Summary: When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Near Caesarea Philippi
Lesson: Peter Confesses Jesus is the Christ
What follows is a private conversation between Jesus and His disciples concerning Himself. It took place on the coast of Cesarea Philippi, which is on the northern border of Canaan. It is a remote area, so there may not have been very many people flocking after Him as there were in other places, which gave Him the needed leisure time for this conversation with His disciples.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13)
Jesus called himself the Son of Man, for He was really and truly a man, born of a woman. He was also called the Son of God, for he was God’s Son. Luke 1:35 said, “And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore, also, that Holy One who is born will be called the Son of God.” By referring to himself as the Son of Man He also showed himself to be humble.
He asked what people thought about him. He didn’t ask what the scribes and Pharisees thought, because He knew they were prejudiced against him; that they said He was a deceiver and in league with Satan. Jesus didn’t ask this question because He didn’t know what men think or because He wanted to hear his own praises. He asked it to make his disciples consider the success of their preaching, by showing that He was interested in its effect. The common people conversed more easily with the disciples than they did with their Master. He could find out from them what they were saying. Jesus did not clearly state who He was, but left them to infer it from his works. In John 10:24-25 we read, “Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do you keep us in doubt? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’” Now He wanted to know what inferences they drew from his miracles and the miracles which the apostles did in his name.
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)
Some said that Jesus was John the Baptist, returned from the dead. That was the opinion of Herod’s court, and that is what Herod, himself, believed.
Some believed that He was the prophet Elijah. The prevailing notion among the Jews was that Elijah would reappear before the Messiah came. They believed that Jesus fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy. Malachi wrote, "Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives.” (Malachi 4:5) John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ and he was like the prophet Elijah in his dress and manner.
There were others who thought He was the prophet Jeremiah, perhaps because of the tears He shed. They believed that He was the one who would be raised up from among the people according to Deuteronomy; one like Moses, who wrote "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites, and you must listen to that prophet. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
There were even some who supposed that He was one of the other prophets, for they believed that when the Messiah appeared that the prophets would rise again.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
He asked them this question, because even though they were his disciples and they believed in Him, that is not enough; they must confess Him. Both are necessary, therefore, He doesn’t say who believe thee, but whom say ye that I am? They had been with Him a long time. They had heard His words and seen His miracles. They would be the ones to preach the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles, so He asks them who do you say that I am? They should know Him better than anyone else, and should be to the point that they can make a confession of their faith, and give a reason for the hope that is within them. They should have no doubts about Him and be ready to declare what they know and believe about Him.
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Peter declared that Jesus was not one of many, but that he was one set apart from all others. He said, “You are the Christ,” which is the Greek title for the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting. “Son of the living God” is a new title. Peter not only declared that Jesus was the Messiah, he identified the Messiah as the Son of God. Though the disciples had heard the Father call Jesus His beloved Son (Matt. 3:17) and had heard Jesus address God as His Father numerous times (Matt. 11:27), this confession went way beyond that to express the understanding of their hearts.