It would take more time and space than we have to unpack the layers of meanings and interpretations in these two titles that Peter uses. Messiah was, and is, a mystical figure anticipated by the Jewish people, one who will deliver them from oppression and persecution. One strand of prophetic writings held that the Messiah would be of King David's line, whose kingdom was never to end. Not all schools of thought equated the Messiah with a divine person, and many assumed the Messiah would be a military savior, not a spiritual one.
And what does “son of the living God” mean? It could refer to a divine person, which is how the Christian tradition understands the incarnate Jesus. It could mean a human anointed by God to carry forth his redemptive plan, as some early theologians held before that interpretation was judged as heresy (which simply means outside of orthodoxy). The phrase reveals God as “living,” not a dead idol but a living entity interacting with her creation. And the phrase clearly indicates Jesus as one specially chosen as God’s instrument.
Peter seems to have hit the nail on the head:
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
Jesus suggests this awareness is not one that Peter arrived at through reason, but received through revelation. Maybe that should help us to be less concerned when we perceive that faith and reason clash. Reason is a God-given gift for us to use; it is also a human faculty and can only take us so far. It is our spiritual intelligence, if you will, that we are to cultivate – and we can’t do that by working harder or thinking harder. We do that by learning to receive the Holy Spirit, who brings all the gifts and understanding we need.
What does “Son of the Living God?” mean to you?
Is God alive for you? In what ways?
How would you assess your “spiritual intelligence quotient?”
If we want to expand our “spiritual intelligence,” we don’t need to study harder, though study is important for a full spiritual life. We will cultivate an attitude of praise to the Living God, inviting that God to fill us with his life through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then we will more keenly perceive what God is up to around us. We will find our faith emboldened to believe in the power of God poured out in blessing. We will grow in peace and joy and love and all those gifts promised to Christ-followers.
And we will grow better at articulating the hope we have within us, what – or who – it is that we wait for with eager anticipation. We live now; in the fullness of time we will live in fullness.