Should Christians be Revolutionaries? Mark 8:27-38
It is Satan who would have Jesus to be something other than the king he is really meant to be. And straight away we can begin to see what is at stake in Mark 8. This passage is incredibly relevant today because it gives us a picture of the issues that have always been at stake when it comes to the son of man. People have always wanted to make him into the king that they want, the king who stands in direct parallel and therefore opposition to earthly kings. But what must be realized over and over again throughout history is that while Jesus is parallel to earthly kings, he is not the same as any earthly king. He is absolutely different, and it is satanic to suggest that he can simply be like an earthly king using earthly powers.
This is a somber article to write, simply because its issues are very close to home. January 6th has just passed, a second anniversary of when rioters stormed our nation’s Capitol building, something that continues to be a highly politically charged issue, still being investigated today. Nor is the issue limited to the United States, as Brazil suddenly attests.
Why is this relevant in an article about Mark 8:27-38? Why is this important? It is important because Jesus’s words, his exchange with Peter in this passage, speak to the issues of how Christians should see ourselves in the midst of revolutionary situations when we possess of limited human powers, the questions of what we should do and think about Jesus and his kingdom in its relationship to kingdoms of this world. Of course, Mark 8 will not be the final and exclusive word on these questions—other passages must be brought into the mix as well. Nor is this article at all intended to be the final word on how Mark 8 is understood. But what I hope to do is at least alert readers to some things Jesus says here, very relevant to us, as we ponder how Christians should think and act when it comes to the power of governments and the way Christians respond.
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. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27–38, ESV)
Here Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Here he makes his famous grand statement about who Jesus is. But what comes next exposes Peter’s misunderstanding of what his own confession actually means. To the extent that we may share Peter’s misunderstanding, this passage powerfully challenges us to reflect further.
Note the way Jesus responds to Peter. He affirms the good part of what Peter has to say. And this is an affirmation we must hear too. But he also challenges Peter, a challenge that must be heard loud and clear, a challenge to the wrong ways of thinking about Messiah and kingdom. Only as we fully understand who Jesus is, not just potential “political revolutionary” but as the true king, can we understand all this in its fullness, appreciating what we must do also.
A strong case can be made that the whole of Mark’s Gospel is about the identity of Jesus. This book is written to suffering Christians living through Nero’s persecutions in the 1st century, Christians having to wrestle with how they will respond not just to the general vague suffering that surrounds them, but also to the suffering that occurs via the power of the political regime over them. Even as the Christians suffered under the hands of this great tyrant, they were wrestling to understand how their leader, their ruler Jesus, would be greater than Nero and yet not like him at all.
Our story begins all the way back at the beginning of Mark with a discussion of how Jesus will be the king envisioned by the prophet Isaiah, a king who does not rule over simply a worldly Kingdom, but instead a king who rules over an eternal Kingdom, yet paradoxically an eternal kingdom that is already here. But Jesus rules this already-present kingdom not with an iron fist but with gentleness. Isaiah 41 says he will not break a bruised reed, not snuff out a smoldering wick. This is Jesus the powerful and yet compassionate king. Isaiah 40 indicates he leads captives back gently, leading those who carry their young quietly, close to his breast.
The picture of Jesus is the picture of a great and yet compassionate king, unlike Nero in every way. But as well as being great and compassionate, he is also a king who suffers. The disciples had been trying to understand and needed to understand that Jesus is all of these things – and therefore the kingdom that he rules must be like this as well.
As we reach Mark 8:27-38, we have come to the climax of Mark’s gospel. This exchange is the middle of the book, not just spatially, but conceptually, the place where everything comes to a head. Immediately preceding this passage, Jesus heals a blind man, something that will recur in 10:45.