5. What warnings and promises does Jesus give (35-9:1)? How does this encourage us to follow Jesus as his disciples in this sinful and adulterous generation?
“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’”
Jesus’ plan in raising his disciples can be divided into two parts. In the first part Jesus helped them to understand who he was until they confessed that he is the Messiah. In the second part Jesus taught them what the Messiah must do. Today’s passage is the climax of the first part and the beginning of the second part. Many people say that this is a very important Bible passage. Why? It is because to know Jesus as the Messiah is most essential for any human being, no matter who they are or where they live. However, the experience of confessing Jesus as the Messiah may be very different from person to person. To those who have grown up in a Christian culture it is easy to assume they know who Jesus is. For them to confess Jesus as the Messiah does not seem to be such a serious matter, but is rather a matter of course. They may think of the Messiah as a friend when they are lonely or a counselor when they need therapy. But for the disciples in today’s passage, and to the early Christians, confessing Jesus as the Messiah was a matter of life and death. Even today, in many parts of the world, especially Muslim countries and North Korea, confessing Jesus is very costly; it requires one to risk their life and lose everything in the world. When I was in Sudan a few years ago, a missionary told me about a man who accepted Jesus as his Messiah and converted from Islam to Christianity. When this man told his family about this, they disowned him and tried to kill him by beating him and making him eat poison. Only by God’s grace was he rescued and taken out of the country by a Christian man. Like this man, when we really know what it means that Jesus is the Messiah, we are ready to confess him at the cost of our lives; it is not a casual confession. So we need to take Jesus’ question in today’s passage very seriously. For those who have never made this confession, today is the day to do so. For those who have made this confession, today we can renew it our hearts and decide to testify about Jesus in our schools, work places, neighborhoods and everywhere.
First, Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” (27-30). After finishing his Galilean ministry, Jesus intentionally spent more private time with his disciples. He took them into the villages around Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. This area had been a center of the worship of Baal, then of the Greek god Pan—the god of shepherds, flocks and hunting—and then of Caesar. Perhaps it was as they were passing statues of these idols that Jesus began to question his disciples. Jesus asked them: “Who do people say I am?” (27) Then, “Who do you say I am?” (29). Both of these questions are about the person of Jesus. But Jesus’ way of asking implies that there should be a difference between people’s view of Jesus and the disciples’ view.
In response to Jesus’ first question, the disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (28). They all saw that Jesus came from God as a great prophet, but not see him as God. The same is true of many in our time. A Hindu leader said, “The teenage Jesus traveled across Southeast Asia, learned yogic traditions and returned home to be a guru to the Jews. Jesus’ words, ‘I and the Father are one’ confirm the Hindu idea that everyone, through rigorous spiritual practice, can realize his own universal ‘god-consciousness.’” The Dalai Lama, top leader in Buddhism, said, “Jesus is the model of a spiritually mature, good, and warm hearted person. To emulate him, we should practice meditation.” A Muslim leader said, “Our holy book, the Qur'an, speaks highly of Christ and presents miraculous events of his life accurately in many aspects. However, it categorically denies his deity and his crucifixion.” The atheist Richard Dawkins said, “Somebody gave me a t-shirt: ‘Atheists for Jesus.’ Well…Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.” These leaders and religions are like the four men who touched different parts of an elephant. Each one knew something true about the elephant, but none of them knew what it really was.
Jesus expected more from his disciples. He asked them,“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (29a) In Greek, the word “you” is strongly emphasized. Regardless of what others had said about Jesus, Jesus wanted his disciples to make a very personal confession based on their experience with him. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah” (29b). It was an inspired answer (Mt 16:17). Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about it until he rose from the dead (30). This was the Messianic secret.
