People have sought spiritual truth for centuries. Make that millennia. Philosophers, theologians, and religious people of all persuasions. For the most part, spiritual truth has passed from one person to another, both in oral and written forms.
The truth of the Bible is unique. It was first passed down from God to humans, then from person to person. Of course, many philosophers and theologians who do not accept the Bible's veracity dispute this.
Beyond rhetoric and posturing, the Bible tells the story of God Himself appearing to humanity. This was confirmed by sources other than those who accept this revelation within the Bible, as well as the Bible's internal evidence. And yet, there's even more to the story than many people realize.
The second question
Last week, we looked at the first question Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” People today have lots of different opinions about Jesus, just as they did then. What's important for us is to understand where people stand, what their understanding of Jesus is.
We need this understanding before we launch into any attempt share the gospel with them. People need a frame of reference to understand things, especially spiritual truth.
But when the opportunity arises for us to share our faith in Jesus, we need to be clear about who He is. As we pick up the story in Matthew's gospel (Matt 16:13-20), we look at Peter's answer to Jesus' second question.
The right answer
Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question gives a compact, complete understanding of the Lord. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, but tells him the source of his understanding was not Jesus’ physical presence, but a direct revelation from God, the Father.
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)
Peter’s response is more of a declaration than a simple answer. He declares what he and other disciples had come to know. Jesus says it’s not Jesus’ physical presence among them, but revelation from God the Father.
Does this seem contradictory or paradoxical? Perhaps, but it is the same for any believer sharing the Gospel—spiritual truth is made known by God’s Spirit, not mere words, nor physical proof.
Two important truths are declared in Peter’s answer. They are not two separate truths, but two parts of a whole truth. First Peter says, “You are the Christ.” The title Christ is an interchangeable term with Messiah. Then he says, “ . . . the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus is both Messiah and God’s Son. Most people are familiar with the title Christ, meaning Anointed One. Christ is taken from the Greek word, Christos. Messiah is taken from the Hebrew word, Mashiyach, or more commonly, Mashiah. Although the term or title Christ is more familiar, the title Messiah helps keep the context of Peter’s declaration more precise.
This Anointed One was the Hope of Israel, long-awaited by those looking to God for deliverance. The Messiah would come as the direct representative of God—a Prophet-King, a Deliverer and Savior—made known to the Jewish people.
The second part of Peter’s confession, “Son of the Living God,” speaks of who Jesus is in nature—the personal presence of God upon the earth. Jesus and the Father are of one nature.
Although Christian believers are spoken of as children of God, even sons, we are not by nature God. When someone is born again, they receive a new nature and become a new creation, but they don’t become God in nature.
People are human in nature. When a person becomes a genuine believer, a new nature is brought to life internally. They are born again.
The expression, “...Living God,” is a more familiar Jewish sense of God. Israel was to be a “light to the Gentiles,” because they worshiped the One, True, and Living God.
Israel was to be distinct from all other nations (people groups) as God’s Chosen People. This was God’s purpose in establishing the people of Israel as a nation.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration of faith includes something not easily understood—the Lord’s play on words with Peter’s name. His name is taken from the Greek word meaning rock or stone. Jesus says, “you are Peter (a stone), and on this rock I will build My church.”
First, Jesus speaks of those included in the church Jesus would build and their need to believe this truth Peter declared—that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Secondly, Jesus is the Rock the church is built upon and no one else. The important thing is having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is only possible by God’s grace, through faith.
The apostle Paul speaks of the church being built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Note verse 20 (italics mine)—
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)
Jesus also says His church will have a prevailing power, which indicates there will be a spiritual battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. It is a great assurance to know the church will prevail against the devil and his kingdom of darkness.
The right answer, the wrong time
What the story says in verse 20 is surprising.
Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matt 16:20
Imagine you are with the disciples at that moment. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, and makes other strong statements related to it. The disciples would be encouraged and excited, especially Peter. After all, Peter came up with the right answer!
But, following all of this discussion, Jesus tells the disciples to keep this revelation to themselves. He doesn’t just tell them, but commands them. It seems opposite of what we might expect. I imagine it surprised them too.
It was the right answer, but it wasn't the right time. Not yet. In a matter of months, Jesus would be arrested, sentenced, and crucified. But there's more to the story, much more, and that will have to wait for now.
Has God revealed the truth of who Jesus is to your heart?
Are you ready and willing to share who Jesus is with others?
This post is another excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel.
To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel