“And 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?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” (Mark 8:27–29, ESV)
Bob Utley in his Study Guide on Mark points out that this section of Mark is a crucial turning point. He writes:
This event is a watershed event in the Gospel of Mark. The miracle stories that affirm the power, authority, and deity of Jesus cease. From this point on the emphasis is the crucifixion. Mark’s Gospel changes from a focus on who He is to His great redemptive act (i.e. what He did).
Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying that he is. They answer:
- Some say John that Baptist – This was because they knew John the Baptist and had witnessed his ministry. He spoke with boldness; Jesus spoke with boldness. John offended the elites; Jesus offended the elites.
- Some say Elijah – Elijah [along with Elisha] was the last great miracle worker. There had been no miracles in Israel since that day that were comparable to what Elijah had done. Jesus had ushered in a new era of miracles and works of power, and wasn’t Elijah supposed to return before the Messiah showed up?
- Some say one of the prophets – The prophets proclaimed God’s message to the people, surely this was what Jesus was doing.
Then Jesus asked his disciples “who do you! [“You” is emphasized in the Greek] say that I am?” This is what Jesus has been after all along. It’s not that he didn’t know what people were saying about him, but that he wanted to draw the truth out of the disciples as to who they believed that he was.
Peter, ever the impetuous one and obviously one of the leaders, immediately weighs in: “You are the Christ.” [Some translations have Messiah. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word: Messiah] Ironically enough, Peter gets the answer absolutely correct and also fundamentally wrong at the same time [a feat which perhaps only Peter could accomplish].
Notice first that no other disciple disagrees with Peter, as if to say, “He is not the Messiah, Peter! He is a great prophet.” By their silence, they are all agreeing with Peter and no wonder. They had seen demons compelled by his authority to obey him; they had seen him heal a blind man, and a deaf man; they had seen the wind and waves obey him as if they were little children reacting to the orders of a parent. Who else could do all this except the Messiah.
When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, he had a specific idea in mind. The Jews believed that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom in Palestine. In order to do this, he would first have to send the Romans packing and then he would establish a kingdom which would be filled with peace and in which the Jews could flourish while they worshiped God without fear of intervention by invading nations. The IVP Bible Background Commentary comments here:
There were many different views of the Messiah (or messiahs) in Jesus’ time, but they all revolved around an earthly deliverance and earthly kingdom. Peter is right to call Jesus “ Messiah,” but what Peter means by the term and what Jesus means by it are entirely different at this point (see Mk 8:31-32).
Peter was looking for an earthly Messiah, he will discover in short order that this is not what Jesus meant at all.