Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20 NRSV)
Jesus actually has two questions for the disciples. First, he asks them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and he is given a variety of answers. Then he asks the dearer question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter names Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter gets it right, and so Jesus commends him, even promising that because of this, he will receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Long after Peter’s heartfelt profession, we have come to know Jesus as even greater than Peter could have imagined. For example, the word Messiah with the capital M means “the expected king and deliverer of the Jews.”¹ As clearly as Peter understands who Jesus is, Jesus ends up being so much more than that. He becomes an unexpected king and deliverer of all people. We have received so much more in Jesus than even Peter’s idea of a Messiah.
It’s significant that Jesus first asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” For wasn’t this our starting point of knowing Jesus? We may have learned about him from our parents, teachers, pastors, or other mentors. We learned through their sharing of Bible stories and beliefs. We learned through their experiences of him in their lives. How others described Jesus helped form our initial understanding.
But Jesus then follows up with, “But who do you say that I am?” He wants to know what he means to us; who he is, what he has become for us. We have been given a foundation of understanding, but now we are called to answer him ourselves. My understanding of Jesus continues to evolve, and I imagine this will continue for my lifetime.
Our heartfelt response to Jesus will come from our experiences of him, our relationship with him, and most of all, allowing him to reveal, teach, and inspire us with all that he is. We know Jesus best from his Spirit within us. As Jesus says of Peter’s response, “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you.” God works in all of us to make Jesus fully known.
Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he will have the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter will experience Christ’s presence- kingdom living- from that moment on. Why? Because Peter has opened himself to God’s revealing work and presence in Jesus. The keys to the kingdom are given to all of us when we do the same.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”
How would you answer him? What one word best describes what Jesus means to you? Has your understanding of Jesus changed over the years? How has your deepened relationship changed your understanding? Does your way of living and being reflect who Jesus is for others? Are you being invited to see Jesus in a new way today?
But who do you say that I am?