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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Who Is This Man?

Matthew 16:13 - 17:21

Lesson audio

An old friend once put it this way: “There is only one question: Who do you say that I am?” Your answer to that question determines your eternity.

Who do you say that I am?

(It should be noted that Christ asks this question after leaving the contemporary boundaries of Judea, perhaps so that his disciples might answer freely.)

Mat 16:13-28 NIV When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (14) They 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?" (16) Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ,[2] the Son of the living God." (17) Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (18) And I tell you that you are Peter,[3] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[4] will not overcome it.[5] (19) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[6] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[7] loosed in heaven." (20) Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

(21) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (22) Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" (23) Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (24) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (25) For whoever wants to save his life[8] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (26) What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (27) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (28) I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Who do men…?

There is a contemporary ring to the answers the disciples give. See if you recognize some of the answers likely to be given today.

  • He is someone good. The names mentioned are great ones from the Old Testament; to be called such would be a great honor for ordinary mortals. It’s easy to see Jesus this way. It’s also false. This is a common view, for though one must honor a good man, we needn’t worship and obey him.
  • He is someone powerful. These men had miraculous powers and great message. We see even today those who carry talismans related to Christ, convinced that good luck is the limit of his power. Good luck never incites fear or awe.

But these are far below who He really is. The gospels make it clear that Christ did not present himself as either good teacher or lucky charm, but as the Lord of all creation. “Liar, lunatic or Lord,” as C. S. Lewis put it.

Who do you…?

The difference between the two views is obvious. But perhaps not so obvious are these thoughts:

  • The disciples know Jesus much more closely than the crowd does. Their answer is therefore hits the mark. But do you not see that a closer knowledge also implies a greater responsibility? The crowd may be excused; the disciples could not.
  • Truth, in the kingdom of God, is first revealed, then taught. You cannot know God unless he wishes to be known, and reveals himself. After revelation, then comes teaching. Experience will confirm the teaching – but the revelation comes first. The son of Jonah is mortal; the Son of God is immortal. This is revealed, then taught and ultimately will be experienced.
  • The Father reveals the Son – just as the Son reveals the Father. Even in revelation they are one.
  • Revelation, when you get it, is a blessing.
The revelation

It is well for us to state just what has been revealed here:

  • First, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, prophesied of old.
  • As Chrysostom put it, “On this faith and confession I will build my Church.” The early church had no idea of Peter as Pope.
  • Despite Peter’s objections, the establishment of the church requires the crucifixion of Christ.
  • Some of them with him will see the kingdom come. This could mean either that some will see the Transfiguration, or that “some” means “all the apostles except Judas” will see the start of the church.
  • Ultimately, Christ will return and reward all for what they have done in this life.

Transfiguration

Mat 17:1-9 NIV The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. (2) There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. (3) Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (4) Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (5) While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (6) When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. (7) But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." (8) When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (9) As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Why was there a transfiguration at all?

As noted above, some hold this is the fulfillment of Matthew 16:28, that some would see the kingdom. Perhaps more important, however, is that the Transfiguration is a confirmation of the great confession Peter has made; it certainly was powerful evidence that Peter got it right.

Most important, perhaps, there is this: the Transfiguration is the assurance needed to know per crucem ad lucem, “from the Cross into the light.” The disciples were about to go through hard times of mental anguish and despair; this incident grants them the insight that God’s purpose will prevail.

Why these three apostles?

The first and obvious answer is that they were preeminent among the apostles. They are always listed in the first group of four names; they play prominent parts in the early church.

For Peter, however, there is a special reason. He is the one who challenges Christ concerning His death. Christ has rebuked him for this – and now provides a better reason for His death.

The number itself has significance; the Old Testament calls out that matters subject to testimony require two or three witnesses to be made sure. There are three witnesses to the glory of God (Peter, James and John) and three witnesses to the apostles concerning Jesus (Moses, Elijah and the Father).

Perhaps most important is this: the apostles needed the mountain top experience, but they also needed to learn to come down from the mountain top. They wanted to stay, but there was work to be done in the valleys below.

Why Moses and Elijah?

The answer would have been clearer to them than to us:

  • They represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Thus, they are the complete Old Testament witness to Christ.
  • They represent the living (Elijah, who never died but was transported to heaven) and the dead (Moses). Thus, they are the witness of all humanity.
  • They bring unity to the disciples. No longer does the Old Testament say this and Christ say that, but they now know that Christ is the ultimate end of the Old Testament. Everything they knew from the Law and the Prophets points to Jesus Christ.
The glory of God

The glory of God is revealed in the Transfiguration. It remains for us to see why this should be so:

Php 2:8-11 NIV And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death--

even death on a cross! (9) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

The Transfiguration tells us of the glory of Christ – glory he earned at the Crucifixion. Praise is due Him by right, for what He has done for us. We can well understand, then, why Peter could say, “It is good for us to be here.”

“Getting it”

Of course, we see this in the light of the Resurrection. It wasn’t so obvious at the time:

Mat 17:10-21 NIV The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" (11) Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. (12) But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." (13) Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

(14) When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. (15) "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. (16) I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." (17) "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." (18) Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. (19) Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" (20) He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."[1] (21)

Coming down the mountain

If you want to understand the second coming of Christ, it is best to look at the first as the model and example. The disciples are puzzled; they have been taught from youth that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Christ. Jesus tells them they got it right; they just didn’t recognize the one who played the part of Elijah – John the Baptist.

Most scholars hold, therefore, that Elijah will precede the second coming of Christ. How so?

  • It could be that there will be one who will play the part of John the Baptist, a great preacher who will put the choice of heaven and hell before the world.
  • Or – remember that Elijah never died – it might be Elijah himself. Some hold that he and Enoch (never died either) are the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation.

So what should you do about all this? The same things as before:

  • Rejoice in the grace you have been given.
  • Watch and pray, so that you will not be taken unawares.
  • Reach out to those who still have not believed.
Demon possessed son

It’s important to note that the disciples with insufficient faith are those who were left behind, not Peter, James and John. Christ addresses himself to the crowd, whose faith evidently the problem, as Mark puts it:

Mar 9:21-24 NIV Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. (22) "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." (23) " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." (24) Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

The problem has not disappeared; even within the ranks of Christians there are many whose faith is placed in many things before it reaches Jesus. Like then, we are a “perverted generation.” The word means, in the original, “distorted.” We have things out of proper perspective.

Mustard seed faith

Christ’s answer: Mustard seed faith. Much has been written about this, but we can see it shortly:

  • It is faith that lives – and therefore grows. But only when in contact with its nourishment, Jesus Christ.
  • The seed is small, but living. Large and dead means dead.
  • According to some accounts, this faith includes prayer and fasting (verse 21, omitted in most modern translations, taken from Mark 9:29).

What shall we do?

A short summary is in order – just what does Christ expect us to do about all this?

  • Take up your cross and deny yourself (Matthew 16:24).
  • Do so in faith and hope.
  • Watch and pray for his return.

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