Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 6

Lesson Six

Realizing Who Jesus Is

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

In order to focus on this lesson's point, it is suggested that the teacher focus his/her class on the fact that Jesus was a unusual person who lived among a people accustomed to the unusual. Help the class consider the challenges of being unique among a people whose whole history was based on the unusual.

Jesus was an unusual man who lived among an unusual people whose history was filled with unusual happenings. This people began with God's promises to their first forefather before this man had children (Genesis 12:1-3). Before they became a nation, they were slaves until ten miraculous acts from God delivered them from their captivity (Exodus 7-12). In the process of deliverance, God made a path across a sea for them to cross to escape an army (Exodus 14). God provided this delivered people both leadership and law through a man He visibly supported. God gave this delivered people a land to inhabit. In that land, God provided them leadership and rescue through judges, kings, and prophets. In each age, many happenings were unusual! Many of God's leaders were unusual! Many of God's spokesmen were unusual!

Jesus taught people whose history included these acts of God: deliverance from slavery in Egypt; an escape path across the Red Sea; God's voice declaring the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:22-27); God's assistance in conquering Canaan; and God's prophets speaking His message. Jesus came as God's son, not God's prophet. Of all God's servants in Israel's history, Jesus was unique.

Jesus was an unusual man who did unusual things. Even among a people who historically had numerous encounters with unusual happenings and unusual people, Jesus was unique! In no way was he to be taken for granted. He was so unique with such unique power that it was impossible for people to ignore him. He had to be "explained"! Who was he? What was his significance? What was his role in Israel? Everyone reacted to Jesus! No one ignored Jesus! Jesus' uniqueness demanded people take a position regarding who he was and what he did.

One of the challenges confronting Jesus: giving evidences of his unique relationship with God to a people who were accustomed to the unusual. The challenge to be "the one above all" [the Christ] instead of "one of the many" [the prophets] was a demanding challenge. It was all the more demanding when he was not what most Israelites expected the Christ to be.

Once Jesus traveled with his twelve disciples in the region north of Galilee (Matthew 16:13-20). During this trip, he asked his disciples who people were saying he was? [The term "son of man" focused on Jesus' humanity. He often used this term when referring to himself.] Jesus knew people had to explain him and his acts. He knew people had to decide who or what he was. He knew that this was a common discussion when he was not present. The twelve disciples knew what people said about him. Paraphrased, Jesus asked, "How are people identifying me?"

Though Jesus was not what many Israelites expected the Christ to be, his uniqueness as a person and the uniqueness of his power demanded that he be "explained." The "explanation" would allow many Israelites to "identify" him. Though he did not fill common expectations concerning the Christ, who he was and what he did demanded he be identified. This identification would determine the role Israelites assigned him. Consequently, Jesus' identity was frequently a significant topic of conversation among Israelites.

The group responded to his question. Perhaps all of them shared what they heard others say about Jesus' identity.

Each of the twelve knew who people said Jesus was. All of them were quite willing to share others' views about Jesus' spiritual identity.

Some explained Jesus by saying he was John who baptized. John was a powerful, popular figure in Israel. Earlier Jesus declared the greatness and importance of John [who was at that time in prison] (Matthew 11:2-19). Late in Jesus' life, after John's death, Jesus used John's significance to silence his enemies (Matthew 21:23-27).

John was a significant, powerful figure among the Israelites. Rather than him traveling to the people [as Jesus did], people traveled into the wilderness to hear John. Jesus affirmed that in all of Israel's history, no one was more significant that John (see Matthew 11:10,11).

Some explained Jesus by saying he was a prophet. Perhaps he was Elijah [one of the "spoken" prophets who did not record his sayings in a writing] or perhaps Jeremiah [one of the "written" prophets who did record his sayings in a writing]. Many concluded Jesus as a prophet whom God sent to speak for Him.

A common explanation given in spiritually identifying Jesus was this: he was a prophet. Some identified him with significant past prophets, perhaps Elijah [the symbol of all prophetic work], perhaps Jeremiah [who served a significant role through many critical periods of Israelite history], perhaps an expected but unidentified prophet.

Interestingly, most people identified Jesus as God's spokesman. The common person associated Jesus with God, not with evil. Only some Israelite people in positions of power and authority considered Jesus a threat and thereby a person of evil origin.

Interestingly, the common people identified Jesus as "from God." Israelite leadership often identified Jesus as "from evil." Common Israelites often found hope in Jesus. Israelite leadership often saw a personal threat to their position in Jesus [see John 11:47-53].

Jesus then addressed a personal question to the twelve. "Who do you say I am?" Or, "When you are involved in a discussion concerning my identity, what have you personally concluded about who I am?"

