On the Way

As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus queried his disciples: Who do men say that I am? At least nine times, the Gospel of Mark declares that Jesus was “ON THE WAY.” His march to the City of David echoed the words in the Book of Isaiah first applied in Mark to John the Baptist- “Behold, I send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way.”

In this story, Jesus is identified by one of his disciples as the “Christ,” the Messiah of Israel. But he immediately commanded his disciples not to divulge this information to anyone else.

Country Road - Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash
[Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash]

The incident occurred in Caesarea Philippi; a town built in honor of Caesar Augustus. It is possible Jesus avoided the label “
Messiah” since it was a politically charged term that carried implications of rebellion against Roman rule, at least, in its popular usage.

Though his immediate disciples understood that he was the Messiah, they did not yet understand what that meant. When Jesus asked what others were saying about him, they gave a threefold answer, one that matched the speculation of the crowds. He was John the Baptist, Elijah, or “one of the prophets” - (Mark 6:14-16, Mark 8:27-38).

This is the first time since the opening passage of Mark that he is called “Christ” or Messiah. From here on, the stress is on Jesus as the Suffering Servant who is on the “way” to his inevitable death at the hands of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation and the Roman authorities.


By predicting his suffering and death, Jesus explained who the Messiah was and what he did, or perhaps better, what was done to him. Three times in Mark, he tells his disciples of his imminent arrest and execution - (Mark 8:31-38, 9:31, 10:33-34).

The idea of a suffering Messiah was contrary to popular expectations. At the time, there were different ideas about this figure, but no devout Jew expected the Messiah to be killed by the nation’s greatest enemy, Rome. Even though the Empire was guilty of carrying out his judicial murder, it was the machinations of the “elders and the chief priests and the scribes” that caused it.

When Jesus raised the subject of suffering, Peter began “to reprove” him, a term emphasizing how seriously he objected to this prediction. He spoke “plainly” about his impending death. This was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so sharply demonstrated that he understood the words of Jesus.

However, Jesus recognized that Peter’s opposition originated from Satan, who was determined to thwart him from following God’s ordained path. Therefore, he responded immediately and sharply. Earlier, he announced that his mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds, but as it turned out, that could only be accomplished in a most unexpected way, by his sacrificial death - (Mark 1:24, 3:27).


An incorrect understanding of who the Messiah is produces a false view of what it means to be his disciple. Just as God called His Son to self-denial and suffering, so Jesus summons every disciple to tread the same path that he did.

In Mark’s account, his call for each disciple to deny himself and take up the cross is made to the entire crowd, not just to his inner circle of disciples. It is APPLICABLE TO EACH AND EVERY FOLLOWER OF JESUS. The cross was a repugnant image of suffering and shame. Crucifixion symbolized the irresistible power of Rome. Thus, to follow Jesus is to embrace the very things that the world despises.

The image of a disciple taking up a cross would strike a grim chord with Jesus’ audience. The customary Roman practice was to force the condemned man to carry the same cross on which he was about to be hung to the place of execution.

His reference to “this adulterous and sinful generation” echoes the past rebukes of Israel by the prophets. The words, “whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” refer to his future return.

The two images Jesus uses to portray his messianic role are that of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and of the ‘Son of Man’ described in the Book of Daniel - (Isaiah 57:3-13, Ezekiel 16:32-41, Hosea 2:2-6, Daniel 7:13-14).

The image of the Suffering Servant emphasizes his rejection, suffering, and death on behalf of others. Not exclusively so, but most often in the three synoptic gospels, the term “Son of Man” is applied to his future “arrival” at the end of the age.

Some of the disciples present that day would see his kingdom “COME IN POWER.” All three synoptic gospels place this saying just before his Transfiguration. The Gospel writers clearly want us to understand that this prediction began its fulfillment in that event.

But this saying may also have in view his resurrection since that is what inaugurated the kingdom and assured his disciples of ultimate victory by means of the gift of the Spirit. Nevertheless, his unjust death on a Roman cross must precede his resurrection and exaltation to David’s throne.



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