At the zenith of His career, Jesus pulled away to the secluded area of Caesarea Philippi. On His mind was a crucial question for His disciples—and for us as well. Travel back with me to the scene as it unfolds.
The surroundings are impressive. Flowing springs. Lush gardens. Monuments and temples dedicated to the worship of the Greek god Pan line the pathways. A massive, white marble temple to Caesar looms tall. Perhaps standing in the midst of the monuments and the buildings and the shrines and the temples built to the gods, Jesus leans forward and says rather quietly to a small handful of men—knowing there was not one monument built in His honor, not one building erected to His glory—“Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13).
He is posing an opinion-poll question about Himself. “What’s the buzz?” He asks. According to verse 14, the disciples respond spontaneously, “Some say John the Baptist.” Now remember, John’s dead. He’s been beheaded by Herod Antipas. Some people are saying that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. That’s why He has miraculous powers.
The disciples continue, “Some say . . . Elijah.” Elijah had ministered hundreds of years earlier. For centuries the Jews viewed Elijah as the prince of the prophets who would be the forerunner, but not the Messiah. And a third answer comes: “Some say . . . Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” British scholar Alfred Plummer describes these on-the-street opinions as “wild and fluctuating guesses.”1 But they all boil down to this: “He’s a man.”
Then Jesus narrows His gaze and personalizes the question for His men: “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15, emphasis added). In Matthew’s original text, Jesus emphasizes “you”—and it’s plural. He’s asking each man who they think He is.
I don’t know how much time passes between verses 15 and 16, but Peter can’t stand the silence any longer. And even though the question was addressed to the group, Peter speaks for all of them. That’s like Peter, isn’t it? I love his answer.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).
We have at times laughed at Simon Peter. But here’s a moment when we must salute him. He’s never had a greater moment than this. Christ is the flesh-and-bone God, not a fixed-in-stone god. And notice the definite articles. This isn’t a generalized series of wild guesses. This isn’t public opinion talking here. This is a specific answer about the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Can you picture the scene? Peter didn’t always get it right, but he nailed it this time! How great is that!
Now imagine for a moment that Jesus turns His gaze from Peter and the disciples . . . to you. He has a question for you also: “Who am I to you?” He asks.
There can be no greater question you could answer. “Who is Jesus Christ to you?” Your reply must be, “The Son of the living God, my Savior, and my God.”
Who else could He be? There is no one else qualified to grant forgiveness but Jesus. There is no one other than Christ who will stay closer to you when everyone or everything is stripped from you. There is no one else who can turn your bitterness into relief or turn your grief into joy. There is no one else you can trust with your deepest and most scandalous secret, only Jesus. Only He can relieve the abuse. Only He can erase the bitterness and remove the scars. All other counselors and friends can simply put arms around you, weep with you, and point you to Him. But only He can change you!
And that’s just what He can do in this life. When you’ve taken your last breath and you step into eternity, having answered Jesus’s question with faith, there is not a soul who has ever lived who will be by your side but Jesus. He alone is qualified to escort you from the grave to glory. He alone is God.
Jesus has a question for you. Aren’t you glad you have the answer?