Do You Ever Find Jesus Confusing?

By Mark D. Roberts

October 24, 2016

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Mark 8:29

A child confusedLast Thursday we began reflecting on the story in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus asks his first disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They answered Jesus: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (8:28). Then Jesus became more incisively personal: “But what about you? . . . Who do you say I am?” (8:29).

Peter, always the impetuous one, answered quickly: “You are the Messiah” (8:29). When we read this confession, we’re apt to fill it with Christian meaning. For us, “Messiah,” or its equivalent, “Christ,” is a title for Jesus, if not virtually his last name. From our point of view, “Messiah” indicates Jesus’s role as the one who died on the cross to save us from our sins. We might even think of “Messiah” as an indicator of Jesus’s divinity. Peter would not have thought this way, however. For him, the word “Messiah,” which meant “anointed one,” pointed to a human being who would save Israel from Roman domination and reestablish the kingdom of Israel.

Peter and his fellow disciples might have expected Jesus to congratulate Peter and begin to talk about how they were going to overthrow the Romans. Instead, Jesus did something completely unexpected. He followed Peter’s confession of his messiahship by saying that he, as the Son of Man, would suffer and die, Peter “took him aside and began to rebuke him” (8:32). The idea of a suffering Messiah had no place in Jewish expectations, and Peter felt the need to get Jesus back on track. Of course Jesus’s response to Peter was less than appreciative: “Get behind me, Satan! . . . You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (8:33). Ouch!

It’s easy for us, sitting on this side of Easter, to think of Peter as a fool. But, in fact, his response to Jesus made perfect sense in context. What Jesus had said about the suffering of the Messiah/Son of Man had no place in the Jewish understanding of the one who would come to deliver the Jews from the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of God. Peter was simply reflecting conventional wisdom, no doubt out of genuine concern for Jesus and his mission. Peter was confused, but understandably so. Jesus was indeed confusing.

And he still is today, in many ways. Have you ever read something Jesus taught n the Gospels and thought to yourself, “I don’t get it”? Or have you read some account of Jesus’s actions and wondered what in the world he was doing? It is only when we admit that Jesus can confuse us that we are ready to delve more deeply into his mission and identity. Knowing Jesus truly almost always passes through the valley of confusion.


What confuses you about Jesus?

What do you do when you are confused or even upset by something Jesus did or said?

How has your understanding of Jesus grown through confusion?


Lord Jesus, I can certainly relate to Peter in this story. He thought he knew who you were, and he was right . . . to a point. Yet he still had so much to learn. Your unique calling as the Messiah didn’t fit his expectations, so Peter was understandably confused.

In many ways I am like Peter. Though, by your grace, I know you personally and have come to understand who you are, there is much I don’t quite get. So I ask you to help me, Lord, to know you more truly. May I lay my confusion before you, so that you might make yourself known to me more completely. Preserve me from the arrogance of thinking I have you all figured out. In humility, may I open my mind and heart to you. As I study the Gospels, teach me through your Word and by your Spirit. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Discipleship in Process (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:14-21)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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