“You are the king, the elect heir of the living God!” Is that the declaration you ask people to make when you share the gospel?
We explained this was Peter’s declaration. Understanding what he said will move us from theology about Jesus into his regal mission for global restoration.
Who proclaims a king?
People miss Jesus’ kingship because it’s such a contrast to the power and pageantry of the rulers of this world. All the way back to the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, rulers parade with an entourage to announce their entrance and guards to protect their position. But for three years, earth’s true king had told no one who he was!
He did provide hints, stories of what God’s kingdom was like. He taught the way of peace and healed the anguish of his people, enacting how close the kingdom was. But he claimed nothing for himself. The animals had places to sleep, but the human (the son of man) had no place to rest his head.
For Jesus, kingship does not come by taking it. It doesn’t come from an army of people taking it for you. True kingship can only be conferred by the eternal king.
Saul was anointed because God chose him (1 Samuel 9:17). David received the kingship by divine decree, not by killing Saul (1 Samuel 16:12). David’s descendants lost the kingship at God’s decree (2 Kings 21:10-16). God gave the kingship to foreigners like Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:37) and Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1). The kingship would return to the house of David not by fighting those in power but by divine decree (John 18:36).
God had entrusted the management of his world to humans (Genesis 1:26), but the rulers of the empires behaved like animals tearing each other apart for power, eating each other for dinner. The one who always reigned (Ancient of Days) would take the kingship from the beasts and give it to someone more human-like — “one like a son of man.” (Daniel 7:13). That’s how Jesus believed he would receive the kingship. His challenge was to be a son of man in the face of the beasts, trusting the ancient ruler to raise him up and give him the kingship.
For three years, Jesus had followed this path, claiming no power for himself. He wonders if his people even know he is the divinely appointed king. It’s time to find out.
This is a dangerous moment. Declaring Jesus to be God’s anointed ruler would be viewed as a subversive act by those who claim to be in power — like Samuel declaring David as the Lord’s anointed while Saul had the throne.
Maybe that’s why Jesus took them as far from Jerusalem as he could.
Caesarea Philippi was 40 kilometres north of the Sea of Galilee, at the headwaters of the Jordan River, near the highest mountain in the region (2,800 m / 9,200 ft).
Caesarea was in Herod Philip’s domain, a spiritual place for all the wrong reasons:
- People worshipped the power of nature here. A cave (largely collapsed today) opened its mouth and water from the underworld flowed out. Earlier generations had worshipped Baal here, and now there was a temple to the nature god Pan and his nymphs.
- People worshipped imperial powers here. King Herod had constructed a magnificent marble temple to honour the Roman Emperor. Herod Philip named it Caesarea so everyone would know the place existed to honour Caesar (Augustus).
This is the location Jesus chose to ask them how they saw him in relation to the powers of the underworld, the gods, and the emperors who claimed to be chosen by the gods.
Who recognizes the king?
Like any good teacher, Jesus’ question contained a hint of the answer:
Matthew 16 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (NIV)
The crowds did not understand Jesus as their anointed ruler (Christ). His authority astounded them (7:28-29; 8:27; 9:8; 12:23), but they thought of him only as a spokesman for God (prophet).
In the minds of the public, Jesus was like a prophet they knew (John). He was like the greatest of prophets who tried to stop Israel going off the rails (Elijah), and one day might still succeed (Malachi 4:5). He was like Jeremiah warning that the empire would invade Jerusalem and restore the temple. Tellingly, not a soul perceived Jesus as the king they should have over them, rather than Caesar.
Jesus sharpens the question. Do his closest companions know of the regal calling?
Matthew 16 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
Both phrases (Messiah, God’s son) describe Jesus as king. Jesus rejoices that they recognize him, even though he never declared himself king. His kingship comes not from self-promotion, nor from human recognition: it comes from his Father who reigns in the heavens. Simon, son of Jonah, has the revelation that Jesus is the son (elect heir) of the heavenly ruler.
Who proclaims the king?
The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ kingship, the good news that he is restoring heaven’s kingship over the earth. To accept the gospel is therefore to accept his kingship.
We’re calling people to recognize him as global leader — the Christ, the Son of the living God. We’re calling people into participation with us in the community that lives under his leadership.
Is that the gospel your church proclaims? What would be different if this was our message?
Open Matthew 16:13-17.
What others are saying
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 240:
A key clue to understanding this whole crucial scene is being aware of the importance of the social setting of this event. Caesarea Philippi was a major Hellenistic city built in the far north of the land near Mount Hermon by Herod Philip in honor of Augustus. It had in ancient times been called Paneas in honor of the god Pan, who had a shrine there, but now there was a shrine for the emperor cult. In addition, it had been previously a site where the god Baal had been worshiped. Thus, in the midst of a city dedicated to false gods, Jesus’ true identity is revealed.
- Declaring Jesus king (Mt 16:13-16)