Defining Jesus

Bible Book: Matthew  16 : 13-17
Subject: Jesus, Nature of; Who is Jesus

Larry King has made a career of asking questions. For over forty years, King has interviewed the celebrities and the newsmakers on his hit show, Larry King Live. On his fortieth anniversary, the tables were turned, and Larry King was the one to be interviewed. Bryant Gumbel had the honors, and he concluded his interview with a most interesting question. He asked King, “What questions would you ask God if he were a guest on your show?” King listed several questions that he would like to ask God, but the first one out of his mouth was this: “Do you have a son?”

Larry King, like many, is not a believer. Yet, he understands the significance of defining Jesus. If Jesus of Nazareth is just a historical figure, a religious leader, a zealous martyr, then there is no reason to give Him any more attention than any other influential figure of the past.

However, if He is God’s Son, then everything changes. If He is the only begotten of the Father, heaven’s Intervention into history, the Messiah, and the Savior of the World, then we must give Him our undivided attention and our undying allegiance.

In Matthew chapter 16, we come to what is not just a good question, but possibly the single greatest question in history. In verse 15, the Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “But whom say ye that I am?”

How a man defines Jesus will make all the difference in that man’s existence and eternity. How a person answers the question put forth in this text is the single issue upon which destinies are made and eternities are mapped.

As we examine this passage we find three truths that relate to this question of, “Who is Jesus?” Notice them with me. Notice first of all that…

I. This Question is Publicly Argued

In verse 13 of our text, Jesus privately polls His disciples and asks them what the people are saying about Him. He says, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? In verse 14, the disciples, who had listened to the comments from the crowd said, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” Apparently, the people could not agree on who or what this Jesus was. In reality, this has been the case for some 2,000 years.

Since the Lord’s death and resurrection, men of the world have discussed and debated, asserted and argued about a proper definition for Jesus.

Notice with me a couple of things about the public debate surrounding the Lord. Notice first of all that…

A. There are Fond Opinions of Him

While there were those among the religious establishment that did not like Jesus at all, the majority of the people liked Him. They seemed to flock to Him as He taught about the kingdom, healed the sick, and challenged the status quo.

In verse 14, the people compared Him to John the Baptist, Elijah, and the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. Coming from the Jewish crowd of that day, these were kind and fond opinions of Him.

Still today, many think highly of Jesus. I venture to say that there are very few people who would have something negative or derogatory to say about the character or conduct of the man, Jesus. People consider Him to be a master teacher. They call His life the supreme example. They appreciate His sacrificial life and service to others. For many, Jesus is just inspiring. Like a hero from the pages of time, they look to Him with fondness, and regard. They respect His impact and influence on history, and his example of selflessness.

I was reading a review of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, “The Da Vinci Code.” In the review, the author says this, “When the world looks at Jesus, it sees the best of what we are: a holy man, a sage, a heroic figure. He is Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Theresa.”

This sounds eerily similar to the opinions of the people that surrounded Christ 2,000 years ago. They respected and revered Jesus. Just as in Christ’s day, still today there are fond opinions of Him, but notice also that as the issue of Jesus is argued by men:

B. There Are Flawed Opinions Of Him

In verse 14, the people associated Christ with some of the greatest figures in Israel’s religious history. Yet, as fond as their opinions may have been, they were inherently flawed.

Commenting on this text, Matthew Henry says, “It is possible for men to have good thoughts of Christ, and yet not right ones, a high opinion of Him, and yet not high enough.”

As in Christ’s day, there are those today who like certain things about Jesus, but they stop short in their appreciation and understanding of Him.

In his classic book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis put forth the idea that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. This notion of Him being just a great moral teacher completely collides with His own teachings and claims.

Jesus said of Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” He did not say that He taught a way. He said He was a way.

Those who claim that He was a great man, but nothing more, are ignoring His words in John 10:36, where He said, “I am the Son of God.”

Men have argued about the identity and nature of Christ for some 2,000 years, and while they may have admirable and high opinions of him, their fond opinions are often flawed, and fall short of who He really is.

When we consider the question of defining Jesus, we see not only that this question is publicly argued, but notice also further that…

II. This Question is Plainly Answered

In our text, Jesus asked His disciples to tell Him what the people were saying about Him. The disciples answered, and then Jesus asked this direct question in verse 15, “But whom say ye that I am?”

The public that did not truly know Jesus had expressed their opinion of Him. Now, those closest to Him, those who lived with Him every day were asked for their assessment and definition of Jesus. As we study the response given by the Lord’s disciples, we are reminded that the question of, “Who is Jesus,” is one that has been plainly answered, in spite of the various opinions.

Notice a couple of things regarding the plain answer to this issue of defining Jesus. The answer is given first of all…

A. By the Testimony of His Followers

Who else would you expect to answer the Lord’s question? Of course it was Peter. In verse 16, he says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This has been, for 2,000 years the confession and testimony of all who follow the Lord Jesus. To those who know Him best, He is not just a man; He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

One of the earliest organized creeds of the church is the Apostle’s Creed. It can be traced back as far as the second century. It plainly says, “I believe…in Jesus Christ [God’s] only Son, our Lord.”

The first converts of Peter and the apostles all held to the same testimony regarding Jesus. He was to them the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah, and the Holy One. Somewhere around A.D. 325, the Nicene Creed was created. It says, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.” Throughout the succeeding centuries, the third and fourth and fifth generations of Christians all affirmed what Peter originally said about Jesus.

Today, we unashamedly cast our lot with Peter. When we are asked, “Who do you say that Jesus is”, we quickly and unflinchingly reply, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Who is Jesus? How are we to define Him? It is no mystery. Plainly, for two millenniums, His followers have held to the testimony that He is not just a man; He is God’s Son, and the Christ – the Savior of the world.

This question of the definition of Jesus is plainly answered not only by the testimony of His followers, but notice also further that it is affirmed and clearly answered by…

B. The Testimony of His Father

After Peter’s glorious confession, Jesus lovingly says to him in verse 17, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

While the men of the world are busy debating the legacy and life of Jesus, God is busy affirming the Lordship of Jesus.

When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Today, God continues to speak into the lives of people, and testify to their hearts of the validity and authenticity of Jesus! Those of you who are believers, how do you know that Jesus is Son of God? Somewhere, the Holy Spirit of God convinced you of that truth! God the Father spoke to you personally, and as He did to Peter, He revealed to you the truth about the Christ!

Is it mere coincidence that millions of people, in every country, of every age have shared Peter’s confession? Is it mere chance and circumstance that a peasant carpenter from an obscure middle- eastern village, 2,000 years ago, is still worshipped and served across the face of the entire globe? Is it mere coincidence, or is it the result of God testifying in their hearts of the truth regarding His Son? This question of “Who is Jesus,” is one that has been plainly answered if we are willing to listen!

There is one more truth that we draw from this question of defining Jesus. Notice not only that this question is publicly argued, and this question is plainly answered, but notice also thirdly that…

III. This Question is Personally Applied

Before we leave this text, I want you to notice again verse 15. It says, “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

In verse 15, Jesus moves his question from the court of public consensus to the realm of personal conviction. This question must be read and applied personally by each and every one of us. The question is, “Whom say ye that I am?” “Who do you say that I am? