Who Do You Say I Am?

The night was dark, much darker than usual. The inky blackness that seemed to envelop those gathered was not a result of the lack of moon or starlight; it had more to do with the gargantuan evil that was unfolding before the small crowd of wicked men. In this ancient hall stood a solitary man, dragged before the hostile crowd of inquisitors. Despite his disheveled appearance, the kind you would expect from being manhandled and pummeled, he stood with poise before his captors with his hands tied and his guards close by. This was a trial and everyone present understood the gravity of the proceedings, for what was at stake was the life of this man. Then, stepping forward with the arrogance that so often accompanies unquestionable power was a man dressed in fancy robes, and other accoutrements of one who has great authority, as he spoke with disdain and contempt. It was as if his words slid off his tongue with oily venom as he demanded, “I charge you under oath by the living God, Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!”

The same question was on everyone’s mind
The question the High Priest and the rulers of Israel asked Jesus as he stood before their council two-thousand years ago was the same question that multitudes had been asking for quite some time. For well over a year the people of Judea and beyond had debated the identity of this man. The problem for many was that no one had ever heard of him, his family, or his background. Some said he came from the most prestigious family in all Israel, a descendent of the greatest king, David himself. But then there were many others who claimed to know the family, and they said he was a bastard child, an illegitimate son of a modest family in Nazareth. Certainly both couldn’t be true. And despite his seemingly powerful grasp and deep understanding of the Torah, no one was aware of his having any formal training in the rabbinical schools.

First-century Israel was an honor-shame based society, the type of culture where a person’s perceived worth was based on his or her position. Great importance was placed on knowing one’s position and then staying there. Honor was based on a person’s family background, achievements, trade, and even the town he came from. Clearly this man had none of these, which compounded the problem of answering the question, “Who is he?”

We’ve never seen anything like this before
Despite everything that culturally indicated he was a “nobody,” a person deserving no special treatment or respect, everyone who spent any amount of time near him soon realized that there was indeed something very special about him. Stories abounded about the many sick people who were healed at his mere command. As the news spread about him the stream of people who sought him out grew as well. They came deaf but left with the sounds of joy and the songs of birds ringing in their ears. It was reported that the blind saw and the leprous exchanged their scabs for skin as soft and smooth as a newborn’s. There was a story of a widow’s son being raised from the dead right in the middle of the funeral procession, and even a man named Lazarus, dead for four days, coming out of the tomb wrapped in grave clothes.

His miraculous works were beyond anything one could imagine, and his words had the power to pierce the hardest heart or comfort the saddest soul. People were used to walking away from the rabbinical teachers feeling a heavy load, as if there was never enough they could do to satisfy God. Their dry teachings tended to paint Yahweh as a tyrant that no one could satisfy, except of course people like themselves– the most pious– but never the common people. The people all felt the burdens of the rabbis’ words, but this man, unlike anyone else they had ever known, had the courage and strength to confront them about their hypocrisy.

Matthew 23:2-4
(2) “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
(3) So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
(4) They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

It was exciting to see him confront them but it was also very unsettling, at times even scary. People who confronted those in authority did not last long. There was a clear pecking order in this society and those who went against the system were quickly quieted, or eliminated.

Many who listened to him had great difficulty grasping the meaning of his stories, his many parables about a spiritual kingdom and the coming judgment. For some, his stories were unsettling as he confronted the crowd, especially about loving God and others. The way he portrayed God as a Heavenly Father was entirely new. And to think that God really loved everyone; so much so that He numbered even the hairs on everyone’s head! To think that any man or woman could ask God and that He would give them everything they needed for life was exciting. But the thing that electrified the souls of many was learning that God was very loving and that He would forgive them of their sins. This reminded them of the Psalmist’s words that their sins would even be cast as far away as the east is from the west.

