Who Do You Say Jesus Is?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 16:13a (Holman) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea
Philippi, . . .
Seeking peace to work in, Jesus again felt compelled to leave Galilee. He needed time away from the fickle crowd and the hostile, religious leaders in Israel.
Leaving the domain of jealous, capricious Herod Antipas, Jesus entered the territory of Philip the Tetrarch, a more reasonable ruler who had no reason to be suspicious of Jesus. Philip’s capital, Caesarea Philippi, was located 25 miles north of Galilee. The city was cosmopolitan, partly Jewish, predominantly Gentile.
Religion was in the air. The landscape was dominated by a Roman temple of white marble to the godhead of Caesar. Another temple housed worship of the Greek god Pan. Local Israelites worshiped the right God, but in the wrong way, having rejected Jesus. The Twelve worshiped the right God in the right way.
In our text, the region of Caesarea Philippi was hosting the worship of man, of nature, of the right God in the wrong way, and of the right God in the right way. Wow. What a confused mess. A loud blaring cacophony of clanging cymbals.
Jesus and the Twelve had walked into the midst of a New Age Convention. Believe what you want, do what you want–a scenario reminiscent of our day.
The worship of man is still with us. Self is the new axis around which the world turns. People want no input from God when determining their own standard of right and wrong. The Bible is admired, but not authoritative, too old to be current. In our setting, the desires of the individual outweigh the demands of God.
The worship of nature is still with us. Believers do have a God-given stewardship to care for the environment. I feel we don’t do enough in this area. In the same breath, let me say I fear a movement rising in our culture, one that says animals are as valuable as humans, and substitutes Mother Earth for Father God.
Worship of the right God in the wrong way is still with us. Of USA Americans, an overwhelming majority, 76%, call themselves Christians. Most of these are never seen in church, rarely open a Bible, never have a daily devotional time, and have no understanding of personal holiness. Right God, wrong way.
Worship of the right God in the right way is still with us. The Bible is read, people go to church and pray, saying holiness matters most. Right God, right way.
Near Caesarea Philippi, amidst a noisy, clanging din similar to our current setting, Jesus said to twelve ordinary men, “We need to stop the noise a moment. Let’s silence this religious competition and rhetoric, and calmly clarify who I am.”
Matt. 16:13b He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of
“Son of Man” was the title Jesus most often used when referring to Himself, as if He were saying, “Don’t be surprised I am God; be shocked I am human.”
Jesus asked the Twelve to voice their thoughts. Having poured His life into them, He wanted them to say how much they felt had been accomplished thus far.
Jesus wanted His disciples to agree on what unbelievers said. This would force them to see a wide gulf separated them from competing noises around them.
Jesus felt it was important for the Twelve to verbalize and analyze what unbelievers were thinking. They would never be effective in accomplishing kingdom growth if they did not have a firm grasp on what outsiders were thinking.
The same could be said of us today. We need to know what unbelievers are thinking and saying. Do we know what the world is alleging about Jesus?
We used to be able to win debates by saying, “The Bible says.” Now they ask, “Why should I care what the Bible says?” “Because it’s God’s Word.” “How do you know it’s God’s Word?” Are we skilled to answer arguments like these?
Let’s push the issue even deeper. Do we care? Are we as bold in our belief as they are in their unbelief? Do they for sure know what we believe about Jesus?
Matt. 16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
These men were all of yesteryear. Most Israelites believed God’s best work had been accomplished in the past, in “the good old days”. Blessed are those who believe God is working now, still moving among His people in power and love.
Some said Jesus was John the Baptist returned. Herod, John’s assassin, thought this (MT 14:2). Interesting. John clearly said he wasn’t worthy to undo Jesus’ sandals, but now some were saying John was worthy to be Jesus Himself.
Some said Jesus was Elijah, the miracle worker who called down fire on Mt. Carmel, and who was predicted to herald the day of the Lord (ML 4:5-6). Jesus had upended this theory, saying the Baptist fulfilled this predicted role of Elijah.
Others said Jesus was Jeremiah, who, according to tradition (2 Maccabees 2:4-8), before the Temple was destroyed, hid the Ark of the Covenant and the altar of incense to keep them safe until he returned to find them before Messiah came.
Some said Jesus was one of the prophets. Before John the Baptist and Jesus, the voice of the prophets had been silent in Israel for 400 years. Many had given up hope of hearing God, but maybe God was talking to them directly again.
John, Elijah, Jeremiah, the prophets–these were among the greatest of men. Everyone had to admit Jesus’ miraculous powers and words defied normal explanations. Even unbelievers can’t seem to give an unimportant title to Jesus.
Jesus had a great reputation. Those who saw his powers firsthand came as close to the truth about Jesus as people could without grasping it. People still speak highly of Jesus without reaching the mark. Good thoughts about Jesus are not necessarily the right ones. High opinions of Him often are not high enough.
If hard pressed, people still usually say nice things about Jesus. It’s in vogue to see Him as hip. But beware. The crowds say He was a great man, but deny His deity. They like His example, but cast off His substitutionary death.
They applaud His teachings, but downplay His resurrection. We are not afforded the luxury of dividing Jesus up. We have to take Him whole or not at all.
The options set forth in our text praised Jesus as an amazing man, but not as God. This mistake left them wandering endless mazes, chasing uncertain hunches.
Truth is one; error multi-varied, marked by chaotic contradictions. Truth is pinpointed, like a rifle shot; falsehood is scattered, buck-shot sprayed in the dark.
Truth is constant, permanent; error is fickle, constantly changing. In Jesus’ day, Romans crucified Him; later they tried to put a statue of Him in the Pantheon.
“Christ is sometimes up in the market, and sometimes down in the market; but mark you, he is not in the market at all. He can neither be bought nor sold” (Spurgeon). He is the standard; we succeed or fail in life based on our response to it. He is the eternal One; our eternity is determined by how we react to Him.
Dad’s solo of long ago still applies. “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. Someday your heart will be asking: What will He do with me?”