Peter Confesses Jesus is the Christ (vv. 18-21)
Luke’s Beautiful Order: Kingdom and Suffering
Patiently our Lord Jesus brings us along as his disciples, challenges our expectations, and leads us in the paths of righteousness. This is the way he taught the twelve. He sent them out to be heralds of his kingdom. It had arrived in his mediatorial person, but what kind of kingdom would it be? To this point, the disciples were firmly entrenched in common errors – that the Messiah would defeat the Romans, restore the Jewish nation to its ancient splendor, and usher in worldwide dominion for the Jews as his chosen people, with the Messiah’s throne erected in the city of David. It has been suggested that the twelve may have been watching each day for some announcement that it was now time, some movement on Jesus’ part to indicate that the moment had arrived. Jesus was strangely silent about such things. They had returned from their local preaching tour and seen him feed the multitudes. Some days later – and Luke does not include material found in Matthew and Mark – he began to teach them the nature of his kingdom. It was a shocking revelation to them. They could not understand it. They would not understand it until after the events of his passion week and even more after Pentecost, when the kingdom of God came in the promised power of the outpoured Spirit.
Luke’s order emphasizes the coming of the kingdom in power and glory. He also – and this is the crucial point – shows that the way of Christ’s kingdom is through the valley of the cross. And this in turn defines the way we must view our discipleship. There is power and grace unparalleled for the Church. Heaven is now opened unto us so that we may join with our exalted Lord as his kingdom of priests; Luke’s Acts teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the “coming of kingdom in power and glory,” but never are we untethered from self-denial and carrying our crosses. Never can we embrace, as the Jews then did and many do today, a kind of spiritualistic triumphalism. This is evident in the older but still dominant Dispensationalism – the salvation of the church and coming of the kingdom by sudden, climactic events – the rapture, tribulation, etc. It is also present in the piety of Evangelicalism, which shuns “patient continuance in well-doing” in favor of quick fixes, emotionalism, and novelty. Our Lord’s teaching on the relationship between kingdom and suffering/cross-bearing remains as important today as it was when Luke recorded these events.
Praying, Jesus Asks for an Open Confession
It also explains the reason for our Lord’s insistence upon their making a public confession of faith in him before he taught them more fully. He was alone praying, a persistent emphasis in Luke, who records seven occasions of our Lord’s praying – at his Baptism (3:21), as his fame increased (5:16), before choosing his disciples (6:12); before he taught his disciples to pray (11:1), at his Transfiguration (9:28-29), for Peter (22:32), in Gethsemane (22:40). This is an image of our Savior that we must never forget – the Son of God humbling himself in our nature, praying, seeking his Father’s fellowship and strength, and crying out for our salvation. He began asking the disciples what the people were saying about his identity. Opinions were many and feverish – John resurrected, Elijah, or another of the old prophets. But Jesus asked for their opinion as to who he was. This was important, for what he was about to tell them would be difficult to hear. If they were to follow him to the end, they must be persuaded of his true office as mediator and the true nature of his kingdom. The opinions of men had to be rejected. They must HEAR God’s beloved Son.
You Are the Christ, the Son of the Living God
Peter’s response is given more fully in Matthew – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter answers for the twelve. “Christ” means “anointed,” for we can have little incentive to cast ourselves upon Jesus Christ unless we are persuaded that the Holy and Just God has appointed him to be the Savior of the world. The “Son of God” means that our Lord’s divine nature was not a “secret” he kept from his apostles but the reality they well knew from his works and words. Here was no great man but the very Son of God incarnate. Jesus’ response to Peter, which Luke does not record, was to bless Peter and to make it clear that this was a heavenly insight given to Peter and the apostles. They did not arrive at this conclusion because there were smarter or more virtuous than other men. God condescended to reveal this truth to their hearts. Upon this foundation rock of Peter as the confessing apostle, in common with the other apostles, the Lord Jesus would build his church. It was not unique to Peter, but the apostles collectively are that foundation (Eph. 2:21; Rev. 21:14), with Jesus Christ himself the chief cornerstone, so that they rest upon him absolutely. They could not speak beyond what he spoke to them; the Scriptures were just as much their guide as they are ours (2 Pet. 1:19). In the face of so much dangerous and blind prejudice and unbelief, this must remain our confession – that Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Son incarnate, the covenant mediator of all God’s promises, the only foundation for life and salvation. All the other towers of man’s pride must come crashing down because they are built upon cracked foundations of superstition and rebellion against God’s truth revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Son of Man Must Suffer (v. 22)
