A Tale of Two Messiahs

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, Who do people say that I am? And they told him, John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets. And he asked them, But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, You are the Christ. And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:27-34)

I have read this passage many times. When I was younger I used to focus on what it said about Jesus. Now that I am older I have often focused on what it said about Peter. As I heard it read recently I began to focus on what it says about me. This passage has much to teach us about Jesus and Peter, but we must not miss out on what it has to teach us about ourselves.

This text invites us to consider the question, “What kind of messiah are we looking for?” Jesus was one kind of messiah and Peter was expecting another kind of messiah and these two ideologies meet head to head in this passage. Jesus is so put off by the kind of messiah Peter is longing for that he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This is some of the strongest language Jesus uses in the four gospels. He calls Peter Satan and suggests that his idea of what a messiah should be does not come from God.

What kind of messiah was Peter looking for? He was looking for a messiah that would not suffer and die, but would lead his people to victory. He was looking for a messiah that would pick up the sword and march on Rome. He was looking for a great military and political leader, someone who would parade through the streets and make his presence known. Jesus was not this kind of leader. Jesus was a teacher who did not care about riches or fame. He connected best with those on the margins of society. He did not seek power over people, but instead humbled himself and served others. Jesus lived a sacrificial life. He looked to the needs of others and he willingly laid down his life for everyone.

The type of messiah Peter expected and the type of messiah Jesus came to be could not be more different. Peter expected the messiah to conquer and take lives, but Jesus came to humble himself and give his life. It is important that we understand this because he asks us to follow in his footsteps. Immediately after Jesus rebukes Peter he says to everyone present, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus expects us to imitate his version of messiah and not Peter’s.

The question comes around to us again, “What kind of messiah are we looking for? What kind of messiah are we trying to imitate?” Are we looking to conquer everything and everyone in our sight? Are we looking to overcome people by strength and power? If we don’t get our way are we going to fight and rebel until we make it happen? If so, then we are following the messiah Peter envisioned, a messiah Jesus associates with Satan. Instead, Jesus calls all of us to pick up our cross and follow him. He calls us to lay down our life, so that we might save it. He calls us to deny ourselves and to look to the needs of others.

This text has more to do with ourselves than we might have realized. When we come to this passage we are forced to choose between two messiahs. One is a worldly messiah that seeks fame and fortune and rules by power. The other is a humble messiah that thinks of others first and rules by serving. Which messiah do we want? Which one will we follow? We must choose and people will clearly see what we choose by the way we live our life.

At times in my life I have been like Peter. I have wanted fame and fortune. I have wanted to use power to get my way. In many ways I am a lot like Peter, but I have encountered another way of living. I have seen the ways of Jesus and I know there is no going back. I still wrestle with temptation. I occasionally have grandiose visions of what could be, but I try to quickly put them away and pick up my cross and keep following in the footsteps of my Savior. Although the world may not see it the same way I do, I know that the ways of Jesus lead to life and I have chosen to follow this Messiah.

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Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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