Matthew 16:13-20, Part A: Who Do YOU Say I Am
This question, and its answer, was relevant in Jesus’ day and it is today. Who Jesus is will remain a question for all seasons because Jesus is the man for all seasons. Moreover, the person and work of Christ and the eternal design of the Triune God is under attack from within and without the Church. It is vital that the Church answer the question correctly.
Jesus’s question moved to the heart of the issue: the disciples’ heart. God designed mankind a duplex being, inner and outer man. Man thinks and desires in both the outer man (the body particularly the brain) and the inner man (the heart – Proverbs 4:23; 16:21, 23). Jesus’ question cut to the very core of one’s whole being. The answer is based on one’s view of God and self.
In Matthew 16, we find Jesus with His disciples. In the preceding verses (16:5-12), Jesus warned the disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the spiritual leaders. The disciples came to realize that Jesus was not speaking of physical yeast and its effects. He referenced the teaching of the Pharisee’s (16:12). The Pharisees taught that no spiritual messiah was needed (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Personal law-making and personal law-keeping was adequate and should be accepted by God. They had endorsed adequate law keeping by virtue of their own law-making and law-keeping. They had themselves. They did not need a spiritual messiah, only a physical one
Jesus and the disciples moved into pagan territory in part for privacy and quietness (16:13). Jesus continued to instruct the disciples. Beginning with Matthew 16:13, Jesus began to teach the disciples about Him. He probed their hearts by asking several questions. Asking questions, waiting for an answer, and then moving to instruction is an excellent discipling tool and a one-on-one ministry tool.
The first question is noted in verse 13: Who do the people say the Son of Man is. Several points are noteworthy.
- Jesus is referencing the common people as to their view of the messiah and Him. Did they link the two?
- The question probed the disciples in several ways. Jesus wanted to know how much other-orientation the disciples had. Knowing where people are is a key ingredient for godly one-on-one ministry. It is essential for ministering the appropriate biblical truth to the person in his situation in order to help the problem given his level of spiritual maturity and his level of willingness. Questions tend to probe the heart and accusations often make it easy for a person to harden himself.
- Taking a spiritual inventory is worthwhile for the both the one ministering and the one receiving truth.
- Jesus called Himself the Son of Man which was in marked contrast to the people’s response. The Jewish expectation was one of a nationalistic messiah. Only Jesus used the title (Matt. 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 24:30). It was Jesus’ most common designation for Himself. It was used some 81 times in the Gospels. It is a generally thought to be a Messianic title. The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and be raised (Mark 8:31). Most likely, Jesus referenced Daniel 7:13-14. The used of the designation by Christ implied that Jesus expected the disciples to know their Scripture. The Messiah had come and He was Him.
The disciples wasted little time in answering. The people had multiple and varying false opinions: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Basically the answers indicated that the people thought of Jesus as the ghost of a dead man. The disciples must have heard the people speaking and knew the prevailing opinions. There was a diversity of human opinions. The idea of Messiah as intended by the title Son of Man was not included in any answer. The prevailing view consisted only of a physical bondage and a savior from that bondage. The people’s answers as reported by the disciples reflected a lack of understanding of Jesus the person and His message and mission. It also reflected a wrong understanding of who they were. It indicated a wrong view of sin, sinners, sinfulness, and its consequences. Jesus was considered a “good guy,” miracle worker, and even a good teacher. He could provide relief from physical burdens but He was not considered to be God
- Who do you say Christ is?
- What is your source of information and standard for your answer?
- How are you are able to declare the truth about Christ?
Matthew 16:13-20, Part B : Who Do YOU Say I Am
Matthew recorded a second question in verse 15. Jesus probed the hearts of the disciples by asking: But what about you – who do you say I am? Jesus’ second question distinguished the disciples from the people. In His second question, Jesus placed the plural you in an emphatic position. Jesus was getting personal by honing in on the crux of the matter. Jesus wanted to know for their sake if their answer contained more truth than that of the common people. By questions, Jesus was helping the disciples form a right view of God, Him, and themselves.
Matthew used the verb to be – I am. In the original language I am is an infinitival form of the verb to be (einai). Jesus was asking an ontological question. He coned down on their understanding of His being and essence. A proper understanding of who Jesus was would equip the disciples for a right view of the essence of Jesus’ message and mission and a right view of their message and mission as God’s agents. All three were linked but the disciples did not understand this linkage. However, their understanding would increase in manifold fashion at the Spirit’s coming as recorded in John 21 and at Pentecost.
Earlier, as recorded in Matthew 14:22-33, two men walked on water. When the disciples saw Jesus alone walking on the water, the disciples responded fearfully. Jesus admonished them to be of courage and not to fear. He gave them the reason: it is I. Very God was in their midst. They were not alone left to their own resources. Jesus was in control and He had chosen them. By using the verb to be Jesus equated Himself with God (John 8:58; 10:30). Sinful fear looks away from God and His promises and resources and looks to self as an impotent provider.