Is this a prophet from the past?
Everything Jesus said and did, the way authority seemed to naturally flow from his pores, indicated that he was a man deserving of honor. It was just a few months earlier that a powerful prophet named John had appeared, calling thousands to repent and turn back to God. Could it be that after almost five hundred years of silence God was once again visiting His people?[1]

Everyone had heard the stories of times past when prophets had done similar deeds. There was the time Elisha healed Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, who was healed of leprosy as he dipped himself in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-14). And, similar to Jesus who fed thousands with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, Elisha had fed a hundred men with only twenty loaves of barley bread (2 Kings 4:42-44). It was also Elisha who had raised a young boy back to life and presented him to a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18-36), resembling what Jesus did for the widow and her son at Nain. There was one thing that many who followed Jesus were clear about–he definitely was a prophet.

Matthew 21:9-11
(9) The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
(10) When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
(11) The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Nevertheless, some people were confused about Jesus as they asked, “Could this be Elijah?” The way he confronted the evil rulers reminded them of the stories about how Elijah had confronted Jezebel and Ahab. After all, the Scriptures even said that Elijah would come again (Mal. 4:5, 6). There was great confusion as many wondered if God had resurrected a prophet from the past. Many asked, “Is this Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer, or another prophet?”

Matthew 16:13 and 14
(13) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
(14) They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

It’s hard to see when the picture is fractured
Although the Scriptures are filled with prophetic images of the coming Messiah, the nature of the prophetic is that often we can only see them clearly when we look back on events. Even those closest to Jesus, ones who had properly perceived his identity, did not clearly grasp his mission and “the plan.” The prophetic picture painted of him is very much like a tapestry of many yarns; it is only when they are properly woven together that the observers can clearly seeing the portrait. On the one hand he is portrayed as a conquering king and on the other a suffering servant. These two perspectives alone can be confusing, and they are only a part of the prophetic picture of him.

Scripture presents a mosaic consisting of many fractured pieces, and it is only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, especially looking back at his death and resurrection, that we can answer the question, “Who is he?”

The Jewish leadership demands to know his identity
Four months before his arrest, at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), the Jewish leadership confronted Jesus about his identity.

John 10:22-24
(22) Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter,
(23) and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
(24) The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

One of the problems with their questioning was that if he answered them “plainly,” as they demanded, they would have cause to kill him. According to “their” law anyone who claimed to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, was claiming to be the Son of God, and deserved death for committing blasphemy. Jesus, knowing this, always avoided directly answering their questions.

However, this all came to a head when he was arrested and questioned on the night of his trial. The High Priest questioned him in a very purposeful manner, as prescribed in Leviticus (Lev. 5:1). In essence, when charged under oath before God, a person must answer honestly, and silence is considered to be the same as admitting to the charge. This is why when the High Priest then said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” that Jesus was compelled to answer.

I envision everyone present to have been leaning forward as far as they could, anxiously waiting for his response as the words of the High Priest still echoed off the stone walls. Then slowly and deliberately he spoke, but not with arrogance or pride. He spoke with the simple tone of someone who really knows in the depths of his being who he is. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied(Matt. 26:64).

Many thought, “Finally it is out in the open for all to hear, he has claimed to be the Anointed One.” In their rush to rid themselves of him, their pride blinded them from seeing the reality of who was standing in their midst. Jesus’ simple answer to the question, “Who are you?” was profound and should have shaken them to the core. His words declare for all with ears to hear that he is:

The Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15)
The Holy One (Ps. 16:10)
The Cornerstone (Isa. 28:16)
Immanuel (Isa. 7:14)
The Mighty Hero (Isa. 9:6)
The Counselor (Isa. 9:6)
The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6)
The Battle Bow (Zech. 10:4)
The Redeemer (Job 19:25)
The Rock (Ex. 17:6)
The Branch (Jer. 33:15)
The Heir to the Throne of David (Ps. 132:11)
The Scepter (Num. 24:17)

The most important question everyone must answer
Despite many Christians’ deep devotion to him as their Lord and Savior, their daily actions seem to indicate that they really do not know who he is. Our personal perspectives can cloud and distort our view. Consider the many different “types” of Jesus that people’s actions present to the world.[2] Although there is some truth in many of these views, focusing on any one of them presents a distorted picture of who he really is.

Touchdown Jesus: He helps athletes run faster, hit harder, and jump higher than their competitors. He determines the outcomes of games, especially the Super Bowl and World Series.

