Today’s Gospel is the first of three passion predictions which form the theological center of Mark’s understanding of discipleship (Mk 8:31–38; 9:30–37; 10:32–45).
It is within this context of discipleship that Jesus also reveals his own identity as Messiah and what that means. Each passion prediction is structured the same way. First Jesus unfolds his own understanding of what it means to be the Messiah. Second the disciples cannot understand what Jesus is saying. And third Jesus offers a corrective teaching which addresses the theology of discipleship.
1) The Messiah. Jesus begins the dialogue with his disciples by asking them what they hear people saying about his own identity. He then directs the question to the disciples themselves. Peter speaks for the entire group and declares that Jesus is the Christ. This is absolutely the correct answer but Peter and Jesus do not understand the meaning of “Christ” (Messiah) in the same way. Jesus admonishes the disciples not to say anything about this to anyone. He knows they will not understand its full meaning until after his death and resurrection.
2) Misunderstanding. Jesus explains the meaning of being the Messiah in terms of the necessity of the Son of Man suffering, being rejected, being killed, and rising after three days. To most Jews awaiting a Messiah what Jesus said would sound like pure nonsense. He appears to be describing a failed Messiah. Peter still representing the group reprimands Jesus for talking this way. A serious argument ensues and Jesus ends up cursing Peter for his failure to understand. To the ears of a faithful Jew, however, Peter is correct and Jesus is speaking nonsense.
3) Discipleship. After things have calmed down Jesus calls the disciples together with the crowd (the readers) and presents his corrective teaching which centers on the meaning of discipleship. Discipleship is about following Jesus along the path he outlined when describing the meaning of being Messiah. Jesus is in fact the model disciple. Discipleship is about suffering and death which, ironically, will end up in a totally new way of life. A disciple gives up this life, which is not really life, in order to gain real life which is described in the Gospel. It is a total reversal of values which the disciples do not understand.