Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

In this discourse, Matthew is explaining who Jesus is as Messiah. Just who is Jesus? We hear all sorts of answers, ranging from “A cool dude” to “The God who simply loves everyone” to “The judge of the world” to “a pretender and false prophet” to “merely a legendary character.” Who do you say Jesus is? Who do you say the church is?

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but 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 Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

Jesus (v. 13-16)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

People had several different opinions about who Jesus was. The same is true today. When I need to rest my mind from the intense labor I normally subject it to, I sometimes play video games (entertainment-based television isn’t usually involved enough for me). There is a particular game in which one of the playable characters meets a street-preaching hippie named Jesse. The character is a blasphemy, but through it we can sense the dissenting voices concerning God’s and Christ’s identity. The Old Testament God did some not so nice things but now, in the New Testament, loves everybody. God is just a better version of our earthly fathers. Jesus is my homeboy. Jesus is a convenient religious idol I can wear as a piece of jewelry. Jesus was a cool teacher even though He was crazy sometimes. Jesus is merely Christianity’s founder. We hear many propositions about the person and work of Jesus. So did the people of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi (Northeast of Galilee), and Judea. Much information was being spread about who Jesus is—disparate information, making it difficult to know who Jesus truly is. Today, we witness the same plethora of disparate information about Jesus. Matthew purposefully records this part of the story following Jesus’s instruction for His true disciples to beware (be aware or be wary) of the leaven of false teaching. Misinformation abounds from sources we might expect or not.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

After asking what information was circulating about His identity, Jesus asks His disciples what they think personally. Jesus has already verbally claimed to be the Messiah, Lord, and the Son of Man. When Peter answers, He answers the way we should expect from someone sitting under Jesus’s teaching. Yet, Peter’s answer is so against the grain of information being spread about Jesus. Let’s think about Peter’s answer.

1) Jesus is the Christ. Christ is not Jesus’s last name. The Greek, ο χριστος (the Christ), is a title—the Greek title referring to the Hebrew, המשיח (the Messiah). Christ is a title meaning Messiah or deliverer. Peter might be confused about what it meant that Jesus is Israel’s deliverer (Cf. v. 22), but he knows that Jesus is Israel’s deliverer and, consequently, the one by whom all nations will be blessed through Israel. There are some in the New Perspective who try their best to saparate the person of Jesus and the person of Christ to insist that a person can be in Christ without Jesus. It cannot be done. Jesus is the eternal Christ. The humanity and divinity of Jesus are now inseparable. If we are in Christ, we follow Jesus.

2) Jesus is the Son of God. Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has referred to Himself as the Son of Man—a title affectionately used by the prophets who referred to messianic figures or deliverers (e.g. Daniel 7:13-14). Now, Peter confesses Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus isn’t just any messianic figure. He is the divine Messiah, God eternal born into human flesh—which is necessary according to God’s covenant as recorded in Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 32, and every prophet. God’s people would fail to keep His Law; They would fall short of His glory. God would deliver His own people despite their inability to be righteous. He would do so through atonement. That’s why the sacrificial system was given in the Law, to reveal the type of work God would do—come in the flesh, fulfill His covenant agreement with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and die to atone for the sins of His people (those He chose for Himself). That is the work of the divine Messiah foretold throughout the Old Testament, Law and Prophets notwithstanding. When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, He confesses that Jesus is eternal God and everlasting human. One eternal person with two complete natures—One-hundred percent divine and one-hundred percent human. Jesus is one with the Father and begotten of the Father in the incarnation. Without understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, we are left with a contradiction. Without Trinitarian doctrine, we either side with the Muslim who claims that God does not need a mother or a son or with the heretical tritheists. There are no contradictions is the dual nature of Jesus the Christ if we recognize that God is one essence existing in three persons. That is how the Bible can say, “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19), and that God would become the atoning sacrifice on behalf of His people through incarnation (Cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:43; Isaiah 53). That is one area biblical Christianity disagrees with every other religion—it sees incarnation and atoning sacrifice as essential to Redemption. If it is not, both biblical Christianity and Judaism are false. If it is, only biblical Christianity and Judaism are true when compared to the plethora of worldviews. We will reasonably consider the two options next week.

