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Jesus and Expectations: Part 5- People


The title “Messiah” was in the 1st century what “American Idol” is in our own. Who will it be?
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-21) present the occasion of Peter making his confession that Jesus is the promised Messiah (anointed one) and in each account the disciples are strictly warned by Jesus not to mention his identity as Messiah to anyone. What sparked Peter’s confession was the conversation Jesus initiated by asking, “Who do the people say that I am?” A variety of responses are recorded: some think Jesus was a resurrected John the Baptist—now there’s a creative thought. Others thought Jesus was Elijah—the prophet to announce the dawning of a new era (Malachi 4:5). And still others thought Jesus was Jeremiah or one of the other great prophets. Why Jeremiah? Possibly because Jesus cried a lot (see Hebrews 5:7) or because he forcefully called the nation to repentance as Jeremiah did. What is evident is that the people were clueless as to Jesus’ identity. The people certainly had expectations, but their expectations, while complimentary, were woefully wrong. They fell way short of the mark. Whatever or whoever the people were expecting the Messiah to be, Jesus wasn’t it. So, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you [plural] say that I am?” Peter, then, makes his famous and correct declaration, “You are the Christ (Messiah = the anointed One).”
Who do the people today say that Jesus is? Some wrap Jesus in the red, white and blue and say he’s America’s savior. Some wrap Jesus in a white lab coat and rest in the presence of the ultimate therapist. Others grab a beer and cigar and talk about Jesus the Dude. Others endorse the social activist Jesus out to feed the poor and bring down the Man. Curiously there are some even within the evangelical camp who promote the antiseptic, clean Jesus with no gory blood and no rugged cross. Others revere “Jesus, the Family Guy,” whose sole purpose is to focus on and to preserve the USAmerican nuclear family unit. Of course, there is the massively diminished Jesus of the Jesus Seminar crowd, but who gives a rip about that Jesus? I don’t. The very last vision people today have of Jesus, even if they have one, is that he is the Messiah—the unconventional One who ushers in a revolutionary kingdom that turns our little, petty, self-centered kingdoms upside down. “Christ” is just Jesus’ last name to a lot of these folks.
Even after Peter gets Jesus’ identity right, we are stunned that Jesus strictly warned his disciples not to breathe that title, Christ, to a soul. You would think Jesus would say, Go, tell the world!” There was a problem. Peter and the disciples had the title correct, but not a right view of the mission that the title carried. Darrell Bock writes, “…[T]he very fact that he instructs them to silence indicates that Jesus accepts the confession, but that it will take time and instruction to appreciate all that it means” (Jesus according to Scripture, 230). When Jesus began immediately to define Messiah in terms of his rejection, torture and death at the hands of the powers that be, Peter rebuked Jesus. This is not the kind of Messianic mission that Peter and the others expected. “For Peter, the Messiah is a glorious, powerful figure, not one whom the nation rejects… They [the disciples] did not understand God’s plan” (Bock, 232).
Thankfully, Jesus is patient and spends the rest of his ministry instructing his disciples in the true mission of Messiah. He will not audition for Israeli Idol. Jesus did not want his disciples to get caught up with the Holy Week mob screaming, “We have no king but Caesar!”