On the Way

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus explains to his disciples just what it means to be the Messiah of Israel - Mark 8:27-38. 

Jesus queried his disciples: Who do men say that I am? At least nine times, Mark declares that Jesus is “on the way.” His march to Jerusalem echoes the words in Isaiah applied at the outset of Mark’s account to John the Baptist- “I send my messenger before your face who shall prepare your way.”

As he draws near to the city, Jesus is identified by one of the disciples as the “Christ,” the Messiah of Israel, though he immediately commands his followers not to divulge this information to anyone else.

The incident occurred in Caesarea Philippi, a town built to honor Caesar Augustus, and possibly, Jesus avoided the label “Messiah” since it was a politically charged term that carried implications of rebellion against Roman rule, at least in its popular usage.

And though his immediate disciples understood that he was the Messiah, they did not yet understand what it meant to be the Messiah of Israel. - (Mark 8:27-38).

When he asked what others were saying about him, they first gave a threefold answer, one that matched the speculation of the crowds. He was John the Baptist, Elijah, or “one of the prophets” - (Mark 6:14-16).

This is the first time since the opening passage of Mark that he is called “Christ” or Messiah, and at a major turning point in the narrative. From here on, the stress is on Jesus as the Suffering Servant on the “way” to his inevitable doom at the hands of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation and Rome.

SUFFERING SON OF MAN

By predicting his suffering and death, Jesus explains who the Messiah is and what he does, or perhaps better, what is done to him. And three times in Mark, he tells his disciples of his imminent arrest and execution - (Mark 8:31-38, 9:31, 10:33-34).

The idea of a suffering Messiah was contrary to popular expectations. At the time, there were different ideas about this figure, but no devout Jew expected the Messiah to be killed by the nation’s greatest enemy, Rome.

But even though the empire was complicit in his carrying out his judicial murder, it was the machinations of the “elders and the chief priests and the scribes” that caused his unjust death.

When Jesus raised the subject of suffering, Peter began “to reprove” him, a term emphasizing how seriously he objected to this prediction. He spoke “plainly” about his impending death. This was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so sharply demonstrates that he understood what Jesus said.

But Jesus recognized that Peter’s rebuke originated with Satan who was determined to thwart him from following God’s ordained path. Therefore, Jesus responded immediately with a sharp reprimand.

Previously, he announced that his mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds, but that could only be accomplished in a most unexpected way - by his death on a Roman cross - (Mark 1:24, 3:27).

TO FOLLOW JESUS

An incorrect understanding of who the Messiah produces a skewed picture of what it means to be his disciple. Just as God called His Son to self-denial and suffering, so the Messiah summons every disciple to tread the same path.

And in Mark’s account, his call for each disciple to deny self and take up the cross is made to the entire crowd, not just to the disciples. It is applicable to each and every follower of jesus of nazareth.

In the first century, the cross was a repugnant image of suffering and shame. Crucifixion symbolized the irresistible power of Rome. Thus, to follow Jesus means to embrace the things the world despises, and to renounce what it values.

Execution by crucifixion was a form of capital punishment reserved for the lower classes, especially slaves, rebels, and political revolutionaries. Romans were so horrified by it that, by law, Roman citizens were exempt from it. Instead, Romans guilty of capital crimes were beheaded.

The image of a disciple taking up a cross would strike a grim chord with Jesus’ audience. The customary Roman practice was to force the condemned man to carry the same cross on which he was about to be hung to the place of execution.

His reference to “this adulterous and sinful generation” echoes the past rebukes of Israel by the prophets. The words, “whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” refer to his future return.

The two images Jesus uses to portray his messianic role are the Suffering Servant found in the book of Isaiah, and the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel - (Isaiah 57:3-13, Ezekiel 16:32-41, Hosea 2:2-6, Daniel 7:13-14).

The image of the Suffering Servant emphasizes his rejection, suffering, and death. Not exclusively so, but most often in the gospels, the term Son of Man is applied to his future “arrival” in glory.

Some of the disciples present that day would see his kingdom “come in power.” All three synoptic gospels place this saying just before his Transfiguration. The gospel writers clearly want us to understand that this prediction began its fulfillment in that event.

But this saying may also have in view his resurrection since that is what inaugurated the kingdom and assured his disciples of ultimate victory by means of the gift of the Spirit.

Nevertheless, his unjust death on the Roman cross must precede his resurrection and exaltation to David’s throne.



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