History has not always been kind to Jesus, at least in terms of understanding who he actually is and grasping his significance. Many have conceived of Jesus as a great moral teacher which, although true, ignores much of what he said and did. Interestingly, during Jesus’ ministry he was emphatic about the importance of coming to terms with who he truly is.
In Luke’s Gospel, the author recounts a time when Jesus raised a question about his identity with his closest followers. By this point they had witnessed several miracles and had heard him teach on multiple occasions. So, when they were alone with him, Jesus asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). Initially the question was impersonal so they were comfortable offering guesses based on popular opinion. Then things became more uncomfortable as Jesus pressed them for a personal decision about his identity. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20).
Gauging popular opinion is one thing but wrestling with the teaching and example of Jesus personally is another thing altogether. When Jesus spoke entire towns flocked to hear him. When he taught, his words seemed to enlighten minds, bare souls, provoke people to anger and inspire awe all at the same time. Indeed, sometimes he gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead and freedom to those in bondage. But he also forgave sin, which no one but God was authorized to do, and he frequently ignored religious rules and practices to the extent that religious authorities became enraged. Yet God continued to bless his ministry with power and a growing body of followers.
So who was this man? Peter was bold enough to offer an answer when others hesitated. You are the “Christ of God” (Luke 9:20) he asserted, which was a way of saying that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah sent from God to rescue his people, restore them to prosperity and establish a Kingdom that would last forever. Jesus did not disagree because Peter was fundamentally correct. But, Peter did not yet understand in that moment exactly what it would cost Jesus to rescue his people and establish his Kingdom. The Christ must “suffer many things and be rejected . . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” Jesus explained (Luke 9:22).
Even in our day many miss the point when it comes to identifying Jesus. Yes, he was a great teacher and of course he was an excellent example as far as morality and sacrificial love are concerned. But Jesus insisted that people take him seriously enough to notice that he was not merely a prophet and a good man. He is able to heal, forgive, open minds, change hearts, restore lives, strengthen the weak and humble the proud. He ministered throughout his life then offered his life in place of all who would entrust themselves to him as their God, Savior and King.
In the end, some will find it difficult to believe that Jesus is all of those things. Those who are willing to wrestle openly and honestly with all that Jesus has made known about himself, however, will find that this is precisely who Jesus claimed to be. Until one comes to terms with what he has claimed, it is not possible to make sense of his life, death and resurrection. Nor is it possible to make sense of his subsequent call for all who would come after him to die to themselves, take up their crosses and follow in his footsteps (Luke 9:23). But this is exactly what we must do if we hope to respond well to his question, “Who do you say that I am? The implications of our answer to that question are profound.
By grace alone,
Follow the Theology Thursday series each week, with new content from faculty in GCU’s College of Theology. Learn more about Grand Canyon University by visiting our website or requesting more information using the button at the top of the page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.