The church (v. 17-20)

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 

Barjona, means “Son of Jonah” or “Son of John.” Jesus uses the same designation to refer to who Peter is that Peter used to refer to who Jesus is. Jesus is the son of God. Peter is the son of an earthly, human father named either Jonah or John. Jesus identifies His own Father, God, as the giver of understanding—not the philosophies or theories of people who say many different things about many different things. If Jesus is revealing Himself and the Father to His disciples, then we experience unity in the essential doctrines—those doctrines concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Like it was with Peter, if we are to know Jesus and confess Him rightly, it must be revealed to us by the Father. This cannot be accomplished by human flesh. This truth ought to humble the teacher and help him to practice much grace. This truth also informs our methodology in the church. We are faithful to preach the word of God (Sola Scriptura), not using the tactics, psychology, sociology, or entertainment of the world to fill seats or manipulate people into ‘following Jesus.’ God is faithful to produce His own fruit.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

After addressing Peter using the common formula of individual designation, Jesus says, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” What do you think Jesus means, there? Is Jesus actually telling Peter that Peter, whose name means “rock,” will be the foundation of the church Jesus will build? Is Jesus referring to Himself? Commentators go in both directions. The Roman Catholic Church takes it as far as to say Peter was the first pope and the keys of Heaven have been perpetually in the pope’s hand—the pope is the one to grant salvation and salvation can only be found on the membership role of the Roman Church. To be excommunicated means to be damned. Only recently has the Roman Church forsaken this traditional teaching in favor of Origenist universalism under Pope Francis—who now presumably holds the keys and can hypothetically make that change. Whatever the Pope bounds on earth will be bound in Heaven. In response to Roman Catholic heresy, protestants have typically argued that Jesus was referring to Himself as the rock upon which the church will be built. But, a simple reading of the text does not seem to indicate that Jesus has, in any way, stopped talking about Peter’s role. Further, people have often appropriated the idea of bounding on earth and heaven to argue some sort of legalism or prosperity Gospel. What do we do with Jesus’s teaching, here? It is some of the most misunderstood and misappropriated teaching in the whole of holy Scripture.

Let’s take it one piece at a time. Jesus clearly identifies Peter as the object of His promise. Upon this rock, Petros or Peter, Jesus will build His church. This is not the only place Scripture identifies Peter, or the apostles, as the foundation upon which Jesus builds His church. In Revelation 21:14, John will describe the New Jerusalem, the people of God:

And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

It is entirely biblical to claim that Christ’s church is built upon the foundation of the apostles. This text does not reveal exactly how, so it is fallacious to use this text to support the idea that Peter was the first pope and that the church grants salvation or condemnation. Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. Therefore, the foundational ministry of the apostles more likely relates to their testimony about Christ—their teaching. That is why believers gather together and are dedicated to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship together, the eucharist, and prayer (Cf. Acts 2:42). Jesus is not referring to Himself as the foundation. He is preauthenticating the ministry of the apostles—the whole reason we believe the writings of the apostles to be Scripture. Without Jesus’s preauthentication, we have no reason to classify the apostles’ writing as inerrant or infallible Scripture.

The gates of Hades will not overpower it. Jesus taught something similar back in Matthew 12:29. He illustrated His own work of salvation by comparing Himself to a thief who first binds up the strong man of the house (i.e. Satan) and then carries off his possessions (i.e. people, particularly the elect). Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, particularly the elect concerning salvation and the testimony of Christ. I do not think he is bound from devouring in every instance the Father ordains but from deceiving the nations (Cf. Revelation 20:3). The elect will understand Christ’s person and work correctly. Anyone who says Satan is somehow overpowering him or her in some battle they perceive neither knows the Scriptures nor the person and work of Christ. The gates of Hell will not prevail! They do not prevail in our own time and will never prevail at any point in the future. Satan is bound. We are free to grow in our knowledge of Christ and His work until we know Him fully as we are known by Him. Through the work of the church, God’s world is being redeemed and renewed for His glory. We have no reason to condemn or be negative about the world God is renewing through His church. We can be joyful and hopeful about the future and what the future holds. Why? There is nothing that can overpower the kingdom of Heaven. Biblically speaking, Satan cannot win first before Christ wins the final victory. There is no such chance. Things don’t have to get worse before they get better. There is no such teaching in Scripture. Christ wins the victory now. He won it once-for-all at the cross. He will continue to win the victory. That means Satan cannot oppress kingdom people in any powerful way. Stop giving that snake so much undue credit. He can do nothing but snap at us. He is defanged in our time. Either you are not in Christ or your Father in Heaven is disciplining you in order to build you up. Seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Why do we still experience trouble? We still sin. We are tempted by our own desires. Satan does not even work as your scapegoat or the scapegoat for the other atrocities of sinful people. Repent and believe the Gospel. Christ will accomplish our sanctification by His Holy Spirit.

Jesus will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. “You” here is singular and Peter is still the object of Jesus’s promise. So, it is true that Peter holds the metaphorical keys. Whatever Peter bounds on the earth shall have been bound in Heaven. Whatever Peter looses on earth shall have been loosed in Heaven. That didn’t get any easier, did it? I want to notice two things. 1) Jesus has already taught something similar to this in Matthew’s Gospel. When He sent His disciples on their short-term mission trip in Galilee, Jesus promised:

Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city (Matthew 10:14-15).

Whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in Heaven. It’s the same principle. In both instances, Jesus’s promise is given with regard to the testimony of the apostles—the twelve in Matthew 10 and Peter particularly here in Matthew 16. Those who believe the apostles’ testimony, Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, and believe on earth shall have also been bound in heaven. Those who do not believe the testimony of the apostles, Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, on the earth shall have been loosed in Heaven. This has nothing to do with church membership. The keys are not passed down from pope to pope. This has everything to do with simply devoting ourselves to a proper understanding of the apostles’ teaching—particularly the Gospel. This is the verse in which Jesus validates everything the apostles would teach and write. That is why their words are included in the New Testament. 2) “Shall have been” is a perfect, passive, singular phrase. Here, the Greek captures what the English cannot. This bounding or loosing Matthew refers to happens from eternity (perfect). It happens to people; People don’t willfully affect their salvation (passive). It happens to individuals (singular). People are not bound in Heaven because they have believed the apostles’ testimony. People are not loosed in Heaven because they have rejected the apostles’ testimony. God is not so responsive. The idea, here, is what we usually refer to as either predestination or reprobation, though “predestination” doesn’t quite capture God’s election of His saints and is a tad misleading because God doesn’t bound us from before our believing the apostles’ testimony. Instead, the saints “have been bound” by the Father who is timeless and eternal. We don’t have the syntax we need in the English language to convey the idea. That is what we mean by predestination. That is what Paul will refer to as the saints being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Cf. Ephesians 1:4); In the very first moment of Creation, God already knows each individual saint. Whether or not we believe is contingent on whether we have been bound or loosed in Heaven, not vice-verse. Remember, Christ is building His church; This verse should not be interpreted to mean something contrary to Jesus’s previous claim. It’s difficult for most to think about because our choice to believe is temporal. God’s election is not but is worked out from the very first moment of discrete spacetime. One thing can be stated surely; Roman Catholic and Arminian doctrine is exactly backwards if we take Jesus’s teaching seriously. The apostles still symbolically hold the keys, not pastors or popes. Their testimony is found on the pages of the New Testament.

Christ assumes the responsibility of building His own church. He is the cornerstone. The apostles would be the foundation. Israel was the gate. The work of God through the apostles was already bound and loosed in Heaven. They were entrusted with communicating the faith. Upon their testimony, the gates were open to the elect. God’s revealed Word accomplishes its work.

Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

Why not? Matthew does not tell us. We can theorize, but all we know is that Christ instructs His disciples, before His crucifixion and resurrection, not to reveal His identity. They are, though, to proclaim the Gospel. The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent.

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Jesus’s Identity According to Matthew 14-17:

Who Jesus is:Who Jesus is not:
The expected Messiah (Isaiah 35:4-5; 61:1-2):
The one who would heal His people, take their infirmities, raise the dead, and restore justice to the earth.
John the Baptist; the new Elijah (Cf. Malachi 4:5-6):
Not merely a prophet, teacher, or good person.
Compassionate provider; Israel’s Messiah (Cf. Exodus 3:6-9; 34:6; Psalm 78:38-39; 2 Kings 13:23; Isaiah 14:1; 49:13; Lamentations 3:32; Zechariah 10:6).Not merely  an inspirational figure or brilliant strategist. Not limited by human means.
The Son of God; the king who perpetually sits on the Messiah’s throne prepared through King David (2 Samuel 7:14-17; see also Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; Daniel 3:25; Micah 5:1-3 concerning the “Son of God” motif in the Old Testament). Israel’s deliverer.Not a wish-granter or halfway savior.
The one who upholds God’s Law and justifies the Father’s people from the inside out (Cf. Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 29:13-14; Jeremiah 23:5).Not the one who abolishes God’s Law according to people’s preferences, traditions, or philosophies (Cf. Matthew 5:17).
The one who engages and uproots false teachers, churches, and religions in His own perfect timing.Not the one who instructs his people to attract the world into the church no matter the cost or hunt down false teachers and their ministries.
The one who came to the lost sheep of Israel and through whom the nations of the world are blessed (Genesis 12; 15; 22).Not the one who condemns people based on religious ritual, standards, or traditions (outward acts).
The one who takes the infirmities of His people (Isaiah 53:4) and who makes provision for those who glorify the Father with their whole lives.Not a slot machine for people to use for their own glory or exaltation by putting in time, money, or self-righteous works.
The one who upholds God’s Prophets and focusses attention on Scripture rather than on signs of the times.Not a showman who idolatrizes the miraculous.
The one who wants to be known (Cf. Genesis 1:27; Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 10:2; Deuteronomy 6:4-25; 14:4, 18; Job 12:9; Psalms 19; 46:10; Isaiah 5:16; Jeremiah 5:21ff; Ezekiel 11:12; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Romans 1:20).Not one who desires to see His name built up into human-centered religion.
The Messiah and Son of God (Cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:43; Isaiah 53)Not merely a messianic figure or a son of humanity.

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