Context is Everything

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:21-28

01-19-2012-Israel-Tour-7692

Water from the large spring here at Caesarea Philippi flow into the Jordan River | January 2012

I recall learning how to do an in-depth study of a Bible text. The process is called hermeneutics. There are several facets of that art: word meaning, grammar, syntax, author, purpose and context. Context has much to do with author, purpose, audience, and placement in the overall work itself. It’s really simple, actually. But it is not easy. As with any art, one can spend a lifetime honing the craft of Bible interpretation.

Too easily our own biases can turn exegesis (mining the text) into eisegesis (seeding the text). A thorough study of the context helps prevent such reading in, and helps one gain a fuller and better understanding of the actual meaning of the text.

In the case of this section of Matthew’s gospel, this brings great enlightenment to our task of understanding. The event took place at Caesarea Philippi. One of the notorious facts associated with this place is the spring that emerged from the large cave became the center of pagan worship.  Beginning in the 3rd century B.C., sacrifices were cast into the cave as offerings to the god Pan.

There were other gods associated with this place as well. So when Jesus asks who do people say I am, and then once the confession comes, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus is then set to show his followers just how different he is from other gods. Rather than asking that they throw their sacrifices (including, reportedly, live infants{!}), he will offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world – including the sins of the pagans who worshiped their false gods in this area.

The practice must have been abhorrent to the disciples, and anyone who would honor God from his heart. To think that Jesus would be treated as a sacrifice was beyond anything they could imagine. So Peter says what the others surely must have been thinking: No! Jesus, you’ve got to rethink this!

But Jesus had thought it through. This was his plan – together with the Father and the Holy Spirit – from the foundations of eternity. It had to be. I suspect that he chose to make his point here so that the full impact of his suffering and death would be experienced before he even entered Jerusalem for that last time.

Man’s thoughts would design a different plan. But God’s plans exceed man’s by both scope and span. Jesus would die for the sins of the world. His death would bring blessings that would span eternity. Within that context we are now living. Surely we can gain some insight about life and love, work and play if we pay attention to it. It may not be easy, but it is simple, and it’s worth a lifelong of pursuit.

1 comment
  1. Yes, context is crucial. Thanks for sharing!

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