Robed in a white satin tunic and surrounded by powerful political and religious leaders, on December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte entered the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. During the elaborate three-hour ceremony, he put on an 80-pound mantle of crimson velvet and crowned himself Emperor of the French.
Our text today doesn’t include descriptions of velvet or cathedrals. But even without all the pomp and circumstance that attended Napoleon’s coronation, what Peter envisioned when he confessed Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 18) was not altogether different. Messiah means “anointed one,” and since the earliest days of the Israelite monarchy, kings were anointed with oil as a sign of their coronation (see 1 Samuel 10). Especially since Israel was languishing under the Roman Empire, Peter might have believed he was hailing Jesus as the soon-to-be-crowned conquering king who would restore Israel to its glory.
Yet Jesus’ anointing was of a different sort. It more closely resembled the anointing that, since ancient times, has been used to comfort the dying (see 26:12). Perhaps this is why Peter was shocked when Jesus began to teach that He must suffer and die (vv. 21–22). Suffering and death could hardly be more at odds with the image of a conquering king.
Peter initially recoiled at Jesus’ teachings. Still, he was not wrong to believe that Jesus would conquer—but he was mistaken about what Jesus would defeat and how. Jesus would claim victory not through violence but through the power of a love so great it was willing to die for us “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8). Such amazing love is the foundation of the kingdom of God and the wellspring of eternal life.
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