The escalation: “Who do you say that I am?”

As Jesus and his disciples were traveling together through the villages around Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus asked: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:14-15). If you have read the story, you know that it was Simon Peter who had a definite answer. But the more important question today is: What do you think? What is your answer?

Peter’s answer was: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17).

To me, that question, the answer, and Jesus’ comment on the answer form the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

As I mentioned when I posted the last blog, today I am going to go over the same verses I covered last time: the end of the 5th chapter of John’s gospel. But last time, I was looking at them in the context of the flow of that gospel, and in the context of the events that had been building up to that point as we can glean from the other gospels, which meant we had to look at it in the context of the adversarial relationship between the religious leaders and Jesus.

That is unfortunate because the information that you get from listening to an argument is not necessarily the information you would get from a calm discourse. We don’t get to hear just Jesus’ words. Of necessity we have to hear the opposing sides’ complaints. Yes, those complaints can be educational because maybe we can have the same or similar misconceptions. But we cannot deny that they drive (maybe hijack) the direction of the discussion.

I hope it would go differently if we could just sit one on one with Jesus and listen and ask honest questions, But, maybe, that wouldn’t work either, even if it were just Him and me… After all, we all have our own misconceptions; we all have our own “hot-button issues” that make us uncomfortable. Maybe it wouldn’t be the Sabbath we would be arguing with him about, but it would be something else.

And that’s my first point, today:  arguing with Jesus is, in the end, a waste of time. No matter what I say, no matter how logical I try to make my arguments, how hard I try to justify my point of view, I am not going to change His mind. And I am not saying that because of the obvious point that he is not here present in person right now to have that discussion… Even if he were, even if I could step into a time machine and go back to his time and meet him, I cannot possibly prove him wrong in anything because if He is Who He said He is, the Creator, then He made everything. And He has seen everything that has ever happened, and ever will happen, already… He knows it all, through and through.

He, the inventor of cause and effect has seen every cause and effect that will take place in this universe, from beginning to end. And it is based on that complete information that He and the Father set in motion the plan of eternity.

IF we truly believed that that is Who Jesus is, then accepting that plan of salvation is the only logical thing to do. Why would I choose to follow any other path than the one He has already vetted? By definition, it would be the path that would lead to my greatest happiness and well-being in eternity?


But that is the big IF.

The big IF.

Who did Jesus claim He was? He never denied who He was; but the way He revealed that Truth depended on the audience. And that makes sense.

I am a Physicist and Professor of Electrical Engineering; that fact never changes. But the way I explain the truth about the laws of Physics or Electromagnetic Theory is always adjusted to the audience: It could be a child, it could be a High School student, it could be a sophomore in college, it could be a graduate student, it could be a colleague. And it is not just the level of education that affects the mode of the discourse. More important than that is understanding how that unique person learns best, and then try using that modality to get them to reach that “aha!” moment.

We find the same with Jesus. At age 12, he remained in Jerusalem while his parents and relatives returned home with the caravan after the Passover. When they came back looking for him, desperate, and found him in the Temple, his matter-of-fact answer to them was: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

Even that young, He knew who He was and what His mission was, and He told Mary and Joseph, plainly. But of course, they knew him well. They were an open minded, open-to-Him kind of audience.

When He had that nighttime conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, He was again with a person who had proven, by seeking Him, that he was open to Him. And so, when you go through that conversation, and take it at face value, you find all sorts of bold, astounding claims.

It is not just that Jesus is claiming to be able to tell Nicodemus what is required to enter the kingdom of Heaven, He makes that claim based on the fact that He is an eyewitness of the goings on in Heaven: “We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

And if that were not plain enough, He follows it with: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” By this time, people have heard Him refer to himself as the Son of Man several times. There is no doubt of what he is suggesting: Even though present here on Earth as a man, somehow He is also in Heaven.

And then He crowns it with this revelation: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” (referring to His crucifixion, but Nicodemus cannot grasp that at the moment) “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If He indeed is talking about Himself, He has just declared that He is THE gate to eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

These verses are not just an “aside” that John the evangelist wrote there, as some matured, developed, doctrine that he is asking us to believe. Jesus spoke those words to Nicodemus, as it were, “cold turkey”. Not only did He claim to be THE way to eternal life, all it requires is believing in Him (no work, no sacrifice, no Temple). And then He gives the reason why this is true: The Son of Man = The Son of God. He claims He has the authority because He is the first born, one and only, Son of the Father; the One who could have the right to condemn humanity (hinting at Him being the Judge) but instead chose to come to save us all.

It could not be plainer than that: Jesus knew who He was and why the Father sent Him here. And He told Nicodemus because Jesus knew that Nicodemus could “take it.”

In the next chapter, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. We could say she was at the opposite end of the intellectual/religious spectrum from Nicodemus. And yet, when she brings up the Messiah, as someone that she would believe, Jesus tells her, “That’s Me.”

Compare that to the times when the antagonistic religious leaders challenged Him to say plainly that he was the Messiah… and He never did; not to them! Why? Because they were not open to Him.

But still, He never denied it. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, is taught by One who has no doubt He has the ultimate authority. Over and over again, He tells the audience what is required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; and corrects the misconceptions they have been taught. Go back and read that passage and notice all the times He says “but I say to you”. Is there any doubt that He is claiming for Himself that ultimate authority?

If there were any doubt, it is dispelled by the time we get to: Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

If I had been there and heard those words, could I deny the fact that He has just placed Himself on the throne of Heaven? I mean, He is the One that decides who enters Heaven or not. He is the One to whom, in the end, we will appeal, calling Him Lord, Lord. He is the ultimate Judge.

