Everything we believe and trust in will rise and fall on the question we discuss today: who do you say Jesus is?
The wise men wondered this, as did Herod. John the Baptist asked, and even Christ’s own family seemed to struggle with the identification as well. The religious leaders knew who they did not want him to be! The whole nation was pondering.
And so, in a moment of retreat with the disciples, Jesus asks the question of them as to what the many crowds had to say about it. As they begin to answer, you can imagine the laughter around this circle of 13 men.
The first answer was John the Baptist, who of course had been beheaded prior to this time. And there were similarities, as each preached about personal repentance and the kingdom’s soon coming. John could prepare men to receive God, but Christ could enable men to receive God.
Next is the common suggestion that Jesus was a second coming of Elijah. Both were men of prayer who performed miracles. It was a common teaching (based upon a passage in Malachi) that Elijah would come before the Messiah. So, as with John, those who saw Jesus as Elijah perceived him to be a forerunner of the actual Christ.
The third suggestion is that it was one of the prophets (in Matthew’s gospel, the name Jeremiah was suggested). Like these servants of God, Jesus was a man of suffering in the midst of preaching and seeking to do good.
The poor and insufficient Jewish anticipation of the Messiah is evident. They anticipated a liberating figure who would supply their every need and overthrow their oppressors. Rather, Jesus emphasized personal repentance and spiritual liberation.
The jovial atmosphere was brought up short with a sudden jolt, as Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” You get the feeling that there may well have been a pregnant pause.
This is one of those times where the Greek language has an advantage. To emphasize a word in a sentence (since word order is less important than in English), you write or speak the most important word first. So, the question is more like this: “You! Who do YOU think I am?”
As the most common spokesman for the group, Peter – this time – nails the answer with the crisp sound of the hammer upon the head. “God’s Messiah.” The passage in Matthew 16:16 gives us an even clearer sense of his response: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Peter is commended highly for the accuracy of his answer.
Over the years, all sorts of pseudo-Christian groups have failed to answer this question fully and accurately, groups like the Ebionites, Gnostics, Marcionites, Monarchianists, Arians, etc. These groups and their leading teachers did not rightly understanding the divinity and the humanity, emphasizing one to the exclusion of the other. And every cult or heresy since that time is simply one of these sects dressed up in different clothes.
It does not matter what others say, be they people at the office, the shop, the school, etc. It matters what YOU say. Jesus is the perfect son of God – fully man without sin, and fully God at the same time. This qualifies him as the only perfect sacrifice for sin who could defeat death and offer a valid eternal life to those who believe.
It is the most important question … and answer.
Luke 9:18 – Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”