“Who do you say I am?”
This is one of the most well-known questions Jesus asked his disciples. Perhaps because it is arguably the most significant. Significant not just for his disciples, but for everyone – because at some point everyone must answer that question.
Amid the cacophony of false idols, false religions, false gods, false ideas, hearsay and slander against Jesus everyone must answer the question Jesus puts to them: “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16.15) It was no different for the disciples or the people of Jesus’ day. Consider the context in which Jesus asks his disciples the question: Having just fed more than 4,000 people, Jesus was approached by the unbelieving and treacherous Pharisees and Sadducees who came “and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.” (Matt 16.1) So right off the bat there’s a clear indication that they would not have believed any sign he gave them because he had just performed a miraculous sign. No, they weren’t looking for reasons to believe. They were looking for reasons to justify unbelief, and put him on trial so they could sentence him to death.
I wonder how many people today take the same approach? Looking for the latest book or discovery to justify why they have chosen not to believe. And now, like then, there’s no shortage of people making false claims about Jesus. But before looking at a few false claims let me continue with the context of the question.
After being challenged by the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus takes his disciples to the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi. Holy land guide Dave Stotts says of the city:
“In addition to magnificent Roman structures, Caesarea Philippi is also known for banias – a collection of springs and pagan worship sites linked to the cult of Pan. Pan – also called the goat god – was the Greco-Roman god of nature, livestock and hunting. All things related to wild times, party music and of course – fertility.”
The grotto of Pan was an ancient worship site which contained the remains of “…numerous altars, caves, temples and courtyards. This whole area was teeming with Roman mythology and idolatry.” So both temporally and geographically the disciples are in close to those who either don’t recognize who Jesus is, or reject his claims. It is amid this unrelenting, if sometimes subtle pressure to deny unmistakable evidence of deity, that Jesus approaches his disciples and asks for their conclusions about him.
Likewise today, amid the unrelenting voices trying to persuade you that what’s right is wrong, what’s good is bad, and the scriptures are not to be trusted, Jesus comes to each of us and asks Who do you say I am? I will provide the scriptural answer to that question. Then we’ll take a look at some of the voices speaking on behalf of the world, the flesh and the devil and demonstrate why such voices are wrong, seeking to lead you only to destruction. (John 10.10, 1 Pe 5.8)
Who does scripture say Jesus is?
To understand Jesus and his claims the way the first century Jews understood him, you have to understand a bit about the context he made those claims in. You need a little background on the scriptures that foretold the coming of the messiah and what he would be like. This is not the place for an entire Old Testament survey, so I will present just five key scriptures that will give us a good handle on what the scriptures foretold about the messiah that was to come. Scriptures that influence the understanding of who the messiah would be – both then and now.
The Messiah would be:
- Born of a woman
- Destined to destroy Satan and his kingdom
- And in doing so open the door to life for his own people in his own kingdom
The Messiah would be:
- A Ruler from the Tribe of Judah
- King over all nations – One to whom all nations on earth will be obedient to
- One who will have all the accoutrements of God’s ordained king
The Messiah would:
- Speak with the authority of God
- Be a prophet as powerful (in word and deeds) as Moses
- Represent God so perfectly and authoritatively that disobeying or disbelieving the Messiah, is equivalent to disobeying or disbelieving God
The Messiah would be:
- A being from heaven in the form of a man
- One who was rightfully given all authority to sit beside God and rule over all
- Worthy of worship – and thus must be fully divine because only God is worthy of worship (Deut 5.9; 6.13)
The Messiah would:
- Be King over Israel
- Be no ordinary human. He is “ancient” going back even to the beginning – like God.
- In addition to being from the Tribe of Judah, he would be born in Bethlehem
The Portrait of The Messiah
The above is the portrait the Old Testament scriptures paint of the messiah.
What does New Testament scripture say about Jesus? He was (virgin) born (according to the prophecy (Is 7.14)) of a human woman. (Matt 1.24-25, Luke 2.7). The genealogies tell us he was from the tribe of Judah (Matt 1.2) He spoke with the authority of God, for only God can forgive sins. (Mark 2.7) His miracles of healing (Mark 1.34), over nature (Mark 4.39), and over death (John 11.43-44) rivaled those of Moses. He spoke as if he was the perfect representation of God, and if you didn’t believe him – God will call you to account. This is seen in the following.
