Jesus said, “Who do you say I am?” Probably, this is the most important question that a Christian would be asked. In the gospel, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What was the understanding of Christ in the Jewish mind? Christ definitely was not a surname, like the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. Christ means the anointed One. Who was anointed before the kings? The kings were anointed by prophets and they used oils for the ceremony. The anointed one was the king and among the kings of Israel, David was regarded as the greatest king that they ever had. Under him was his son, Solomon, and the twelve tribes of Israel, and they were united in one kingdom. But after one thousand years between, Israel was conquered by several superpowers - the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Israel was under oppression for one thousand years, and of course, they would want a Messiah, a Christ.
Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Jesus was the Son of David and what the people were looking for was a David-like warrior who would deliver by military might from their oppressors. They were longing for David’s golden age when the twelve tribes were one united kingdom. They were looking for something that would quell the Romans and give them freedom, peace, prosperity, and restore back their pride and their dignity as a nation, as a chosen people of God.
This is what may have been in Peter’s mind when he said, “Jesus, You are the Christ. You are our deliverer. You are our Messiah.” Indeed, Jesus was and He affirmed it. He was saying, “That came from My Father, God Himself, but your idea of Messiah may not be the same as what the Messiah really should be as Israel needs Him.” They were looking for somebody who would drive through the Roman Palace and raise the armies of Rome. Jesus made it clear that He was the kind of Messiah that Peter was thinking and I am sure, James, John and Judas as well.
Jesus said, “I am the Messiah, I am Christ, but this is how I would deliver Israel. First, I will be handed over to the sinners and they will spit upon Me. They will pull My beard, strike Me on the cheek, crucify Me, and they will kill Me. Then, I will forgive them, and on the third day, I will rise again.” It would be natural for Peter to say, “Of course, these things will not happen to You. You are our Deliverer. Nobody will kill You. You will kill like David did. You will not be killed.” After Peter said theses things, Jesus rebukes him back because he did not understand. Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Satan meant adversary. Peter was oppose to the plan of God and he may not understand it, but it was what should happen to Jesus. Peter asks, “What do You mean that You will get killed and that You will suffer?” Jesus says, “It is the way of the cross; the way of God.”
Giving you a background of the setting of the gospel, they were in a place called Caesarea Philippi where there was a temple of Caesar Augustus who was the Emperor when Jesus was born. When he died, Tiberius Caesar, the stepson of Caesar Augustus, took his place. Tiberius made a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. It was the largest building at that time, and Jesus and His disciples were there by the temple. The big statue of Caesar Augustus was there and there was a coin where his face was on one side and on the other side was the temple. These showed the authority and the popularity of Caesar Augustus.
There were claims made on behalf of Caesar Augustus. It was said that Caesar Augustus was the son of Apollo, who was a god, and Apollo impregnated Caesar’s Mother, Atia, who was said to have been the most revered matron in history. She was exceptionally moral and religious, and she was chosen by Apollo to bear his son, Caesar Augustus. One of the titles of Caesar Augustus was the son of God. In German, Caesar meant lord, and he also claimed to have been the savior of the world. Son of God, lord, savior of the world, bringer of peace and bearer of good news – these claims were on coins, on public monuments and temples. Tiberius had also a coin and his face was on one side where it was written “Tiberius Caesar” the August son of the divine Augustus, the high priest.
We see a display of wealth, power, dread, prestige, and a clout. Against this background of the temple and all it symbolizes, Jesus Christ, appeared to be a bastard son of peasant parents, homeless, nowhere to lay His head. He had no army, no influence, and no power. This Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say I am?" He was saying this in the temple where there was the statue of Caesar Augustus who was claimed to be the son of God, the deliverer, the bringer of peace and good news. Peter says, “It is not him (referring to the statue); You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The question of Jesus is, actually, “Who really is the divinely conceived? Who really is Lord? Who really is the Savior of the world and the bringer of peace and good news? Who really is God’s anointed one? Who really is it that will deliver you all from your real bondages and oppression? Caesar or Jesus?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Indeed, it was from God. Indeed, our confession is from God (as it is said in the Creed), but it is one thing to confess and it is another thing to bet our life on it. James said that a hearer is not necessarily the accomplished one. It is the doer of the will of God that really gives a good witness.
I just wonder – for the people who know us individually and as a Church, for the people around our Church, our neighborhood - what is our response to the questions, “What are they being taught? What kind of Christians are they?” Jesus did not ask, “What did people say about My teaching?” He asked, “Who do they say that I am? My essence? My nature? What I live out or display?”