Luke 9:18-22: ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’
One of the most important questions we need to answer in life is in this text, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ This is the question that Jesus puts to His disciples. We live in a day and age where many think we cannot answer that question with any confidence. For the more scientifically minded the problem is one of historical distance and having to rely on pre-scientific eye witnesses. For the more sceptical certainty about anything even our own experiences is doubted. But God has given us His word that we can know things truly, though not necessarily exhaustively. In particular the gospels have been given that we can know who Jesus Christ is. John at the end of his gospel writes, 20:30-31, ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
Luke’s gospel on the one hand gives very clear evidence to who Jesus is, while on the other hand documenting the growing understanding of the disciples. One commentator writes: ‘Like the other three historians, Luke clearly records the identity of Jesus Christ. The angel Gabriel said of Him, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (1:32–33). Later in chapter 1, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, testified that Jesus would fulfil all the promises of the Old Testament (1:68–69, 76–79). At His birth an angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:10–11). Later Simeon (2:25–32) and Anna (2:36–38), testified that He was indeed the Messiah, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. At the age of twelve, Jesus told His parents that He had to be in His heavenly Father’s house (2:49). John the Baptist, His herald and forerunner, also identified Jesus as the Messiah (3:16–18). At His baptism the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus and the Father affirmed Him as His Son (3:21–22) as He did at the transfiguration (9:35). Even Satan had to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God (4:3), as did the demons (4:34, 41; 8:28).’1
A lot of commentators documenting the growing understanding of who Jesus is make out as if this were the first time that the disciples realised that Jesus was the Christ. The impression is often given that when Jesus asks this question the only one who knows the answer is Peter and all the other disciples are amazed at this idea they had just now only learned. This is not the case. The disciples knew who He was, Jesus first disciples were disciples of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah. Peter’s confession of Jesus as Lord while confessing his own sinfulness is telling, 5:8. The miracles, the teachings, and having been with Jesus for about 2 years, and even going in His authority to perform various miracles can leave us in no doubt that the disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Luke is not giving us this account to let us know that it was here that the disciples learned that Jesus was the Messiah. No, rather he records this event to relate how the disciples had to learn about a Suffering Messiah.
Our text records three levels of understanding about the identity of Jesus. The first is the opinion of the general populace that Jesus is some kind of prophet; the second is the opinion of the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah; the third is the new information that the Messiah must suffer. We are in a long section that has been establishing the identity of Jesus, this all comes to a climax now as Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, as Christ reveals Himself that He must suffer, and this will be followed by the transfiguration as a kind of divine attesting to Jesus identity.
Let’s look at these three levels of understanding as our three points.