The Imperative of Christ’s Sufferings
You believe that I am the Christ of God – let me then tell you that the Jewish hopes of a political kingdom are false and dangerous. “The Son of Man must suffer.” Our Lord’s favorite title surely recalled Daniel’s great vision of the Mediator – ascending to heaven and receiving universal dominion. But this is not the whole story, for we must add Isaiah 53. We must return to the first garden and remember that our politics and societies are broken and tyrannous because we rebelled against our Maker’s will. Before anything on earth can be righteous and peaceful, man himself must be redeemed. And there is only one way for this to happen. I must suffer. I already rejected Satan’s offer – bow and worship me to receive your kingdom. No, this is impossible. The cross must come before the crown, for this is the only way that my people can be delivered from their true destroyer, the devil. Take in, child of God, our Savior’s must. The righteous God having chosen in grace and mercy to save us, there was no other way open to him but through the bloody, substitution of his beloved Son. His just claims must be upheld; his mercy must flow. Righteousness and peace could meet and kiss only in the valley of satisfied justice, only through the sufferings of the Lord of glory. Only those sufferings could provide a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for our souls, a covering atonement for our sins, and reconciliation to our God. He had a cross to bear, a cup to drink, a baptism of judgment to receive, and “how his soul was straitened until it was accomplished” (Luke 12:50). To reject a suffering Savior is to reject salvation itself. It is to leave condemned men without a Mediator between themselves and a holy God, society without any hope of peace and justice, the individual soul without any hope at all.
Rejected, Condemned, Killed, and Raised
To make matters worse in the minds of the staggering disciples who are hearing but not understanding and rejecting (Matt. 16:22!) what they are being told, Jesus is explicit that the Jewish leadership will reject him. They will condemn him after a “trial.” How can it be that the leaders of the church will kill our Master? This saying did not register with the disciples. They conceived of our Savior’s kingdom in Jewish nationalistic and triumphal terms, not on a suffering and redemption foundation. To correct their false notions then and provide for their later hope, he also mentions the third-day resurrection as if it was such a commonly received truism that it required no explanation. The resurrection was revealed in Scripture, but it required spiritual understanding to appreciate its Old Testament promise. The coming of the Spirit would profoundly alter the way the church read the Scriptures – not changing fact or sense but providing for a proper understanding. But how could a gospel of salvation from heaven be understood until men’s fallen understanding was transformed and illumined by God in order that they might see the truth that was there all the time?
The Mediator’s rejection, death, and resurrection were all prophesied hundreds, thousands of years before they happened, but the Bible doctrine, the heavenly doctrine, God’s doctrine of salvation required the actual coming of the Son of God to earth in our flesh before we could ever apprehend it. The truth had to come in person and work of Jesus Christ, for he was the covenant (Isa. 42:6), the eternal Word (John 1:1,14), and the suffering Servant of the Lord. Sin had blinded us so that we do not by nature want the kind of salvation we actually need and must have in order to be reconciled to a holy God. Jesus Christ had to come to earth to reveal the Father (John 1:18). And whenever the gospel is preached, to return to Luke and the disciples’ heaviness at hearing these things, whenever we speak of such a horrible thing as our Savior’s death on the cross, we must hasten to the glory of his resurrection, that the shame may be swallowed in glory, our death by his life. The cross is too dreadful; it would have left the disciples in a permanent stupor despair had not they been incontrovertibly confronted with their resurrected Master.
His Cross Defines Our Sonship (vv. 23-27)
If You Will Come after Me (v. 23)
Do you want to follow Jesus to earthly prosperity and recognition? The line is long, but it is the wrong line. Jesus’ kingdom is not Jewish nationalism, a Dispensational paradise, or Secularist utopia but the way of the cross, of renouncing self in order to be filled with God’s grace and life. To come after him, therefore, means, first, that discipleship is coming after Jesus Christ. It is centered upon his person and work – loving him, receiving and resting upon him as Lord of life and Savior from sin, of following him in the way of obedience, of drawing from him fullness of grace and life so that we might walk worthy of him and do all in his name and to please him. To come after Jesus is without exaggeration the most humbling, exhilarating, self-emptying, and fulfilling life imaginable. It is nothing less than “God with us,” and “I will dwell with them and walk with them.” Christian discipleship is not a passive affair – a few propositions accepted, a few rituals performed, some spiritual highs enjoyed. It is a personal commitment to follow him in the way of the cross and of obedience, with the crown promised for faithfulness.
