Who Is Jesus? The Gospel Accounts: A Chronological Harmony

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21)

            Jesus continues avoiding the region ruled by Herod by going north from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. This Caesarea should not be confused with the Caesarea built on the coast by Herod the Great. Caesarea Philippi once was known as the city of Dan, but Philip the Tetrarch refurbished the city and renamed it. It was named to honor Tiberius Caesar, but because there was already a Caesarea in Palestine, it became known as Philip’s Caesarea.

            From Luke’s account, we know that Jesus had spent a period of time praying alone. As they approached Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciple who people thought he was. From the answers we see that people had a strong belief that people returned to life over and over again. The answer of John the Baptist is distinctly odd since Jesus is only six-months younger then John and had begun his ministry before John’s death. However, he was strongly connected with John, as well as the other famous prophets, because his teachings were of the same forceful nature. Notice too that popular opinion did not see Jesus as the Messiah, but just as a powerful prophet.

            All of these speculations were interesting, but Jesus pressed further by asking “Who do you say I am?” It was Peter who spoke for the rest: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter does not express a speculation, but an assured fact. Actually, he expresses to facts. Jesus is the Messiah and he is divine, being the Son of the true living God. This is in contrast to many kings who have claimed divinity by stating they were sons of some dead idol.

            Peter is praised for his statement; a statement that Jesus said was not based on what people said (as evidenced earlier), but upon the evidence shown to them by God (Hebrews 2:3-4). The disciples had seen this evidence repeatedly and had acknowledged it (John 1:49; Matthew 14:33; John 6:68). As they continued with Jesus, they became more firmly rooted in that truth.

            Matthew 16:18 has been the source of much debate as this verse is key to the Roman Catholic’s contention that the church was founded upon Peter. From this they derive justification for their papacy by claiming each Pope to be a successor of Peter. To come to this conclusion, they note that “Peter” and “rock” are related words. In Aramaic, the language Jesus and the disciples most likely spoke, they are the same word. Thus they conclude that Jesus is telling Peter that you are called a rock and upon this rock Jesus would build his church. Yet, what is glossed over is that in Greek “Peter” comes from petros and “rock” comes from petra. Yes, they are related words, but they are not the same word. It doesn’t matter that Jesus and the disciples spoke Aramaic, the book of Matthew was written in Greek and the word selection was done by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:13).

            Petros means a stone, a rock, or a boulder. It refers to a single stone. In contrast, petra refers a mass of rock, such as a rock ledge, a rock cliff, or even the earth’s crust. Such may be composed of many rocks, but they are all held together as a solid whole. Thus in the figurative sense, petra refers to something that is firm or sure. Peter could be one stone among many in a solid foundation, but the wording does not permit us to say that he is the entire foundation by himself.

            The main foundation for the church for the church is Jesus himself (I Corinthians 3:11). Paul calls Jesus the spiritual Rock, but in doing so he uses the word petra, meaning the firm and sure foundation. He is the chief cornerstone from which the rest of the structure is built upon (Matthew 21:42; I Peter 2:7).

            The apostles and prophets then became the foundation of the church, laid upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). Every Christian is a stone within the church (I Peter 2:5 – “stone” here is a different Greek word: lithos).

            By switching from petros to petra Jesus is indicating that Peter is one stone from among many that Jesus would form into a solid foundation for His church. He was selected for his solid confidence in who Jesus was, as would all other stones be selected for this spiritual building (Romans 3:21-26). And it is that strength of belief which the forces of darkness will not be able to withstand.

            It is surprising how many people read the last part of Matthew 16:18 backwards. Gates are used to defend a city against attack by an outside force. Here Hades, the realm of the dead, is seen as a city on the defense. It is being attacked by the church and its gates are unable to resist and keep the church from entering and plundering its people (I Corinthians 15:55-57).

            Peter is told that he would be among those who would have the keys to Christ’s kingdom. That is; he would have the privilege was acting as a steward for Christ’s church (Isaiah 22:22). Peter was the one who delivered the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). And it was Peter who first preached to the Gentiles (Acts 10; Acts 15:7). But this statement was not limited solely to Peter. It also applied to the rest of the apostles (Matthew 18:18). By extension, all Christians are stewards of God and have the same responsibility (I Corinthians 4:1-2).

            It is unfortunate that most translations of Matthew 16:19 make it sound as if Peter and the rest of the apostles would be deciding what would happen and that God would go along with whatever they decided. The New American Standard Bible is more accurate in following the Greek in this regard. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Many translations will mention this reading in their marginal notes. What the disciples would teach would follow the things decided in heaven. They are not the originators, but the implementers of the Master’s will.

            Though Jesus made his purpose clear to the disciples, he did not want these words spread at this time. The proper time would come later. Jesus, it appears, desires for people to come to the realization of who he is by his teachings and the miracles that accompanies him. He didn’t want people at this time to accept a claim by him simply because he made the claim.


Jesus Foretells His Death (Matthew 16:21-26; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 9:22-26)

            Jesus begins to explain plainly that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer, and eventually die. However, he would arise three days later. This explanation of what was to shortly take place could not be given until the disciples had reached a point when they were firmly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus had discussed these matters before, but not in such plain terms (John 2:19-22; 3:14). These events would trouble their faith, so even though they did not firmly grasped what he was saying, they would remember his words later and those word would strengthen their faith.

