When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?…
Who's who? This is, generally speaking, a question of very little consequence. When the "Son of man" is concerned, it is of infinite moment. Everlasting issues turn upon the manner in which it is answered. From this important text we learn -
I. THAT THE FAITH WHICH IS HUMAN IS UNCERTAIN.
1. It may take colour from the distraction of guilt.
(1) "Some say John the Baptist." So said Herod. He has murdered the Baptist (cf. Matthew 4:1-12). Herod's courtiers would say as Herod said.
(2) Herod had not heard of Christ before. Some men never concern themselves with the claims of Jesus until conscience alarms them.
(3) Such alarms will come. They come in visitations of judgment - death bed experiences.
(4) The faith so excited is too often uncertain.
2. It may be influenced by the spirit of the world.
(1) "Some say Elijah." For Elijah was promised as the forerunner of Christ (see Malachi 4:5, 6). And the time for the advent of Messiah had arrived (see Genesis 49:10; Daniel 9:25).
(2) But why say "Elijah" rather than "Messiah"? The spirit of the world blinded them. They expected a secular king. They were too materialistic to see that John Baptist had come "in the spirit and power of Elijah." They now confounded Christ with an Elijah of their own devising, and missed him. in the mists of the world the spiritual Jesus is still fatally missed.
(3) They confounded the advents. They are two. Messiah was to come in humiliation. He was also to come in glory. They looked for the glorious appearing to be heralded by Elijah in person. They failed to discern the Christ in his suffering. Yet the advents are intimately related. Those only who confess him in his sufferings can share in his glory.
3. It may be distorted by the vanity of reason.
(1) "Some say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." The doctrine of metempsychosis, transmigration, or passing of the soul from one body into another, was accepted among the Jews (cf. ver. 14; Matthew 14:2; John 9:2).
(2) This doctrine largely entered into the Pharisees' notion of the resurrection. To them the question of the Sadducees would be a real puzzle, which Jesus answered to the astonishment of both (see Matthew 22:23-33).
(3) Herod, though a Sadducee, yet favoured this Pharisaic notion. In this he was inconsistent. But what of that? Unbelief is inconsistent evermore under the excitements of conscience.
II. THAT THE TRUE FAITH OF CHRIST IS A REVELATION FROM GOD.
1. In its doctrine.
(1) "But whom say ye that I am?" The disciples of Jesus should have it. They had the best opportunity of judging.
(2) What, then, was their confession? "Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Here Jesus was identified as the Messiah of the nation's hope. His Divinity also was recognized.
(3) But this confession had been made before. After the stilling of the storm, "they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God" (Matthew 14:33). Nathanael's confession was still earlier (see John 1:49). And still later we have another remarkable confession (see John 6:69).
(4) The disciples of Jesus were, several of them, disciples of John; and from John they had this testimony concerning Jesus (see John 1:35-42).
2. In its experience.
(1) In this confession of Peter there is a new element, and an element too of great importance; for it had a special commendation. The earlier confessions were more speculative. This was experimental; from the very heart.
(2) Miracles cannot carry conviction to the heart. No effort of reason can give it. "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee."
(3) It is immediately from God. "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit."
III. THAT HAPPY IS HE THAT CONFESSES CHRIST FROM THE HEART.
1. He is a living stone in the living temple.
(1) Simon, at his call, received this patronymic (see John 1:42). Literally, Peter is a "stone;" metaphorically it is stability, strength. The change of name suggests change of nature, or conversion (cf. Genesis 32:28).
(2) The firmness of the rock belonged not to Peter in respect to his mental temper (see Matthew 26:69; Galatians 2:11).
(3) It belonged to him in connection with his faith. He had the patronymic in anticipation of his confession; for when he made it Jesus said, "Thou art Peter," q.d. now thou hast merited thy name. Heart faith is the principle of Christian firmness.
(4) Whoever has the faith of Peter thereby becomes himself a Peter - a living stone. Peter himself witnesses to this (see 1 Peter 2:4, 5). Translate this figure, and what does it import?
2. He is founded on the Rock of Ages.
(1) This Rock is not Peter. Petros does not signify "a rock" otherwise than as a stone is a rock. Stone, not rock, is the proper meaning of that term. Petra is the name for the living rock. On the petra the Church is built.
(2) Peter is accordingly found amongst the other apostles, and together with them also the prophets, as one of the many foundationstones resting upon the Rock (see Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).
(3) Christ, who is the Foundation (see Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:11), is also the Builder of his Church. In his hand every stone has its proper place and fitting.
3. His salvation is secured.
(1) "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." In ancient times the gates of fortified cities were used to hold councils in, and they were usually strong places. This expression means that neither the counsels nor strength of Satan can prevail against the truth of this confession, nor against the Church that is founded on it.
(2) Hades is the abode of disembodied spirits, and death is the gate or entrance into that abode. But death does not prevail against the living Church. Its members die, but others take their places.
(3) Neither does death prevail against any living member of the Church to remove him out of it. For death does but translate him from that part of the Church which is militant to that other part which is triumphant. For the one true Church of Christ is catholic to the universe and to the ages. "Hell hath no power against faith; faith hath power for heaven."
IV. SIGNALLY BLESSED IS HE THAT IS FOREMOST IN THIS CONFESSION.
1. Peter had the honour of the keys.
(1) Keys were anciently a common symbol of authority; and presenting the keys was a form of investing with authority; and these were afterwards worn as a badge of office (see Isaiah 22:22). Peter's authority was to open the gate of faith to the world.
(2) He accordingly first preached the gospel to the Jew, on the memorable Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). He first preached the gospel to the Gentiles also (see Acts 10:44-47; Acts 15:7).
(3) In this honour Peter stood alone. In the nature of the case he could have no successor. In the preaching of the gospel to Jew and Gentile his successors are counted by millions; but in being the first to preach it he has no successor.
2. He had the power of binding and loosing.
(1) "The term of loosing and binding was customarily applied by Jews to a decision about doctrines or rites, establishing which were lawful and unlawful. Thus of many articles, it is said, 'The school of Shammai, which was the stricter, bindeth it; the school or followers of Hillel looseth it'" (Lightfoot).
(2) This Peter was to do authoritatively, by plenary inspiration, and therefore so as to be ratified and confirmed in heaven. And in this accordingly Peter took the initiative, declaring the terms of salvation when he first used his keys.
(3) But beyond this he had no distinction from the other apostles, who were also inspired authoritatively to set forth these terms. The question which Peter answered was addressed to the whole company of the apostles, "Whom do ye say that I am?" and Peter answered it in their name, or as their representative (cf. John 20:21-23).
(4) In this the apostles have no successors. Plenary inspiration has ceased with them. The fruits of that inspiration come down to us in the New Testament canon. To this we have our one and sole appeal.
3. Every foremost confessor has his honour.
(1) The martyr has his crown. He has his conspicuous place in the better resurrection (see Revelation 2:10; Revelation 20:4 6).
(2) Superior goodness will be signally recognized (see Daniel 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:41, 42). - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?