Connections 02.25.2018: The Most Important Question

Mark 8:27-38

Growing up in a Baptist church in the South, I frequently heard three questions throughout my childhood and adolescent years. Whether a Sunday school class, a Wednesday evening Bible study, or a weeklong youth camp, most of my church-related activities during these years centered on the theme of salvation. And three questions determined whether a person was “saved”:

1. Do you admit that you have sinned and need Jesus to save you?
2. Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross?
3. Are you willing to confess that Jesus is your Lord and accept him as your Savior?

Those questions are also known as the “ABCs of salvation,” the “plan of salvation,” or, when connected to verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the “Roman Road.” Supposedly, if you can answer “yes” to all three of them, you’re saved from your sins and will go to heaven instead of hell when you die.

This “plan” seemed simple enough to me when I was ten years old. Because I was able to answer “yes” to the questions with confidence, even though I really didn’t know what it all meant, I walked the church aisle to publicly announce my decision for Christ and was baptized by immersion soon after. According to the theology of my church, I was then saved and could never lose that status.

As I grew older—went to college, got married, had kids, walked through the ups and downs of life, saw tragedy befall the best people, watched blessings come to the most detestable individuals, witnessed church leaders engaging in polarizing, exclusive, harmful behavior, and on and on—the “plan” didn’t seem so simple anymore.

At some point along my journey of spiritual maturation (a journey I am still on and will always be on as long as I live), I decided that the three questions that used to seem so important were actually human creations designed to help with evangelizing. In and of themselves, they are not bad questions. But without context and expansion and a lifetime of discipleship, they can build walls and create barriers. In my study of the Bible and particularly the life of Jesus, I discovered a better question. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the most important question of the Christian faith.

Walking with his disciples on the way to minister in various villages, Jesus asked his friends what other people were saying about him (Mark 8:27). They gave Jesus the standard answers they’d heard. None of those answers contained the full identity of Jesus Christ. We can all give such answers. We can all point to Bible interpreters, pastors, Sunday school teachers, people outside the church, and even Scripture verses that might tell us who Jesus is. Some of these answers approach the truth. Some are too simple. Some are just wrong.

And then Jesus asks the most important question, the one that determines how each individual approaches life in relation to Christ: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Peter gives a good answer in verse 29, but I don’t think that’s the point of this passage. I think the point is who we—you and I and any other individual person—say Jesus is. Until we know Jesus personally, until we sense his Spirit around and within us as individuals, until he becomes an integral part of our lives, we are only scratching the surface of what it means to be a Christian, a Christ follower.

The “plan of salvation” has merit, but following Jesus is much more than making a one-time decision to agree to the plan. It’s a lifetime of getting up every day and answering his question: “Who do you say that I am?”


1. If you grew up hearing about the “plan of salvation,” what form did it take? In what ways did you find it helpful and meaningful?
2. How might this simplified version of a life of faith be harmful to people?
3. Why might it be easier to abide by what others say about Jesus Christ than to figure out who Christ is to us personally?
4. How is Jesus’ question important for your life as a Christ follower?
5. Who do you say Jesus is? Why?

Reference Shelf

Mark has noted the growing opposition toward Jesus along the way. The authorities question Jesus and his disciples (2:6-7, 16, 24). They watch for an opportunity to accuse him, and then they plot to put him to death (3:1-6). The scribes from Jerusalem charge that Jesus acts in the power of Beelzebul (3:22), and his family comes to take him home, apparently fearing for his safety (3:31-35). Jesus speaks in riddles and withdraws periodically to Gentile areas across the Sea of Galilee, or to the north. Even in his hometown he is not received with faith (6:1-6). In Mark 7 Jesus attacks the foundation of Pharisaic piety—the importance of ritual purity. It would not require supernatural perception for Jesus to be aware that his present course was leading him to a conflict with the Jerusalem authorities from which there would be no escape.

While it does not appear that there was any expectation of a messiah who would suffer an atoning death, the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 and the role of the righteous sufferer in the wisdom tradition laid a foundation for understanding the suffering of the righteous as atoning for the sins of their persecutors, as we find in the tributes to the Maccabean martyrs. Against this background, it would have been surprising if Jesus had not been aware that his life was in danger, or reflected on the significance of his death in light of his awareness of his sonship and his role as agent of the kingdom. The prophets and martyrs also looked forward to divine vindication, as for example when the Maccabean martyrs declare, “the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7:9; cf. 7:14). The extent to which Jesus’ words at this point have been shaped by the church in light of his death and resurrection is a matter of great debate. Nevertheless, the echoes of allusions to the son of man and the suffering servant may well go back to Jesus himself.

Jesus’ announcement of his coming death and resurrection, with its reference to the Son of Man, appears to be a direct response to Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. While not repudiating the title “Messiah,” therefore, Jesus substitutes for it the term “Son of Man” and interprets his role in terms that contradicted popular expectations for the Messiah.

The fact that the suffering of the Son of Man is “necessary” (dei) implies that it is part of God’s eternal plan, an event of eschatological significance (see also 9:11; 13:7, 10, 14). Secondarily, the term may also suggest that the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are “necessary” because they are foretold in Scripture. For the background of the Son of Man sayings, see and the commentary on 2:10. The passion predictions stand in ironic contrast to the splendor evoked by Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man” coming in the clouds of heaven and being presented before the “Ancient One” (Dan 7:13-14). Instead of dominion, glory, and kingship, the Son of Man will undergo great suffering, be rejected, and ultimately be killed. Instead of being served by “all peoples, nations, and languages” (Dan 7:14), the Son of Man will be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes. Whereas in the Danielic vision his dominion “shall not pass away,” the Son of Man will be killed and after three days rise again. Like the suffering servant, he will be “despised and rejected by others” (Isa 53:3). The verb “to be rejected” echoes one of the Hallel psalms that is quoted often in the New Testament: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Ps 118:22; cf. Mark 12:10; Matt 21:42; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7). The connection between this verse from the psalms and the passion prediction is confirmed pointedly when Jesus quotes it while responding to the chief priests, scribes, and elders in the temple in Jerusalem (12:10; cf. 11:27). Later, Jesus is arrested by the same three groups mentioned in the passion prediction (see 14:43).

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 272–74.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).


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