Who is Jesus? When leading a life of faith, no question is more important than this one. Whether your faith is on a right path or not can be answered by this question. Whether this church is a health one or not can also be answered by this question. Whether this church was established by the will of God, or that of humans, also depend on how this question is answered. The future direction of this church also hinges on this question.
It may seem as if we know the answer to this question already, but it would be our worthwhile to delve into this topic a little deeper. While doing so, we must also re-look not only our individual confessions of faith, but our entire congregation’s as well.
Jesus Himself asked, “Who do people believe Me to be?” Today’s scripture appears in all four Gospels (Mark 8: 27-30, Luke 9: 18-21, John 6: 66-69). This tells us that it is extremely important to know who Jesus is. When He arrived in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His Disciples one question. On the eve of His crucifixion, in order to sum up three years of His work, Jesus wanted to gauge His Disciple’s faith.
The question was, “Who do the men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” “Son of Man” was a term that Jesus often used to refer to Himself, and the term appears in Daniel 7: 13-14. In Aramaic, this term means ‘human.’ Regardless, Jesus wanted to know, after three years of His work, how people understood Him, and He was asking His Disciples to get an indication.
We must all remember that as we lead our lives of faith, our Lord asks us the same question. In order to convert non-believers to accept the Christian faith, we need to ask ourselves this same question, ‘who do the people outside the church believe Jesus to be?’ In order to bring these people to Jesus in a correct and effective manner, we need to know what they think about, or what they know about Jesus.
As soon as Jesus asked His question, His disciples began answering one by one. The Bible does not specify which Disciple provided which reply; in the scripture itself, in verse 14, the third person plural pronoun ‘they’ is used to refer to those who answered. We know that several of them answered Jesus’ question. Then who did the secular people at that time believe Jesus to be?
Take a look at verse 14. “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Some secular people believed Jesus to be John the Baptist. Matthew 14: 2 confirms that there were many who believed Jesus to be John the Baptist after he had come back from the dead.
Then who is John the Baptist? According to Matthew 14: 3-12, John the Baptist was martyred while criticizing the adulterous affairs of King Herod. He was a reformer who died while preaching justice. People thought Jesus had great interest in social justice, and believed that John the Baptist had resurrected within the Body of Jesus.
Some others believed Jesus to be Elijah. Who was Elijah? In the Old Testament, is Elijah not the one that exercised the most authority and power? Therefore, according to 2 Kings 2: 1-12, Elijah did not experience death; rather, he ascended into the heaven on a flaming chariot. According to Mark 4: 5-6, Elijah is depicted as the one who returns to earth before the advent of the Messiah to prepare for His arrival. Hence, some believed Jesus to be like Elijah, who possessed supernatural abilities.
Still others believed that Jesus was a prophet, like Jeremiah. This shows that these people put Jesus on same level as other prophets. They viewed Him as one of the prophets of the Old Testament, who had served God.
When looking at the replies from the Disciples, we can easily see that the secular people could not ascend above the traditional human viewpoints. They acknowledge that Jesus, like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or other prophets, is a great figure, but they do not believe that He is the Son of God.
Let’s ask the non-believers today the same question ourselves. “Who do you think Jesus Christ to be?” Most of the people would probably answer similar to the secular people of those days. A great religious reformer, a religious genius, or a great spiritual leader, or like Buddha or Confucius, a great figure in history.
Secular people, although they are quick to give high marks to Jesus for His character, will likely refuse to acknowledge the fact that He is the same being as God. (Philippians 2: 6) Herein lies the problem of the secular people! They only seek to explain Him in human terms and standards, and are refusing to accept the Godliness of Christ, often closing their eyes and ears in discerning His true nature.
Then who do you think He is? Jesus probably already knew the opinion of people regarding Him, so He probably wasn’t surprised at the replies given by His Disciples. So He shifts the focus of the topic to His Disciples. In verse 15, Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” seeking their answer.
‘Yes, it is certainly expected that people of the world will have misconstrued notions about Me. It is all right for them to give the wrong answer. But you are My Disciples. Are you not My family, sharing My fate, through thick and thin? Who have you understood Me to be when you have followed Me all these years?’ Not long before He was to be crucified, Jesus wanted to confirm their faith through this question.
Jesus probably does not have great expectations regarding how people of this world understand Him to be. Jesus knows all too well that people of this world have been fermented in pagan worship, lack of faith, and arrogance. Naturally, these people will have incorrect understandings regarding Jesus.
But we, as members of His church, are different. Although people of this world may not know, we must know. Who do you understand Jesus to be? Put your hand over your hearts and give it a deep thought.
The Answer: Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God.
As soon as Jesus asked His question, Peter courageously answered. Take a look at verse 16. “And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Bingo! Among the 12 Disciples, he was the first with the correct answer. In Hebrew, Christ is ‘ho christos,’ meaning Messiah, or the ‘anointed one.’ Jesus was anointed by God as the savior of mankind. He is God’s words transformed into a physical being (John 1: 14). The Godliness and holiness of God is an integral part of the physical body that made up Jesus Christ.
