"Who Do People Say I Am?"
February 17, 2011
Peter’s confession of the divinity of Jesus comes at a turning point in Jesus’s ministry.
Many things fall into place: Jesus progressively reveals that whereas he is indeed the messiah, he’s not going to be the kind of messiah his disciples expect. And that Peter, whose profession of faith wins his praise, will become the leader of the small group of disciples.
The scene of this conversation is the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks his followers: Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am? Notice that Jesus uses the form “son of man” when referring to himself. This was a colloquial way of referring to himself as an “ordinary fellow” . "Son of" was a Hebrew way of saying "just like" or "the same as". Jesus spurned all flashy titles when referring to the Messiah.
The disciples trot out the usual answers: Some say you’re John the Baptist come back from the dead; some say you’re Elijah, also returned from the dead to usher in the end of time; some say you’re a prophet, like Jeremiah. It seemed fairly clear that the common folk thought that Jesus was some kind of prophet, a spokesman on behalf of God.
On behalf of them all, Peter then declares: you are the Christ, the son of the living God. In effect this means: You are not just the Messiah, but are of God’s very nature too!. Jesus affirms Peter’s confession and declares that such an insight could only come from divine inspiration.
Jesus goes further. In the Bible, whenever someone receives a revelation from God, he or she also receives a mission. And usually with the mission, comes a change of name. What is the new name received by Peter? What is his ‘new mission’?
The actual name of the disciple was Simon bar Jonah - Simon, son of John. His new name is derived from the responsibility he will now carry: to be the foundation of the new community. He will be a rock, in Greek, rock is petra; and so Petros, or Peter. Jesus is calling upon Simon Peter to strengthen his community of disciples, as a rock is a symbol of strength, and also assuring him that the ‘gates of death’ will not overwhelm him. In other words, his authority to ‘bind and loose’, will not come to an end because of death. It is everlasting.