Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 5
THE GOOD CONFESSION
To understand the material presented in Matthew 16, we must study Jewish first century thinking. For a thousand years the Jews had thought of themselves as a chosen people. Yet never in all that time had the Jews been a great nation in the sense of being a mighty world power. They had come closest in the reign of King David. Solomon had possessed wealth and prestige, but he lacked the military victories of David. During his reign the people had a difficult time for the revolt that came shortly after his death is evidence that, rather than being a time of great wellbeing, it had indeed been a time in which they were “chastised with whips.” Immediately after the death of Solomon the Kingdom of Israel was divided. Though the unreasonableness of Rehoboam drove the people to civil war, yet every true Israelite mourned the fact that Israel was thus divided. It was not long after this that prophets began to arise talking in glowing terms of a time when a great king should arise to unite again God’s chosen people.
After the conquest of Israel and Judah by foreign powers, the prophecies concerning the coming king took on new meaning. Now the coming King must not only unite Israel, but free her. This, to some extent, explains the hatred the Jews felt for the Samaritans. Israelites had intermarried with heathens to create a mongrel race. It greatly complicated any work the coming king might do to reunite the tribes of Israel.
The King to Come
All the great prophets spoke of the great king that was to come. References were even found in the writings of Moses that seemed to point to him. This was amazing for Moses had written long before the time of David.
The prophets had a special title for the king that was to come. When Samuel had first declared Saul to be chosen by God for Israel’s king, he anointed him. When David was selected by God to succeed Saul, rather than Saul’s own son, Samuel anointed David. The word for an anointed or specially chosen king was “Messiah” which is translated “Christ.” It meant that here was one specifically chosen by God to be king over God’s people. So when the prophets spoke of the coming king, they called him “Messiah,” or “Christ.” (John 1:41).
Gradually there grew up a Messianic or Christian body of thought (John 1:45). When this king came he was to be recognized by several confirming proofs. He was to be born of a virgin of David’s lineage. He was to be born in Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. He was to possess special miraculous powers direct from God that would make him irresistible. He would come in the time of the fourth dynasty from Babylon When recognized by the faithful, he would gather followers and set up a kingdom that would stand throughout history. Israel would be a great nation to the end of time. His reign would be a time of peace and prosperity such as was never known in the world before. Other prophecies such as Isaiah 53 or Psalms 22 predicted great suffering for the Messiah. These the Jews either ignored or misunderstood. Some said they were about some other man or about Israel herself. The Messiah would be a savior and redeemer, of course; but from Roman bondage. They could not harmonize suffering martyr with conquering king.
In the Fullness of Time
The Jews of Christ’s time recognized that the fourth dynasty had arrived. Many were tense with anticipation. Of this number were such people as Simeon and Anna the prophetess. The men in power were tense too, but not altogether with anticipation. When the coming of Messiah was yet a great way off, the rulers of the people could look forward eagerly to his coming too. But when they felt that it might be immanent they were faced with the fact that Messiah would doubtless make quite a few changes in government. Whatever Messiah’s coming might mean to the people as a whole, it seemed to point to a lessening of authority and power for them. Wherever a new wonderworker or great personality appeared, the people gathered, asking again the oft repeated question, “Can this be the Messiah?” When John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, he at once attracted a following. He was an unusual and powerful personality. But he denied that he was the promised Messiah.
All this was a part of the heritage of Simon Bar Jonah. He had no clear concept of the mission of the Christ. With the rest of the twelve he was looking for a conquering king who would “restore again the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1). He had been captivated by the unparalleled personality of Jesus. He had met the mother of Jesus in Cana of Galilee if nowhere else. It is very likely that he was aware of how Jesus fitted all the facts that were to be confirming proofs of the identity of the Messiah. John the Baptist had whipped the people, Simon among them, to a frenzy of expectancy. John’s mother was doubtless aware of the birthplace and virgin birth of Jesus. John had proclaimed Jesus to be the great one in the presence of Simon’s brother Andrew. Phillip had announced to Nathaniel that Jesus was he whom Moses and the prophets had spoken of. Jesus himself talked constantly of the kingdom and assured them that it was imminent. His parables were almost all concerned with the coming kingdom.
Certainly the miracles of Jesus were the most dramatic evidence that he was the long awaited Christ of Israel. As Simon watched him feed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, he must have thought of the advantage such power would be to a king leading an army. Supply lines would be no problem. He had heard him address thousands and completely amaze them with the authority with which he spoke. He knew Jesus to be a great orator and leader. When he saw him still the tempest, he must have rejoiced in such power. What army could stand against a king who could command the elements? All the proofs were there. It but waited for Simon to speak. He was ready for his great confession.