- If you’ve seen him, you’ve seen God the father (John 14.9)
- To be the only way to God (John 14.6)
- If you believed in him you even now have eternal life (John 5.24)
- If you didn’t believe in him, you will “die in your sins” meaning you will stand before God unforgiven with no recourse to keep God’s judgment from falling on you (John 8.24)
- And perhaps, most significantly, when asks by the high priest “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”, “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14.62)
The word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Jewish word “messiah” – both of which mean the anointed one and for the Jews is pre-eminently the long expected savior and deliverer. So in his confession to the High Priest, Jesus was making the claim (and making it under oath – literally swearing solemnly before God – Matt 26.63.64) that all those things you believe about the messiah, yes I, Jesus, am that one. And what was his proof of all his claims? Besides the healings, his controlling nature, casting out demons and walking on water? He said, multiple times, that the proof of his claims is this: If you kill his body he would raise it to life again on the third day. (John 2.19, Matt 12.39-40, Matt 16.4).
And that – His resurrection from the dead – is the foundation for everything. It anchors the claims of Christianity, of the apostles, and Jesus’ claims of authenticity. As scripture via the apostle Paul puts it:
“and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The resurrection is the proof of everything with regards to the messiah. So how do we know the resurrection is true? There are multiple lines of evidence.
Testimony of the Apostles – to the Risen Christ
Let’s start with the testimony of the eye witnesses: the apostles. They were transformed from cowering behind doors for fear of the Romans (John 20.19, 26) to boldly proclaiming the gospel in the temple courtyard, though strictly warned not to. (Acts 5.28) Indeed a number of the apostles were put to death for preaching the message of the risen Messiah – among them Peter, who tradition records as having been crucified upside down, and James, the brother of Jesus, leader of the church in Jerusalem, who the Jewish historian Josephus records was stoned to death for the faith. The obvious questions: Why would righteous men lie? And even more importantly, if the resurrection was a lie, why would these men (and the other martyrs for the faith) suffer the horrible deaths that they did for what they knew to be a lie?
Chuck Colson, before he supported Christianity through his many ministries, was convicted and went to jail as a Watergate co-conspirator. His proof of the resurrection is from his unique experience as a co-conspirator:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
You’ll find that quote on a number of memes. I couldn’t find the reference for that exact quote, but instead, here is the long version: Chuck relating those events to Pastor Rick Warren in their teaching series Wide Angle.
Testimony of the Empty Tomb
The empty tomb is a historical fact that even those who don’t believe the faith acknowledge as a true and undisputable fact of history. The question then: where is the body? Why didn’t the Romans and the Jewish leaders produce the body if Jesus hadn’t been raised? As the miniseries AD – The Bible Continues points out – the leaders trying to contain the preaching of the risen Messiah could not offer just any dead body, [wmv] it would have been recognized as fake. And yet they could not produce the real body of Jesus. The reason: As the angel put “He is not here, here is risen.” (Mark 16.6)
The Testimony of the Great Stone
Hidden in plain sight in the gospels is a powerful testimony of the risen Christ. It is the massive stone that covered the tomb of the rich man Joseph of Arimathea in whose tomb Jesus was buried. Scripture tells us an angel moved the stone (Matt 28.2) – no doubt so the world could see the tomb was empty. It would have required a number of men to move it. (AD the Bible Continues shows five men moving it into place.) And it was guarded by armed soldiers. To move the stone would have taken overcoming the guards, then moving the huge stone, then dragging the lifeless body out of the tomb and hauling the dead weight into hiding. All without the guards killing you or sounding an alarm; and with no one seeing you. How would that be possible? Plus if that were the case, then the guards lied to the chief priests because they told the chief priests what actually happened. Namely about the earthquake, the moved stone, and the empty tomb. (Matt 28.11) Why tell an unbelievable story, if the truth were an easily believed story?
The Testimony of the Lord’s Day
Standing behind a misleading article title is a powerful argument for the resurrection. Erik Manning brings to light the significant observation of 19th-century scholar and clergyman George Maclear in an article titled The Chick-fil-A argument for the Resurrection. While he develops it more fully, here’s the main question that requires an event like the resurrection to answer:
How do you get Jews, who learn things the hard way: like to put away your idols (which took being carried away in captivity in Babylon to learn) – how do you get them to change another hard-learned lesson? Case in point: worship on the Sabbath.
