The disciples approached Jesus one day while He was praying and Jesus turned to them and asked Peter his disciple a question: "Who do people say that I am?" Luke 9:18 What kind of question is this and why would Jesus be asking it? Is Jesus looking for affirmation in His identity as God? Is Jesus asking for a read on the crowds wondering "Have I convinced them that I am God yet?" What is the point of this question posed to Peter? The most popular contemporary interpretation of this exchange is one which says that this was Peter's confession that Jesus was Messiah, the Son of God, in the sense of "the second person in the Trinity." In Matthew's telling of this conversation,Jesus then says to Peter that "flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Heavenly Father has revealed it to you." (Matthew 16:13-20). This is then seized upon by the most Calvinist among us as a demonstration of the way that "nobody can come to the Father unless God draws them." In other words, most of the crowds have gotten it wrong or have fallen short In their estimation of Jesus because they have not received the same special revelation as Peter. Peter apparently knows that Jesus is not John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets back from the dead, He is God incarnate. The reason usually given, either directly or indirectly, for the crowds not drawing the right conclusion is simply because they are not "chosen". Peter, on the other hand, is one of the lucky ones in the blessed inner circle. Jesus then warns Peter not to let anyone else in on this secret knowledge.
This interpretation is both incredulous and thoroughly distasteful to me.This interpretation suggests that Peter has acquired secret knowledge because he received special unmerited favor from God Almighty. In other words, God has more favor for Peter and the other disciples than He for others human beings. Secondly, Jesus has been apparently trying to convince the crowds that He is God, meanwhile, behind the scenes, He is making their hearts incapable of saving faith. Thirdly, Jesus appears to desire to continue this "ministry" but doesn't intend for it to help anyone as he charges Peter and the others "not to tell anyone" about what they know. This is a very gross scene If popular interpretations are correct. Thankfully, they are not. And because of the reasons above and many others, I can say that with great confidence. Our problem with interpreting what is happening in this scene has to do with our assumptions about the aims of Jesus. Jesus was NOT on a mission to prove that He was God. Jesus was NOT on a mission to save souls from a tortuous after-life. Jesus' mission was to establish the rule and reign of God on earth as it is in Heaven. It was not part of first century Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be divine. The Messiah was to be God's right hand man, but not necessarily divine. David and Solomon were also called "God's son". And in Luke's genealogy of Jesus, Adam is called "the son of God". This title did not infer divinity. After Jesus' resurrection, this term began to have a deeper meaning but at this point in the gospel story, Peter was not confessing Jesus to be the second person of the Trinity. Peter is simply confessing that he believes that Jesus really is the Messiah, the anointed man of God who was bound to liberate Israel and establish God's rule and reign. This is very dangerous political language and that is why, while he is glad for the affirmation of His inner circle, Jesus warns Peter to keep this confession quiet for now and Peter has no objection to that. They all realize that they could all be taken in for treason and betrayed by their own national leaders who don't want trouble from Rome. Jesus was on a dangerous political mission and He was carefully building a movement even while trying to keep things as low profile as possible. One wrong move could lead to the arrest of Jesus and all of His followers, and quite possibly death, like His cousin John the Baptist. Does this sound too this-worldly to you? Does this sound like I am under-cutting the divinity of Jesus? Well, I am not. I do believe in the divinity of Jesus, but whether I convince you or not on that front, look at the text and read it with this lens in place that I attempted to articulate above and you will find that the text pops out in 3D and full color. That is how you know that you are on the right trail when it comes to exegesis and interpretation. We need to rediscover the Jesus that really is, whether or not it fits or presumptions, if we truly want to follow Him. Yes, Jesus is God. But we still might have that concept backwards. I think we will find much more help to consider things from the other end of the telescope and see that God is Jesus.