Christ’s question to his disciples “who do you say that I am?” is the most important question ever asked.
Jesus and his disciples were in Caesarea Philippi when he took the first messianic straw poll and asked them, “who do men say that the Son of Man is?” “Some say John the Baptist…” John the Baptist was Jesus cousin. Herod had John beheaded. Apparently, some people, including Herod, thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Like Jesus, John was popular with the common man, not so much with the religious leaders. John had said that he was not the Messiah. “…others, Elijah….” Elijah was supposed to return before the Messiah and prepare the people’s hearts for his coming. Jesus had said earlier that John the Baptist had fulfilled the role of Elijah. “…still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” One popular idea was that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant until the messianic kingdom was established. Surely Jesus was at least a prophet?
Now Jesus asks these men who have been with him and know him “But who do you say that I am?” The first time he asked “who do men say that the son of man is?” But these are his disciples. He wants to know who they think he is. Silence. Crickets chirping. Throat clearing. Then Peter says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter’s statement is a revelation--literally!
Jesus tells him that this has been revealed to him by the Father. When Peter says that Jesus is not only the Christ but also the Son of God, we miss how startling this is. For Peter to say that Jesus is the Son of God is to acknowledge his divinity. It is an insight not only into who Jesus is but into the nature of his Messiahship. He didn’t say “you are the Christ, the liberator of Israel from the Romans”; that’s what most people expected of the Messiah. It’s what the disciples expected most of the time. Not this time. Peter realizes that the nature of Jesus mission is to reveal God as our Father.
Peter’s first thought after this answer might have been something like “what did I just say?” Had he said too much or too little? Did he get it right or did he disappoint Jesus again? He must have been astonished at what Jesus said next. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Peter was right! He was right because he had listened to what God was telling him. No other person had clued him in. The Father himself had. This answer, this blessing, would change Peter’s life.
Whether Peter understood all he said or not, he got it right. He listened to God and passed on what had been revealed to him. And of all the disciples, it was Peter who said it; the Rock that Jesus would build his Church on.
To let Peter know how much his life would change, Jesus changed his name. Peter’s given name was Simon. Now he would be Peter, a Greek translation of the Aramaic name Cephas, “the Rock.” In the Bible, whenever someone’s name is changed it indicates a change in their identity, in how they will be used by God. Abram, “exalted father”, becomes Abraham, “father of a multitude”. Jacob, “deceiver”, becomes “ Israel ”, “he who contends with God”. Now Simon will be known as Peter, “the Rock”. Jesus goes on to say that he will build his Church on this rock. All this was because Peter listened to the Father when he revealed to him who Jesus was.
When Jesus asked “who do men say that I am?” he wasn’t only asking Peter or the other disciples. He was asking all of us. Go ahead, answer him. And get ready for your life to change.