Take Up Your Cross Daily, and Follow Me (v. 23)
Self-denial is not first and foremost moderation in eating and drinking, “using this world without abusing it” (1 Cor. 7:31). Self-denial is to be like Jesus – not considering equality with God something to be grasped, holding on to the glory he had with the Father before the world began but willingly emptying himself and taking the form of a servant. It is self-emptying for a higher end – in his case, the glory of God in the salvation of sinners and the love of God in gathering his saints and forming his dwelling place by the Spirit. To deny ourselves, then, is to let go of the life we might want or used to have so that we might live unto God. It is a self-renunciation that gloriously seeps into many little corners of life – the use of “our time,” whether we respond to frustrations angrily or patiently, insist upon keeping our little idols or forsaking them, and even the basic duties of husbands, wives, children, servants, masters, and elders. Will we live the “self-life” or the Christ-life? By this is not meant a higher life of impossible spirituality and one exciting experience after another, but a personal commitment to take up our particular cross, deny ourselves, and serve our Savior intentionally, loving him for saving us and zealous for his honor through our lives in the world around us.
This may sound a little strong – renounce yourself? Take up your cross? Follow me? What about justification by grace alone through faith? How does this fit in with our Lord’s call to discipleship? The question is pertinent, for the call came from his blessed mouth with earnest consistency. Remember that he is not discussing the basis of our acceptance with God. He never says that we reach heaven because we are good enough disciples. He issued this call then went to the cross. If it comes, therefore, to a question of why Christ’s disciples inherit everlasting life, the answer must always and only be, “Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through no works of ours.” If it is a question of who are the justified, the answer comes just as resoundingly – those who in looking to the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness renounce themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Justification and sanctification are distinct aspects of the order of salvation, but they are inseparably bound together. True branches in Christ will bear fruit, not to earn anything but because they are united by faith to the living Vine, Jesus Christ. In grace and power, he works the fruits of righteousness in each of his disciples.
Save Your Life in the World, and Lose It (vv. 24-25)
Against all the super-spiritualists who act and talk as if being a Christian and following Jesus allows us to rise higher than our circumstances and to feel no pain or vexations, our Lord’s call to each one of us is to serve him where he has called us. It is in this world of sin and trouble, in each man’s particular circumstances, that following him and taking up the cross comes to challenging and beautiful expression. We might like to think, “Well, when my circumstances improve, then I’ll get serious about following Jesus.” Or, “When my work load diminishes, then I will worship consistently on the Lord’s Day,” but this is very backwards thinking that will frustrate you and dishonor your Master.
Remember also that our Lord was not speaking to modern day consumerists with a multitude of conveniences and unrealistic expectations about trouble-free, easy solution living. He was speaking to ordinary men and women whose lives differed radically from ours in many ways. In their world of little convenience, no social safety nets, little entertainment other than the family circle, the gospel taught them to find their lives in serving their Master. If you save your life in the world – no putting yourself out for others, no forsaking of your sins and idols, no curbing by God’s grace of your temper and appetites, no living unto God’s glory but for yourself, you will find a certain kind of life – the me-life. But you will lose all that matters most, and especially life with God forever. Our Lord thus gives us an inverted life-saving “technique” – love and serve yourself, then lose your life. Finding life and love on man’s terms always results in eternal loss. But if you will follow me, deny yourself, and seek the glory of the life to come, you will save your life and have me forever. This is not the world’s way of thinking, but Jesus Christ and his gospel are from above, heavenly. We must be born again to receive God’s heavenly truth given to us through his Son.
The Eternal Cost of Being Ashamed of Christ (v. 26)
To be a Christian is to be a personal disciple of Jesus Christ, a follower of him, a bearer of our individual crosses and trials because he bore the cross of God’s judgment in our place. The world will not applaud the decision to follow Jesus Christ. It may well embrace other religions of man’s morality, escape from reality, and ritual, for these do not confront man’s heart or challenge man’s sinfulness. The gospel of Jesus Christ does. His words are living because he is – not spiritual fortune cookies or platitudes – and they pierce our hearts. When we believe and speak his word, when we do not steal or cheat on a business deal because we love Jesus Christ, and when we make it plain that this is our reason, then we shall face some measure of ridicule or hardship. But we must not back down from following Jesus. You can gain the riches and fame of the world, but if you sacrifice your soul to do so, if you must sit Jesus in the corner of your life to do so, you have gained nothing but misery. It is rather shocking to hear Jesus speaking so candidly about things the world so highly values. They do not matter at all.
