Friday, December 3, 2010

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God

Before I begin this next note, I need to stress that this is going to be a much more shallow read than I would like. When I have more time and energy, I may come back and revisit this with the proper research and study. There is so much in this passage that I cannot hope to bring out any more than a small portion right now.

We're looking at Matthew 16:13-20 here. In most of your Bibles, it's probably subtitled "Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ" (unless you're like one of my friends who blacks out the subtitles with a sharpy). So Jesus and his disciples arrive in Caesarea Philippi, a largely pagan area. I've heard it suggested that he does this to escape from the crowds and the pharisees that are constantly following him around, and if so, it works. For some time now they've been absolutely swamped with people, and Christ, perhaps, wants some peace and quiet in which to teach his disciples.

So they're in Ceasarea Phillipi, and he asks his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The "Son of Man" is himself, clearly. Also, when he says "people," he means everybody, not just the learned, the pharisees. He's asking, "Who do the common people say that I am?" And the disciples answer, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." The first view is demonstrated by Herod in 14:2, who thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. The next reflects a belief that Christ is not the Messiah himself, but the forerunner for the Messiah (a role actually fulfilled by John the Baptist himself). As for Jeremiah... not really sure about him. But in any case, one thing is for sure--the people do not know who Jesus is. Their answers are confused and incorrect.

Then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" The emphasis here is clearly on the "you"--those other answers were wrong, but what do you think? And now it is not the disciples in general who answer, but Peter specifically--once again, Peter has singled himself out. His reply is quick and to the point--"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." No hedging, no "I think..." or "Maybe..." Peter knows. Only a short time ago he saw this man walk on water, felt him grasp his hand and pull him out the waves when he was drowning. Peter's seen him feed first 5,000, then 4,000 people with a few scraps of food. Peter has been with Christ, experienced what he can do first-hand.

And you have to love Jesus' reply. "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Let's break this down. Jesus is not blessing Peter. He is observing that Peter has, in fact, been blessed. And how does Jesus know that Peter has been blessed? Because he knows who Jesus is. He's saying, "Simon, God has blessed you, because he has revealed who I am to you." And Jesus is rejoicing that His Father has revealed this to Peter--it's even possible that Jesus prayed for this very revelation to occur.

So, originally this note was about twice as long, but that was too long for a single blog post, so I'm breaking it up. The next post will cover the next aspect of Jesus' response to Peter.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

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