Who Do Men Say That I Am?
The Father sent Jesus to do His will. In His short, thirty-three year life, Jesus accomplished all the Father gave Him to do. Luke tells us that he accurately followed everything that Jesus did and wrote an orderly account. Much of Luke's account is devoted to the teaching and preaching work that Jesus did. The Gospel of Luke is notable for its parables and Jesus' proclamation of the good news concerning the kingdom of God. As Jesus' ministry grows, Luke 8:1 tells us:
Luke 8:1 (NKJV) Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him,
The twelve were with Him. These men observed all that Jesus did. As Jesus traveled throughout the country, teaching the people the truth, His twelve Apostles watched how He did what He did. Through this process, Jesus trained His disciples. Staying with Jesus day and night, they learned both His message and His method. Then in Luke 9:1-2, we read that Jesus sent the disciples to do what they had been watching Him do. Luke 9:1-2 tells us:
Luke 9:1–2 (NKJV) 1Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. 2He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
The results of the preaching and teaching of the disciples reached even to King Herod. When they returned from their ministry trip, they excitedly told Jesus all that had happened. These men would be those who established the Church, so Jesus took time to debrief them and help them learn from what had happened. So, we find Jesus working to get alone with His disciples. However, because of the teaching ministry that Jesus and His disciples had, a vast crowd followed and inserted themselves into the story.
We tend to notice numbers and measures of success, and at this point, Jesus was enjoying remarkable success. So much so that John tells us the crowd that was fed the fish and loaves wanted to make Jesus King. However, Jesus had other priorities. After having fed the crowd, Jesus separated Himself and got alone with the Apostles.
Luke 9:18 tells us:
Luke 9:18 (NKJV) And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"
Amid tremendous public popularity and success, Jesus made time alone in prayer a priority. In his account of the life and ministry of Jesus, Mark speaks of Jesus' early popularity. In Mark 1:33, Mark tells us that the whole city gathered at Jesus' door. After a busy night of healing and interacting with those who sought Him out, Mark tells us:
Mark 1:35 (NKJV) Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
Prayer was important to Jesus. When Jesus taught us to pray, He taught that the first thing we are to seek is that God's name be greatly revered and honored. As the Son of God, Jesus did not have a problem with pride, but He is the only person in history of whom this is true. He was in constant communion with the Father, but He considered prayer to be essential. By example, Jesus taught that complete dependence on God is necessary for those who would serve Him, and He showed us humility. Humility is elusive, especially in success, but prayer is the starting place.
Crowds will turn our heads and encourage our pride. Jesus understood this, so He taught His disciples to get alone and pray. Crowds also tend to dictate the content of teaching and what is acceptable. The crowds that followed Jesus were confused about who Jesus was. In John 6, Jesus tried to explain to the crowd that He is the bread of life. Here, in Luke, Jesus brings the focus onto who the crowd said He was. The Gospel of Matthew also tells of an occasion where Jesus asks the same question.
According to their understanding of Scripture and the times they lived in, the crowds gave speculative answers. If we ask the same question today, the answers we get are even more varied. However, the answer to this question is essential. Who we understand Jesus to be is the most important thing about us.
Many say Jesus was a great teacher. Many think that Jesus came to teach us to love each other. Some even acknowledge that God sent Jesus. Just like the crowd of Jesus' day, who said he was Elijah. In their understanding, Elijah was to come before the day of the Lord. They understood that Jesus was sent by God. Nicodemus serves as an example of this kind of understanding. He came to Jesus at night and said:
John 3:2 (NKJV) Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.
Acknowledging that Jesus was a great teacher and acknowledging that He was sent by God are not enough. The crowd did not understand, but Jesus was more concerned about who the twelve said He was. These were the ones entrusted with the message. So Jesus put the question to them.
Luke 9:20 (NKJV) But who do you say that I am?
Peter answered. He said:
Luke 9:20 (NKJV) The Christ of God.
Mathew 16 also includes Peter's answer to this question.
Matthew 16:16 (NKJV) You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
"The Christ" refers to the anointed one of God. Christ is not part of Jesus' name. It is who or what He is. At the garden of Eden, when the man and the woman sinned, God promised a Savior. As time passed, God revealed more, and it became clear that this promised Savior was to be king. Calling someone ”the anointed one” was equivalent to calling them the king. The Aramaic term for "the anointed one" was "Messiah." The greek word for this is χριστός. By saying Jesus was the Christ of God, Peter was acknowledging Jesus as the King sent by God. But there was still more to their understanding. It is reflected more fully in the answer recorded in Matthew when Peter said, "the Son of the living God."
One of the essential truths of the Gospel is that Jesus, as the Son of God, is God. We learn that God is a Trinity. John 1:1 says:
John 1:1 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John, who wrote John 1:1, was there that day when Jesus asked, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" He, along with all the Apostles, except Judas, got the message. They understood what Jesus was teaching.
When the crowd understands Jesus as a great teacher, a prophet, or sent from God, they perceive Him as bringing answers to human problems. A teacher teaches us how to live. A prophet speaks God's word to us. Up until Jesus, from Moses until Jesus, God sent many teachers. We have their teachings in the Old Testament. Answers to human problems are found in their teachings. Teachings like "Love your neighbor as yourself" and "Do not lie" solve many of the issues in the world. If only we would obey such teachings perfectly. However, one of the things we learn from all the teachers sent by God before Jesus is that all the teaching in the world will not solve humanity's problems. Disease, murder, envy, greed, and hate are not taken away by great teachers sent by God.
In the statement, "You are the Christ of God," we find the truth taught. As we said, when Jesus fed the five thousand, He explained that He, Himself, was the true bread that came down from heaven. Another way to put it is that Jesus did not come to give an answer to human problems. Jesus came as the answer to human problems. Hebrews 1:1-2 also teaches this when it says:
Hebrews 1:1–2 (NKJV) 1God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
It is easy for us as Christians to get caught up with the concerns of the day. We want the world to be a place where the truth prevails. Loving our neighbor as ourselves, not killing, lying, or stealing, are all essential. But teaching these things will not and does not solve the problem.
The problem is sin in our hearts, and no amount of teaching can fix this problem. Therefore, God sent His only Son as the answer, the solution.
When the twelve understood this, Jesus had not yet been crucified. So, He strictly warned them not to tell anyone. Instead, He began teaching them that He was to be crucified. Learning this was part of their training so that when Jesus rose from the dead, they were ready to proclaim the truth. After Jesus rose from the dead, He told them to tell everyone in the world the fact that He is the answer. We find these marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:44-48.
What we find in the New Testament is that Peter's confession is the foundation of the Church. The truth that Jesus is the Christ of God is the one truth upon which we stand. The crowd, i.e., the world around us, does not recognize this truth, and it is easy for us to adapt to the thinking of the crowd. In Jesus' generation, many of the crowd died without having believed the message. Today it is the same. The crowd does not believe or understand the message. The message that we proclaim is that Jesus is the Christ of God. He is the answer, the only answer, to what troubles our world today.
The twelve recognized this truth, and when Jesus rose from the dead, they set about proclaiming it. They recognized Jesus as their Lord and Master and would let nothing deter them from telling the world that Jesus is the answer. Each of them, except John, died for their testimony that Jesus is the Christ of God.
We must show no less commitment to the truth.