So, if we are ashamed of him and of his words – does this not raise allegiance to Scripture, which is the word of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 14:38; 2 Pet. 1:19), to a much higher level than simply theological formality? Does it not make our allegiance to him and his word extremely personal? Of course it does, for the way we follow Jesus Christ is to abide in him and in his word (John 15:4-7). If we have no word from him, no trustworthy Scriptures, discipleship is a matter of personal taste and existential enlightenment or murky tradition. It loses objectivity and normativity. Instead of this consumerist model of discipleship, we are pointed to the end – yes, history and time have an end. There is nothing infinite in this world – not time, not space. God alone is infinite, and he made this world. Being made, it is finite and limited. When the end of this created era arrives, Jesus Christ will come in three glories – his own glory as the Son of God and Mediator of covenant, in his Father’s glory, and of the holy angels – their brilliance will only heighten his, who will eclipse them. How this should inspire us! What great glory is coming! Personal commitment to Jesus Christ personally commits us to a certain view of history, of its gospel progress and terminus of glory, when Jesus Christ our Lord is revealed from heaven to be admired in all them that believe and to take fiery vengeance upon those who do not obey God’s gospel (2 Thess. 1:8-10).
When the burdens of discipleship grow heavy and the world hateful, let us keep this day firmly before us. It challenges many canons of unbelieving science, for ungodly men assume a universe closed off to God and to all but its own impersonal processes. They assume there is no final judgment, but endless stretches of time, with the fittest surviving for a time, until they sink in the abyss of nothingness. Some weaker brothers and false sheep may ask, “Where is the promise of his coming” (2 Pet. 3:4), which may weaken our conviction of our Lord’s coming. But keep his coming before you. As Christ’s disciples, we do not find our main inspiration in this life but in the appearance of our Good Shepherd and Judge. When he comes and we stand before him, no cost shall have been too high to honor him, no loss too great to suffer for his smile, no fire too hot to quench our confession. As we grow in wonder of Jesus, we shall grow in boldness for him, steadfastness in his truth, and loving devotion to him and even toward the world, that we may provoke some to faith by our love and witness.
The Kingdom Coming in Glory (v. 27)
Our Lord’s announcement of his cross and dramatic call to us to follow him by taking up our cross does not, I repeat, does not throw us back upon our own strength. Some when they hear the Bible’s very strong calls to holiness, love, and self-denial are besieged by doubt, but our Lord leaves us in no doubt as to where the strength comes to follow him. It is from the “kingdom coming in power.” Follow Jesus in life, or sanctification, is no more possible for us in our own strength than being reconciled to God, or justification. Our Lord turns the attention of the twelve to a power from outside them – the power of God’s kingdom, his indwelling presence by the Spirit, uniting us to Jesus Christ. It is from him that we receive grace and strength. He wanted them to know the imminence of that coming. They would live to see it – or most of them would. Some think he refers to the Transfiguration or Resurrection. Others surmise that he means the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but this is too obscure a connection here.
For my part, I think he refers to Pentecost and specifically the gift of the Holy Spirit. This will receive prominence later in Luke’s Gospel and in his Acts. It was the coming of the Spirit that was the “promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33). He is the One who unites us powerfully and personally to Jesus Christ, so that we obtain from him all the benefits of the covenant of grace – redemption applied to our consciences, a sense of our adoption, the law of God written upon our hearts, assurance of reconciliation with God through Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary, and strength unto holiness. Power was what the disciples needed to come after Jesus and walk with him in the way of the cross. It is our same need, and it is for this reason that the apostles tell us to pray for the strengthening of the Spirit (Eph. 1:17-20; 3:16-18; Col. 1:12). We are similarly urged to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17) and warned against grieving him (Eph. 4:30). In this present age until Jesus Christ returns, all the strength we need he gives to us by his Spirit, who intercedes for us, bears witness with our spirits that are God’s children, opens our mind to receive the truth of Scripture, and satisfies our hearts with the gifts and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ so that we may live for him in the world. It is not within our power to do this, but it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us his kingdom, his power, and his Spirit (Luke; 11:13; 12:32; Heb. 12:28).