Who do people say the Son of Man is?…. What about you? Who do you say I am? ….Good for you, Simon son of John! For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven.
Jesus asks his disciples a question. He wants to know who people say he is. Peter’s answer is this: “Some say John the Baptist,” they answered. “Others say Elijah, while others say Jeremiah or some other prophet.”
Then Jesus asks a second question: “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
“Good for you, Simon son of John! For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven.”
This scripture seems to be pretty straightforward, right? Peter has finally figured out that Jesus is the Messiah. Something we already know. A fact, right? But as with almost everything else Jesus says, there’s a lot more here than initially meets the eye. It deserves a bit of scrutiny because I want to be sure I’m doing my best to hear what Jesus has to say. After all, that’s my goal. To listen carefully to what Jesus himself has to say, not to what others say about him. So I’m going to break this one down and look at it, bit by bit. It’s going to be a very long one. Sorry.
How does Jesus refer to himself throughout the Gospel?
Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man” in this scripture and 28 others. It is his how he defines himself. As for “Son of God,” he is called that on 4 occasions by others (including one demon), but he never actually refers to himself the “Son of God.” And “Messiah”? Again, this is a term used by others. He never directly says, “I am the Messiah.” Also, he never refers to himself as “Christ.” This term, which means “Anointed One” and has become synonymous in Christian tradition with “Messiah,” is never used by Jesus in any context.
On Day 74 I explored in depth the meaning of the term “Son of Man” and its significance. Essentially it means a “man in all of his weakness and frailty”. When Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, it says that he regards himself as an ordinary man, a regular guy – Everyman!! It connects him to all of us regular folks.
So once again, if you look at this passage, it is interesting that the list of answers provided by the disciples – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, Messiah – do not include the term that Jesus repeatedly uses to describe himself – Son of Man. No one is apparently listening to the fact that he calls himself an ordinary guy – Everyman. An ordinary human being who, like all of us, is capable of doing extraordinary things when God works through us. Instead they put him on a pedestal and distance themselves from him.
So what is the meaning of “Messiah” in the tradition of Jews (like Jesus)?
Although the word “Messiah” doesn’t actually appear in the Bible until after the death of Jesus, it is a tradition deeply ingrained in the psyche of the Jewish people. This is the definition according to the jewfaq.org website:
Messiah is an anglicization of the Hebrew “mashiach” [or “moshiach”] (anointed). A man who will be chosen by G-d to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the exiles back to Israel and usher in the world to come.
What does the “world to come” look like according to the jewfaq folks?
The world after the messiah comes is often referred to in Jewish literature as Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH), the World to Come. This term can cause some confusion, because it is also used to refer to a spiritual afterlife. In English, we commonly use the term “messianic age” to refer specifically to the time of the messiah.
Olam Ha-Ba will be characterized by the peaceful co-existence of all people (Isaiah 2:4). Hatred, intolerance and war will cease to exist. Some authorities suggest that the laws of nature will change, so that predatory beasts will no longer seek prey and agriculture will bring forth supernatural abundance (Isaiah 11:6-11:9). Others, however, say that these statements are merely an allegory for peace and prosperity.
All of the Jewish people will return from their exile among the nations to their home in Israel (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). The law of the Jubilee will be reinstated.
In the Olam Ha-Ba, the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9). There will be no murder, robbery, competition or jealousy. There will be no sin (Zephaniah 3:13).
So, in the Jewish tradition, based on a smattering of oblique references by the prophets, a person, a ”messiah,” would be born and usher in a new era of characterized by world peace, an absence of sin, and universal Judaism. That is the definition that Jesus and the disciples would have been working with. That’s what the term Messiah has always meant for the Jews, including those in Jesus’ time. It’s not something clearly defined in the Bible. It’s a tradition.
How does the concept of the Messiah relate to the history of the Jews?
The Jews love to recount the stories of their heroes, those who rescued them from their enemies and themselves. Of course Moses was a great hero who rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Joshua took over after Moses and kept everyone going in the right direction as they began their new life in the Promised Land.
After the days of Moses and Joshua, the Hebrews started to drift into lawlessness and give in to the temptations of other religions and cultures. This period is chronicled in the books of Judges and Ruth. The “judges” were military heroes who rescued the Hebrews from their enemies or other disasters and helped reestablish the rule of the Law of Moses. It became a cycle – lawlessness, disaster, rescue by a judge, return to Jewish Law, and degeneration back into lawlessness. Some of the most famous judges were Sampson, Deborah, and Gideon. Whenever the Hebrews strayed from God the result was serious trouble, but there was always a judge who would rise up and bail them out. They would then go right back to what they were doing before.
So there is a long history of the Jews depending on someone to come and save them when they stray from God. Eventually predictions began to circulate that a great hero, a super-judge, a Messiah, would rise up and impose a new age where there was peace and alleviation of suffering once and for all. The coming of the New Age (aka Kingdom of Heaven, Kingdom of God, Messianic Age) didn’t require any effort on their part. It would all be done magically by the Messiah. The Messiah would come and everyone will live happily ever after. The Messiah would rescue the people from their sin and make the world perfect for them.
What does Jesus have to say about the Messiah?
Jesus doesn’t really say very much about the Messiah. He never says the Messiah will come and fix everything. He also never says that there won’t be a Messiah, but the whole concept is antithetical to his “your faith has made you well” and “let it happen according to what you believe” kind of approach to life. Repeatedly he tells his followers that they have the power to do things for themselves.
One thing he warns them about is false Messiahs at the end of the age:
“Then, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it. For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear; they will perform great miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God’s chosen people, if possible. Listen! I have told you this ahead of time. (Matthew 24:23-25).
Do the Jews believe that Jesus was the Messiah?
No. They are still waiting. Here is the consensus according to the Jewish Encyclopedia at (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/messiah.html).
The Jewish belief that the Messiah’s reign lies in the future has long distinguished Jews from their Christian neighbors who believe, of course, that the Messiah came two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus. The most basic reason for the Jewish denial of the messianic claims made on Jesus’ behalf is that he did not usher in world peace, as Isaiah had prophesied: “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). In addition, Jesus did not help bring about Jewish political sovereignty for the Jews or protection from their enemies.
This was, in fact, one of the reasons the Jews and Christians split after the death and resurrection of Jesus. There was a big argument abot whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. The Christians decided that he was the Messiah but many Jews didn’t agree.
So doesn’t the resurrection prove that Jesus was the Messiah?
No. Jesus and the Pharisees all believed that resurrection of the dead was possible for anyone. That’s why they are always talking about Elijah returning from the dead. They essentially believed in the possibility of the reincarnation of human beings. This belief was abandoned by Christendom, but many Christian people describe experiences about a dead friend or relative appearing to them either when they are awake or in their dreams.
Isn’t Jesus saying in this passage that he’s the Messiah?
If you look at it carefully, he does not initially ask the question, “Who do you say I am? Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Instead he asks, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?” Peter answers that the “Son of Man” is the Messiah. In other words, Jesus, an “Everyman” is the Messiah, along with all the rest of humanity. I think Jesus redefines what “the Messiah” is. We are all “the Messiah”. We are the ones who have been sent to defeat sin and establish a perfect world. All of us who choose to follow him become little Messiahs, working for the realization of the new and better age described by the prophets where there is no war and and no sin. All of us Messiahs, in all of our humanity and frailty. That is what I think he is saying.
If Jesus wasn’t the Messiah in the conventional sense why does he affirm Peter for saying this?
Jesus is rewarding Peter for not just going along with everyone else’s opinions about who he was. Jesus says this knowledge is from God, because Peter probably doesn’t even understand the significance of his answer. While he may have thought that he was saying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, he was actually saying that the “Son of Man” (humankind) is the Messiah. He knows that Peter is listening to God because God has spoken through Peter’s lips. He affirms Peter for listening to God because the only way the Messianic time will come is when people start listening to God and taking his directions.
So is Jesus “The Christ?”
I say yes, because this word is used in the Bible specifically to define who Jesus was. He is by definition “Christ”, which (like “Messiah”) means “The Anointed One.” I certainly believe he was anointed and equipped by God to complete an important mission to humankind. He was a totally devoted, fully submitted to God. I believe in the school of thinking that as the “Son of Man” he was an example of what we should and could be as people filled and led by the Holy Spirit. He is like a prototype of what humanity must evolve into if we want to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.
