The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.
Read Mark 8:27-30.
As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”
In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.
Why does he do this?
Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.
Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.
It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.
Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.