I often hear people ask, “Who is Jesus to you?”
The insinuation is that it is one thing to know the identity of Jesus and it is another thing to embrace it. I agree with that, but it also can lead to an unhealthy idea that our interpretation of Jesus is the correct one. When people ask that question, they are referencing an encounter Peter had with Jesus once. For all my life, I had misinterpreted this Scripture passage.
“Who do you say that I am?”
People were talking. Everyone had an opinion concerning Jesus’ identity. In one of those earth-shattering discussions prompted by Jesus, he asked his disciples concerning the public consensus of his own identity. The disciples began to relay information of which he was already aware. He just listened patiently.
He then asked a simple question that would forever change history. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:15-18).
Truth > Opinion
I was taught this story by many who emphasized that in this moment it didn’t matter who Jesus was, it mattered who Jesus was to Peter. Jesus’ objective truth was useless if it wasn’t a subjective reality.
That line of thinking is simply unbiblical and a lie originating in the pit of hell.
Peter didn’t ace Jesus’ pop quiz because his answer was personal, he aced it because he was correct.
If Peter would have said, “I have to agree with the crowds. I think you are another prophet. There have been a lot of talented preachers before you and there will be many after you who can do exactly what you are doing. Don’t get me wrong – you are a great guy, but that’s just it – you are just a great guy and not a great God.”
With an answer like that, Jesus would have not responded in such a positive manner. He would not have praised Peter for his individualistic theory if his conclusion was incorrect. Jesus would never have built his church on a simple fisherman’s hypothesis.
If you study the life of teachings of Christ, you can guarantee that he would not have responded, “You know, Peter, that’s not exactly what I was hoping you would say, but who am I to make such an exclusive claim to truth? If it’s true to you, then I think that’s just great and I will personally hold it to be true as well. Let’s all gather around to sing ‘Kumbaya’ and have a big, tolerant group hug.”
Jesus was never known to behave that way. Regarding truth, Jesus is gracious but not tolerant. He is too loving to allow error to continue without intervention.
Jesus built his church on the truth – not on the opinion.
How did Simon Peter get it right? Because it was truth revealed to him by none other than God. Man doesn’t come up with truth; God reveals truth. The Church is built upon the rock of Peter’s confession. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of truth. Peter knew it, he confessed it, and Christ vowed that his followers would build the Church not on man’s opinion but on God’s truth.
Why Jesus Might Call You Satan
For all the fumbling mistakes for which Peter is remembered, here is a glorious example of a moment when he simply got it right and history would ultimately never be the same again. Riding on such a spiritual momentous occasion, Peter should have known the importance of exiting on a high-note, but unfortunately, he opened his mouth moments later to reveal how quickly we can fall from theological prominence.
In light of Peter’s confession, Jesus began to unveil some previously concealed information. His path was clearly leading him to Jerusalem, and he was confident that he would soon suffer unjustly and be brutally murdered there. Since the disciples were now cognizant of his identity, he wanted them to be prepared for what was coming his way, and he wanted them to know he would not change course just because suffering was imminent.
Still beaming from the honorary theological doctorate he had just received from none other than Jesus the Christ, Peter decided to pull the Messiah over to the side for a little constructively critical chitchat. Obviously, Jesus was confused and Peter’s glowing spiritual intellect was needed to clear things up.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:22-23).
When You Don’t Like God’s Version of God
Jesus’ suffering didn’t fit well into Peter’s christological framework. The cross would distort the image of who Peter thought the Christ should be. God was revealing truth to Peter, and Peter simply didn’t like it and wanted to change it.
Peter was made in the image of God, and now he wanted to repay the favor.
He wanted to follow a God who knew no suffering. The picture of the Messiah he had in his mind was the victor and not the victim. Peter didn’t like who God was turning out to be and so he attempted to change him.
Should it be to our surprise that Jesus called Peter by the name of the first one who tried to change the identity of God? Satan tried to change the identity and the activity of God, and Peter was following in his sacrilegious footsteps. Don’t miss Jesus’ diagnosis: Peter was not thinking about God, he was thinking about man. He wanted God to be more like him.
And so do we.
If you want to stay clear of Jesus calling you devilish monikers, then stay clear of altering his identity.
Stop trying to change God and learn how to embrace God.