What does “the Messiah” mean? First of all, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. “Messiah” in Hebrew is equivalent to “Christ” in Greek. They both mean “God’s Anointed One.” Since the Fall of man, God promised to send the Messiah who would crush Satan and deliver mankind from the power of sin and death (Gen 3:15; 12:2-3; 22:17-18). God spoke to his people through prophets at many times and in various ways, foretelling the coming of the Messiah (Heb 1:1). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Jeremiah prophesied that he would be called, “The LORD Our Righteous Savior” (Jer 23:5). The Old Testament prophets all pointed to the Messiah (Jn 5:39; Lk 24:44). Jesus uniquely fulfilled over 350 of these prophecies in detail. This means that Jesus was sent by God to fulfill his plan and purpose as the Messiah and is the only way of salvation God provided. Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12).
Secondly, the Messiah is God Incarnate. The prophets indicated the Messiah’s deity by calling him “Mighty God,” and “the LORD.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:14a says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus himself, when on trial before the Sanhedrin, was asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” He confessed, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mk 14:62). Colossians says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form…” (Col 1:15a; 2:9). Hebrews 1:3a says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” The Bible declares boldly and repeatedly that Jesus is fully God and fully man (1 Ti 2:5). Believing that Jesus is God is the distinctive characteristic of Christian faith. At the same time, it is the most challenging and essential truth about Jesus that we should accept. How can we know that Jesus is God? Since man’s fall, all people have been doomed to die. Death has been the most powerful enemy which has subdued all human beings without exception. This truth has made all people distressed, defeated, fatalistic, anxious and fearful. Many great leaders conquered peoples and nations for a short time, but no one could conquer death—whether great or small, rich or poor; all have bowed down before death. If anyone could solve the death problem, he would be a Savior. Only Jesus rose from the dead and conquered the power of death (Ro 6:9). Moreover, Jesus has power to give eternal life to those who believe in him (Jn 3:16). Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is God (Ro 1:4). So he is the object of our worship whom we submit to and serve. This is the essence of the Christian faith we confess. Whoever confesses that Jesus is God will be saved. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Dr. Nabeel Qureshi was born in San Diego to a Pakistani Muslim family. His grandfather and great-grandfather were Muslim missionaries in the remote areas of Indonesia and Uganda. At the age of five he had read the Qur’an from beginning to end, memorized portions of it, and prayed five times a day. As his mother sent him to school each day, she reminded him to defend and spread Islam among his classmates. Most of them claimed to be Christians, but no one shared the gospel with him. When one brave girl tried, he totally defeated her by misquoting Scripture to argue that Jesus was not God. In college he met David, a Christian who knew how to defend his faith in Christ. On the basis of passion for the truth about God, they respected each other mutually. For three years they developed a friendship as they discussed many things, primarily Jesus’ claim to be God. Nabeel thought that if Jesus claimed to be God, he was either crazy or he was God. If he was God, what evidence was there? He found that the focal event of Christian faith was Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, Christian faith would be futile; it would be a delusion (1 Cor 15:14, 17). So he examined the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection very critically, and found it to be overwhelming. He was 85% persuaded that Jesus was God. Yet he was still 100% Muslim. Then he applied the same rigorous critique to Islam that he had applied to Christianity and found that Islam could not stand the test. He was greatly distraught and shed many tears. He needed God’s comfort. So he went to the Qur’an and the Bible seeking comfort. Surprisingly, he could not find any single verse in the Qur’an that gave him comfort. On the other hand, Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” seemed to jump out of the page and into his heart. As he continued to read the Bible he could hear God’s word speak directly to him. Matthew 10:32 said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before myFather in heaven.” Nabeel wanted to make this confession, but realized that it would alienate him from his family and turn his world upside down. So he was afraid. Yet Jesus clearly taught that this was the cost of following him (Mt 10:34-38). Nabeel submitted himself to Jesus as his Lord. Then he told his parents. His mother felt totally betrayed by him, and lost all her strength and joy. She has remained in this state for nine years. His father, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, said to him, “I feel that my backbone has been ripped out of my body.” Nabeel experienced overwhelming pain. He cried out, “God, why didn’t you kill me after I believed, before I had to tell this to my parents?” Then he heard the Lord’s voice, “It is not about you, but about me.” His heart was changed and he began to see the world through God’s eyes. He understood that though he is the Creator of heaven and earth, God humbled himself and came into this world to suffer and die for sinners. He saw that God loves each person so much that Christ died for them. So he committed his life to proclaiming the gospel. To him, confessing Jesus as the Messiah was everything. Like him, we all need to make a personal confession of Christ. We need to have a clear identity as a Christian in any environment. And like his friend David, we should be equipped to defend our faith before anyone, anytime (1 Pe 3:15).
