The Most Important Question Ever Askedcomment (0)
August 16, 2012
By Bob Terry
Today it is called Banias. In Jesus’ day the area was known as Caesarea Philippi. There Herod the Great built a white marble temple to the Roman god Pan around a huge spring that flows from a cave in the sheer rock cliff near Mount Hermon. The spring forms a river that flows into the Sea of Galilee and is one of three tributaries that make up the Jordan River.
On this site Herod’s son Philip built a town to the Caesar of his day and called the new city Caesarea Philippi. This was the same Philip who ordered John the Baptist beheaded. The town, with its nearby flowing spring and its pagan worship, symbolized all the political intrigue and immorality of that day.
It was to this place, as far from Nazareth to the north as Jerusalem was to the south, that Jesus led His disciples. And it was here that Jesus voiced the words that still form life’s most important question when He asked, “But what about you; who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15).
That Jesus would even ask such a question seems out of character for Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against “doing acts of righteousness” that are seen by men. Instead He urged followers to do their good deeds in secret so that not even the left hand would know what the right hand was doing (Matt. 6:1–3).
Then the Father who knows what is done in secret will reward, Jesus says (v. 4).
That was the approach of John the Baptist when rulers from Jerusalem asked him who he was. John called himself “a voice crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23). In all of the Gospels John makes his role insignificant in order to magnify the majesty of the message — that the Lamb of God was about to break into history.
But in this place of political expediency and religious and moral uncertainty, Jesus called attention to Himself. He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” The question and the answer had to be important for Jesus to violate His own general principles.
In asking the question, Jesus says something about Himself. He says, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” English teachers call the phrase “the Son of Man” an appositive. That is a phrase that describes the noun before it. Jesus clearly declares to the 12 disciples gathered around him that He is the Son of Man. It is not a question. It is a statement of fact from Jesus’ own lips.
The disciples understood the messianic overtones of Jesus’ statement. Scholars point out that the term “Son of Man” was the most popular title for the long-expected Deliverer. The prophet Daniel had written, “I looked and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13–14).
When Caiaphas demanded that Jesus tell the Sanhedrin if he were the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus responded. “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63–64).
Caiaphas understood Jesus’ claim and called it heresy worthy of death. The disciples at Caesarea Philippi understood the claim and embraced it through faith.
The question asked by Jesus was not about His being the Messiah. That was taken for granted. The question was about what Jesus is beyond being the Christ. Is He simply a specially gifted human being (but still a human being) or is there something more to His personhood?
The answers voiced by the disciples point toward the crowd’s recognition of Him as some sort of supernatural being. He is Elijah the miracle-worker, the one who is supposed to prepare the way for the Messiah. He is Jeremiah the weeping prophet. Jewish lore held that this prophet hid the Ark of the Covenant before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and would return to restore the Ark to its rightful place at the time of the promised Deliverer.
Others thought Jesus was the recently beheaded John the Baptist come back from the grave. Still others thought him a member of the ancient order of prophets who had not appeared in Israel for more than 400 years.
To the crowds Jesus was something special, but He was still a human being.
Then came that most important question. It had to be answered by the 12 men who would make up the core leadership of the soon-coming church. It has to be answered by every human being. Jesus asked, “But what about you; who do you say that I am?”
When Peter answered “You are the Christ,” that was not new information. That had already been acknowledged by all involved in the conversation. What Peter added became the rock of confession on which Jesus said He would build His church. “[You are] the Son of the living God,” Peter declared (Matt. 16:16).
Jesus was not just a specially gifted human being. He was not some former leader returned from the grave. Jesus was the Son of God. He was the essence of God. He was deity clothed in a human robe. He was fully man and He was fully God.
As the apostle John later wrote, Jesus was God “who became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
At the core of the Christian faith is the question, “Who is Jesus?” Some still echo the words of the crowd of Jesus’ day. They say He is a teacher, philosopher, moralist or specially gifted leader, but He is human like all others ever born.
Against that conclusion stands the confession of Peter and the historic confession of the Christian church.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Such a conclusion is not the result of human reason; it is accepting by faith the revelation of God made known in the One who is Messiah, Redeemer and Lord.
It is faith’s response to the most important question ever asked.