18 Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” 21 He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. 22 He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” 23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:18-24)
The entire section of Luke’s gospel (9:18-27) consists of a conversation in three parts. The first two parts (vv. 18-20) contain questions about Jesus’ identity: who do the crowds say that I am and then who do you disciples say that I am. The final part of the conversation (vv.23-27) concerns Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of discipleship. All of this has followed Luke’s indirect revelation about Jesus as the one who fulfills the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, and Moses in the exodus.
After the “Infancy Narratives,” Luke has followed the outline of Mark – until this point. Luke has moved directly from the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30–44) to Peter’s confession (Mark 8:27–30). Various explanations for this omission of Markan material have been suggested (avoiding doublets or omitting accounts of Jesus’ work outside of Galilee), but the omitted material is not sufficiently consistent to confirm any of these conjectures. The effect of the omission is to bring the feeding and Peter’s confession into direct relation to each other—a fact that may prove significant for defining the meaning of the confession “the Messiah of God.” [Culpepper, 199]
There are three other distinctive Lukan modifications of the confession scene. First, Luke has omitted Mark’s designation of the geographical location (Caesarea Philippi) and substitutes instead a designation of the spiritual context of the confession. Rather than locate the confession of Jesus as the Christ at a place named for the Roman emperor and his tetrarch, the confession occurs where Jesus is at prayer to God with his disciples. Prayer is an important theme in Luke because it serves as another way of emphasizing that all Jesus does is a part of God’s redemptive plan (see 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 11:1; 22:40–41, 44, 46; 23:46). Luke also omits Mark’s reference to being “on the way,” reserving the introduction of the passion motif until after Peter’s confession.
Second, Luke changes Mark’s allusion to “people” in Mark 8:27 to “the crowds.” The crowds have been a recurring fixture of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry since the end of Luke 4. The crowds press around Jesus. On one occasion Jesus challenged the crowds with the question of John the Baptist’s identity: “What did you go out to the desert to see?” (7:24). The crowds are also mentioned three times in the feeding of the five thousand (9:11, 12, 16), so under Luke’s editing of the material Jesus’ question “Who do the crowds say that I am?” must be understood in direct relation to the previous scene. If the feeding has a revelatory function (at least for Christian readers), have the crowds understood what Jesus has done?
The third Lukan modification that serves an important function in the narrative is the change of “one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28) to “one of the ancient prophets has arisen” (Luke 9:19). The difference between the two phrases is not great, but in Luke the phrase is a verbatim repetition of Luke’s earlier summary of Herod’s words (9:8). By means of this repetition, the confession scene is tied directly to Herod’s question. Peter will give the answer that Herod never finds.