In studying through the book of Luke, I discovered something that to me is quite a little gem. In Matt 16/Luke 9 we have the story of Jesus’ dialog with Peter and the disciples about His identity:
“”But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”” Matthew 16:15-19, NIV.
Prior to this point in the narrative, there had been miracles, moral teachings, parables, things of that nature. Storms had been calmed, big crowds had been fed. Jesus had given authority to the 12 apostles and they had been sent out. Then this little pop quiz happened – “Who do you say that I am?” There had been no talk of death or resurrection or crosses or whatever. Now, immediately, Jesus starts talking like this:
“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.” Matthew 16:21, NIV.
There is a distinct and sharp turn in Jesus’ ministry at that point. Notice it says, “from that time on…” The next event in the story is the transfiguration – Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain, starts glowing real crazy, and talks to Moses and Elijah directly. What I’ve never noticed is that in Luke, it is actually recorded WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT! Check this out:
“Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:28-31, NKJV.
I think that the details about the propitiatory nature of Jesus’ death and the fact that He would be resurrected, and that His death would be for the salvation of everyone who believed, had never been disclosed even in heaven. I think that Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets, and it is at this time that the secret is let out to the important figures in heaven. Look at this passage in 1Peter:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things which angels desire to look into.” 1 Peter 1:10-12, NKJV.
So, it was not revealed, not even to those in the highest heaven, how the suffering of God’s servant would accomplish the salvation of the community of those who believe. It waited for millennia until one event – the establishment of the church. The church was established when at least one person had come to believe, of their own volition, revealed by the Father directly, and known to no other in heaven or earth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This was untaught, unprompted, it was a miraculous and singular revelation directly to the first member of the Church. Once that was in place, once that was true, the business of saving the church was afoot. Key persons in heaven were informed of important details. They talked about His decease which He was about to accomplish. If you think about it, this is a very strange turn of phrase. If you asked someone, “What do you think will be your greatest accomplishment in life?” If they said, “My death!” you would think them very strange indeed. Yet we see Jesus’ death become the center stage event at this point.
The disciples didn’t like it. They rebuked Him. They didn’t get it. He kept telling them, even to the point of seeming to be a bit exasperated with them:
“”Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.” Luke 9:44, 45, NKJV.
So, we see that up to the point of belief, there was an emphasis on pressing righteous works. Once the church was established by faith in the shocking nature of Jesus’ identity, we see the nature of Christ’s ministry shift. I think this is fascinating and very supportive of the message of grace. As humans, as members of the church, we are the privileged ones who are the recipients of things that angels and prophets of old longed to know, longed to receive. We know them and are given them as pure simple gifts, because we are the beloved ones, the bride of Christ and the cherished of God. The history of heaven and earth hinged on the simple unadorned faith of a normal man, and we are each a part of that privileged set if we believe.
Fascinating. I’d never considered Peter as the first believer, the first member of the church, but now that you say that it seems clear in the text. Simon Peter receives so much flak for his impulsive blunders and instability, but he made a beautiful declaration of something newly revealed by God.
What is amazing to me is that heavenly beings and major prophets and Moses longed to look into these things, but were concealed. Then, it was revealed to Peter, a fisherman, a regular guy who was a believer. He is the first of a long line of normal humble people who have no idea how important their place is in the scheme of things. I really love that idea.