No wonder He ends that sermon by saying: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock…

From the very beginning He has been telling us, He is the Way of salvation.

Therefore, by the time we get to John, chapter 5, He is not going to “back pedal”, He is not going to take back His words. On the contrary, He will reinforce them. The difference now is that this audience is not open to Him. But whose fault is that?

John 5: 16-17 And for this the Jews persecuted Jesus [and sought to kill him], because he had done these things on sabbath. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto and I work.

So, as he told Nicodemus, He is the Son of the Heavenly Father.

John 5:18 For this therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he had not only violated the sabbath, but also said that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus did not deny that logical deduction. Instead, He proves them it is correct by pointing out that He is indeed doing what anyone would expect the Son of the Father to be doing:

John 5:19-21 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things *he* does, these things also the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son and shews him all things which he himself does; and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may wonder. For even as the Father raises the dead and quickens [them], thus the Son also quickens whom he will:

And here, he is plainly alluding to the fact that he raised a widow’s son to life in Nain. As I pointed out last time, this became widely known. And just as important as the deed, was the way He did it. Jesus did not pray to God to raise the son to life (like Elijah and Elisha did when they brought dead children to life). No, Jesus just commanded the funeral procession to stop, touched the bier, and told the dead young man to come back to life and it happened!

Indeed: thus the Son also quickens whom he will. Who else can have such authority but the Son of the Father?

And Jesus goes on further: For if He is indeed the Son of God, the Messiah, the Son of Man, then He also is expected to have another job, at the end of days: He is the Eternal Judge:

John 5:22-23 for neither does the Father judge any one, but has given all judgment to the Son; that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He who honours not the Son, honours not the Father who has sent him.

And if there was any doubt regarding this allusion, He makes it clear by reiterating that this is the FINAL Judgement He is talking about, the one spoken of by Daniel and mentioned by other prophets: It is the judgement that determines eternal life:

John 5:24-27 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live. For even as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment [also], because he is Son of man.

He can do all this not only because He has the authority, but also because He has the Power: It is intrinsic to Him (as we would expect a Son to inherit from His Father.). And He is not talking only about reviving the “spiritually dead” people of His generation. No, He includes all the dead, of all time:

John 5:28-30 Wonder not at this, for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall go forth; those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment. I cannot do anything of myself; as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my will, but the will of him that has sent me.

Notice how the revelation of His person is always tied up with the revelation of the Father. It is never about Him only. It is always about His (willing) place in the plan of the Father. Just like He told Nicodemus: “For God so loved… that he sent His Son…

Jesus made it plain Who He claimed to be.

The escalation only seems like an escalation here because it is being presented to a hostile audience. It is an escalation in the lives of his adversaries because they were rejecting Him. But any who had heard before, and had chosen to listen, and were open to believe, would only have heard what they had already heard before… that this is indeed the Savior of the world.

So, where is the proof?

John 5:31-35 If I bear witness concerning myself, my witness is not true. It is another who bears witness concerning me, and I know that the witness which he bears concerning me is true. Ye have sent unto John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But I do not receive witness from man, but I say this that *ye* might be saved. *He* was the burning and shining lamp, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

Sometimes it is people just like us who deliver to us this message. And if we are willing to listen to them, then the light of the Truth comes into our lives thanks to them! I’ll always be grateful for every person that ever stopped and took the time to tell me about God’s love… But even if nobody ever did, I still would have heard:

John 5:36-38 But I have THE witness [that is] greater than [that] of John; for the works which the Father has given me that I should complete them, the works themselves which I do, bear witness concerning me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who has sent me himself has borne witness concerning me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor have seen his shape, and ye have not his word abiding in you; for whom *he* hath sent, him ye do not believe.

The Father speaks. That is part of the work He has never ceased doing ever since He rested on that seventh day of creation.  This is why Jesus told Peter: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

The Father speaks through the good that happens all around us, even if we don’t notice it, AND also directly, with His voice, Spirit to spirit. If we don’t hear Him, it is not His fault, it is because we choose not to hear.

That is the essence of Jesus’ accusation against his adversaries here. Think about it: It would make no sense to fault them for not hearing a voice that was not there. No, they made themselves deaf… and they made themselves blind and dull, so that even the written Word of God was incomprehensible to them:

John 5:39-40 Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; and ye will not come to me that ye might have life.

The proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be, is, ultimately, the voice of the Father, which we can all hear. And which we can all read.

How do I know if I have heard?

Look at your life.

That is all we have to do. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount: A tree can only bear the fruit that comes to it naturally. Do I see, goodness and kindness and Love in my life? And as He said also in the Sermon: Do I know where my heart belongs? Do I love His Kingdom or do I love this world?

John 5:41-44 I do not receive glory from men, but I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another come in his own name, him ye will receive.  How can ye believe, who receive glory one of another, and seek not the glory which [comes] from God alone?

John 5:45-47 Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is [one] who accuses you, Moses, on whom ye trust; for if ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. But if ye do not believe his writings, how shall ye believe my words?  

And so, we conclude chapter 5 of the gospel of John. And the question we have to answer for ourselves, before going on is this: Who do you say that Jesus is?

He made His claims plain. But whether those claims make a difference in my life all hinges on whether or not I choose to believe Him.

(Go back over all the verses above and notice how often that word – believe – occurs. It is the key that opens the door of Truth.)

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