Caesarea Philippi was the northern most city in Israel that Jesus visited. There were many ancient temples to various idols, including a temple built by Herod the Great to Emperor Augustus, who was worshipped as a god. It was a remote region, far from the attention and suspicions of the political and religious rulers in Jerusalem, a good place from which to begin a revolt against Rome and institutional Judaism. From this northern city, Jesus would begin his final journey to Jerusalem and the cross. From this point to the end of his Gospel, Mark will focus on Jesus’ passion.
Prepare to listen. Silent preparation before praying: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 8:27-33
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Who do you say that I am? Good question! How would disciples know? Jesus hadn’t told them, in plain speaking words, and neither has Mark in his story thus far. In fact, since the very first verse where he names Jesus as Messiah, Mark hasn’t even used that term again, even though he’s spent this first part of his Gospel focused on proving Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He brings this section to a climax in Peter’s bold, and correct response to Jesus’ question: ‘You are the Messiah.’ For Jews, the term Messiah was politically loaded since they hoped Messiah would be a political figure to overthrow the occupying Roman forces and liberate the Jews. They anticipated a messiah who’d secretly gather an army and then swoop down on the Romans. Perhaps this is what Peter hoped for as he boldly answered Jesus.
Instead of showing excitement at Peter’s answer, Jesus ‘sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.’ As we’ve read through Mark, we’ve become aware of Jesus’ desire for silence about what he was up to and this has puzzled some of us. Here it seems very strange and Jesus sounds very serious. He uses the same Greek verbs that are used by Jesus for silencing demons and stilling the storm on Galilee. It’s as if Jesus warned: Don’t you dare tell a soul about me! Perhaps the reason for this stern order was because of the disciples’ failure to understand Jesus’ purpose for coming. Here, for the first time, Jesus told them plainly. The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, die and rise after three days. He finally spoke openly and plainly. They didn’t get it.
We know they this because Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him only to be rebuked by Jesus in the harshest words he ever used: Get behind me, Satan! In Peter’s mind, Messiah wasn’t supposed to die at the hand of the enemy. He was supposed to overthrow the enemy. Peter got it all wrong. He needed to heed Jesus’ stern warning not to tell others about him because he’d be telling people the wrong stuff.
Imagine being in Peter’s shoes when Jesus rebuked him with such hard words. What might you be feeling?
Jesus needed his disciples to understand who he was and what he must do. He was willing to risk losing them with his harsh words. How does this make you feel and think about Jesus?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
My faith is often challenged as I learn about you, Jesus. Like Peter, I want to protest. Give me a discerning mind and willing heart to receive you as you revealed yourself and not as I want you to be. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus commands, even our speaking about him.