This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for February 6) is written by Rick Walston, senior minister with Marion Church of Christ, Rochester, Minnesota.
Jesus Is the Messiah (Mark 8:27–9:1)
By Rick Walston
What are life’s most important questions? “Where will I go when I die?” “What will I do with my life?” “Whom will I marry?” Some might say the answers don’t matter as long as we are asking the right questions. But answers are important, and the most important question of life must be answered correctly because its implications are eternal.
Jesus asked his disciples this question long ago: “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” What is so significant about that confession? What makes it more than just a meaningless oath? Almost every first-century Jew was looking for the Messiah (Hebrew), but everyone had his own idea about who and what the Christ (Greek) was to be. Most of them believed he would be a national figure, like a leader of a great rebellion or a king. And so it was not surprising many misidentified, and thus missed, Jesus as the Christ. People do the same thing today. They speak of Jesus Christ, but have no idea what those words say about him and what they may mean for their lives.
In today’s text, we enter the second half of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has revealed himself through teaching, preaching, and healing, and now he asks his disciples what they think of him. He is preparing them for the very important events of his passion in Jerusalem, where he steadfastly heads following this exchange.
Jesus Is Messiah (8:27-33)
Jesus quizzes his followers in the area surrounding Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city devoted to Greek gods and named for a Roman emperor. It seems an ironic location for the question about what people thought of Jesus.
The people of Jesus’ day were no different from people today. They examined the evidence about Jesus and drew various mistaken conclusions about his identity. They knew Jesus was no ordinary man, but who was he? Some posited he was John the Baptist back from the dead—a prophet declaring the coming of Messiah and the last days. Others believed him to be the reincarnation of Elijah, Malachi’s messenger of the covenant who would “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” before the coming day of the Lord (Malachi 3:1; 4:5). It is not surprising these final words of the last Old Testament prophet should be ringing in their ears even after the passage of 400 years.
Was Jesus’ work merely preparatory? The people of his day saw it that way because Jesus did not meet their expectations. They longed for God’s promised Messiah, the one anointed by God, given both a task and the endowment by which to carry it out. This Christ would be the perfect prophet, priest, and king. As David’s promised descendant, he would reign once more on David’s throne, restoring the glory days of Israel. However, the people missed who Jesus was and thus missed God’s plan.
Peter seems to understand, but the depth of his misunderstanding becomes evident in the exchange that follows. Jesus obviously knows Peter’s heart and so begins to teach him, to correct his ideas, and to challenge him with the truth. What does it mean to say, “Jesus is Messiah”? Jesus tried to teach the Twelve, but they could not understand at the time. Full understanding would come after the cross and resurrection.
Jesus calls himself Son of Man, that mysterious figure of Daniel 7:13, to whom celestial glory, dominion over nature, and everlasting kingdom were given. The disciples would have accepted these words wholeheartedly.
However, Jesus went on to say the Son of Man must suffer. He recognized suffering as a necessary part of God’s plan. This event constitutes the first of three self-predictions of his death in Mark’s Gospel. From this point, Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem. He starts to speak plainly about the meaning of his messiahship and their discipleship.
Peter misses Jesus’ point and rebukes him, to which Jesus responds by calling him “Satan”—because of Peter’s desire to thwart God’s plan of salvation. What would their view of the Messiah have accomplished? What would have been the ultimate result? They may have found temporary relief from their enemies. They may have found a moment of prosperity. But the Messiah God would send had to be different from the kings, prophets, and priests who had led an unfaithful people for several hundred years.
We Are His Disciples (8:34–9:1)
If Jesus is Messiah, what does that mean for his followers? If Jesus had to suffer, why not his followers? Jesus’ disciples must deny self, take up their cross, and follow him. A different type of Messiah/King calls for different types of subjects. Individuals must daily say “no” to self and “yes” to God. Concern for self must give way to commitment to God and his ways. We must be willing to die for him—more importantly, to live for him.
The disciples expected the kingdom of God in their time, but they did not anticipate what that meant. God’s kingdom was not identified with a particular city, land, or ethnic group. His kingdom comes whenever people give complete allegiance to the King, Jesus the Messiah.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|Jan. 31: Jeremiah 33:14-18|
|Feb. 1: Luke 3:7-18|
|Feb. 2: Matthew 2:1-6|
|Feb. 3: Luke 22:66-70|
|Feb. 4: John 4:16-26|
|Feb. 5: John 1:35-42|
|Feb. 6: Mark 8:27–9:1|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Rick Walston is senior minister with Marion Church of Christ, Rochester, Minnesota, and adjunct professor at Crossroads College.