Mark 8:27-30 (NIV): Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus’ time was growing short, and it was just about time for Him to start heading to Jerusalem for the last few scenes of His life. By this time He had invested about three years into the lives of His closest followers, and He was disturbed that they had shown so little growth in their understanding of Him and of the kingdom which He had inaugurated, and which He would soon leave in their hands.
Jesus knew that there were diverse opinions as to who He really was, so He started this critical conversation with a “soft ball” question: “Who do people say I am?”
Many people believed that Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead. This opinion was most prevalent among those who had not seen John, but had merely heard about him. Jesus’ message of repentance and the kingdom of God was similar to John’s, and people saw his miraculous restoration to life as a reasonable explanation as to why Jesus Himself was able to do miracles.
Others believed that Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. The Jewish people had been awaiting the Messiah for centuries, but they believed (based on Scriptures like Malachi 4:5-6) that Elijah would reappear first to prepare God’s people for His coming. Elijah had done a few impressive miracles, so Jesus’ miraculous abilities seemed like reasonable evidence that He was, in fact, Elijah, and that the Messiah must be near.
Still others saw Jesus as a mighty prophet, like those written about in the Old Testament. Prophets were not always foretellers of the future. Rather they were spokespeople for God. And some of them, like Moses, and Elijah, and even Isaiah, did miracles. It had been more than 400 years since a mighty prophet had arisen,. So many saw Jesus as a spokesman for God, a mighty prophet who would help them to know how God wanted them to live.
Then Jesus asked the critical question: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter acted as spokesman for the group when he answered: “You are the Christ (the Messiah).”
Jesus’ disciples knew that He wasn’t John the Baptizer. They had been with Jesus while John was still in prison, and several of the them had originally been followers of John. Besides, they had seen that Jesus was far above John in every way. As John himself had said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7 NIV) They knew that He was not Elijah come to earth again. He had done things far greater than Elijah had ever dreamed of doing. And they knew that He was not merely a prophet, even a great prophet. Jesus spoke and acted with all of the authority of God Himself; not like one with delegated authority, but as if He were God in the flesh.
To the disciples there was only one logical answer to the question: Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He was the long-promised deliverer who would save them and set all things right. They had seen His power at work, they had listened to His teachings, and there was no doubt at all in their minds that He was the One.
Jesus was relieved. It wasn’t all that He hoped for at this point, but it was a step in the right direction. However, He swore them to silence, because most people (the disciples included) had a distorted view of the Messiah in their minds. They saw Him as a political deliverer; one who would set up an earthly kingdom and a new dynasty of Davidic kings. But He still had a few weeks to help them to understand.
Father, people still have varied ideas as to who Jesus is. Some see Him as a good man, a great teacher, perhaps even a prophet. But He clearly declared Himself to be the Messiah, the Savior, the very son of God. Help us to know Him for who He really is, so that we can clearly show Him to others. Amen.