In order to stress this fact that Jesus was God’s Son, Peter is adding the phrase ‘the Son of living God.’ But in fact, many of the Kings of Israel, whom God had anointed, could have declared themselves God’s Messiah; therefore, by adding the description ‘the Son of living God,’ Peter is stressing this unique qualification of Jesus. Peter is saying that only Jesus is the real Son of God.
Who do you believe Jesus to be at this moment? The answer is already there. Jesus is Christ. He is the Son of living God. Do you believe this fact, deep in your hearts? Then you are true Christians. You are the ones who will receive salvation. Do you still not believe? Then you are, as John Wesley have described, ‘almost Christians’ and not ‘real Christians.’
Let’s imagine that there is a fly, the notorious insect, here. Can this fly go from America to Korea? No matter how strong the fly may be, it will not be able to fly to Korea under its own power. But there is a way that this fly can get there. If this fly attaches itself to one of the passengers on an airplane destined for Korea, then the fly can get there without spending much energy!
The rationale behind believing in Jesus follows the same logic. Under our own power, we can never get to heaven! We can never be righteous on our own! We have no abilities, no merits! But if we rely on Jesus, attach ourselves to His back, then we can easily get to heaven, almost automatically, without spending much energy!
Through Jesus we can be righteous. Because of Jesus, we receive resurrection and everlasting life. So today, all of us must believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of living God!
The important item to remember from today’s scripture is why Peter made this confession. Some people believe that since Peter was so quick-tempered and uptight, he naturally would be the one to speak up first.
But the important thing to remember is not whether Peter was quick or slow tempered. Peter’s eccentric personality is not the focal point of today’s discussion. The fact that his answer was correct, that his answer nailed the focal point of Jesus’ question is important. That’s why upon hearing Peter’s answer, Jesus excitedly replies, in verse 17, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
What does this mean? Does it not mean Peter’s confession of faith regarding Jesus comes not from his human abilities? Jesus knows all too well the frail physical nature of Peter. That is why Jesus is pointing out that such confession of faith comes not from Peter’s innate human abilities. Our Father who is in heaven, God, was impressed and moved, and hence made Peter’s confession of faith possible.
It is true. When we confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of living God, we are not doing so under our own powers. Only when God lives within us is such confession possible!
Let’s take a look at verses 18-19. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
When Peter made such confession of faith regarding Jesus, Jesus promises him that upon Petros, or Petra, He will erect a church. And He will also give Peter the keys to the kingdom.
The important point of debate regarding Peter’s confession of faith is whether this confession is limited to Peter himself or applies to the church and its entire congregation. Another point of contention is whether this key to the kingdom that Jesus has promised is given to Peter alone, or to the entire congregation who profess to have faith in Jesus as the Christ.
Generally speaking, the Catholic Church stresses that this confession of faith comes from Peter alone. Therefore, the Catholic Church regards Peter as the human envoy of Jesus, who has the absolute authority to represent Jesus in all capacities. He is regarded as the first Pope. Therefore, the key to the kingdom was bestowed upon the first Pope, Peter, as a symbol to discharge his responsibilities as the envoy of Christ.
But the Protestant Church regards Peter’s confession of faith as one of congregational confession. The key to the kingdom, then, is not a symbol of authority for Peter. It is a special privilege and gift to those who receive Jesus as their Lord savior.
Personally, I interpret this key to kingdom as being some faith, prayer, or forgiveness. It is because when we have faith, we can do anything. When we pray, all things are possible. When we forgive on earth, we can receive forgiveness in heaven.
Regardless, Peter’s confession of faith and the key of kingdom that was promised to him by Jesus are not sole individual property of Peter. It is a communal property that belongs to all those who profess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of living God. This becomes all too clear from the latter portion of verse 18, when Jesus states that the church established on Peter’s confession of faith cannot be defeated by the powers of Hades. Death, darkness, or other such forces of Hades cannot harm the community, or congregation, that profess Jesus as its savior. It is because it sits on top of sturdy bedrock, the Petros.
Yuri Gagarin, the astronaut from the former Soviet Union who became the first man in space, said after his trip to space that he did not see God or any such being during his trip. A priest from the Soviet Eastern Orthodox Church, upon hearing Gagarin’s statement, replied, “If you have not seen Him on earth, then you will never see Him in heaven.” What a profound and deep statement, indeed.
Who do you believe the Lord to be today? If you do not have good faith on earth, then nothing will change as you get to heaven. As Jesus said regarding faith, whatever knot that is tied on earth will be tied in heaven, and whatever knot that is loosened on earth will be loosened in heaven.
Who is Jesus to you? Is He just a benevolent being? That is not enough. For you, Jesus must be the Christ, the Son of living God. In it lies the promise of salvation and everlasting life. Amen