When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon so of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven."
Why did Jesus ask this question? Jesus was not going through an identity crisis in this passage, was he? No, Jesus already knew who he was, but he wanted to poll the popular thought and opinions of the people.
Firstly, whenever the Lord asks a question he is not seeking information, he is seeking to give revelation. So he asked "who do people say the Son of Man is?" His question is posed with the affirmation of his personhood as the Son of Man. Scholars have noted this title as the title of choice of Jesus.
He referred to himself as the Son of Man more than any other title. His identity came from the Scriptures, namely the prophesies of Daniel (more about that later).
The Lord so identified with the Word of God, because he is the Word of God in the flesh, that he saw himself in it.
Humbly and accompanied with the Spirit of God, he understood what the Scriptures said of himself. Jesus' identity was so firmly rooted that the bold claims he made were never claims, they were truth.
He defended his identity unflinchingly with the religious leaders of his day. He knew what life he was going to lead toward his destiny on the hill of Calvary.
Secondly, Jesus posed this question to his disciples to discern their hearts. Where our hearts are rooted determines what we understand about the Lord and ourselves. The Bible tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and beyond our capacity to know its contents.
However, our hearts betray us in how we speak and what we do unprompted. To that end, David in Psalm 139 cries out to God to search and try his heart so that what is imperceptibly evil can be cleansed and corrected. God's word is a discerner and a cleanser of human hearts.
Thirdly, Jesus posed this question to help establish what authority truth is based on. We tend to have confidence in our educated opinions and experience. The opinions of the people were based on the teachings of the religious leaders who grossly mislead them.
The people thought he was just another prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah. The prophets spoke about Christ and never about themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, prophesied of himself and his mission. Then if he is a prophet and his prophetic word is true, he is God.
So like the people of old, our thoughts and opinions about God can come from popular opinions or thoughts of leaders which may have no biblical grounding.
Jesus is the Word made flesh and all of Scripture point to him, therefore all authority is in him. If our thoughts are not based on the Word, then the Word will reveal where we base our authority.
Lastly, Jesus posed this question to lead to himself as the answer. Remember he refers to himself as the Son of Man. This title first appears in Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man comes into the presence of the Ancient of Days riding the clouds of heaven.
He is given dominion, glory and sovereignty. This description is of the resurrected Messiah receiving the reign and power that is rightfully his. Jesus is the Son of
Man. Before he knew cruelty, he knew who he was. Before he knew the cross, he knew who he was. Before he knew the grave, he knew who was. Peter gave the right answer, because the Father in heaven revealed it to him.
We cannot know Jesus based on popular opinion, trends of thought from scholars, or from our intellect. We can only know Jesus if the Father reveals him to us.
"No one can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws them," (John 6:44). Our aim is to have knowledge of Jesus like Peter did. Knowledge that cannot be revealed by mere mortals.
My prayer is that we "may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death" (Philippians 3:10).