New Testament Study:
To contact us:
“Who Do You Say I Am?”
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.
To draw His disciples out, Jesus asked them some questions: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” (vs. 13). When Jesus spoke of the “Son of Man”, He was referring to Himself; He often referred to Himself that way.
The disciples summarized the opinions of the people concerning Jesus: “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets’” (vs. 14). The opinions of the people are interesting, in that they were all respectful, yet not respectful enough. The opinions of the people were somewhat in agreement: they all thought Jesus was a prophet. Some held the same opinion that Herod had (see Matt. 14:1–2), that Jesus was some sort of reincarnated John the Baptist (although Jesus and John lived, for the most part, concurrently, and John had only recently died). Others thought that Jesus was Elijah, in fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah would return before the Messiah came (see Mal. 4:5). Others thought Jesus was “Jeremiah or one of the prophets”, and so opinions were consistent that Jesus was a prophet, even a well-respected prophet, as were John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah. However, to believe Jesus was a human prophet falls far short of believing Him to be Lord of the Universe. “Note, it is possible for men to have good thoughts of Christ, and yet not right ones; a high opinion of Him, and yet not high enough” [Henry].
“Clearly many people were impressed by Jesus and saw Him doing the kind of thing they thought prophets would do” [Morris, 420]. However, the people apparently did not think Jesus was acting as the Messiah would, for the popular view of the Messiah was as a conqueror. “No group was openly and thoughtfully confessing Jesus as Messiah… What we must recognize is that Christological confession was not cut and dried, black or white. It was possible to address Jesus with some messianic title without complete conviction, or while still holding some major misconceptions about the nature of His messiahship, and therefore stopping short of unqualified allegiance or outright confession” [Carson, 365].
Jesus asked another question: “‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (vs. 15). For each of us, this is a far more important question than the previous one. As far as our personal destiny is concerned, it doesn’t matter what others think about Jesus; it only matters what we think. Each of us must answer this question for himself.
Peter speaks up with his answer: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (vs. 16). Peter gives a brief answer, “but one which contains the whole sum of our salvation” [Calvin, 184]. In this answer, Peter confesses Jesus as Savior (“You are the Christ”), and as Son of God.
Jesus was pleased with Peter’s answer: “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’” (vs. 17). Indeed, all those who make a confession of Christ are “Blessed”: They are “blessed” to have the eternal life that accompanies saving knowledge of Christ; and they are “blessed” that such knowledge was “revealed” to them by our gracious “Father in heaven.” Peter was especially “blessed” to this have realization of who Christ is, because he was living amongst those who did not realize who Christ is. The religious leaders of the time were hostile towards Jesus. Even those who were not hostile thought Jesus to be at best a prophet. “Men forget that it is a widely different thing to believe in Christ’s divine mission when we dwell in the midst of professing Christians, and to believe in it when we dwell in the midst of those who are hardened and unbelieving. The glory of Peter’s confession lies in this—that he made it when few were with Christ and many against Him. He made it when the rulers of his own nation, the Scribes, and Priests, and Pharisees, were all opposed to his Master; he made it when our Lord was in the ‘form of a servant’, without wealth, without royal dignity, without any visible mark of a king. To make such a confession at such a time, required great faith and great decision of character” [Ryle, 196]. “To lift them out of all the perplexed conceptions due to their education and environment, and fix them in the conviction that one without scepter or army or even home, is the Messiah, required revelation from the Father” [Broadus, 355].
Peter’s confession of Christ prompted Jesus to reveal what He had in store for Peter: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (vs. 18). Jesus used the name of Peter, which means “rock”, to illustrate the role Peter would have in building the eternal body of Christ, His church. Peter, the “rock”, was to be the foundation; and indeed, in the book of Acts, we see that Peter was the foundation. With his magnificent sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter ushered in the church age (see Acts 2). And since that day, true to Christ’s words, despite much opposition throughout the ages, the “gates of Hades” have not overcome the Church.
Jesus expanded on His promise: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (vs. 19). This last promise was not limited to Peter. We know this because, later, Jesus would make the same promise to His disciples in general: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). This promise is somewhat cryptic: it is not clear at all to me what Jesus means by “loosing” and “binding” things in heaven and earth. Our inability to fully comprehend what this promise means is understandable, for we know so little about the heavenly realm. Given the vagueness to us of the promise, there is, of course, much controversy as to what it means. But from the passage in Matthew 18, we can infer that it has something to do with prayer, for there Jesus followed this promise with another promise: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:19–20). Then also, the promise about “binding” and “loosing” in heaven and earth is preceded by a passage on church discipline, and how to deal with a brother who sins against you (see Matt. 18:15–17). Given this, one interpretation of the promise is that, through fervent prayer in agreement with our brothers, we have the power to affect the course of spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms, so as to aid a brother who has fallen into sin.
Another possible interpretation of this promise turns on the fact that the phrases “will be bound in heaven” and “will be loosed in heaven” could also be translated “will have been bound in heaven” and “will have been loosed in heaven”. This translation would imply that the disciples do not so much have power to affect the heavenly realms, but rather, through the guidance of the Spirit, can administer the church according to God’s will as established in heaven. “Good reasons may be brought forward for holding that Jesus meant that the new community would exercise divinely given authority both in regulating its internal affairs and in deciding who would be admitted to and who excluded from its membership” [Morris, 427].
Jesus followed these promises with a warning: “Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ” (vs. 20). This was a command to His disciples specifically for that time. The reason for the command was that many people had the wrong idea about what the Messiah would do. If the disciples went around proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, there would have been a movement to crown Jesus the political ruler. “The term Messiah could all too easily be misinterpreted and understood, for example, in political terms. If the disciples had gone out proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, both they and their hearers would have thought of a glorious, conquering Messiah. They would have looked for armies and bloodshed and victories. To know that Jesus was the Messiah was one thing; to understand what messiahship really meant was quite another” [Morris, 427]. This command, of course, is no longer in effect; though ironically and sadly, it is an oft-kept command. We are free to proclaim from the rooftops the Lordship of Jesus Christ, yet we remain silent.