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).
We often criticize Peter for being impulsive, but here he blurts out a profound truth. He proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Son of God. In spite of the accusations of the religious leaders, in spite of the overall confusion among the people, Peter got it right! This is the first time that anyone has unambiguously acknowledged Jesus as the Christ. It's been said, “The real question is whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. If He is, then we had better listen to what He says and believe in Him. If He isn’t, then no one should believe in Him” (David Brickner, Jews for Jesus).
Peter makes what is called, “The Great Confession,” a confession of faith. The Greek term translated “Son” speaks of essence. By saying Christ is “the Son of the living God,” the disciples were confessing that Jesus is of the same essence as God. Jesus said He was equal with God in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And in John 10:30 He declared, “I and the Father are one.” He is God-the-Son.
How did Peter perceive this? He heard Jesus' teachings, he witnessed the miracles, yet the Apostle Paul insists: “No one can say that 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit,” I Corinthians 12:3. Such insight takes spiritual perception. The disciples knew they were experiencing God.
The Holy Spirit continues to reveal the Son to those who hear His teaching in Scripture, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Romans 10:17.
Unlike other occasions, Jesus doesn't correct Peter; He doesn't tell Peter that he's gone too far in his assessment. Jesus not only accepts this divine title, He declares the proclamation a divine revelation and blesses Peter. We too come to faith because God has revealed Himself to us, opening our blind eyes and deaf ears and making His reality known to us in a saving way.