Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Who Really Is Jesus?
WHEN the boat carrying Jesus and his disciples puts in at Bethsaida, the people bring a blind man to him and beg that he touch the man and heal him. Jesus leads the man by the hand outside the village and, after spitting on his eyes, asks: “Do you see anything?”
“I see men,” the man answers, “because I observe what seem to be trees, but they are walking about.” Laying his hands on the man’s eyes, Jesus restores his sight so that he sees clearly. Jesus then sends the man home with the instruction not to enter into the city.
Jesus now leaves with his disciples for the village of Caesarea Philippi, in the extreme north of Palestine. It is a long ascent covering about 30 miles to the beautiful location of Caesarea Philippi, some 1,150 feet above sea level. The trip probably takes a couple of days.
On the way, Jesus goes off by himself to pray. Only about nine or ten months remain before his death, and he is concerned about his disciples. Many have already left off following him. Others are apparently confused and disappointed because he rejected the people’s efforts to make him king and because he did not, when challenged by his enemies, provide a sign from heaven to prove his kingship. What do his apostles believe about his identity? When they come over to where he is praying, Jesus inquires: “Who are the crowds saying that I am?”
“Some say John the Baptist,” they answer, “others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Yes, they think Jesus is one of these men raised from the dead!
“You, though, who do you say I am?” Jesus asks.
Peter quickly responds: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
After expressing approval of Peter’s response, Jesus says: “I say to you, You are Peter, and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Here Jesus first announces that he will build a congregation and that even death will not hold its members captive after their faithful course on earth. Then he tells Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens.”
Jesus thus reveals that Peter is to receive special privileges. No, Peter is not given first place among the apostles, nor is he made the foundation of the congregation. Jesus himself is the Rock-mass upon which his congregation will be built. But Peter is to be given three keys with which to open, as it were, the opportunity for groups of people to enter the Kingdom of the heavens.
Peter used the first key at Pentecost 33 C.E. when he showed repentant Jews what they must do to be saved. He used the second shortly afterward when he opened to believing Samaritans the opportunity to enter God’s Kingdom. Then, in 36 C.E. he used the third key by opening to uncircumcised Gentiles, Cornelius and his friends, the same opportunity.
Jesus continues his discussion with his apostles. He disappoints them by telling of the sufferings and death that he will soon face in Jerusalem. Failing to understand that Jesus will be resurrected to heavenly life, Peter takes Jesus aside. “Be kind to yourself, Lord,” he says. “You will not have this destiny at all.” Turning his back, Jesus answers: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”
Evidently, others besides the apostles are traveling with Jesus, so he now calls them to explain that it will not be easy to be his follower. “If anyone wants to come after me,” he says, “let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for the sake of me and the good news will save it.”
Yes, Jesus’ followers must be courageous and self-sacrificing if they would prove worthy of his favor, as he relates: “For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:22-38; Matthew 16:13-28; Luke 9:18-27.
◆ Why is Jesus concerned about his disciples?
◆ What views as to Jesus’ identity do people have?
◆ What keys were given to Peter, and how were they used?
◆ What correction did Peter receive, and why?