In the second century BC in the Maccabean period, the Jewish faith was under siege by Antiochus IV “Ephiphanes” who wanted to turn the sacred temple in Jerusalem – the very symbol of Jewish worship along with the Law and the Land – into a pagan temple dedicated to Zeus. This included attempting to make the Jews forsake their law and profane their holy Sabbaths.That attempt to paganize the Jews was successfully fought off by Judas Maccabeus and his followers. (The account is told in what Catholics call the “deuterocanonical” books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.) Out of the rebellion came the rededication of the temple – an event accompanied by a miracle and commemorated by the feast of dedication – Hanukkah (which is mentioned in John 10.22).
So the question is, how do you get Jews who have learned the hard way and fought long and hard for the right to worship on the Sabbath – how do you get them to worship on Sunday? What would it take to convince them to abandon what they fought to keep, what they are instructed to do in the law (worship on the Sabbath), and convince them there is a more important day to worship on than the seventh day? It would take the start of a new understanding and a new faith. A faith based on the resurrection – an event which happened not on the Sabbath, but on Sunday (Matt 28.1) – the Lord’s day. (Rev 1.10)
The Trinitarian Nature of God
This is how we know the resurrection actually happened. This is how we know Jesus is who he claimed to be. Note in passing: a truth about God that is made clear in the testimonies about the messiah: Though there is one God, there is clearly more than one person in the Godhead. Even the prophecies of the messiah give hints of that. Consider the prophecy in Daniel:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
There is one divine figure (the Son of Man – Jesus’ favorite name for himself) who approaches another divine figure – the Ancient of Days. So here we see two people – both divine – in the Godhead. And Daniel was not the only old testament prophet to speak of multiple people in the Godhead. Isaiah, in a passage where God is speaking about His chosen one that will do the will of God, reveals:
“Come near me and listen to this: ‘From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.’ And now the
has sent me,
with his Spirit.”
Here we see three people: The Sovereign LORD, the Chosen one who is sent, and the Spirit of the Lord. All who are rightfully called God. This is the Trinity: One God eternally existing as three persons. Scriptures that describe the divine messiah makes no sense apart from it. Consider the birth of the Messiah. Once again we see all three persons as the angel talks to Mary:
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Once again we see the Most High, the sent one – the Son of God and the Holy Spirit). One God. Three persons.
So who is the Jesus? Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, come in the flesh (1 John 4.2) to save mankind from the death – the penalty of sin. (John 3.16) He is the unique Son of God, second person of the triune God, a concept which is called the Trinity. He is the one long prophesied to come – the Holy One, a prophet like Moses. (Deut 18.18) He is rightly called: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9.6) and “God with us” (Immanuel Is 7.14) He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1.15). In other words, if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the father (John 14.9). And he is the only way to God (John 14.6) for there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4.12)
This is who Jesus is, clearly depicted in the scriptures, and proclaimed by his apostles, and demonstrated by his resurrection from the dead. Now that we know who he is, it is easy to see who he is not. We’ll look at some of the false claims made about Jesus in the next article.
Duane Caldwell | April 29, 2020
1.For more on goat gods (aka satyrs), see my article:
“Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 2: Satyrs, devils and demons”
2. Dave Stotts, The Gospels – The Extraordinary Life Of Jesus of Nazareth, (18 part Miniseries from Drive Thru History with Dave Stotts) 2015; TBM Broadcast, 2/23/19
3. Dave Stotts, The Gospels, 2/23/19
4. “Peter is said to have died in Rome during the horrific persecution under Nero beginning in A.D. 64.” The non-canonical and fanciful work “The Acts of Peter” indicates that Peter asked to be crucified upside down.
Reader’s Digest, Who’s Who in the Bible, New York: The Reader’s Digest Assoc. Inc., 1994, pp. 354-355
5. Flavius Joseph, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.200
7. The attempt to paganize and defile the temple:
“…the king sent an elderly Athenian to force the Jews to abandon their religion and the customs of their ancestors. He was also to defile their Temple by dedicating it to the Olympian god Zeus. The temple on Mount Gerizim was to be officially named “Temple of Zeus the God of Hospitality,” as the people who lived there had requested.” (2 Macc. 6.1-2)
8. When you see LORD in all caps, it means the underlying word that was used is God’s covenant name, YHWH. In order not to misuse the name of God according to the third commandment (Ex 20.7) Jews would not say the name, and instead, always substituted the word “Lord”.
9. Translated from Hebrew, Immanuel means “God with us.”
Depicted – Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount
Title “Sermon on the Mount” by Henrik Olrik / Public domain
Article Title: Ref Prov 9.10; 30.3