Who Is Jesus?
Brad Mills / General
Luke / Confession / Luke 9:18–20
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes the argument that Jesus could not merely be a “good moral teacher” as many often claim.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
Remember how Luke began his gospel writing an “orderly account” of the life of Jesus to Theophilus. His goal was to provide him with “certainty concerning the things” the apostles’ taught (Luke 1:4).
The Bible has several examples of people who confessed certainty about their faith. Job knew his Redeemer lived (Job 19:25). Joshua knew, as well as all of the Israelites, that God had kept his promises to them (Josh. 23:14). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that God could save them from the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:17).
We can be confident in God because he has proven to be faithful. God cannot lie, and he will accomplish all that he promises to do. The first and greatest promise is found in God’s response to the serpent after the fall.
Genesis 3:15 ESV
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This promise develops throughout the Old Testament pointing to a Messiah who would be the snake crusher. It seems likely that it is the realization of this promise that is on the mind of Jesus as he prays alone in the presence of his disciples.
The setting for this passage is a clear shift away from the crowd near Bethsaida to an isolated place where Jesus was praying with the disciples. Matthew and Mark record this conversation as taking place in Caesarea Philippi, which is about 25 miles north of Galilee. They would have been at the foot of snow-capped Mount Hermon, probably near some temple to a foreign god. Emperor Augustus gifted the region to Herod in hopes that he might bring some order there. After Herod’s death, his son Philip became tetrarch of the region and renamed it after himself.
This is not the only significant biblical event that took place there. This is the same region where the tribe of Dan happily settled because of its rich soil and where they established their own cultic priesthood complete with the idol they stole from Micah’s house (Jdg. 18:9ff).
Excavations from this region reveal numerous inscriptions and shrines dedicated to various gods in the Roman period. This image shows three temples found in Caesarea Philippi with inscriptions to August, Zeus, and Pan and the Dancing Goats. Its prior name Paneas reflected the prominent worship of Pan, a god of the underworld. The region also included prominent temples dedicated for emperor worship.
In other words, the region was a place where many various gods had been worshiped throughout history. It made a fitting location for Jesus to ask the disciples a question about his own identity. Peter’s answer recorded in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” would have served as a not-so-subtle refutation of the regions reputation for idolatry.
This passage is a call for all of us to consider who Jesus is. Do you know him personally? Can you explain who Jesus is and what he has done? It’s important that we study, so that we know how to respond to the various answers the culture gives to this question. But, even more importantly, we need to be assured our how we answer the question for ourselves.
› So let us begin where the text begins, with the first question…
I. Who Do The Crowds Say That I Am?
Here we have the answer to the question that our previous passage left ambiguous. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
The disciples provide the same answers that Herod had heard which we read earlier (Luke 9:7-8). Where did these answers come from?
1. John the Baptist – Because Herod had executed him, many thought God had raised him from the dead with supernatural powers.
2. Elijah – Stems from the assumption that he came to fulfill Mal. 4:5. However, Luke has already pointed out that this was fulfilled by John (Lk. 1:16-17; Mk. 9:11-13).
3. A risen prophet of old – For whatever reason, some suggested Jeremiah and other prophets from the Old Testament had risen from the dead.
In each case, you will note the belief that he represented someone who had come back from the dead. They attributed his supernatural power to this favorable position. But, none of these answers identify him as the Messiah.
We might suggest a fourth answer the scribes and Pharisees provide later on, they suggested that Jesus was empowered by the prince of demons Beelzebul (Lk. 11:14-15). The crowds understood that Jesus did not teach like the scribes and Pharisees, so they sought to undermine his authority and tarnish his popularity.
We find a lot more answers available today. Liberal theology stripped Jesus of his supernatural power and made him into a great ethical teacher. Existentialism created their own version of Jesus, without any divine qualities.
In his commentary on this passage, R.C. Sproul wrote,
A Walk with God: Luke 44. Peter’s Confession of Christ (Luke 9:18–22)
It seems that as philosophical schools change, Jesus becomes a chameleon, whose identity is shaped and reshaped to suit.
Regardless of which position the ancient audience held, none of their answers consider Jesus merely a “good moral teacher”. That view was apparently not an option in his day.
It would be difficult to keep up with all of the different worldviews, let alone how each of those worldviews understands and interprets the identity of Jesus. Although it would be profitably for apologetics and evangelistic purposes, it is not the most important lesson from this passage.
› The real question Jesus wants to have answered is…
II. Who Do You Say That I Am?
Jesus addresses his question to the group (with an emphatic “You yourselves”), but only Peter answers. His confession that Jesus is “The Christ of God” raises no objections, so it can be assumed that the group was in full agreement. Peter often acted as the spokesman for the twelve. But what do they understand about this answer?
“Christ” is Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”. Peter is acknowledging Jesus to be the “anointed one” (Ps. 2:2) who would fulfill all of the law and promises of the Old Testament.
Jesus claimed the title of Messiah for himself when he spoke to the woman at the well (Jn. 4:25-26).
In Matthew’s parallel account he tells Peter that God revealed this answer to him (Matt. 16:17). It would be upon this confession that Jesus would establish his Church!
› So here’s the point of this passage…
Our confession about the identity of Jesus determines whether we know him as he is revealed in Scripture.
This is a personal confession that we must adopt and believe. Upon this confession Christ is building his Church. We do not get to make up our own confession. We don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the confession we believe. If we get this confession of Christ wrong, we prove that we do not know him.
J.C. Ryle says it well,
The Christianity that saves, is a thing personally grasped, personally experienced, personally felt, and personally possessed.
Of course, when we gather we oftentimes emphasize the corporate aspects of our faith. In fact, we talked about that last week regarding the compassion of Christ. His willingness to care for the needy crowd that followed him reminds us of our calling to show generous compassion to our neighbor. We must go beyond our own personal needs and desires to think about the Church corporately.
But this passage emphasizes the personal component of our faith. Before we can rightly consider our neighbor we must rightly know Jesus Christ. We must know Jesus in a saving way. And that means that we are willing to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. God justifies and saves those who personally believe with their hearts and confess with their mouths (Rom. 10:9-10).