The first time that I opened the Gospels with the intention of actually learning anything, I had no idea what I would find. I knew that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, and that he was crucified and resurrected. I knew nothing about the fact that Jesus was believed to be both fully divine and fully human. I thought that Son of God simply meant that he was sent here by God to teach us something, and then he had to die and be resurrected. So this is where the journey begins – what did Jesus and his apostles claim him to be?
Jesus’s ministry seem to start with something of a”feeling out” period. He calls his twelve apostles, and the Gospels show us that they would immediately leave what they were doing and follow him. Jesus didn’t offer them free iPads or luxury cruises to get people to follow him. No, he simply says “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”, and they do. It is obvious that he had some sort of attraction that made people want to follow him, but what was his plan once he got them to follow?
Jesus walked the land with his twelve apostles and many other followers, teaching and preaching along the way. He spoke to them in parables, some seemed easy to understand, others I had no idea what Jesus was talking about. He also made some seemingly vague references to his identity. I assume that I wasn’t the only to find the references somewhat vague because his apostles themselves didn’t seem to know what he was saying sometimes. In fact, it all culminates in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus seems to be trying to figure out what the apostles know about his true identity, the exchange goes like this:
Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” First of all, at this point I have no idea what the “Son of Man” is, but I know that Jesus has called himself by this name in quite a few passages. That is a story for another day. The apostles answer him “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus gives no response to any of these and simply asks, “But who do you say I am?” To this Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus does not deny Peter’s claim, in fact he does very much the opposite and lavishes great praise on Peter saying “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father. And so I say to you, you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it…”
Basically what has happened here is Jesus has asked his disciples who they think he is, and they have told them that he is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus, rather than say “Oh no, I think you missed what I was saying. I’m just a teacher.”, instead accepts when Peter says that he is the Son of God. To us that may not seem like much, we hear phrases like “Sons and Daughters of God” all the time. To a first century Jew, however, calling yourself the “Son of God” was blasphemy – a crime punishable by death. It meant that you were putting yourself on the same level with God, which no man could be.
Jesus is not the only one in history to make the claim of being the Messiah. He probably wasn’t even the only one in first century Palestine to make this claim. So what makes Jesus’s claim different? How do we know that he is what he says he is? The answer lies in both his death and resurrection, which I will cover in the next couple of posts. Stay tuned.