While everyone answered the first question [note the "they" in verse 14], most of them were silent about the second question. Only Simon Peter answered. His answer: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

All twelve were willing and ready to share with Jesus what they heard others say about his identity. They were very hesitant to share their own thoughts about his identity. Speculations: (a) perhaps they had not reached a conclusion [they had not decided]; (b) perhaps they feared offending Jesus ["it is not who we think you are but who you say you are"]; (c) perhaps they feared offending Jesus ["I don't know what he expects me to say"]; (d) perhaps none of those reflect their thinking.

What did Peter's answer mean in typical pre-resurrection, Jewish understanding? For generations, God promised to send a unique person through and to Israel. He was known only as the Messiah [Hebrew language, "anointed"] or the Christ [Greek language, "anointed"]. Differing Israelite expectations were associated with his coming. Peter said, "You, Jesus, are that person. You have a unique relationship with God, the relationship of son rather than the relationship of prophet."

Emphasize we need to understand Peter's statement in his Israelite society as it related to Israel's first century issues rather than understanding Peter's statement in the context of today's concerns regarding our "now" issues. We correctly address our "now" issues when we start by understanding their issues when a statement was made. For us, it is essential to be concerned about a statement's context before considering a statement's meaning.

The "Messiah" and the "Christ" are basically the same titles. "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word commonly known to the Jewish people. "Christ" comes from the Greek word commonly used outside the Jewish world of Palestine. Note both mean "God's anointed." His name was Jesus [a common name in Israel; Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua]. His position, confirmed by his death and resurrection, was the Messiah or the Christ.

Jesus stated Peter understood this truth because God revealed it to him. He declared a blessing on Peter. He declared he came to establish his "called out" people, and not even death would prevent him from doing that. The right to "bind and loose" in the spiritual kingdom (verse 19) was not the exclusive right given only to Peter. This same right was given to all the twelve in Matthew 18:18. As disciples and apostles, they would serve as Jesus' primary spokesmen after the resurrected Jesus ascended back into heaven (see Acts 1:8).

In Acts 1 through 9, Peter was obviously the leading teacher for Jewish Christians (consider Acts 1:15; 2:14; 3:4, 12; 4:8; 5:3, 9, 15; 8:14-24 [note verse 20]; 9:36-43; 10:5, 9-17, 25-29). Paul acknowledged that Peter was the apostle to the circumcised [the Jews] in Galatians 2:8.

The point in this lesson: his disciples had to have a clear understanding of his identity. His disciples had to understand that he was God's Messiah or God's Christ. He was much more than an unusual man. He was much more than a godly man. He was much more than a prophet. He was God's Christ! He was the person God promised to send. Not only Israel, but all people could be blessed through God's Christ. To Israel and all other nations, he was [and is!] Savior. To God, he was [and is!] son. In Jesus' words, he is the only access to God, the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

There are many subjects that could serve [properly] in these scriptures as a study focus. The objective of this study is not to declare other studies unimportant or secondary. In this study, the objective is to focus on discipleship. Consider this fact: those who follow Jesus must have a clear understanding of his identity as the Messiah or the Christ.

The point regarding discipleship: he or she who follows Jesus must clearly understand who Jesus Christ is. The confession, "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God," was not intended to be a ritualistic statement that served as a prelude to baptism. It is the declaration, "I want to be a disciple because I know who Jesus is! He is God's Christ! He is God's Son! He has an eternal relationship with God no one else has! I can have a relationship with God because of him, and only because of him!"

Peter's confession was never intended to be a ritualistic statement used before baptism. This is not the suggestion that it is wrong for a person to affirm his or her faith in Jesus as God's Christ before his or her baptism. It merely declares Peter's confession is much more than a ritual statement. Jesus' disciple needs a certain understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. If that understanding was essential for the twelve, it is essential for us.

A disciple knows that he or she is forgiven, is redeemed, is justified, is purified because Jesus is the Christ. A disciple knows that he or she can talk to God, live in God's presence, approach God with any concern because Jesus is the Christ. A disciple listens to Jesus, lets Jesus form his or her thinking, lets Jesus create his or her concepts, lets Jesus develop his or her behavior, lets Jesus build his or her values, lets Jesus set his or her priorities because Jesus is the Christ. The foundation of a disciple's life is the certain understanding of who Jesus is. The focus of a disciple's life is the certain understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.

The position Jesus occupies as the Christ is absolutely essential to a person's opportunity to be in a saved relationship with God. Jesus occupies the role of Lord and Master in a disciple's life because Jesus is the Christ. If he is not the Christ, we have no reason to be his disciples. He is the Christ! And that gives us every reason to be his disciples.

Discussion Question:

Discuss the relationship between thinking [which includes attitudes and motives], behavior, concepts, relationships, and discipleship.

The central understanding in this discussion: the fact that we are Jesus' disciples joined with the fact that Jesus is God's Christ means that we allow Jesus to direct us in every aspect of our existence. The purpose of being a disciple is to allow the one who is the teacher to mold the disciple. Only Jesus can teach us how to establish a relationship with God and mature in it. He is our access to God.

Link to Student Guide Lesson 6

Copyright © 2003
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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