Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
We are now at the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. More than two years earlier, Jesus had selected twelve men to follow Him closely. They were eyewitnesses to His words, works, and personal presence. If Jesus’ mission was to succeed, then everything depended on whether they now saw Him for who He truly was.
Jesus took them away from the Galilean crowds that adored and followed Him. He headed up to an area we now know as the Golan Heights. In the foothills of Mount Hermon, in the villages of Caesarea Philippi with their pagan populations and temple, He began the all-important assessment regarding His identity. Jesus inched into the discussion by asking, “Who do people say that I am?” This doesn’t mean He was unaware of public opinion. He certainly knew what others were saying about Him, and He knew that opinions were divided. He also knew that the general population had not assessed Him as the Messiah—and that, indeed, was confirmed by the disciples’ answer.
However, Jesus wanted to engage the disciples in a conversation of discovery, so He approached the subject of His identity from a more oblique angle. Isn’t that also how He works with many of us? There are some who have an instant blinding-light conversion experience as Saul of Tarsus, but for most of us there’s a process in coming to Christ —as though we were watching the sun slowly rise until the light of the gospel shines fully in our opened eyes.
Rather than immediately saying to the Twelve, “Who do you say that I am?”, He began by lubricating their thought processes. He forced them to consider others’ assessment of Him.
When Jesus also asks this question of us, He knows what people are saying of Him. For some people today, Jesus is a legend. For others, He is a liar. A handful may even see Him as a lunatic. A vast number place Him in the pantheon of other religious figures, shrug their shoulders and say dismissively, “Who is right?” Jesus’ goal is to move us from all those positions toward affirming His true identity as Lord.
The disciples’ response tells us that while Jesus was highly regarded in public opinion, the people didn’t see Him as the Messiah. When Jesus was called John the Baptist or Elijah, that didn’t mean the masses of Jewish people believed He was a reincarnated John or a translated Elijah come back to earth. Their perspective was that Jesus was John-like or Elijah-like—a preparer for One who would come after Jesus.
John the Baptist had come as the Elijah promised in Malachi 4:5, but in the popular opinion Jesus had now succeeded to that role of Way Preparer.
In the parallel account in Matthew (1 6 :1 4 ), one other possibility named by the people was Jeremiah. The linkage of Jesus with Jeremiah might accord with the idea of some that God’s people now faced judgment from the foreign power of Rome just as Jeremiah had seen Babylon as God’s visitation of judgment; or, that Jesus’ ministry—like Jeremiah’s—was one of tears (Hebrews 5:7).Do you know what the people around you are saying about Jesus? How are you helping them to know who He truly is?
A Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me today to influence others to see You for who You truly are.