Jesus, while in a private place, asks his disciples if they know who he really is, not just who the crowds think he is, but who they think he is. Peter replies on behalf of the disciples that he believes that Jesus is the messiah. Jesus then speaks to his disciples about the nature of cross-bearing discipleship.
v18-19. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke doesn't locate this episode at Caesarea Philippi. Obviously he wants to link the story to the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus' question of the disciples seeks to draw out their understanding of his person. The crowds have their opinions, but what do the disciples believe?
v20-22. Peter, speaking on behalf of the disciples, states that Jesus is the messiah; the Son of Man is the long-promised savior of God's people. Jesus then goes on to tell his disciples that he must suffer, die, "and on the third day be raised." Jesus, representing God's people, must travel the way of judgement, suffering and death - he is the suffering servant of Israel, cf. Isaiah 53. The way of the cross is similar to the way of the wilderness. In the wilderness the people of Israel rebelled against God and so died in the desert. The suffering servant must also make his wilderness journey, but unlike Israel of old, he will not fail the test. And so it is that God's people, in hand with Christ, can enter the promised land.
v23-26. Jesus calls on his disciples to follow him into the wilderness. The disciples are, as it were, to leave Egypt, its security and plenty, and join with Jesus on the dusty road to the promised land. Jesus calls on us to take up the cross, in the sense of give allegiance to him and his journey of shame. This image of cross-bearing powerfully illustrates allegiance to Christ. It certainly encourages dedicated discipleship, but above all it is a call to identification with Christ, a call to allegiance. Only Christ's self-denial has any eternal value, ours is flawed, compromised, "filthy rags." Are we willing to accept the shame of following a crucified messiah? The promise land is ours, or better we say, eternal life is ours through faith in Christ, the rejected and suffering one.
v27. Jesus now tells his disciples that there are "some who are standing" with him at this very moment who "will not taste of death before they see the kingdom of God." In what sense will "some" of those with Jesus at that moment see the kingdom? Jesus is obviously not referring to the second coming, but he may be referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, of God's "coming" in judgment upon a rebellious people (Note Matt.16:28, "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" = coming in judgment). Yet, it is more likely that Jesus is saying that those who are not ashamed of him, who willingly give their allegiance to him, who rely on the rejected and crucified suffering servant for their salvation, have entered (they "see", are in) the kingdom and even now experience something of its glory (manifestations: signs and wonders, etc.). On the other hand, those who reject Christ, who are ashamed of him, remain outside the kingdom (do not "see") and are ultimately consumed by it.
In my twenties my father gave me a block of land cut from his farm. The land was designed for a person with one leg shorter than the other. Precipitous is how I would describe it.
Over the years I cleared the block and dreamt of putting a little cottage on it. Of course, it's one thing dreaming about it, it's another doing something about it. Still, I did inevitably commit myself to the project. I bought a kit home, saved up some holidays, took some leave without pay, and headed up to my block with a trailer load of bits and pieces to build the house. The youth fellowship in my church actually helped me drag the kit up the side of the hill to the building site. Without their help I would have been lost. So, for ten weeks I built my home. Day after day, as I dragged myself out of the tent I was camping in, I constantly asked myself, "what ever possessed me to start this project?" I did actually get it to lock-up. It took ten years to complete, and then, of course, I sold it, as you do!
The disciples knew Jesus was the Messiah, but it was not enough to know who he was, they had to commit themselves to him, give their allegiance to him. He was about to undertake a wilderness journey that would destroy him, but would inevitably lead to glory and the promised land. They had to decide whether they would accept the shame of identifying with a crucified messiah.
Over 50% of people in Western societies say Jesus Christ is real, but it is not enough to know that he exists. To reign in glory we must give our allegiance to Jesus, accept the shame of committing ourselves to the rejected and crucified "man of sorrows".
1. Consider the issue of commitment to Christ and what this entails.
2. Earle Ellis in his commentary on Luke says of Jesus' hard sayings that "Jesus requires no more than he himself has given. He is the penniless and ever-working one who has sacrificed family and home for the sake of the kingdom. Whoever joins the fellowship of Jesus must also join the mission of Jesus." This impossible image of discipleship is common in Christian circles. Compare the approach of Ellis with the approach taken in these notes in light of the faith / works issue.