Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently Aug 23, 2020.
Summary:  This passage of Peter's confession has a number of familiar theological words that I try to unpack a bit.  This year I want to unpack the setting, Caesarea Philippi, home to all sorts of crazy, pagan, awful stuff.  It can be easy to look at our world, even our country, even our community, and feel overwhelmed and disgusted.  Even at those times our job as a church is to confess Christ, in and out of season, whether it is popular or not.  What is our confession?  It is that he is the Christ, the anointed savior, son of the living God.

Idea for a children's sermon:  the whole fish i-ch-th-u-s thing (Jesus Christ God's Son Savior) as the most basic confession.

καισαρειας φιλιππι (Caesarea Philippi, 16:13):  This town is not a coincidental mention.  It was a trading hub, located along some major land routes.  It had been associated, in the past, with Baal (OT Canaanite god) and Pan (Greek god).  In Jesus day, it was one of the Roman capitals in the area, with immense building projects undertaken by Herod, including the construction of a temple in honor of Augustus.  In fact, one of the temples was believed to be located at the gates of Hades, a direct connection to the underworld.  Philippi epitomized the Greco-Roman religious mileau of the day: a pantheistic cult that continued to give more space to emperor worship; above all, a worship of beauty, sex, power and money. 

One can go even further though and think about the extent to which these are all not simply dead gods, but gods of death.  At the main temple in Caesarea Philippi, which was a temple believed to be the gates of Hades, people would offer dead animal sacrifices  ( good pictures!).  Hence the importance in Peter's confession that God is a living God! 

If you want to go even further, you can study more about what worship of Pan actually entailed, but now we have an adult only sermon.

υιος του ανθροπος  (Son of Man 16:13).  As Christians we instantly recognize this title to refer to Jesus.  In fact, we often look at this title as one that uplifts Jesus as the pinnacle of humanity.  That he was the pinnacle of humanity is not arguable; but what exactly does this mean?  In the Old Testament, this particular title for an individual or humanity seems to suggest humanity's weakness:
- What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4; See also Psalm 144:3)
If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot-- a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
God also calls Ezekiel the Son of Man a number (80?) times; it is a way of reminding Ezekiel he is not divine.  In short, to Bible calling Jesus the Son of Man ascribes both majesty but also humility to Christ.  (I even checked with Wikipedia to see if I was missing something here; in fact, its article emphasizes my point about this title and humility.)

χριστος  (Christos, Messiah, 16:16)  Christos is Greek for anointed.  In Hebrew, the word for anointed is Messiah.  Peter is calling Jesus the Messiah.  The Old Testament strongly associates Messiah with a king, in the line of David, one who leads and protects the people.  The idea seems to be that a Messiah is a divine talisman, in that he has special protection (1 Sam 26:23; Psalm 20:6).  Interestingly, in Leviticus (4:6 eg) the High Priest is also referred to as the "anointed" or "Messiah."  Furthermore, Isaiah in chapter 61, declares himself anointed for his vision, hence prophet could also be understood as the role of the anointed (Psalm 105:15 connects this as well).  As Messiah then could be understood to capture three offices:  king, priest and prophet, which matches up with Calvin's understanding of Christ and his offices.  

The question for me is whether there is really a developed understanding as the Messiah as one who will suffer in the Old Testament.  While Kings, priests and especially prophets may suffer, there seems a much stronger note of victory, even theology of glory, surrounding this term.  As NT Wright puts it:  "Everyone knew that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah." (p. 230, The New Testament and Its World.) This would explain why Peter so soon afterwards does not want Jesus to suffer!  (In short, Peter knew his Old Testament!).  It also shows a great contrast with the term son of Man! 

I would also add that NT Wright does a great job of unpacking the Jewish understanding of "son of man" and "messiah."  In his mind they work together, in that the Son of Man refers to Daniel 7 and comes with hopes of Israel's redemption over the foreign and invading empires.  While even Wright admits the Daniel 7 is bit more ambiguous of a connection, he helpfully demonstrates the Jewish people of the 1st century had very earthly hopes.  They all wanted an end to their situation as a puppet regime of Rome; they may have understood this happening in different ways, but ultimately, it was for the same reason.  In short, no first century Jew would have said:  "I want the Messiah to come, die in a humiliating fashion, be resurrected and then promise us that if we follow him, we will die and then enter into a non-earthly eternity with God that will include lots of non-Jews."  The Messiah was to bring about the new reign of God on earth, which included the vindication of Israel (p. 234, The New Testament and Its World).

πετρος /πετρα Petros Petra:  We've all heard that Peter's name means Rock, because he was the Rock on which the church would be built.  Both words clearly have a the same first few letters (Petr), but I am not sure if we must necessarily infer that Peter the person is what the church will be built on.  Beyond some linguistic oddities (Petra is a feminine noun and ends in an a, nothing like Peter's name's ending), the far more logical thing is that the church will be built on the confession, which comes from heaven.  I think the Bible really underscores this by showing Peter's misunderstanding just a few sentences later.

αδης hades:  See my blog post on words for hell in the Bible.

Grammar note 1:  Verb tenses -- when Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" the verb is in the imperfect, noting a repeated action.  Jesus continually asks and continues to this day to ask:  Who do you say that I am?

Grammar note 2:  In the infinitive phrase "Who do you say that I am" the word "I" is in the accusative (me).  Why?  Because in the subject of an infinitive clause is in the accusative, not the nominative.


RevTFB said...

Paragraph 3 "possession of a great harbor" would be about Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, not Caesarea Philippi on the slope of Mt. Hermon.

Rob Myallis said...

My bad. I adjusted this!! The important feature is the temple to Pan!!