Let’s say that you are super famous. You, sir or madam, have been in the news a lot. And a lot has been said about you. Most of it not true. And what is true has been seriously hyped up; sensationalized. When you are out and about, you have people come up to you and say, “You’re that person! The one in the news!” Before you respond, do you think in this moment that they have the name right, but they don’t know the person who wears the name? Do you almost hesitate to acknowledge that they are correct because you know they are not correct? Sure, they have the right name. They have heard and read all manner of things about the name. But none of that is who you are. Their concept of your identity is mistaken.
Luke 9:18-22 is all about mistaken identity. Either Jesus is praying alone or the disciples alone are with him. If Jesus is praying alone, the disciples are there with him as he is praying alone. It seems likely that the emphasis is that no one other than the disciples were with them as he was praying. There is a distinction between the crowd – the people who are enamored with what Jesus can do for them – and the followers of Jesus. Always will be. Jesus takes advantage of this alone time and asked the disciples who the people say that he is; what is the popular opinion floating around out there? And their answer is pretty much the same as what was reported to Herod Antipas. This makes sense: what was reported to Herod was what the people were saying about Jesus. So, again you have John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. The phrase “has risen again” could refer to all three. The people believed that one of these three had come back from the dead. This, they thought, explained Jesus’ miracles. I mean, if you’re going to come back from the dead, you are going to have special powers. Right? This is a report of the common misconception of Jesus’ identity.
Jesus then turns the question onto his disciples: You, who do you say I am? And it is not surprising that Peter blurts out, “The Christ of God”. While the others are most likely thinking how best to word their response or wrestling with the question itself, Peter jumps right in. This sometimes worked well for Peter. Sometimes not so much. For a Jew, this answer is weighty. The Christ is the anointed of God. The Christ is the one they had been waiting for. The Christ would issue in the new age; the age in which God breaks into their bleak reality and establishes his kingdom. Peter’s answer is heavy with pent up expectations. Though not stated, it seems likely that Peter had based this conviction on the feeding of the five thousand. The Christ; the host of the Messianic banquet.
Jesus then warns them with warnings (or commands them with warnings) not to tell anyone. What? They finally get who he is; it is finally out in the open; blatantly blurted out. But do they really get who he is? They knew the title “Christ of God,” but their expectations overshadowed the reality. That is why Jesus goes on to tell them what being the Christ of God means: it means suffering through pain (like the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12; or the righteous sufferer dealt with in Job and many of the Psalms; or the martyr who makes atonement for the sins of the nation in Wisdom of Solomon 2:10-20); it means being rejected by the Sanhedrin (like many of the prophets who were rejected by the ones to whom they had been sent); it means being killed and resurrected. Oh, and he tells them that all of this must happen to the “son of man.” This could be a term referring to his humanity, but it more likely refers to Daniel 7:13-14. The son of man vision in Daniel is all about the Ancient of Days handing dominion, glory, and a kingdom to this son of man who rode up on a cloud. Jesus is saying that the messianic fulfilment is found in suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. The everlasting kingdom comes through what looks like to most to be a humiliating defeat.
The warning is about mistaken identity. They knew the title “Christ” but they mistakenly believed the Christ of God was coming to defeat and judge the blasted Romans; to make the Jews the predominant nation. The disciples have these mistaken ideas as well, but they are spending time with Jesus. They are seeing the reality of who he is. They may be able to utter the term “Christ” but they are not ready to explain to the people who the term really refers to. They know more than the crowds who Jesus is, but they are still lacking in their understanding. The goal is to let go of our expectations and allow Jesus to tell us who he is. Anything else lends itself to an identity crisis. Know Jesus! The suffering servant! The Messiah! Grace.