This is from a Bible Study series I wrote called Christ Encounters exploring some of the most well-known encounters with Christ in the Gospels. Each study provides (1) initial observations/questions, (2) interpretation & exegesis, and (3) practical life application questions.
27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am” 28They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”29″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38)
I. Observations & Questions
1. Why do some people think Jesus is John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets of old? What would lead them to think this?
2. Why does Jesus warn them not to tell anyone that he is indeed the messiah?
3. Why does Jesus immediately begin talking about his future suffering and death after Peter’s confession of Jesus’ true identity as Messiah?
4. Why does Jesus rebuke Peter so harshly saying, “Get behind me, Satan”?
5. What does it mean to deny oneself and “take up their cross”? How would that have sounded to Jesus’ disciples?
6. What does Jesus mean when he says those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will save it?
7. What does Jesus mean by “gain the whole world”? What does he mean by “lose one’s own soul”?
8. What does Jesus mean by being ashamed of him? What does he mean by this sharp warning?
II. Exegesis & Interpretation
Everything in the New Testament hinges on the question of Jesus’ true identity. The teachers, officials and ordinary folk of Jesus’ day faced the same question critical scholars, skeptics and church-goers do today: Who is this Jesus? Is he merely a wise teacher? Is he one miracle worker among many others? Is he a religious zealot? A religious blasphemer and heretic? Is he a social menace and an enemy of the state? Is he just another prophet in the long line of other OT figures? Is he a fraud? Or is he the long-awaited Messiah of Israel and divine Son of the living God?
So, as we join the disciples and Jesus on the road to Caesarea Philippi we too are confronted with the same bold question: Who do people say that I am? Who do YOU say that I am?
Herod Antipas thought Jesus was John (cf. Matt 14:2); many Jewish people anticipated the return of Elijah. As one commentary aptly says, “Viewing Jesus in such terms thus fit him into categories of thought that already existed, rather than letting the Lord redefine their categories by his identity” (IVP New Testament Commentary).
The disciples have witnessed many wonders and miracles by this point, and all signs have pointed them to the far more staggering conclusion that Peter nails: “You are the Messiah.” All fine and good. But as we saw in our previous Christ Encounter, the people of Jesus’ day had a far different understanding of Messiah and his role than Jesus had in mind. Jesus was not the militant, nationalistic war hero they were hoping for. He is the Messiah for sure. But he immediately reminds his disciples what this means. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (v. 31).
Peter still cannot accept such a radical departure from his conception of the Messiah, and goes on to rebuke his master. There are some textual subtleties worth noting at this point:
“When Peter rebukes Jesus, he oversteps his appropriate bounds as a disciple. Correcting a teacher was rare (ARN 1A), and some sages believed teaching the law even in the presence of one’s teacher merited death from God (as in Sipra Shem. Mek. deMil.99.5.6). Disciples “followed” their teachers (Mt 8:22; 9:9-10; 10:38; 19:21), literally remaining behind them out of respect when they walked. Thus though Jesus turned to confront Peter literally behind him, he now ordered him toget behind him figuratively (16:23), returning to a position of discipleship” (IVP New Testament Commentary).
Not only is Peter out of line here, but he speaks as the agent of Satan. Earlier in Gospels Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert to bypass suffering and pursue a different path to glory.
“At the wilderness temptation Satan offered Jesus the kingdom without the cross (Mt4:8-9); Peter now offers the same temptation and encounters the same title (Cullmann 1956b:27). The devil has influenced this world so deeply that the world’s values are quite often the devil’s values (Jas 3:15; 4:7); by valuing the things human beings value (like lack of suffering), Peter shows himself in league with the devil. The religious leaders later echoed Satan’s temptation as well (Mt 27:42-43)” (IVP New Testament Commentary).
Is there any statement of Jesus more timeless and relevant to our own day than: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (v. 33)? Or, as another translation puts it,“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (NLT). This central challenge provides the serious follower of Jesus with a handy test by which to make daily choices in a world of competing wisdom. Will I choose to live and see the world through God’s “Kingdom-colored glasses” or follow the crowds living according to human-centered, conventional wisdom?
Jesus then pushes the disciples a bit further by fleshing out how tough this really will be in vv. 34-38. When the world’s conventional wisdom tells you to “indulge yourself”, Kingdom wisdom says, “Deny yourself.” When conventional worldly wisdom says “Might is right”, Kingdom wisdom counterintuitively says that “Power is made perfect in weakness” and the path to glory goes through the agony of the cross. When conventional wisdom says to “look out for number one” and human nature seeks to preserve one’s life, Kingdom wisdom tells us to trust God with our life in order to really save it.
To round off this radical Kingdom-shaped redefinition of reality, Jesus asks: “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for” (vv. 36-37 Message). Some passages need no explanation. They instead demand a once-for-all decision and action. In a world that seems to have already traded it’s soul for cheap, momentary thrills that over-promise and under-deliver, Jesus’ words demand another hearing.
They are “words of life” that sound like death at first. In fact, they do demand we die to our own desires in order to be “born again” to a new life of Spirit-produced desires that point us toward the “abundant life” (cf. John 10:10) we all desperately long for. Let us end by pondering Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase of this powerful Kingdom challenge:
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:34-37 The Message)
III. Personal Application Questions
1. Who do people say Jesus is today? What is the “word on the street” about Jesus these days?
2. How important is it to have an accurate understanding of Jesus’ true identity? Explain.
3. Have you ever entertained ideas about God, Jesus and Christianity that needed sharp rebuke? How do you handle being rebuked?
4. In what areas of your life is it difficult to avoid a “human point of view” rather than God’s?
5. What steps can we take to ensure we do not make Peter’s mistake and keep a Kingdom point of view?
6. What does denying oneself and taking up their cross look like in today’s world? What does it look like for you specifically?
7. Can you think of modern day examples of people who have successfully “gained the whole world” and yet forfeited their soul in the process? Discuss.
8. If you really knew that deciding to follow Jesus would make life more difficult rather than easier, would you still choose to follow? Why or why not?
See more in this series here.