This past Sunday we looked at the profession of Peter in comparison to the testimony of the wider crowd. The true identity of Jesus is an essential belief for the Christian. Eternity hangs in the balance when it comes to the identity of Jesus.
Who do you say that I am? (vs. 15)
This question is really the fundamental starting point when we think about Christianity. We can answer questions about the existence and origins of the world, affirm historical events like the flood or Jewish exiles, and recognize the benefits of prayer and still miss cornerstone of Christian faith. It is this question that Jesus poses when it comes to establishing his church.
Caesarea Philippi had long been known for its pagan worship. It had worshipped Baal, the Greek god Pan, and finally Caesar himself. The history of the city had proven its confusions on which god truly ruled reality. Jesus sets out to make his identity clear in a place where false gods had come and gone at varying rates. He calls for decision on his identity from those people who follow him.
So…what is so fundamental about Jesus’ question? The answer is the difference between ultimate life and death. If Jesus is merely a prophet then we have not been saved from our sins. His death on the cross would be nothing more than another horrible crucifixion in a long line of bloody Roman executions. Jesus could be respected but not worshipped. He would point the way but not be the Way. If that is true then we should not believe the Bible and should forget about Christianity all together. Yet throughout our study in Matthew (and found in many of the other books) we have seen Jesus constantly pointing out and embodying his role as the Savior.
Obvious misconceptions about Jesus’ identity existed amongst the people during his time. Some, like Herod Antipas, think that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Some people see Jesus as a prophet continuing the long line of godly prophets such as Elijah and Jeremiah. They see Jesus as a messenger who will ultimately steer the Jewish people back in the right direction and be a sign of the reestablishing of Israel.
Many misconceptions about Jesus’ identity still exist today. Jesus has been called everything from a great teacher, moral leader, prophet, spiritual guru, and brother of Satan. While some of these are partially true, none of them get to the heart of who Jesus is.
Jesus’ identity is an essential and non-negotiable belief. If we do not get Jesus’ identity right then his work on the cross means nothing to us and our salvation does not exist. We are most to be pitied if we follow Jesus but do not believe him to be the Savior.
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (vs. 16)
In contrast to many of the other answers, Peter says that Jesus is the Christ. It is the first time that this term has been used to directly address Jesus. Christ means “anointed one” and would have special significance to the Jew. It would connect people to the anointed king David and remind them of the Messiah who will come from David’s line to restore Israel. However, we have seen already that Jesus comes to save all people and not just the Jews.
Peter also calls Jesus the Son of the living God. The reference to him as the Son of God points to his divinity. He is not a mere man but a divine Son who has been sent from the Father in heaven to save humanity.
Jesus is the Son of the living God. Unlike the gods in Caesarea Philippi, this God is living and active in the world. Jesus’ incarnation is evidence of God’s action in the world. He was sent by God to be the sufficient sacrifice that the people needed in order to be made right with God.
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. (vs. 17)
Upon Peter’s confession, Jesus goes on to make three pronouncements about Peter.
First, Peter receives the blessing of God’s revelation. This revelation and blessing is given to Peter by God and not by man. Again, Jesus is no mere messenger. Peter has received this revelation from Jesus who is God. All authority given to Peter is given by God by way of Jesus. Additionally, this blessing seems to point to God’s sovereignty over his revelation and ultimately salvation.
Second, Peter is the rock on which the church is built. Jesus personally addresses Peter as the rock of the church (since Jesus shows some wordplay with Peter’s name). Peter will play a foundational role in the establishment of his church as we see in Acts 2. Peter’s confession is crucial to his role as the building block of the church. Furthermore, Jesus says that hell and Satan will not overcome the church. Peter will establish the church and it will stand up to the greatest of foes without being torn down. It’s enemies will seek to destroy it but Jesus has already declared that the church cannot be overcome.
Third, Peter is given the keys to the kingdom. Peter is given the authority to declare the terms on which people may receive salvation. We must be careful not to see this in light of human succession where power corrupts and authority is used as a means of oppression. This authority is given by Jesus himself and thus Jesus has provided the proper means by which it will be carried out. After all, God is sovereign.
How does this apply?
- We must recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior in order to possess true salvation. Jesus is both human and divine. He was sent by the Father to be a sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Jesus’ identity is tied to his fate. His humanity makes him a sufficient sacrifice while his divinity makes him the perfect sacrifice.
- The teaching of the apostles is ultimately the teaching of Christ. The Bible is a book inspired by the Holy Spirit and endorsed by Jesus Christ. We can trust the Scriptures since they were handed down to the apostles by Jesus.
- We must proclaim the truth of Jesus’ identity in a world of religious confusion. It is only through Jesus that men and women can be saved.