Peter the Apostle is often presented in the four Gospels as the spokesman for the disciples. Apparently, he was willing to say what was on everyone’s mind, no matter how little thought had been put into it. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter proved the disciples were not permanently hardened to Christ, and that our Lord was slowly opening their eyes so that they could see His true identity.
Mark 8:27 tells us that on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” In so doing, He set up a contrast between what His closest friends thought about His person and work and what those outside of the group, those who did not know Him, thought about Him. Their responses are instructive—first-century Jews, by and large, placed Jesus in the same class as the greatest prophets, a class including John the Baptist and Elijah (v. 28). As one commentator notes, the people saw our Lord not just as a prophet but as one of the prophets, those whose influence set them apart from everyone else who exercised a prophetic ministry.
Clearly, however, Jesus did not believe that view of Him is high enough, for He then introduced the other side of the contrast by asking the disciples who they thought Him to be (v. 29a). Believing that Jesus was a prophet is insufficient, for while He was a prophet, He was—and is—much more. And after being hardened and slow to understand, our Lord’s disciples finally began to see that their teacher was no mere prophet. Their eyes were starting to be opened, and Peter answered Jesus’ question on behalf of the group, saying, “You are the Christ,” that is, the Jewish Messiah (v. 29b).
The confession of Jesus as Christ, as Messiah, as the “Anointed One,” is the fundamental Christian confession. Prophets, priests, and kings were anointed under the old covenant (Ex. 40:12–15; 1 Sam. 16; 1 Kings 19:16). So, the confession of Jesus as Messiah recognizes that Jesus is the Prophet who reveals to us God’s will, the Priest who sacrifices Himself to atone for our sin, and the King who is Lord over creation. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark: “The church stands strong and unconquerable as long as it remains committed to its confession that Jesus is the Christ. . . . A loss of confidence as to the identity of Jesus does not disrupt merely the external trappings of the church; it disrupts the church’s foundation. We who confess the name of Christ must remain firm in our conviction that He is God in the flesh.”