Mark 8:27-38

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The setting of this story is very important. The villages of Caesarea Philippi were on the very northern boundary of Israel in Jesus' day, in the area that is now part of the Golan Heights. It was a disputed area then; it is even more disputed now. It was at the border between Jews and Gentiles, between Jewish territory and Gentile territory on the other side.

It is there that Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" The tone of Jesus' question here is very open-ended. It is a setup for what is to follow. The disciples' reply is the answer of students who were trying to give the right answer. They are reporting to him what the people say about him. He then asks them a direct question,"Who do you say that I am?" and Peter responds with a confession, "You are the Messiah."

This is the second time in Mark's Gospel in which Jesus has been named as the Messiah.The first is at the very beginning where Mark, the storyteller, says, "This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Christ," that is Jesus, the Messiah. Peter is now openly and directly identifying what has been implicit throughout the whole story up until this point.Jesus is, indeed, the one who Mark identifies at the beginning as the Messiah.

Jesus' response is to order them sternly to tell no one about him. The sternness of Jesus' response there is very important in the telling of this story. It is ambiguous how the passion prophecy here should be told. It may be that it is simply factual. But it may be also that the storyteller's shock and dismay at this prophecy is communicated in the tone of what he says: "He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected and be killed, and after three days to rise again." To some degree I think it is important to recognize what a shock this is in the story. There is nothing that prepares the listeners for this. In one way or another the storyteller has to express some degree of surprise at this shocking prophecy.

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