Jesus takes the disciples out of Galilee again, and into gentile territory. This is what you might call a watershed episode.
Jewish messianic expectation was not and is not a simple matter. There were many different levels and types of messianic belief and hope. You would search in vain through the OT looking for clear indications of the messiah and what he would be like. These ideas became more prominent after the OT canon was written; you can find lots of messiah stuff in the non-canonical literature written in the intertestamental period, works like Psalms of Solomon and Baruch. But even there you cannot find a clear and consistent picture. By the time Jesus came, the expectations were all over the board.
In fact, they still are. I often hear it stated that Jews are still looking for their messiah. It is true that some are, but not all, possibly not even most. And the varied views of what the messiah will be like still persist. You could look it up.
Anyway, Jesus wants to gauge what people are saying about him by asking the disciples. Their response is that Jesus might be John (that’s what Herod thought), or Elijah (a popular view of the a portent of the messianic age), or Jeremiah (a more obscure view, although fitting well with Jesus’ ministry), or another OT prophet.
When Jesus asks the disciples what they think, Peter pipes up. It is unclear whether his response represents his personal view or a group consensus, but he proclaims that Jesus is the messiah (Christ) and the son of God.
This confession gets Peter a beatitude of his own and the recognition that this is a revelation from God, not something Peter made up. What follows has become one of the most divisive sections of scripture in church history.
Will Jesus build the church on the foundation of Peter? Or on the foundation of Peter’s confession? Or on the Christ (himself) whom Peter confesses?
Two things are clear. One, Jesus will build the church, not anyone else. And two, the church belongs to Jesus, not to anyone else.
Let’s get that straight, if nothing else.
I don’t see anything here about Peter having successors to whatever role he is given. This looks like a one-time designation, probably something like “chief missionary when I am gone”. I know not everyone sees it that way.
I’m not sure what to make of the keys. Certainly, the preaching of the apostles was the key to letting people into the kingdom after Jesus ascended. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with St. Peter standing at the gate of heaven to decide whether to admit people.
It also looks like Jesus gives Peter the privilege and obligation of speaking for God. That is awesome in the true sense of the word “awesome”. Imagine being given that task! On earth as in heaven.
The disciples are warned to keep this on the down low. I suppose the multifarious views of the messiah led to this warning. Jesus didn’t want to be misunderstood.
It’s ok for us to talk about it now, but the concept of messiahship probably doesn’t carry much freight, either with Jews or with gentiles. We are to proclaim the cross. We’ll move in that direction next.