In last Sunday’s sermon, my parish priest was reflecting on the gospel from Luke 9:18-24 in which Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter responds, “the Christ of God.” The priest stated that Peter didn’t really know what he was saying in that statement or what it really means to say that Jesus is the Christ and that is why Jesus rebuked them. I have never heard that interpretation of the gospel passage and I have always thought the reading was similar to the passage in Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus asks the same question with Peter applying appropriately. After which, Jesus calls him Peter for the first time and gives him the keys to the kingdom. Is this not the same question from the gospel of Luke or was this a different instance where Peter clearly didn’t have a clue?
I wouldn’t say that Peter doesn’t have a clue, I’d say he has a clue but not the complete answer. The only clue Peter had was that Jesus was the messiah, the Christ. But what that actually meant was something he didn’t fully understand.
The general understanding of the coming messiah was that he was going to free Israel from foreign domination and re-establish it as an earthly kingdom. Even immediately following the resurrection this was their expectation (Acts 1:6). Jesus reveals that messiah must suffer and die but Peter refuses to accept this (Matthew 16:21-22; Mark 8:31-33). Luke however omits Peters rejection of the suffering messiah. Luke most likely summarized the event and simply let it stand that the disciples (without singling out Peter) didn’t fully understand the role of the messiah.
This is similar to when John the Baptist calls Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was correct but he didn’t fully understand the meaning of the “lamb of God.” John the Baptist most likely understood the lamb to mean a lamb who grows to be a ram who leads Israel to drive out sin and evil from their midst and not a suffering servant. This was a popular image in Jewish literature in the two centuries before Jesus. This is why even after proclaiming Jesus the lamb of God he questions if Jesus is “the one” (Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20).
Yes, Peter had a revelation from God that Jesus is the messiah but he did not fully grasp what that meant.