THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PETER’S CONFESSIONS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK (Context, Commentary, and Application)

Mcr-Fishes

This post is part of my series on Peter’s confession in the gospel of Mark. I have already presented the historical background, an outline of the passage, and the main idea of the text in part I (so if you haven’t read it, go ahead and get acquainted with my thesis before moving on).  Now I will move on to the literary context, a brief commentary on the passage, and some applications. Sem mais delongas, let’s move on.

Literary Context

The passage starts when Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida.[1] Before that, Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), in the regions of Tyre and Sidon, which are the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. After performing such deed, Jesus “returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Decapolis” (7:31-37). In that location, Jesus heals a deaf man. Among that region, Jesus fed four thousand people, before going to the district of Dalmanutha with his disciples.[2] On the southwestern side of the coast of the Sea of Galilee, in Magdala, Jesus used his last miraculous event as a hook for his next teaching (8:14-21). Interestingly, before healing the blind man at Bethsaida, the disciples had already forgotten what Jesus had done in the multiplication of bread (8:17-21).

Bethsaida was a fishing town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip, Peter, and Andrew used to live in that location.[3] Caesarea Philippi, on the other hand, is located at the foot of Mount Hermon, a possible site of Jesus’ transfiguration, found in chapter 9. The reader may conclude that Jesus was containing his ministry in Gentile territory, provided that he keeps in mind the geographical locations from previous events. Interestingly, Caesarea Philippi was the capital of Herod’s tetrarchy; the place where “Herod the Great built a grand marble temple to honor the emperor,” observes Arnold.[4] Lane adds, “The area was thus dominated by strong Roman associations, and it may be theologically significant that Jesus’s dignity was first recognized in a region devoted to the affirmation that Caesar is Lord.”[5]

James A. Brooks, the commentator of The New American Commentary, provides plausible information, regarding the setting of the events from chapter 8, when he relates the two-stage healing to Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.[6] Obviously, the writer did not wrote these events randomly. The reader can also note that the disciples misunderstood what Jesus was trying to convey in 8:14-21, yet clearly understood the Christological aspect of Jesus’ life a few verses later. Right after Peter’s Christological confession, Jesus predicts—for the first time in the book of Mark—his redemptive plan, which is possibly an indication of the Messianic aspects within the personhood of Christ.

Since the first verse of the gospel of Mark refers to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, one can conclude that all accounts of Jesus in this book are reflecting to what the Son of God is like. His identity is expressed by his actions. DeSilva, on the other hand, believes that “The dark, strenuous and demanding presentation of messiahship and discipleship gives the Gospel a tragic dimension, in the most stately sense of the word—a tragedy that becomes good news.”[7] Of course, the good news are not contained in the fact that people failed to recognize the true aspects of Jesus’ messiahship, but in the “redemptive purposes of God for a new people through Jesus’ death and in God’s final word of vindication, both on behalf of Jesus in his resurrection and on behalf of Jesus’ disciples at the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.”[8]

Boring explains that in this section, “The disciples, supposedly initiated into the secret of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God.”[9] It seems that even though the disciples had discovered Jesus’ Messianic nature, they were supposed to keep it secretly. Just as the healed man was told not to go into the village, but to keep that information in secrecy.

Is also important to say that the healing of the blind man occurs only in the gospel of Mark. The healing of the deaf man in 7:31-37, is also exclusive for this work. The way Mark organized this passage should not be discarded. The healing of the blind man, and the healing of the deaf man, are both done in very unusual forms are are certainly connected somehow.

Literary echoes are very present in this narrative and can be easily identified. In 8:19-20 Jesus recalls when he fed five thousand and four thousand (6:30-44; 8:1-10); Peter’s confession sheds light in chapter 6:14-17, regarding Jesus’ identity; Jesus’ upcoming passion is predicted three times throughout Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-33); and the phrase “don’t you understand?” is also repeated in a very close context (8:17 and 21).

