Who Do You Say I Am?

22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ 24And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

27 Jesus 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.

31 Then 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.’

Mark 8:22-33

Peter proclaims Jesus. Detail from stained glass in the church of St Mary and St Lambert in Stonham Aspal in Suffolk, taken by Kevin Wailes.

Peter proclaims Jesus. Detail from stained glass in the church of St Mary and St Lambert in Stonham Aspal in Suffolk, taken by Kevin Wailes.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four gospels, and this is one of the main reasons that it is often the first book that many people read after becoming a Christian. The excerpt above is one of the most crucial in the book, and acts as a turning point for the followers of Jesus, since it is the first time that they are challenged as to the identity of Jesus. But this applies just as much to us today as it did to the apostles. Who do we say Jesus is?

Before Jesus challenged the apostles in this way, he had done some pretty remarkable things which must have got them wondering who he was – in addition to telling some pretty clever parables, he’d also healed several people, including a blind man, he’d raised a girl from the dead, he’d fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and had even walked on water to name just a few of his staggering feats. This must have got the disciples wondering who this guy was, because his was certainly not normal behaviour!

The answer the disciples gave to Jesus first question, “who do people say I am?” was pretty much the expected response, and showed that despite the miracles that Jesus had been conducting, the views of most people towards him had not changed – they still viewed him as a prophet, and not the Messiah, or the Christ. But Peter, in his answer, has almost understood who Jesus is – he believes that Jesus is the Christ. This must have been quite a moment for Peter, voicing his theory that Jesus, the man whom he had spent a great deal of time with recently, was the one promised by God throughout the Old Testament, the one who would save Israel.

It is here that the healing of the blind man at the beginning of this extract slots in. The question as to why Jesus had to heal him twice is often asked, but the most usual answer is that it is representative of Peter’s understanding of who Jesus is. Despite having proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, Peter still does not fully understand what this means – he is still in the half-blind stage. This becomes clear in the final part of the above extract when Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he would be killed; Jesus, in answer, rebukes Peter back with an important phrase, “you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

What does Jesus mean here? I believe he is addressing Peter’s misunderstanding of who the Messiah would be – a misunderstanding shared by most of the Jews at the time (and arguably since, too). The commonly held view was that the Messiah would be a strong and confident leader, who would liberate God’s chosen people (the Jews) from the Roman regime they found themselves under, who would not die. This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to when he stated that Peter had “the things of men” in his mind. Jesus, as the Messiah, was not there to liberate Israel – he had a different plan – “the things of God.” In this plan, Jesus, as the Messiah, would die on a cross, saving mankind from their sins. If Peter had been right in his ideas concerning the Messiah, it is highly unlikely that we would still be discussing Jesus today – after all, a guy who liberated Israel from the Romans 2,000 years ago would hardly be newsworthy now. But, as has been proved, Jesus’ real mission has certainly stood the test of time.

In the same way that Jesus challenged Peter and his other apostles in this passage, he challenges us today to make up our mind who he is. Was he just a good teacher, a kind man or a confused carpenter? Billions of people in the 2,000 years since Jesus’ birth have decided that Jesus is more than that – that he is the Son of God, the Messiah. I think that everyone needs to ask who Jesus was – if his claims are true, and I believe they are, the promise he makes us is too great to ignore. It really is a matter of life and death.

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