Have you ever heard a child say something that was substantially more profound than he or she realized? Maybe they see you working on preparing your taxes, and comment that “taxes seem like a lot of work”. Wearily, you affirm them by saying, “You have no idea!”.
Peter made a correct statement in the following passage from the book of Matthew:
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Matthew 16:15-16 NLT
This was a profound statement, and Jesus commended Peter for saying it. Peter, who is known for sometimes speaking without thinking, didn’t just guess correctly this time; it appears that He really “got it”. The truth was more clear to Peter than it was to many others who knew about Jesus.
However, given the culture and expectations of the Jewish people in the first century, I have to wonder if Peter really appreciated all that his statement really meant.
It was one thing to acknowledge that Jesus was “The One”; that is, the Messiah who had been promised by God by prophets over many preceding centuries, to come and impact the world. That was something I suspect that every Jewish boy and girl learned about, and Peter was privileged to meet the One who had been promised, when so many previous generations had not received that opportunity.
But did Peter really understand who the Messiah was going to be? Did Peter appreciate that Jesus was living a sinless life so that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world? Did Peter anticipate that Jesus would not overcome Roman oppression militarily, but through a message of peace and righteousness? Did Peter (centuries removed from the dramatic events at Mount Sinai, when the Israelites were given instructions for what it meant to be God’s people) fully comprehend the holiness and majesty of what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God?
While reading through the Gospel of Matthew, I find that there are little markers of sequencing and timing. While there are a lot of ways to study the Bible, it seems that these connections can be missed if we just look at the amazing events of Jesus’ life in random order, or even topically. I can’t be sure how much time transpired from the dialog above between Jesus and Peter, and the end of Matthew chapter 16; however, I feel that Matthew must have included the timing in the passage below for some good reason. There is a finite period of time between chapters 16 and 17, and that may be significant.
Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.
Matthew 17:1 NLT
If you aren’t familiar with the event recorded in the first part of this chapter (sometimes called “the Transfiguration”), please take a moment to read Matthew 17:1-8. These 3 disciples of Jesus were given just a taste of the splendor of who Jesus – the Son of God – really was, as well as what it meant to be in the presence of God. Despite the intensity of this event, I suspect that even their experience was “toned down” a little, given other passages in the Bible where righteous heroes of the faith often couldn’t face God’s glory directly.
Like the apostle John trying to capture the glory of God and the majesty of Heaven in the book of Revelation, I feel like Matthew (probably compiling information from one or more of the first-person witnesses who were on the mountain that day) may have struggled to put into words how amazing this experience was for Peter, James, and John.
Still, comparing the events in these two successive chapters of the book of Matthew, Peter was initially correct when He identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God; however, the full meaning of this had probably not yet sunk in when Peter first said it. I imagine that after the Transfiguration, Peter realized that his statement was even “more right” (or correct in a deeper and more awesome way) than he had realized at the time.
Since all of us need time to process the teachings of Jesus, I think that we can understand why it took a while for the apostles (including Peter) to fully appreciate all of these things. When it had soaked in, though, and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to share this good news with others, Peter and other disciples were used by God (just as Jesus had promised) to change the world.
Although we weren’t at the Transfiguration, we can declare the truth of Jesus being the Messiah. Let’s take a moment to appreciate what it really means when we [correctly] describe Jesus as the Messiah (or the Christ, which means the same thing). We may refer to “Jesus Christ” in a respectful way; however, when we do, are we just saying something that is technically correct, or are we considering His incredible glory, His un-duplicated sacrifice, and His unique role as “The One” of history?
When we declare Jesus as the Christ, are we “right” or “really right”?