At one point during his ministry Jesus asked the twelve, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They reported that some claimed he was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead. Then he posed the question directly to them, “Who do you say that I am?”
This is THE question in the New Testament—the question of Jesus’ identity. Is he the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Or is he a fraud, an impostor? Or maybe it was as some in his own only family had thought, that he was delusional.
There are still many differences of opinion today. Some people say he was an ordinary rabbi who was misunderstood by the twelve; that they made claims for him that he never made for himself; that they put words in his mouth he never spoke; that he never claimed to be the Messiah or the Son of God, but in their zeal for him they made grand and exaggerated claims on his behalf.
Some people say that he did in fact make the claims the Bible says he made, but that he was something of a megalomaniac. He had delusions of grandeur, and his disciples were gullible enough to have believed him.
Others have claimed that there was no historical Jesus; that was is a creation of the early church. The idea is that somehow among the many variants of the Jewish faith in the first century, a group was formed that we now refer to as Christianity; that this group’s actual origins have been lost to us, but the group itself invented a mythic figure who it claimed was the group’s originator.
Muslims claim that Jesus was only a prophet, and nothing more. They are willing to concede that he was the greatest prophet until Muhammad came along, but still only a prophet. They claim further that much of his teaching was distorted by his followers so that the Bible cannot be trusted with regard to what it says about him.
Hindus are very happy to admit that Jesus was more than a prophet. They’re happy to add him to their pantheon of gods; but he is just one of many, and in no way unique.
There are as many, if not more, differences of opinion about him today as there were in the first century. And the question each one of us has to answer is the question he put to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” This question is the very point at issue in the most basic confession of the Christian faith: Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9). And it’s important to add that the correct answer can be given in words and at the same time denied in practice. Jesus isn’t interested in a merely theoretical answer. He’s interested in the answer that comes from the core of our being. This answer is reflected not only in what we say, but also in our heart’s affection and in our behavior.
Who do you—by your words, affections, and behavior—say that he is?