Robert H. Farish
“Who do men say that the Son of man is?” This is the question which Jesus addressed to His disciples in parts of Caesarea Philippi, about six months before His death. The context in which this question appears is recorded in Matt. 16:13-17.
Why did Jesus ask the disciples this question? Was He seeking information? Was He not aware of what men thought about Him? The answer to the latter two questions is found in John 2:25: “And because he needed not that anyone should bear witness concerning man; for he himself knew what was in man.” Jesus did not have to depend upon human testimony of what men thought about Him. This rules out the possibility that Jesus asked the question in order to learn.
The question provides motivation for the declaration of the deity of Jesus. It shows the need for men to ponder the question. Who do you say that Jesus is? Is your answer the results of intelligent investigation of the evidence available, or is it merely a parroting of views which you have heard expressed by others?
In reply to the question the disciples said “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” Matt. 16:14). It is interesting to note that none of the answers identified Jesus as an ordinary person. These answers reveal the fact that Jesus was rated very high in human judgment.
John the Baptist played a vital role in God’s plans. He was the forerunner of Jesus. His assignment was to prepare the way of the Lord. He was to accomplish this by bringing people to repentance. His message was “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). His preaching had a profound effect upon the people as is seen from the response of the people to it. The report of the success of his mission is that, “there went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” Matt. 3:5). The importance of the task which God assigned to John and the success which attended his work indicate the greatness of John. Jesus Himself declared the greatness of John when He said, “verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). This high estimate of John puts him in a high bracket, but not of the same rank with Jesus, for he himself said, “This was he of whom I said, he that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me” John 1:15). And again he said referring to Jesus, “in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even he that cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:26, 27). Those who said that the “Son of man” was John the Baptist were wrong, even though they did identify him with so great a character. They had an improper view and this improper view, if not corrected, would prevent their participating in the blessings which can come only to those who believe the truth about the “Son of Man”.
There were others who had an idea that Jesus was Elijah, that fearless prophet of old, who was taken to glory in the heavenly chariot. Others said that Jesus was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who pled so earnestly for Judah to return to God, and who uttered the great prophecy of the New Covenant which God was going to make with the house of Judah and with the house of Israel. Still others were unwilling to voice a specific opinion but simply said that he was one of the prophets. These opinions, like the one that he was John the Baptist, were all wrong. These estimates could be considered complimentary, if any other than the “Son of Man” were the object. These estimates were the conclusions to which different people had come from their observations; they were from “flesh and blood.” All the conclusions, in this matter, which came from this source were bound to be wrong, “…for seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor. 1:21). Men from their wisdom could not know Jesus for what He really was.
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” was the answer which Peter gave to the question, when Jesus asked the disciples directly, “who say ye that I am?” This truth was not revealed by “flesh and blood” but by God. It was a matter of fact made known by divine revelation. Jesus said, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). Note the contrast between the answers that came from men and the answer that came from God. The answer of divine revelation is specific and positive; the answers of human speculation are vague and contradictory.
The true identity of the “Son of Man” was revealed by God and the truth of the revelation was confirmed by miraculous signs. John the Baptist was given a sign by which he could identify the Son of God. He said that,
I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God (John 1:33—34).
Jesus Himself endorsed the testimony of Peter when Peter confessed that He was the Son of God. He affirmed that the truth that He was the Son of God was revealed by the Father in heaven. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). “Jesus of Nazareth, (was) a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). John wrote, “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:30).
Life in the name of Christ is only for those who believe that He is the Son of God. God “begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Any denial of the resurrection is a denial of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God; with such denial all hope of life after death is gone. Miracles, of which the resurrection of Christ is the climactic one, were the signs by which the truth that Jesus is the Son of God was established. The rejection of the miracles of the New Testament is a practical rejection of the deity of Jesus. It is impossible for one to honestly confess that Jesus is the Son of God without conviction of the reality of the miracles which were designed to confirm that fact. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, He is not the Son of God. But if the miracle of the resurrection be admitted, upon what basis can the other miracles be denied? All the evidence in proof of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God is the testimony of the New Testament writers, for the testimony of these is the evidence in proof of the miracles, which are in turn the proof of the deity of Jesus. The accounts of the miracles were “written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” “Flesh and blood hath not” and cannot reveal that Jesus is the Son of God. Those views of modernism, which would require belief in Jesus as the Son of God and yet deny the miracles of the New Testament, by which Jesus was approved unto men by God, are absurd and impossible.
The importance of a correct estimate of Jesus can not be over emphasized. If He is the Son of God, what then? Any belief with reference to the “Son of Man” which fails to respect His word as the word of God is faulty; for God speaks to men in this day through His Son. “God,…hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). God acknowledged Jesus as His “beloved Son” and required that men “hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). It necessarily follows that any profitable conviction that Jesus is the Son of God requires obedience to the Son of God. This is expressly stated in Heb. 5:8, “though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation.”
The words of the Son of God are not limited to those printed in red ink in the “Red Letter” editions of the New Testament. No more emphasis should be given to the words which Jesus personally spoke on earth than to the other words of Jesus which the Holy Spirit guided the apostles to speak and write. Christ said that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles “into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall speak. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you” (John 15:13-15). It is a serious mistake to minimize the authority of the words of Peter, Paul, James or any other writer of the New Testament; such is not a reflection upon these writers but is a reflection upon the Son of God. Failure to receive the words of the New Testament is failure to receive the words of Christ; failure to receive the words of Christ is failure to receive Christ; failure to receive Christ is failure to receive God. Christ told the disciples that, “he that receiveth you receiveth me and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (Matt. 10:40).
“And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).