 

Interpretative Analysis: Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida and Tells Him Not to Enter the Village (8:22-26)

The healing of the blind man starts a change in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was focusing his teaching on the crowds, but now Jesus’ is focusing his ideas and philosophies with the disciples. The shift is not only on the recipients, but Jesus’ teachings become focused in his identity and redemptive plan. Brooks perfectly puts: “In the first division only the demons recognized the true identity of Jesus; in the second the disciples started to understand, although their comprehension was still inadequate.” [10]

When Jesus came to Bethsaida, some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him (8:22). Jesus takes the man out of the village, probably to avoid the crowds, as he had done before.[11] Mark records this healing with exotic details. Jesus spit on the blind man’s eyes to heal him. Interestingly, when Jesus healed the deaf man in the region of Tyre, he also used different methods.[12] It is important to note that these physical acts are not the cause of the miracle, for Jesus had healed before without physical acts.[13] Why Jesus used spit is debatable. Dr. H. van der Loos, in his book “The Miracles of Jesus”, argues that spittle was regarded as a remedial force in Jewish and Hellenistic cultures.[14] If Jesus was trying to establish a relation with the blind man or if he was using mythological elements to ascertain his authority among Jews, the readers will never know for sure. As Micklem comments, “Jesus was not a miraculous therapeutic machine: He dealt with individuals individually and personally, and not in a mechanical way.”[15] This healing occurs in a two-part way. Firstly, the man comes back to see partially, like trees. Secondly, He sees perfectly again.[16] As said before, this process is not due to the lack of power in Jesus, but Jesus is illustrating the condition of the disciples, who had already been touched by Jesus but were still living with a fuzzy vision (v. 21).

Jesus’ story is not merely historical, but also theological. When Jesus healed the blind man by his own authority, he was corroborating his deity, since is “the Lord [who] opens the eyes of the blind” (Ps. 146:8). In one miraculous act, Jesus exemplified the disciples’ condition, used Jewish elements to restore his authority, and advocated for his deity. Only inspired Scripture could capture so much inside so little.

 

On The Way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus Inquires His Disciples Regarding His Identity and Peter Confesses Jesus as The Christ (8:27-30)

Right in the center of his work, Mark narrates Peters recognition of the Christness of Jesus. Lane comments, “The pivotal importance of this moment is indicated by the fact that already in the first line of the Gospel the evangelist designates Jesus as the Messiah.”[17]

Jesus asks his disciples regarding his identity. Answers are given according to what other people have been saying about who Jesus was. Jesus did not accept such answer, for Jesus he is interested in individuals. “You are the Christ,” Peter answers. Now everything is changing. In the healing of the blind man, Jesus’ identity was demonstrated; in Peter’s answer Jesus’ identity is recognized. Back in the Sea of Galilee, the disciples asked who was Jesus, but no answer was given (4:41). Instead of providing a spoken answer, Jesus worked out his identity through his life to the point that his disciples were now able to answer their own question. In 8:17-21 Jesus was inciting that answer, but only after his illustration through the healing of the blind man they were able to penetrate the veil that was covering them in ignorance. Before this, Jesus was concerned with the masses, but through this confession he switches the focus to his disciples.

 

Jesus Foretells His Suffering and Redemptive Plan to His Disciples (8:31-38)

Since the disciples were now convinced of the Messianic character of Jesus’ identity, Jesus predicts, for the first time, his redemptive plan. Is like if the disciple’s minds were now open and able to receive this whole new level of information. The removal of the characteristic veil, enables the disciples to grasp the totality of the redeeming plan of the Son of God. A multitude of spiritual truth can now be digested by their minds, and Jesus finally can demand from them serious responsibilities.

Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus starts to foretell his suffering and death. It must have been shocking for his disciples, who had just recognized who Jesus really was, to hear that the elders and the chief priests and the scribes were going to reject him. And not only that, but that after that he would be killed. Jesus, however, made it explicitly clear that after three days he would rise again from the dead. Peter, however, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Evidently, Peter had not completely understood Jesus’ plan. Is as if he did not listen to the last part when Jesus tells them that resurrection is certain. As Paul warned the Corinthians, for many, “the word of the cross is folly” (1 Co. 1:18). Probably, Peter remembered of the law’s requirements concerning crucified bodies.[18] To admit that Christ would die on a cross would mean that Christ would be cursed by God, what made no sense to their minds in that moment. The idea of torment and the King Messiah were not compatible in the minds of Jews. That is so, that the Targum to Isaiah 53 applies the blessings to the King Messiah but not the sufferings; the suffering was applied to people alone.[19]

Jesus’ strongly censured Peter’s words (8:33). Not because he was possessed or had incorporated a demon, but because his response to Christ’s atonement is correspondent to Satan’s. If Peter had been successful in his attempt to stop Jesus, Satan’s goal would have been accomplished. Not God’s. Peter’s action was, probably, fully emotional, yet Jesus distinguishes Peter’s temporal desire to be with him, to the eternal plan that God had for him.

Christ calls everyone that is around him to hear a great revelation: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 34). Jesus’ words might not have been understood at the moment, but when Simon of Cyrene took Jesus’ cross and came after him, the idea could have gained life in the disciple’s minds (15:21). The conditions to follow Jesus are stated, and the cost is high. Jesus speaks paradoxically into the minds of his followers; to loose life is to gain life, and to gain life is to loose life. Jesus explains these apparent contradiction extricating body from soul. To win your life is to gain the whole world; to lose your life is to save your soul. To win your life will result in loss (forfeit his soul), but to lose your life for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s is to save your own soul.

Jesus also demands his followers to be unashamed regarding his death. But see that Jesus is asking them to be shameless regarding a man who would be cursed by God himself. His speech is enticing a sense of revolution in his disciples. The old law is not important anymore. Jesus, God himself, has came down from heaven and is describing God’s character straight from God’s mouth. No prophet brought this message, but God himself.

Lane defends that “verse 38 is parallel in structure to verse 35 and complementary in intention.”[20] Jesus really makes it an unequivocal statement; those who are ashamed of him in a perverted world, because of debauched people, will not taste the shameless glory of the Heavens, given by a supremely Holy God. Considering this demand, Paul boldly states: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom. 1:16).

 

Application

The first part of the passage indicates that even people who know Jesus can have difficulty to see things clear. Those who claim to be his followers ought to ask Jesus and beg him to touch their eyes to see the glory of God. A fuzzy vision did not delight Jesus, and Christians should keep in mind that spiritual fuzziness is not gratifying to God. A desire to clean the fog in our understating should flourish from our hearts as this passage is read.

Jesus demonstrated a specific interest in Peter’s words. A multitude of people had opinions and ideas concerning who Jesus was, but Jesus was captivated by what his real followers had to say. The recognition of the Messiah is an individual task, and every Christ-follower must inquire himself regarding who Christ is for him. Peter’s confession resulted in a different type of relationship with Jesus. Who we say Jesus is, exerts great influence in our relationship with him. The more accurate the confession, more of God will be given to us.

To assume that Jesus is the Christ is a confession that has responsibilities. To recognize Jesus as Christ in the midst of this adulterous and sinful generation is to be willing to give up on your own life. In the same way, to be ashamed of Christ’s straightforwardness in his message is to declare bankruptcy to your soul. Those who are eager to confess with their mouths that Jesus is the Christ, as Peter did, should not be less enthusiastic about professing this affirmation through the deliverance of earthly affairs. The physical ambition is the cross; the metaphysical objective is Heaven. Let us confess, like Paul, that we are not ashamed of the gospel, and let us substantiate this immaterial affirmation through sufferings and afflictions for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s.


[1] Specifically, Bethsaida Julius. Located many miles north of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Jordan River.

[2] Some manuscripts use the words Magadan, or Magdala.

[3] Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, ©1998), 220-221.

[4] Clinton A. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 254.

[5] Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 289.

[6] James A. Brooks, The New American Commentary, vol. 23, Mark (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), 132-133.

[7] DeSilva, Introduction to The New Testament, 201.

[8] Ibid., 201.

[9] Eugene Boring, Introduction to The New Testament, 518.

[10] Brooks, The New American Commentary, 131.

[11] C.f. Mark 5:40 and 7:33. In view of 1:23-28; 3:1-5; 9:14-17, it gets difficult to identify Jesus’ modus operands regarding isolation or public manifestations.

[12] C.f. Mark 7:33.

[13] C.f Luke 4:38-40 and 14:4 for a brief example.

[14] H. van der Loon, The Miracles of Jesus, (Netherlands: Leiden, EJB, Tuta Sub Aegide Pallas, 1965), 307-310.

[15] E. R. Micklem, Miracles & The New Psychology: A Study in the Healing Miracles of the New Testament (London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press), 102.

[16] The use of words “back” and “again” are intentional. Since he recognized a “tree” shape from distance, this can be an indicator that he was not blind at some point in his life.

[17] Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 288.

[18] C.f. Deuteronomy 21:23.

[19] J. F. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah (London: Oxford University Press, Amen House), 178-181.

[20] Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 310.

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