In Matthew 16:13, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Anytime the author (Matthew) records Jesus asking a question, he is expecting you, as a reader, to answer the question. It’s a question that, eventually, everyone must answer.
But did you notice how Jesus phrased the question? He didn’t say, “Who do people say that Jesus of Nazareth is?” He inserts the title “Son of Man” in place of his name. The title “Son of Man” has a very specific context in the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 7 verses 13-14). The “Son of Man” character in the book of Daniel is very God himself.
Jesus is not asking, “Do people think I’m the Son of Man?” He is declaring that this is who He is. He had used the “Son of Man” title before (back in Matthew 9:6).
Here are the responses that the disciples mentioned they were hearing.
- People think you seem a lot like John the Baptist.
- You are doing things like some of the prophets in the OT… like Elijah… who helped a widow’s son in Sidon. (Jesus had traveled to Sidon and helped a widow’s daughter.)
- You seem like, Jeremiah, who wept over Jerusalem and predicted that the city would be destroyed. (Jesus will weep over Jerusalem and also predict its destruction.)
- Or one of the other prophets… like Jonah. (Both Jonah and Jesus had been asleep in the bow of a boat in the midst of a storm… and both calmed the sea… although in very different ways).
People were concluding that Jesus was an Old Testament person that had come back from the dead. But, the people on the street were failing to make one important connection.
It’s the connection that Peter is able to make. Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This was not the first time the disciples had said that Jesus was the Christ (in Hebrew its “Messiah”). In fact, John 1:40-41 says that even before Peter met Jesus… his brother told Peter he had found the Christ. So, this wasn’t a new connection.
It also wasn’t the first time that the disciples had come to the conclusion that Jesus was God. They verbalized this back in Matthew 14:33, after seeing Jesus walk on water and calm a violent storm.
What’s new here is the connection that Peter makes between this Messiah character… and the Son of Man character. He concludes that Jesus is the Messiah, a man, and He is God also. He puts those two concepts together.
Peter’s connection is the wisdom from the Father (Matthew 16:17) that leads to life and is the key to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19).
There’s something else going on in this story. This event happens at Caesarea Philippi, in the northern region of the Galilee. There were many pagan temples in that region. One of those temples had been built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus. Augustus had been a man but, through a vote of the Roman Senate, was now recognized to be a god.
- Worldly wisdom invites people to believe that “man can become a god”.
- The wisdom of Heaven invites people to believe that “God became a man”.
It’s a choice that, eventually, everyone must make.
This is just one of the items I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 16. You can watch the entire lesson below… or preview the other videos in The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.