Who is Jesus? This is the one question we must answer and answer correctly. Who He is defines who we are as Christians. To consider Him anything less than the Messiah, the sovereign Lord, God in the flesh, and our Savior is to dishonor Him and call our own faith into question.
I have in my library a book entitled The 100, in which the author seeks to rank the 100 most influential people in history.
I was glad to find that Jesus made it on the list—in fact, He was in the top ten. But He was not first. The top ranking went to the prophet Muhammed. Number 2 went to Isaac Newton; number 4 was Buddha; and in between Newton and Buddha—at number 3—was Jesus. Never mind that of all the people listed, His tomb is the only one that’s empty.
Where the world ranks Jesus is not really that important to your life. What is critically important, though, is how you rank Him. Who is Jesus to you?
The disciples will be confronted with that question, but first our study takes us to Matthew 15:39, where Jesus and His disciples leave the Decapolis region after the miraculous feeding of the 4000 and travel northwest across the Sea of Galilee “to the region of Magadan.” Mark 8:10 calls this place “Dalmanutha.” Dalmanutha was the harbor of Magadan.
As soon as they arrive, Mark tells us in verse 11, “Pharisees came and began to argue with him.” Matthew’s account adds that they are accompanied by Sadducees. They have come to “test” Him by demanding “a sign from heaven” to prove His authority is from God. Now He has already performed signs from heaven, and He refuses their demand. He knows their problem is not a lack of evidence; their problem is a lack of faith.
Matthew 16:4 says that Jesus does respond by telling them that the only sign they are going to get is the sign of Jonah—and that is an allusion to His coming resurrection on the third day after His death (see Matthew 12:39-40).
Beloved, you are not obligated to answer every cynical question an unbeliever asks you—especially when the person really does not want an answer.
Mark 8:13 tells us that Jesus and the disciples get into a boat and sail away. Verse 14 notes that they forgot to bring more bread along and have “only one loaf with them in the boat.”
Jesus then says in verse 15, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The disciples miss the point, for as verse 16 says, “They began discussing . . . the fact that they had no bread.” They thought Jesus was possibly rebuking them for forgetting to pack the cooler with bread and maybe a little butter.
Matthew 16:11 records Jesus’ correction, as He says, “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” “Then,” verse 12 states, “they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
His warning here is to beware of any teaching contrary to God’s Word. False teaching is like leaven—it will grow and influence everything around you.
When they arrive at Bethsaida, a blind man is brought to Jesus. Jesus puts saliva on the man’s eyes and lays His hands on him. His sight is restored, but it is interesting to me that this miracle takes place in two stages. At first, his sight is blurry. Mark 8:24 says he sees men, but they look “like trees, walking” around. Then Jesus lays His hands on the man again, and he sees “clearly.”
We are not told why Jesus healed the blind man in stages. Perhaps it was Jesus’ way of teaching that we need to trust Him when He moves in ways that are mysterious—when He does not explain Himself. Perhaps His physical healing of you is in stages—partially now but perfectly one day, in heaven.
Now with that, they travel about twenty-five miles north to a place called Caesarea Philippi. And when they arrive, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27).
Well evidently, the people on the street out there have given Jesus a pretty high ranking. He is not first, but he is right up there with John the Baptist and Elijah!
But now Jesus changes the question into something much more personal here in verse 29: “But who do you say that I am?” Beloved, that’s the most important question you will ever need to answer. Who do you think Jesus is?
A very educated man in his seventies who had taught Sunday school in a church for decades told me recently that he thought Jesus was a good rabbi. He said, “I refer to Him as Rabbi Jesus.” He did not know who Jesus is. What you believe about Jesus will determine your eternal destiny.
Peter raises his hand in class and says, “I’ve got the answer: ‘You are the Christ’”—that is, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Matthew’s Gospel gives us Peter’s full answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter knows Jesus is much more than a rabbi. This is a declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ—“You’re the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Jesus responds in verse 17, telling Peter this truth has been revealed to Him by God the Father. Then in verse 18, He says, “On this rock I will build my church.” The rock, by the way, is not Peter. It is the bedrock of what Peter just declared—the deity of Christ. It is upon this truth that the church will be built.
The Lord also says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (verse 19). In other words, the gospel that Peter and the other disciples will preach is the key to opening the kingdom of heaven.
After that announcement, Jesus begins to tell them what’s ahead:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (verse 21)
Peter reacts in verse 22: “[He] took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” And Jesus sharply responds in verse 23:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
He is saying to Peter, “You are acting like Satan’s agent and not mine.” The New Living Translation renders this: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s.”
Now think about this: Peter had answered with divine inspiration that Jesus is the anointed Messiah, the Son of God. And now—just six verses later—Peter is rebuking the Son of God. Here is a lesson for us: if it is possible for Peter to move from insight to idiocy in such a brief time, how easy is it for us to do the same?
Part of Peter’s problem is that he has forgotten who he is talking to. He starts talking to the Lord as if the Lord needs correcting. We do the same thing, beloved, when we correct the Lord’s timing or lack of response to some issue in our lives.
Peter’s problem also centered on expectations. Peter expected miracles by the seashore, not nails and a crown of thorns. Just like Peter, beloved, our expectations are usually self-centered and short-sighted. We see things from a human point of view and not God’s.
But here is the good news: Jesus did not kick Peter out of the group—He patiently continued to teach Him, just as His Word teaches us.
So, keep learning, beloved; learn all you can about Jesus. That will make sure that you give Him His rightful place—that you rank Him with the highest ranking possible—as your sovereign Lord, Messiah, and coming King.