Who did Jesus say he was?
Because of his unconventional behavior,
Jesus attracted two kinds of attention:
those who followed him, and those who
plotted to kill him. People could not make
up their minds about who he was, but
everybody was talking about him.
He finally asked his disciples a question:
'Who do the crowds say I am?'
They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah; and still others, that one
of the prophets of long ago has come back
'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do
you say I am?' Peter answered, 'The Christ
The authority of Jesus.
For a long time, the identity of Jesus had
been puzzling his disciples. When he went
back to Nazareth and spoke there, in the
synagogue on the Sabbath, the local people
were amazed at his words and found it
hard to believe he was the same carpenter
who had worked in their village. Mark tells
us about their astonishment:
"'Where did he get all this?' they asked.
'What wisdom is this that has been given?
How does he perform miracles? Isn't he the
carpenter...?'" (Mark 6:2,3)
Other Rabbis quoted the interpretations of
great Jewish teachers from the past, but
Jesus refused to. Instead, he taught on the
strength of his own authority. On one
occasion he said, 'You have heard that it
was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for
a tooth.' But now I tell you: do not take
revenge on someone who wrongs you.'
Who was this person who quoted himself as
There were times when Jesus claimed he
was fulfilling what the prophets had written
about in the Old Testament.
To his Jewish listeners this would imply that
God was finally doing through Jesus what
he had promised centuries earlier. Near the
beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue
at Nazareth, Jesus read a passage from the
prophet Isaiah. When he had finished, he
said, 'This passage of scripture has come
true today, as you heard it being read.'
Jesus obviously believed that he was quite
different from any other teacher, and even
the people began to compare him with some
of the great figures in their history, such as
Moses and Elijah.
More boldly still, Jesus told people that their
sins were forgiven. At one time, when a
paralyzed man was brought to him for
healing, Jesus first said to him, 'Friend, your
sins are forgiven.' The Pharisees and
teachers of the law, sitting watching, were horrified, rightly observing, 'Who
sins but God alone?'
Jesus went on to heal the man, showing
that he had the power to forgive people
their sins. Again Jesus' behavior caused
people to ask questions about his identity.
When Jesus told an immoral woman that
her sins were forgiven, the onlookers
asked, 'Who is this who even forgives
Judging all the people.
The favorite name Jesus gave to himself
was 'the Son of man'. He once told his
disciples a parable in which the Son of man
would send out his angels to execute God's
judgment on the earth. So who was Jesus
implying that he was?
At this point in his ministry, Jesus would not
specifically say. In fact, he deliberately
avoided the subject, as he knew people
would misunderstand him.
When at last Jesus asked the disciples who
they thought he was, Peter said that he
was the Messiah (or 'Christ', which is Greek
for Messiah). Jesus did not deny this, but
went on to correct their idea of what the
Messiah would do.
The disciples probably thought that as the
Messiah Jesus would become the political
deliverer of Israel, driving the Romans out
of the country. They certainly must have
thought he would soon become a powerful
and kingly figure, or else James and John
would not have asked him.
"When you sit on your throne in your
glorious kingdom, we want you to let us sit
with you, one at your right and one at your
But Jesus' words about his role as Messiah
were quite the opposite of what they might
have expected. He said,
"The Son of man must suffer many things
and be rejected by the elders, chief priests
and teachers of the law, and he must be
killed and on the third day be raised to life."
The disciples were totally unprepared for
anything like this. They were bewildered
John's Gospel gave us the same answer as
Matthew, Mark and Luke to the question of
who Jesus was, but he put it even more
strongly. The first three Gospels only hint at
Jesus' identity, but John records words of
Jesus in which he openly declares himself.
In John, Jesus says that he is the only way
to God, and that he and God the Father are
one. John draws the conclusion that is
implicit in the accounts of Jesus' words and
actions in Matthew, Mark and Luke - that
Jesus was a man, but he was also the Son
Reactions to Jesus' words.
One way that we can be sure that this is
really what Jesus was saying is by looking
at the reaction of the orthodox Jews who
heard his words. His listeners were often
shocked by what he said, but their reaction
went beyond that.
To say the sort of things Jesus was saying
if it was not true was nothing short of
blasphemy - and this is exactly what Jesus
was accused of.
At other times the crowd even picked up
stones to kill Jesus for saying such things. It
seems that the words of Jesus were so
strong that people either had to believe in
him or to condemn him. Jesus left them with
no other choice.