Second, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple…” (8:31-9:1). Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah was indeed a climactic event. It may have seemed that Jesus’ disciple raising ministry was over. But rather, another round of teaching was about to begin. Upon hearing Peter’s confession, what did Jesus begin to teach? “…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law…he must be killed and after three days rise again” (31). Jesus used a strong word, “must.” Why must Jesus suffer, be rejected and be killed? It is because this was God’s will for the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about this: “he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (Isa 53:4,5,10). But that was not all. After three days, Jesus would rise again. This is the way God established to reconcile God and man. This why Jesus said he “must” do it.
What was Peter’s response? On hearing that Jesus would “suffer” and “be killed,” he lost his mind and did not listen any longer. So he missed the words “rise again.” He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him (32). In Matthew’s account, he said, “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22). Why did Peter become so upset? It was because his concept of the Messiah was not Biblical, but nationalistic and rooted in triumphalism. Triumphalism is the idea that God will magically transform everything without requiring people to suffer or take up their cross daily. This was the common concept in Israel at the time. People expected the Messiah to be like King David who would conquer their enemies and give them peace and prosperity. If Jesus suffered and died, their dream to establish an earthly Messianic kingdom would be shattered.
What was Jesus’ response? He did not say, “I am sorry. I was too extreme.” Rather, he turned and looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (33). Jesus’ rebuke was severe because Peter was trying to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. Jesus realized that Satan was working at that moment to tempt him (Mt 16:23). Jesus resisted Satan’s strong temptation, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Of course, we can understand Peter. He was concerned for Jesus as his friend and master, and he was concerned for his nation. But he was not concerned about God’s will for world salvation through the Messiah. His concern was not bad, but this kind of humanistic nationalism hinders gospel ministry.
What did Jesus do next? Let’s read verse 34. “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” Jesus clearly announced the requirements of being his disciple and they applied to every person without exception. Even the top disciple Peter could not avoid these requirements. Then what does it mean to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and follow Jesus? To deny oneself is not asceticism, self-abasement, or self-hatred. Nor does it mean to have low self-esteem. It is not even the rejection of certain sins. It is to renounce the self as the dominant element in one’s life and to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. It is to change from self-glory seeking, to seeking God’s glory. It is to change from being self-centered to being Christ-centered. When we have a conflict between the self and God, it is to say “no” to the self and “yes” to God. Basically it is to die to oneself and live for God. In regards to the cross, our cross is different from Jesus’ cross. Jesus’ cross is the unique source of salvation for all mankind. Our cross is to participate in Jesus’ remaining sufferings. In that respect, our cross is meaningful and necessary. So Peter encouraged the Christians who were scattered because of persecution: “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pe 4:13). To follow Jesus is to stick to him and try to be like him. In a word, Jesus is our Savior, Lord and King. Our life is not our own; it belongs to Jesus. Whatever Jesus wants us to do, we do.
In 8:35-9:1 Jesus explains why we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. Let’s read these verses. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Everyone wants to save their life. No one wants to lose their life. The question is how to save one’s life. Anyone who tries to save their life for their own glory and benefit will lose it. But if we lose our lives for Jesus and the gospel we will be saved.
Jesus asks each of us, “Who do you say I am?” Let us confess that Jesus is the Messiah from our hearts and testify about Jesus in our schools, homes and workplaces. Let us deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Jesus. This is the way of salvation and the way of glory.