By Tyson Thorne

September 15, 2016

The Galilean Ministry at Various Cities (4.14-9.50), 9.18-27

Last time I mentioned that following the Feeding of the 5,000 the disciples became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. This is evident from the very next story Luke relates to us. While the events we discuss today do not take place on the same day as the miraculous feeding, its placement is not accidental. Yet we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we should start at the beginning. On this occasion Jesus was praying by himself, something Luke often makes mention of, and afterward he called the disciples together to ask them an important question.

“Who do people say that I am?” This is the second time this question has come up in this chapter and therefore bears some importance. Previously, Herod Agrippa had asked who Jesus was and at that time three theories were presented by Herod’s staff (verses seven through nine): Jesus was either a resurrected John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah returning to his people, or someone who came in the style and authority of an ancient prophet.

Translation Note: Most translations present the third option as “one of the prophets of long ago has risen” but this is not the only possible translation. Given that John and Elijah are named as having come back (one from death and the other from heaven having never died), it would seem redundant to say another prophet had returned. An alternate translation, and the one I prefer, is that Jesus is a prophet coming in the style and authority of the ancient prophets. Either way, no theology is impacted by the difficulty in translation.

These three possibilities are presented again here by the disciples, so they must have been well known theories. Hearing this, Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter is the first to speak (as is often the case), and declares “The Messiah of God”. Luke uses the word “Christ”, the Greek word for Messiah, rather than Hebrew since he is writing to a Gentile audience, but both words have the same meaning: “The anointed one of God”.

Jesus told them to keep the truth of his identity secret for there was still much for him to do, including experiencing suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. And after all, the people were expecting a warrior-king, not a suffering servant. Jesus wasn’t the only one who would suffer and die, however. While he didn’t say so explicitly, the disciples could expect the same fate. This truth is what prompts his continuing narrative.

Following Jesus will result in the world’s rejection, and that rejection is akin to crucifixion. By valuing the Messiah over the world’s rejection, one may lose all the world offers but gain eternal life. Likewise, those who forsake the Messiah in favor of the world’s approval will gain eternal separation from God. Jesus iterates, those who are ashamed of being associated with him lose eternal life, while those who proudly proclaim him will find his acceptance and eternal life with him. This all sounds so poetic that it can be difficult to fully understand the teaching, but Paul (who wasn’t even present on this occasion) understood it quite well and phrased it this way:

Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. – Romans 6.3-8

In this life, suffering is a part of the Christian experience, and in such times we can look forward to the marvelous grace and glory that follows. Our fate may or may not be like Jesus’ and the disciples, but we should not shy away from dying for Jesus should the occasion arise.

Jesus ended this teachable moment with startling words, words that have caused many to stumble. He announced that some who were present would not see death before they saw the Kingdom of God. Over the ages many explanations for this passage have been made, but only two bear repeating. The first fits best with the context and is accepted by most modern pastors and other scholars, which is that Jesus was referring to the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is the very next episode Luke relates, so there is some connection. Furthermore, the experience is a taste of what the completed kingdom will be like. We’ll examine this account in greater detail next time. The second is that literally some of the disciples did see the kingdom of God in its present state in heaven. John certainly did when he was taken to heaven in the vision he had that become the book of Revelation. Another apostle (probably) also was taken to heaven and viewed the kingdom of God there. Who this person was is unknown, but Paul makes reference to such a one in 2 Corinthians 12.2-5:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this man (whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into paradise and heard things too sacred to be put into words, things that a person is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such an individual I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.

Either are possible, each is evidence that Jesus’ words were proven true.

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