Summary: Who is Jesus? It's possible to have a high view of Him, but not high enough.
Candidates for public office take polls to gauge their image, how they're perceived by potential voters. Are they viewed as likable, honest, capable? Jesus asked His disciples to share their input as to His public image. What were people saying about Him? He then confronted them with a more pointed, personal question: Who did they think He was? He asked this, not because He needed to know, but to contrast the world's view with the truth, to clarify these misconceptions, and to get His disciples to open up about who they thought He was, and whether they had any doubts.
Out of respect, the disciples tactfully omit what the religious leaders were saying. They accused Jesus of being a rabble-rouser, a law-breaker, and a false prophet. Some even said He was demon-possessed. They all saw Him as a threat to their power, and were outraged at how He challenged and shamed them in public debates (that they initiated).
The public generally saw Jesus as God's spokesman...
▪ Some thought Jesus was a prophet like John the Baptist, because He was heralding the Kingdom of God, the manifestation of God's ruling presence. So they viewed Him as the forerunner of the Messiah, not the Messiah Himself. Even King Herod thought Jesus might be John reincarnated.
▪ Some believed Jesus was another Elijah, because He performed miracles and issued fiery, prophetic warnings.
▪ Others saw Jesus as Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” because of His compassion, and according to legend, Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant out of the Temple for safe-keeping, to prevent its desecration when Israel was invaded by Babylon. The legend said that Jeremiah would return and restore the Ark just prior to the advent of the Messianic Kingdom.
While these perceptions were positive, they weren't accurate. Superficial views of Jesus lead to superficial lives. Matthew Henry noted: “It is possible to have good thoughts of Jesus, and yet not right ones; a high opinion of Him yet not high enough.” “Jesus does not merely bring his Father’s message; Jesus is the message” (D. A. Carson).
What do people today say about Jesus?
▪ That He's a revolutionary—the perspective of Liberation Theology.
▪ That He's a confused prophet—the view of Jesus Christ Superstar, The DaVinci Code, and The Last Temptation of Christ.
▪ That He's a created Archangel—the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
▪ That He's the brother of Lucifer—the doctrine of the Mormons.
▪ That He's a mystic and holy man—the position of New Age writers.
▪ That He's just a myth, a mere man, though a wise moral teacher—the attitude of skeptics.
Jesus was--and is--much more than people imagine. Tim Keller points out: “Jesus is not merely a good example. If that were all He was to us, His life would crush us with guilt.”
“But what about you?” Jesus asks. And the word “you” is emphatic in the original Greek. Peter alone dares to answer. He is “the mouth of the Apostles” (Chrysostom).