Therapist Jesus: He is primarily concerned with our self-esteem and wants to help us heal our past hurts, and help us with every little hurt.

Prosperity Jesus: He wants us to be wealthy, healthy, and have great abundance. Of course this includes a big home, a large bank account, and lots of “bling” so that unbelievers are attracted to our Gospel message.

Republican Jesus: He is against tax increases, activist judges, welfare and free handouts. He is for lots of firearms, and family values.

Democrat Jesus: He is against corporate greed, Wall Street and Wal-Mart. He is for a strong centralized government, mercy programs provided they include government handouts, and the environment.

Hippie Jesus: He teaches everyone to “give peace a chance,” and imagine a world without religion and war. He helps us remember that all we need is love, and that we must fight the “establishment.”

New Age Jesus: He hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and all the trappings of the denominational churches. He would rather people be at one with nature, find god within and listen to ambiguously spiritual music.

Psychic Jesus: He is the one people turn to when seeking the answers to life’s questions, such as “Should I go to college?” “What should I major in?” “Who should I work for?” And of course the big one, “Who am I supposed to marry?”

Platitude Jesus: He is especially good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and sayings on coffee cups. He inspires people to believe in themselves and lifts people up so they can “soar with the eagles.”

Guru Jesus: He is a wise and inspirational teacher who had great insights on how to live life and find balance.

Boyfriend Jesus: The one who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love.

The question, “Who is he?” remains for all to answer
The question that Jesus posed to his close followers, “Who do you say I am?” is the most important question that every man and woman will ever answer.

Matthew 16:13-17
(13) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
(14) They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
(15) “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

“But what about you?” was Jesus’ question to his disciples, because it doesn’t really matter how others answer the question. What matters is, “Who do you say I am?” Finding the answer to this question is not like struggling with some complex formulas in an advanced mathematics course. This is an “open-book” exam with the answer clearly laid out now in the pages of Scripture.

Unlike those who walked with him who had trouble seeing the “picture,” today we get the benefit of hindsight. This allows us to piece together the colorful mosaic and see the details of the Masterpiece. The most important question for every person alive today is still the same one Jesus asked two thousand years ago, “Who do you say I am?”

We all see things differently because of our varied backgrounds, callings, gifts, and needs. Jesus is gracious enough to meet us where we are, which means at times he will show up in many of the ways described above. But the reality is that he is a very particular person, filling a very specific role in God’s plan, not just who we think he is.

The proper answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?” is what the Bible says, which is The Lord of Lords, and King of Kings; he is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Firstborn from among the dead, the Firstfruits, and the Savior of all mankind. He is the Anointed one, the Chosen one of God, and the Messiah of all mankind. He is the Mediator between God and man, and he is the Way to everlasting Life!

Endnotes

[1] Prior to John the Baptist, it had been about 500 years since the prophet, Malachi, circa 430 BC.
[2] The list of the various “types” of Jesus described above was adapted from a Blog by Kevin DeYoung at “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed.” Kevin’s blogs can be found at www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

5 comments

  1. U should have also wrote after The Anointed One, The Son of The Living God, which was Peter’s response to the question, which Jesus affirmed was the right answer and that God had given Peter!

    1. I was going to say the same thing Clint Wright. I would also add that instead of Matthew 26: 64 they use Mark 14: 62 where he answers the high priest when he asks him ” Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one? ” (62) he replies: ” I am; and you persons will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and arriving through the clouds.”

  2. wow! this message echoes in my mind. thanks for these great articles.

  3. When you write such a detailed and wonderful message it is hard to think of the all the verses you need. But I have to agree with Clint Wright that you should have gave the Apostle Peter’s answer when Jesus asked the disciples who they think he is at Matthew 16: 16 where Peter says ” You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. (17) In response Jesus said ” Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you but my Father who is in the heavens did. “i
    Also instead of Matthew 26: 64 you would be better served if you replaced it with Mark 14: 62 where he answers the high priest when he asks him ” Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one? ” (62) he replies: ” I am; and you persons will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and arriving through the clouds.”
    Overall your message here is just brilliant. Thank you for it.

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