On the other hand, if you define “The Christ” as a “personal savior” who excuses people from their sins, then I would have to say this is improbable. It would be a complete corruption of his ministry because he called people to step up their game. He wanted everyone be fully obedient to the will of God because only then could the Kingdom of God be established. Jesus never said it was OK to go against the will of God. He came to show us how to figure out what God’s will really is. He didn’t come to excuse us from sin. He came to show us how to stop sinning. So if “The Christ” is one who magically erases sin, I would say that’s pretty much the same as the Messiah. And so in that case he is not “The Christ” because we don’t have world peace and sin still abounds. He didn’t take away our sin. It is still here.
How does all of this relate to the “Second Coming of Christ”?
Jesus definitely says several times that he will return in glory, but in every cases, he doesn’t use the term “Messiah”, “Son of God”, or even “me/I” to describe who will come and who will reign. He uses that phrase “Son of Man” again, so he doesn’t exactly say that he himself will come. He never defines himself as the Messiah outside of today’s scripture. He says, perhaps, that these things will happen when humanity becomes what God intends for us to be.
At first, the early Christians thought Jesus would return very quickly as a Messiah who would wipe out their enemies and establish the New Age. Of course it didn’t happen, so Christians began to settle in for a long wait. It’s been over 2000 years now and counting. Maybe we shouldn’t be waiting for him. Maybe he’s waiting for us.
One thing is clear. When he came the first time people didn’t like what he had to say so they killed him. I feel quite certain that if he came again today we wouldn’t like him any better. We would probably kill him all over again. Maybe he can’t come again until it’s safe for him to come. Maybe if we work harder to achieve world peace and rid our lives of sin it will eventually be safe enough for him to come back. If this is the case he would not be coming to make the world a better place. His coming would be a sign that we had finally figured out what he told us the first time he came. No, I don’t think he will come again until he is appreciated and respected; he will not come until we have the sense to recognize him as the ultimate authority about what God wants for the world and how we are supposed to treat each other.
What is the problem with waiting for the “Messiah” or the “Second Coming of Christ”?
I would say the danger is passivity. Laziness. It’s like sitting around waiting to win the Lotto before you can live your life. It’s like sitting around watching TV, waiting for someone to call you out of the blue and offer you a job. It’s like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. Actually Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was very theological and I think that whole Great Pumpkin thing was a reference to the Messiah mentality. If we are sincere enough he will come and give us a lot of good stuff. Our only task is to wait.
No, at some point humanity needs to figure it out that heaven isn’t just going to drop out of the sky with no effort on our part. But for many Christians and Jews this is a hard sell. We all know that it doesn’t do any good to tell people they aren’t going to win the Lotto. It’s something they cling to that gives them hope in hard times. No, they have to figure it out for themselves. When they finally tire of waiting, they pick themselves up and figure out what needs to be done next. They eventually become wise and understand that winning the Lotto is great when it’s only a fantasy, but when it actually happens it often ruins people’s lives. The best way to achieve anything is to work for it. The best things in life require effort and personal investment. The important part is always the journey.
I personally agree with the Jews. Jesus said to judge a tree by its fruit. Since we are not living in that New Age of world peace and no sin, Jesus was definitely not the Messiah the Jews had hoped for. I think he redefined what the Messiah was. I think he was the Anointed One who came to get the ball rolling and show us the way to the New Age. But he was not a Messiah who imposed cheap peace by force, or cheap grace that enables us to perpetuate sinful lifestyles free from guilt. He doesn’t come to conveniently transform the world for our use. No, if we want to see the Kingdom of God here on earth we need to resolve to do God’s will. No magic wands, no fairy dust, no hocus pocus, no super-heroes judges. The New Age, the Messianic Age, the Kingdom of God will come only as a result of our collective, voluntary commitment to the primacy of faith in the power of goodness, love for God and one another, action that serves as a way for God’s will to be effected on earth, and God’s truth that is continually revealed to us through scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
What does this scripture say to you?