Who Do You Say That I Am?
(Luke chapter 9, verses 18-36)
For this week's study we'll be moving on to part 2 of the gospel of Luke chapter 9. When we left off last week, Jesus and the apostles had fed the 5,000 men (not counting all the women and children) using only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and had just finished collecting 12 baskets full of scraps. I'm sure those were some mighty fine fish sandwiches, considering they were served by none other than Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles! But for today's study, the time is just a few days after this had occurred, followed by another 8 days after that. Let's go to the starting point of today's lesson, beginning at verse 18, so we can delve into the details.
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, 'Who do the crowds say I am?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; some say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets from long ago has come back to life.' 'But what about you?', he asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'The Christ of God'. Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.' Then he said to them all, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9, verses 18-27)
So Jesus asked the apostles directly, “'Who do the crowds say I am?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; some say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets from long ago has come back to life.' 'But what about you?', he asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'The Christ of God'.” This is the third confirmation in Luke's gospel of the true identity of Christ, with the first being Jesus' baptism in the Jordan river by John the Baptist, and the second being when he calmed the storm in chapter 8. But my New International version has what I think is a somewhat lackluster translation of Peter's reply to Jesus in verse 20; “Peter answered, 'The Christ of God.” My New Living Translation does a better job; “You are the Messiah sent from God.” That's about as crystal-clear as can be; so if any of you hear anyone expressing doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, simply point them to this verse and help win another soul for Jesus.
“Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.'” Here we have some real insight into the character of Jesus. He didn't want the apostles to tell anyone who he was, which is quite the reverse of what would normally happen with any start-up, whether or not it's a business or a church. In our world of today, we use social media, marketing and as much advertising as we can afford when we want to get the word out about a new enterprise or even a nonprofit. Jesus did exactly the opposite, warning the Twelve not to tell anyone who he really was. He relied on the Holy Spirit that was living inside of him, and which had been since his birth.
By using the Holy Spirit instead of the religious establishment of that time to convey his true identity, Jesus never relied on himself alone to perform his ministry, always relying on his heavenly Father for his strength and willpower, not to mention his insurmountable faith. Jesus could strip the elders of the synagogues, the chief priests of the Temple at Jerusalem, and the teachers of the Law (the equivalent of modern-day seminary professors) of their authority just by walking into the Temple court, or any other room for that matter. This infuriated the religious establishment of Jesus' time, and that's why he was ultimately crucified. The religious establishment saw Jesus as a threat.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” There is no such thing as a part-time Christian. They don't exist, or at least not in real life. Christ followers are deniers of self, not as a means to show off, but as a means to bring themselves closer to Christ, and to make him the center of their lives instead of themselves and all their stuff. The King James Bible reads this passage as, “What does it benefit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?” The human individual is sovereign, expressly from the God who created him or her, because God made us all with a free will and gave us freedom of expression. We are all irreplaceable, and if only we would all start treating each other as if we were, all the fighting, killing and bullying would stop all over the world all at once.
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” I am not ashamed to be a proponent of the Gospel. I am glad to be a servant of the Lord and an ambassador for Christ. If I will not acknowledge Christ, how can I expect him to acknowledge me? And if Jesus won't acknowledge me, how will I ever live eternally with him? The answer is that I can't, just as the Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
The following verse is a little more controversial: “….some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Since Jesus was talking primarily to his apostles, it so happens that all but two were martyred for their faith. One was Judas; the other was the apostle John, who evidently died of old age in his 90's. So it could be argued that they all “tasted death” before they went home to be with the Lord. My own theory about this is that since at least several of the apostles were beheaded for their faith and ministries (and I'm pretty sure it was more than a few), those that were would have died instantly since the spinal cord gets severed at the base of the skull when one is beheaded. Consequently, the victim feels no pain and death occurs instantaneously. So that believer would be instantly with the Lord. If anyone thinks they know a better reason, please leave a comment at the end of this article. Meanwhile, let's move on to the second half of today's lesson, beginning at verse 28.
“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing there with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, 'Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah' (he did not know what he was saying). As he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, 'This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.' When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.” (Luke 9, verses 28-36)
Although the mountain most commonly named as the site for the transfiguration (as this part of the Gospel is called) is Mt. Tabor just outside Jerusalem, no one can be 100% certain of the exact location. But Jesus was transfigured into what is apparently a higher form of life, while simultaneously Moses and Elijah appear in the same way before Peter, James and John. So we can conclude from these happenings that Jesus, along with all who have come home to him in the presence of the Father including Moses and Elijah, originate from beyond space and time as we currently understand it. They are not physical beings like ourselves, they are spiritual in nature. In my NLT Bible, the next verse reads, “And they were speaking how he was about to fulfill God's plan by dying in Jerusalem.” So right here we have sufficient proof that everything that was going on was and is all a part of God's grand master plan for all of humanity. Everything happens for a reason, as it is written: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1)
As the apostles woke up, they were confronted by what they saw and, based on Peter's reaction, had no idea how to interpret what they are looking at. Peter manages to make himself look silly with his babbling response. Just as he was doing this, Luke wrote, “As he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” My NLT describes it this way: “But even as he was saying this, a cloud came over them; and terror gripped them as it covered them.” Suffice it to say the apostles were completely unnerved by what they were seeing and experiencing.
The next thing that happened unnerved them even more. “A voice came from the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.' When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves.....” As soon as the voice, which obviously was that of the Father, had said what needed to be said, everything vanished right before the apostles' eyes and things returned to 'normal' for them. God certainly didn't waste any time conveying his message. He didn't stick around for coffee or tea afterwards, either. And the disciples said nothing about this to anyone, including the other apostles, for a long time afterwards – possibly as late as after the resurrection of Christ. On that note, I think we've found a comfortable place to close for now. And next week we'll move on to part 3 of Luke chapter 9.