            Impetuous Peter was shocked by Jesus’ prophecies. He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. It might seem strange that Peter would rebuke Jesus after just acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God, but Peter’s conclusion comes from this belief. Peter is certain that Jesus does not need to suffer or die. Being the Son of God, he could prevent all of that from happening.

            But Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” the Hebrew name of the adversary of mankind. Though Peter’s rebuke was done privately, Mark tells us Jesus rebukes Peter in front of the other disciples. Peter’s misplaced confidence that Jesus could prevent his death was hindering Jesus from doing what must be done. While Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Son of God was from his awareness of the evidence presented by God, the Father, this rebuke of Peters was not from God, but from a man’s view of how things should proceed. All the disciples, not just Peter, needed to know and understand this.

            This sudden reversal from praise to rebuke of Peter ought to declare to us that Peter is not personally the foundation of Christ’s church. Peter is a man and is prone to failings like other men.

            Jesus then gathers a crowd of people and begins to explain the devotion necessary to follow God. He returns to a point that he made privately with his disciples when he had sent them out (Matthew 10:38-39), if someone desires to follow Jesus, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. It is a matter of priority. Even a person’s own life must take second place after Jesus and the teaching of the Gospel. If a person values his mortal life above Jesus, he might be able to preserve it for a while, but he will lose his eternal life.

            Of what value is it to have great wealth, even to the point of owning the whole world, if eternal life is forfeited as a result? Eternal life is not a purchasable commodity.

            Jesus is about to set the ultimate example of putting his life below the needs of God. If someone finds that shameful, then Jesus will show his shame of that person in the Judgment. Jesus is alluding back to Peter’s rebuke of him. Peter couldn’t imagine the Messiah allowing himself to be humiliated and killed, but instead of denying it, Peter needed to embrace it or he would be like the Pharisees and Sadducees who could not accept the Christ as he was.


The Kingdom Promised (Matthew 16:27-28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27)

            Despite his humiliation and death, Jesus would come into God’s glory. He would one day return to bring Judgment on the world; judgment that would be based upon a person’s deeds (II Corinthians 5:10).

            Jesus glory and his kingdom would not take place in the distant future. There were some in that crowd who would live to see Jesus ruling in his kingdom. These passages are ignored by premillennialists who claim that Jesus’ kingdom would not be established until his second coming. Obviously the implication of Jesus’ words is that the kingdom already exists. Such is confirmed by the words of the apostles who speak of the kingdom as presently existing (Colossians 1:13).


The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36)

            Eight days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain where Jesus prayed. Mark and Matthew states that it happened after six days. These are not conflicts, but different ways of measuring time. Luke includes the day of Jesus’ talk and the day they climbed the mountain. Matthew and Mark only speaking of the days separating the two events. Which mountain is not stated, but being in the region of Caesarea Philippi, there are many tall mountains, include Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Palestine. Luke 9:37 indicates that they had spent the night up on the mountain. The disciples had started to drift off to sleep, but were startled awake by events. As he prayed, his appearance was altered. He began to glow and his clothing turned white – whiter than it was possible to scrub cloth. The wording is such that the light originated from within Jesus and was not a reflection.

            The disciples then saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. How they came to realize that who these two were is not stated. But they are significant men because Moses represented the Law and Elijah the Prophets, of which the two composed the Old Testament.

            They talked to Jesus about his upcoming exit at Jerusalem. Some translations use the word “decease” to translate exodos, but “departure” or “exit” is richer in meaning since in includes the implication of his resurrection.

            As Moses and Elijah left, Peter approached Jesus with a proposal. He offered to build three tabernacles on the mountain. One for each whom the disciples saw: Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But Peter did not realize the implications of what he was proposing. He spoke from fear, knowing that something wondrous had taken place and knowing it should be remembered.

            Jesus did not answer. Instead, a cloud came and overshadowed them. Something about the cloud caused the disciples to tremble in fear. A voice spoke saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Thus God, the Father, gave His authority to His Son and testified on His Son’s behalf. Peter recalled the event years later in II Peter 1:15-18 when speaking of his own departure from the world. Jesus is not on the same level as the prophets of the Old Testament. He is superior (Hebrews 1:1-3; 3:3-6).

            The voice scared the disciples so much that they fell down on their faces. But Jesus came to them, touched them and told them not to fear. When they looked up Moses, Elijah, and the cloud had disappeared and the disciples were alone with Jesus on the mountain. It left them shocked, and the disciples kept quiet about what they had witnessed until after Jesus death and resurrection. This was what Jesus commanded them to do.

            Still they puzzled over what they had witnessed. They saw two people who had died long ago rise from the dead to speak with Jesus. Jesus had spoke of resurrections before, but it was one thing to speak about the theory of something and quite another matter to see it personally.

            Knowing that they had seen the spirit of Elijah, they could not figure out why Elijah would have left. They remembered being told that Elijah would appear before Jesus (Malachi 4:5-6), but here he came after Jesus had already been on the scene.

            Jesus explained that Elijah had already come and people did as they pleased with him. By this, Jesus was referring to John the Baptist who came in the spirit of Elijah, though he was not Elijah himself (Matthew 11:12-15; Luke 1:17). Just as John was mistreated, Jesus also would suffer.

Questions for this Lesson