Who Am I?

Posted on March 6, 2014 by

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by I’Ching Thomas

Many world religions today accept the man Jesus within their belief system. Muslims call him a prophet; some Buddhists consider him a bodhisattva, and New Age practitioners call him a social activist. Amidst such diverse claims of the identity of Jesus, who is the real Jesus? This reminds me of Jesus’s own question to his disciples in Matthew 16—namely, “Who do people say that I am?” A brief look at the backdrop of his question would help us better grasp the significance of this passage.

First, consider the location. The incident occurred at a place some miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee in the domain of Herod Philip.1It was also the reputed birthplace of the god of Pan—the god of nature and fertility—and he was staunchly worshipped WhoAmIthere. The surrounding area was also filled with temples of classical pagan religion. Towering over all of these was the new temple to the Emperor Caesar. Thus, the question of Jesus’s identity was aptly and significantly posed to his disciples against a myriad of gods and idols.

Second, consider Peter’s response. The answer Peter accorded to Jesus’s question—”You the Christ, the Son of the living God”—was a title with implications that the original audience knew perfectly well. Peter was describing Jesus as the Promised One who would fulfill the hopes of the nation. The interesting thing, though, is that the original audience was expecting a Messiah or savior who was more of a political figure. Of course, Jesus, the disciples were discovering, was much more than this. He described himself as the divine Son of God, and the salvation he was to bring as something not just for the Jewish nation but for peoples of all nations.

Peter’s insightful confession was key in the disciples’ eventual recognition of Jesus and the turn of events that would follow. Though given divine insight, Peter was as unaware as the rest of the disciples that the victory of the Messiah they professed would come in the most unexpected way. Yet from here on, God’s plan was further revealed, Jesus’s suffering and impending death more clearly voiced. Jesus revealed that his Messiahship involved taking on the role of the suffering servant as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. His very identity would ultimately lead him to his cursed death on the cross.

Of course, how Jesus lived and died had implications as to how his followers were to live as well. The earliest Christians understood this very well as many were persecuted for their faith and betrayed by their own families. The laying down of one’s life was a literal reality for those who would become martyrs.

Today, most of us live in environments where the question “Who do you say that I am?” is still asked in a world of distractions. We live in a context where we have endless options to choose from: a plethora of religions, pleasure and wealth, recognition, and so on. Yet the question is as pressing to us as it was for those who first heard it. Who do we say Christ is? Our response is both personal and public. That is, the confession of allegiance to Christ is both a denial of self-importance and a life of neighbor-importance.

Regardless of what we may have been told, the way of Jesus is ultimately the way of the cross. Signing up with Christ won’t give you worldly benefits, but all the forms of suffering that arise from carrying one’s cross. If we proclaim in our religiously pluralistic context that Christ is supreme over all other gods of this world, we need to be reminded that his supremacy and victory cannot be divorced from the heavy price that he paid.

Often, like Peter, we tend to expect a Lord who fits our preconceptions or ideas—perhaps one who is always “successful,” or one who is validated by signs and wonders.  Even the disciples were not spared this temptation. All of their questions about who would sit at his right hand and what one would secure from discipleship reveal that they were expecting glory as they walked with the Son. Their expectations likely did not include getting killed.

However, as they soon learned, any commitment to Christ that does not feature the cross is merely devotion to an idol, for following Christ is costly. For some, following will mean death itself. It will mean taking up the cross. It will mean living beyond comfort and preference. It will mean stepping out in love and conviction. It may mean undertaking a calling that many will scorn. Choosing to call Jesus the Christ may mean losing our lives, but then, this is the only way to truly live.

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I’Ching Thomas is associate director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.

1 NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 1589.
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Matthew 16 | The Pharisees and Sadducees Seek a Sign

16 Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites![a] You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet[b] Jonah.” And He left them and departed.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”

But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?[c] Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven.”

20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

Jesus Predicts His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”

23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 16:3 NU-Text omits Hypocrites.

  2. Matthew 16:4 NU-Text omits the prophet.

  3. Matthew 16:8 NU-Text reads you have no bread.

  4. Matthew 16:19 Or will have been bound . . . will have been loosed

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Posted in: Apologias