In Matthew 16:15, Jesus’ but-you question probed the hearts of His disciples. How truly were they were in the true faith? The question is a good one for every believer. His question left the disciples with little wiggle room. Jesus focused on the threat of the teaching (yeast) of the Pharisees. The disciples were tempted to accept their teaching or at least were tempted to be tossed back and forth by human speculations (Col. 2:8; James 1:5-8). Interestingly, Judas was included in this group.
The disciples came face to face with the living God whose time was growing short on the earth. Jesus’ question to the disciples was an in-your-face question. It was a defining-moment question. Jesus did not need to know the answer for Himself. Rather, He was addressing the disciples who were in their infancy in terms of their development as Christ’s disciples. Jesus expected fruit bearing especially from these men who were with Him. When much is given much is required (Matt. 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18; 12:48). Jesus knew that the disciples needed to be properly prepared in regard to their own salvation and for growth as a child of God. They needed gospel truth and the gospel message firmly under their belt in order to carry the gospel message forward. Knowing Christ – facts about Him – and intimacy with Him by faith with Him was vital for their salvation, growth in grace, and completion of their mission.
- God’s presence can be a burden or blessing: see the book of Job and see David in Psalms 32 and 38. How do you view God’s presence and on what basis?
- The you in Jesus’ second question is intended to be personal. How do you answer the question? What do you know about Jesus?
- Salvation is personal but it is never to remain personal. Explain.
Matthew 16:13-20, Part III: Who Do YOU Say I Am
In this potion of Scripture, Jesus revealed Himself as the Teacher. He conducted a question-and-answer session with His disciples. He was taking the pulse of the disciples and Israel. He knew their answers to the questions but wanted to put the issue before the disciples. The answers were a matter of life and death and still are. In verse 16, Peter answered the question asked in verse 15: who do say I am. Peter responded for the group: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter’s response was knowledgeable, personal, and relational. It contrasted the people’s perspective of Jesus. Peter’s answer echoed Yahweh’s self-designation in Exodus 3:6; Matt. 22:32; Acts 7:32. Peter referred to only one person – the living God-man Jesus. Peter acknowledged the deity of Christ. The disciples as a group had acknowledged Jesus to be God’s Son (Matt. 14:33). As believers Peter and the disciples were known by God. But they were lacking in their understanding of Who Christ was and what their relationship to and with Him would mean for them. However, their answer was a step in a progressive unveiling of eyes and hearts to the reality of Jesus Christ. Jesus was beginning to intensify His personal instruction to them. He was on a timetable and the disciples needed to be on board.
Christ put Peter’s answer into a proper perspective. He acknowledged the source of the truth expressed in Peter’s words as divine revelation (Matt. 16:17). Peter by nature was a human son of a human father. In contrast, Jesus was by nature and from all eternity, the divine Son of the Divine Father. Natural human knowledge unaffected by knowledge imparted supernaturally by the Holy Spirit would never prepare man to plumb the depths of God’s mind and truth (Rom. 1:18-20; 1 Cor. 2:10-16). Humanly speaking, no one can proclaim Jesus as the true Messiah unless the Holy Spirit has worked within the heart of the person (John 3:3-8; 6:60-64). Unlike the people, Peter spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Peter proclaimed truth about Jesus the Person – His essence and being.
Implied in Christ’s proclamation of the source of Peter’s answer is a third and most important question. The question is: Who does God say Jesus is? Jesus alluded to this when He declared that supernatural thinking is humanly impossible without the Holy Spirit (Matt.16:17). A second question follows: do you agree with Him and on what basis? Matthew recorded the Father proclamation in two places: This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The Father’s admonition to the three disciples on the mountain was to listen to Jesus (Matt. 17:5). The Father and the Son were one (John 10:30). Listening to Jesus was tantamount to listening to the Father (John 14:6-9). Jesus taught that God is the source of all truth. Truth is personal, objective, absolute, and revelational (John 14:6 – Jesus is truth; 17:17 – Scripture is truth). Truth is life changing (John 8:31-32). In Matthew 16:17, Jesus pronounced a blessing on Peter and all those who agreed with him. Today we listen to the Triune God as we read, recite, meditate, memorize, verbalize, personalize, and actualize God’s truth. Believers, as were the disciples, are to be busy applying biblical truth daily.
Who, and what, do YOU think Jesus is? And why do you believe what you believe? How do your beliefs impact your daily thoughts, desires, and actions? The questions imply that Jesus is and that all people have some knowledge of Him. As a believer, God knows you comprehensively and intimately. Your knowledge of Him is relational and it is to be growing. The answer to the questions posed in Matthew 16:13ff center on you, the knower; the object of your knowledge, Jesus Christ; and the standard and source for your answer, God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. True knowledge of Christ is God’s gift to the believer. God expects a return on His gift and investment.
- Who is Christ? What did He come to do and why?
- Do your answers agree with God’s answers?
- How have these facts/truths affected your thoughts, desires, and actions daily – 24/7?