Commentary by Walter Albritton

July 27, 2008


Jesus, the Son of the Living God, is the Messiah


Matthew 16:13-23


Key Verse: [Jesus] said to [the disciples,] “But who do you say that I am?” – Matthew 16:15     

Jesus picked a place far away from Jerusalem to ask his disciples the most important question ever asked. The place was Caesarea Philippi, a town in the northern part of Israel. It was outside the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas and two days’ walk from the Sea of Galilee. It was also the headquarters of his earthly ministry.

Why this remote location? Jesus did not want to risk a premature confrontation with either the Roman or the Jewish authorities. He knew that the announcement that he was the anointed king would generate immediate hostility. Jesus had a plan and he followed it carefully.

However, he sensed that his disciples were ready to embrace the truth about his identity; he is the long awaited Messiah. The time had come to make sure the disciples understood that Jesus was more than a good man, a great teacher, or a miracle-worker. He was the “anointed king” that Micah (5:1-3) prophesied would be born in Bethlehem. In both Hebrew and Aramaic the word for “anointed king” is the word “Messiah.”

There was more and more speculation about Jesus. People were talking. So Jesus asked the disciples what they were hearing. “Who do people say that I am?” he asked. The disciples told him what they had heard – that some thought he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others, they said, thought he might be Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.

Then Jesus asked the big question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, always impulsive, quickly answers on behalf of his fellow disciples, “You’re the Messiah,” he said. “You’re the son of the living God!” (As translated by N. T. Wright).

At this point in time the phrase “son of God” did not have the same meaning that it does for us now. As Wright explains, “son of God” was a biblical phrase. It meant that the king stood in a particular relation to God, someone God chose to be his special representative. Peter meant that Jesus was the true king of Israel, the one sent from God to purge the Temple and deliver Israel from the pagan rule of Rome. The Messiah would establish true worship and set up an everlasting kingdom. The Israelites would be free at last and there would be no more oppression or captivity.

Though Jesus was quick to praise Peter for his answer, he was quicker still to condemn him for his next observation. When Jesus began teaching the disciples that he would go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, and be raised from the dead, Peter strong objected. Peter even rebuked Jesus, saying “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

Jesus severely rebukes Peter, saying that he had become the mouthpiece of Satan. Jesus insists that God’s plan called for suffering, not political power. Peter looked at things from a human point of view. He failed to understand that, as the song says, “the way of the Cross leads home.”

Stunned by Jesus’ talk of suffering and death, Peter and the disciples struggled to understand their Master’s strategy. They were not quite sure what he meant by asking them to take up a cross and follow him. Indeed they would not fully understand the mission of Jesus until after his resurrection from the dead and the birth of the church at Pentecost.  Unfortunately many in the church still doubt that Jesus was actually the unique Son of God and Savior of the world. Many blindly believe that faith in Christ is simply one of the many roads that lead to heaven. In believing this lie, these quasi-believers reject the truth taught by the New Testament.

In every age the followers of Jesus must face and answer his question, “Who do you say that I am?” I remember well that during seminary studies I struggled with my answer. Several questions troubled me. “Could I really believe that a virgin could give birth to a child?” “Could a man really walk on water and cause the blind to see?” “Could a man crucified on a cross actually be raised from the dead?”

Doubt dogged me for a season until one day I was able to fall on my knees and declare for myself, “Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and you are my Lord and my Savior!” That settled it for me and my decision propelled me into a lifetime of ministry as a servant of Jesus. It was the wisest decision I ever made.

So where do you stand? Who do you say that Jesus is? Your answer determines whether or not you will take up your cross and follow him. Choosing the right answer assures that your life will contribute to the fulfillment of Christ’s mission in the world.

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