“He said, ‘And what about you? Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'” — Matthew 16:15-16, CEB
“Favored and holy are those who have a share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will rule with him for one thousand years.” — Revelation 20:6, CEB
Woah, an aggressive title with matching graphic AND two Scriptures?!
That’s right! We should be having a good talk today, folks. This will be my last one for the weekend, as the wife and I are joining some friends to go camping in celebration of a birthday. It will be good to head out and disconnect, but I couldn’t do that without a final, hopefully helpful, post to send us all into the weekend.
The two Scripture passages that we are looking at are Matthew 16:13-16 and Revelation 20:1-6. Yes, these are two very different texts. One is a Gospel account, and the other is a letter. One is pseudo-historical, and the other is apocalyptic. If, however, we take a closer look at these passages, we will find a commonality that will hopefully serve to be instructive and inspiring, so let’s delve in.
The passage from Matthew’s chapter 16 is one of the most important in the Gospel. It is the moment when the usually slow disciples (or Peter, anyway) make the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (verse 16). The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, so kick that habit. He wasn’t born to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Christ of Nazareth. The word is Greek, meaning “anointed,” making it a parallel to the Hebrew word “messiah,” also meaning “anointed.” Both of these terms were often used interchangeably, and to call Jesus either of them was to make a startling claim.
First, the claim is that Jesus is the one who has come to save Israel and set things right. Granted, the disciples thought this would end up looking a little differently (see James and John’s completely unenlightened request in Matthew 20:20-23), but still the claim was a serious one. Secondly, the claim means that Jesus is the rightful king of Israel, which is a problem considering that Israel already had a self-imposed king (Caesar). Too often Jesus is seen as being crucified by the Jews because of his teachings. Certain Jewish authorities turned him in because of his teachings regarding repentance and his being the Human One (Literally “Son of Man,” connection to Daniel 7:13-14), but the Romans crucified him, and it wasn’t because he was teaching love and a looser understanding of Jewish Law. Rather, persecution began with Jesus and persisted for his followers precisely because claiming to have a king other than Caesar was a big no-no. Add to that the fact that Christians were considered atheist and unpatriotic because of their refusal to make sacrifices to other Gods, to Caesar, or serve in the military, and you have a recipe for some serious mistreatment.
All in all, for Peter and the disciples to confess this about Jesus is a big deal, and it made life much harder for all of them. However, they did it anyway, and here is where I find the connection to Revelation’s text (here is the link again if you don’t want to scroll up). In Revelation’s chapter 20, we see that Satan is bound in his first end times defeat (verses 1-3), second if you count his removal from heaven in chapter 12. The next section discusses people who are taking thrones in judgment and favor. “They were the ones who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and God’s word… hadn’t worshiped the beast or its image… they came to life and ruled with Christ for one thousand years” (verse 4). The ones who end up being considered righteous before God and who are the truly blessed ones are those who held steadfast to the confession that Peter initially makes in Matthew 16. Though they lost their life, they are portrayed as gaining eternity for their decision to remain faithful. This is quite instructive for us today.
In our world today, there are still many forces that can draw us away from being faithful people, whether that be to Christ, to our marriages or relationships, to our planet, or to ourselves (to me, faithfulness to Christ encompasses all of these). These forces and voices are loud and they shout things that confuse us, cause us to despair, and distract us from the truth of who we are called to be.
In Revelation, we have the Beast, the Dragon, the False Prophet, all seeking to distract or destroy believers using the might of an empire. Today, these same forces use the wealth and the lure of power in this American context. We become so concerned about our own sense of security and prosperity that we will deny God, either explicitly or implicitly by our denial of others. In Matthew, there are voices shouting over each other, trying to answer the question of who Jesus is and how he should be thought of (Matthew 16:13-14). Today, we have a ton of voices that make all kinds of claims about whether Jesus was real or not, whether the Incarnation is believable, whether faith itself is even a good thing, and whether or not we would be better off just living life for ourselves rather than for some faith that we can’t prove.
With all these voices and powers at work, we lose sight of the most important question that is posed to us every moment of every day: “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” (verse 15). What do YOU have to say? Who are YOU going to decide to be? If we don’t make that decision, the world will decide for us and the results will be catastrophic. If, however, we make the decision to remain faithful, and to pursue the best in ourselves and others relentlessly, we may face persecution, we may face pain, we may even lose our lives… but we will have gained eternity. From the moment we make the decision to be faithful, we will have stepped out of the false boxes and categories the world tries to force on us, and we will be living true Life that extends beyond whatever boundaries humanity tries to put up.
For me, and I hope for you, the decision to be faithful to Christ is one that I want to make and it is one that I want to make everyday. I want to relentlessly pursue a life that is beyond what the world tries to make me be and that frees me to love God and to love others with reckless abandon. I may fail or fall at times, but I still can’t help but push forward, empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us. I hope you will realize that while everyone has an opinion on who you are, what you should believe, and what you should do, only you can or should make that choice. In Christ, we are free to be who we are called to be without bowing to whatever other self-proclaimed “gods” or “kings” are out there, and all it takes is deciding to try, moment after moment, time after time, day after day, listening to God’s voice and going where the Spirit leads us. If we go about this work, though it may cost us dearly, we truly will be blessed.
Peace be with you! Enjoy the weekend!