Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21
Who Do Men Say That the Son of Man Is?
We come today to a pivotal moment in our Lord’s ministry, a marker in which the disciples profess their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and in which Jesus begins to spend more of his time with them, pouring himself into them as these men would soon be his apostles (sent ones) after he is taken away.
The place was Caesarea Philippi, north of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asks his disciples who the people say that he is. You will remember that Jesus had sent his disciples out on a preaching tour (Mark 6:7-13). Although we don’t know how long they were gone, they certainly had time enough to gauge what the people were thinking of Jesus. So they answered, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet, apparently raised from the dead. But then Jesus put the question to them: “But who do you say that I am?”
And this is the question that rings down through eternity: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Only the ignorant deny that he lived and led a fine life, taught some wonderful things, and died an unjust death. But the Bible says so much more. Even Peter, who answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” didn’t understand that being the Messiah meant dying an ugly death, spilling blood for the forgiveness of sins, as he, moments later, tried to talk Jesus out of such a thing. Peter had dreams of a political Messiah, one who would bring in the kingdom, with himself and the other disciples occupying leading roles. Jesus rejected such a plan. Jesus had no interest in puny earthly kingdoms that are here today and gone tomorrow; the Father’s plan is so much greater. And Jesus is no mere man. What Peter exactly meant by “Son of the living God” is hard to say, but that he understood that this man was the second person of the Triune God who had come down and assumed humanity from the Virgin is doubtful. This would come later after the resurrection and ascension of Christ Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. For now, this confession, imperfect as it was, would be sufficient for Jesus to slowly and patiently reveal himself and the Father’s will to this band of opportunistic men.
Our Lord is so patient with us. We see this as the disciples misunderstand him again and again. But He leads them and us into deeper truth as the Spirit breathes on us as we read His word. “Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks. The Messiah and Son of the living God? Absolutely, and all that title means that Peter could not grasp at that time. But we do. So let us profess what Peter confessed with the full assurance of faith.