The Tibetan Buddhists believe in the transmigration of souls.
When someone dies, they suppose that the soul of that person goes immediately into a different body, the body of a child born at that some point in time.
The belief becomes vitally important for them when their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama dies, a search is made for a boy born at that same moment to be their new leader; he is taken from his home and brought up by the monks.
Everybody including the boy himself knows from the start that he is the new Dalai Lama.
This may seam very strange to us as we prize highly the right of every person to freedom of choice, even Kings and Queens can abdicate, but the Dalai Lama has no choice and there is no question about who he is.
In Judaism it was very different, many Jews of Jesus’ day believed and many still do today that God would send an anointed king who would be the spearhead of a movement that would free Israel from oppression and bring justice and peace to the world.
Nobody knew when or where this anointed king would be born, though many believed he would be a true descent of King David.
God had made a wonderful promise about his future family and some Jews would have pointed you to the prophecy of Micah:-
“But you, O Bethlehem, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel.” (5:2-3)
Which indicates that the coming King, the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem?
The question is what would the Messiah be like?
How would people know, if he had already arrived?
Nobody knew exactly, but there were many theories.
Some saw him as a warrior king who would defeat the pagans and establish Israel’s freedom once and for all, while others saw him as one who would cleanse the Temple and bring about the true worship of God.
Everybody who believed in such a King coming in to the world knew that he would be fulfilling the scriptures and bring God’s kingdom into being here on earth as it was in heaven, but nobody really had a very clear idea of what all this would be like.
There had been several would be Messiahs over the years who came and went, attracting followers who were quickly dispersed when their leader was caught by the authorities.
One thing was certain, to be know as the Messiah was to attract attention from the authorities, and almost certainly hostility and possible death.
So when Jesus wanted to put the question about who He was to His followers, He took them well away from their normal area of activity to Caesarea Philippi which is in the far north of Israel, well outside the territory of King Herod, it would have been a good two days walk for them from the Sea of Galilee.
The first question Jesus asked the Disciples was,
“Who do men say that the Son of man is”
In other words Jesus is asking the Disciples who the people say and think He is.
Jesus must have known what the Disciples answer would be, as it was the general reaction that was going round about Him at the time, but He still asked the question.
And the answer does tell us a something about the way Jesus was being seen by the people at large.
As He was properly not seen by everyone as the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, or the cosy comforting friend of little children, but more like one of the prophets of the past who had stood up and spoken God’s words fearlessly against the wicked and the rebellious.
Yes, Jesus was acting like a prophet, but not simply one who foretold the future, or one who was God’s mouthpiece against the injustice and the wickedness in the world.
Within Jesus ministry there was something else, something far greater something far deeper, and Jesus believed that His Disciples had seen this; otherwise He probably would not have asked them the question.
Jesus then asks them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Simon then seams to take on the role of spokesman for the other Disciples and says,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In other words you are the one Israel has been waiting for, you are God’s Son, the one of whom the prophets have spoken of.
What Simon had done was to declared that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus in return says to him,
“Blessed are you, Simon! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The name Peter in Hebrew means rock and what Jesus is telling him, is that he would be the foundation for His new building.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells a story about a wise man building a house on a rock, and now Jesus Himself declares that He is going to do just that and build on a rock.
Also here as in the Sermon on the Mount, we are meant to imagine in the background the great city and Temple of Jerusalem, built on the rocky heights of Mount Zion.
In some Jewish traditions, the Temple in Jerusalem was the place where heaven and earth met, and where the gates of the underworld are to be found.
What Jesus is now doing is declaring that He is going to reconstructing this great centrepiece of God’s world.
Jesus is not going to build an actual city, or a Temple on a rock, but He is going to build a community upon a rock for all those who will give there allegiance to Him as the Messiah.
For the moment however the fact that Jesus was the true Messiah still had to remain a secret with the Disciples, as if it was to get out it could be the end of everything for them, as the time was not yet right.
Peter declaration of faith was to be the starting point for this new community, which still had a lot more to learn and many failures to overcome and with God’s help they did succeed as we know.
This community which started at Caesarea Philippi with Peter’s declaration has now spread all over the world and as Christians we are all part of that community, the Church.