From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
The place was Caesarea Philippi, a mountain resort in the foothills of Mt Hermon north of Galilee. In the centuries leading up to Christ it had served as a religious center for various deities. The Canaanites worshipped their “god of good fortune” there; the Greeks their Pan, or the “god of shepherds and sheep.” Christ had taken His disciples there on a spiritual retreat, removing themselves from the busy-ness of ministry demands and the growing conflicts with the religious leaders that would culminate a few months later in the cross.
It was there that Christ asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And then, “Who do you say I am?” He drew them to a conclusion that the Spirit of God was writing upon their hearts. Christ did not announce publicly in the early days of His ministry that He was the Messiah. The angel announced it to Joseph and Mary, the Spirit told saintly Simeon and Anna, and Christ knew this fact from His earliest days. In His temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) it is obvious that He knew Himself to be the Christ, but even when John the Baptist asked Him His answer was cryptic, “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor,” but then He ended His response with, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:5-6). To those healed he said, “Tell no one,” and to His own disciples He waited until the inner witness of the Spirit could be given time to work.
The greatest impact that can take place in someone’s life is through the seed of truth being planted and then letting it grow. As with real plants, we can transplant an entire tree of knowledge into someone’s soul, but the roots may not connect with that person’s life. It is much better to plant a seed and let the seed germinate and develop, to let the concept take root and grow, to let the roots dig down into the soil of the human soul and breakup the stubbornness that so often wrongly guards our hearts from the right things. That is what Christ did with these ordinary men who had left former lives and other pursuits to follow Him. In the earliest days some of them thought, as did the other people, that Jesus of Nazareth was another herald of the Messiah, as was John. But gradually they began to change their perceptions, until they came to the realization that this Jesus of Nazareth was not just another fore-runner of the Christ. He was the Christ.
Andrew was the first in Scripture to actually say it. He and John had been disciples of John the Baptist, when he pointed them to Jesus, calling Him “the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Andrew then found his brother Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), and he brought Peter to Jesus. But it seems that this idea took some developing and maturing among and within the disciples before they could truly grasp this fact, and even then it seems doubtful that Judas ever did.
At Caesarea Philippi, Peter said it first and, we presume, understood it first. “You are the Christ! The Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This knowledge was gained through the witness of God in Peter’s heart. Flesh and blood, indeed his own kin, had told him this, but it must be grasped in the heart by the witness of God. It did not come to him by the mouths of others, not even from the lips of Jesus, though certainly the seed was planted, but it was nurtured and developed by the Spirit of God until it was spoken at Caesarea Philippi. The convincing of the disciples was a miracle of God, for they expected, like everyone else, a political messiah. They wanted armies and earthly glory and real military power. Though it had been heard that princes of royal heritage might hide out among the common people to escape persecution by their enemies – David had done as much – they could not explain all of their observations and thoughts about Jesus in these terms. If Jesus was the Messiah, and they were convinced that He was, then they and most of the Nation had misunderstood the nature of the Messiah.
Upon this realization the full plan of God began to unfold. From Caesarea Philippi on all the streams ran to the cross. Christ’s public ministry had been only two years old at this point, and He was still near the height of His popularity, but the growing opposition from the religious leaders, and the growing defection of many of His disciples who could not or would not accept His “hard sayings,” foreshadowed the coming storm. The path of popularity that had led them to this moment would not take them the rest of the way. Christ knew full well what His mission was: the cross. He would not experience the crown without the cross, except the crown of thorns. But He also used the cross in this setting not only as what He must endure but as an example, and more than an example, as a standard and a method of discipleship for His followers.
When Peter rebuked Jesus about even thinking such things as being put to death Christ explained that not only was His death necessary, but their deaths would also be necessary. And the same is true for all who would be His followers. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The cross in our lives must precede the crown. The cross was not a burden to bear but an instrument of death. To take up one’s cross meant to consign oneself over to death, like a condemned criminal. Once the cross was laid upon someone’s back by a Roman soldier there was only one way that the matter would end, with crucifixion. It was the “dead man walking” cry of that day. The idea of bearing our cross meant the exposure of everything wrong and shameful about us, so that the old man could die and the new man could live. But at that moment, the seed idea of being raised to life from the dead had not yet taken root in their souls.
Why do we follow the Jewish Messiah? If Christ Jesus was fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies, what difference does it make to any who are not Jewish? Does this confession, “Jesus is the Christ,” which as Paul wrote could only be truly said and believed by the work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), does it have any relevance for our world today? Does Messiah have any meaning or relevance for us today?
If the word and concept were Jewish and local and temporal as they undoubtedly were, the thing itself was universal and eternal. For what did the messianic idea mean but just this – that someone was coming who would be the hope of the world, the fulfillment of every promise, and the answer to every prayer; one who would straighten out all human tangles and right all earthly wrongs and bring in a better day of God? That was the idea. And we can see that, so far from having lost its meaning by the passing of the years, it has now more meaning than ever. For we are being driven by the very stress of our difficulties to realize that the one hope of the world is the recognition and the acceptance of Jesus as God’s guiding word to our generation. Everything depends upon whether we are ready to say with Peter, “Thou art the Christ.”
Before the world could be put right, or even one human soul be justified before God, a sacrifice had to be made. Jesus as Messiah would go to the cross and offer His sinless life for the likes of you and me – it was simply His life for our life. He would also lay down a principle – our life for His life – that we were to follow after Him not in a physical crucifixion necessarily, but in one of the heart and mind and will, a signal act of surrender. The growing witness of the Spirit in our hearts is intent on winning us to His perspective, to His truth, to His life. The one who would be His disciple must release his own grip on his own life, and recognize and submit to the ownership of God over His life. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Lord, bring to maturity the seed of the inner witness in our souls of who You are. Open our eyes that we may see our need to lose our life for your sake that we may find a greater life in You. Amen.
 James S. Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, p. 112.