He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 (NET)
It had been nearly five hundred years since the time that the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks of years (four hundred ninety years) was said to have commenced. There was a general understanding that the time had come for God to act “to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic visions, and to anoint a most holy place (Daniel 9:24b). These things were said to Daniel, by the angel Gabriel, “concerning your people and your holy city” (9:24a), so at the time of Christ, in connection with messianic expectation, it was intimately connected with what God was finally going to do for His people, for Jerusalem, and for His Temple.
Owing to this, many would-be messiah’s had risen up in Israel before Jesus’ day. Because Jesus was ultimately rejected as Israel’s Messiah, other would-be Messiah’s would rise up after Him. When men would rise up and begin to draw followers to themselves, one could almost naturally expect the claim of messiah to be either claimed by the individual or applied to him by his devotees. Once the claim was verbalized, it would be spread around and draw more people to his movement. Now generally, this movement was revolutionary and violent in nature. That is because Israel, at that time, believed that God was sending His messiah to them for a few specific reasons. They believed that in the messiah, God would bring Israel’s history and purpose in and for this world to a climax. They believed that the messiah was going to lead Israel to defeat its pagan oppressors and drive them from their land. They believed that through the messiah, God was going to re-establish His Temple and His presence in that Temple, so that the Lord God would dwell in their midst as had been long-promised. They believed that God was going to establish a new creation. They believed that at long last, Israel’s exile, in which they did not control their land---their inheritance---was going to be brought to an end. They believed that Israel was going to be set in power and authority over all nations.
In their minds, the coming of messiah, and the working of messiah, was quite naturally going to involve and require a popular uprising. Many in Israel looked forward to being able to participate in such actions. So it is natural to conclude that any man who believed himself to be that messiah, and whose followers believed him to be that messiah, would want to noise such things abroad, in order to draw men in for the purpose of fighting in the battle to come, in which God Himself was going to have a heavy hand. Indeed, that had been the case up to that point, so why would it be any different for Jesus? Since Jesus had already drawn huge crowds and fed thousands of people at a time, and since, without a doubt, such things would have been being said about Him already, the disciples probably figured that Jesus represented the best opportunity to rally enough support to meet all of those prevailing expectations.
When Peter called Jesus “the Christ,” he was acknowledging Him as potentially being Israel’s Messiah. Peter was saying that he believed Jesus to be the long-awaited King of Israel, in the line of David, on which rested the hope of so many. Having said these words, Jesus’ response was probably thoroughly surprising for Peter, as Jesus “warned them not to tell anyone about Him” (8:30). In that day and time, and in Peter’s mind (along with the rest of the disciples), what Jesus just said would have made very little sense. Why keep this quiet? As if it was not bad enough that Jesus issued them a warning not to tell anyone about Him, contrary to every urge that they would have had, “Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man (messianic title) must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31).
What? Jesus’ disciples would have been stunned by this. By saying what He said, Jesus was speaking the language of failure. God’s messiah was not supposed to suffer. A suffering Messiah, with that suffering usually taking place on a Roman cross, was a failed Messiah. He was supposed to make Israel’s enemies suffer, and bring Israel to the place of exaltation. “So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (8:32b). Undoubtedly, this rebuke consisted of Peter informing Jesus that they needed to make Him known, to tell people that He was the Messiah, to remind them of the miracles that He had already performed, so that they could gather allies, start an uprising, keep all of these things that He had just mentioned from happening, and usher in the kingdom of God in which Israel was indeed exalted above all nations so as to rule the world. Indeed, the mindset of the disciples would not have been altogether different from most people of the day. Even after Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, we get a glimpse of what they believed His Messianic purposes to have been, when they ask, “Lord, is this the time when You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b).
It is with all of this in mind that we can understand what follows, when “after turning and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s’.” (8:33) Jesus’ disciples were focused on what God was going to do for Israel. Jesus was focused on what was going to be done by God, through Him, for all peoples.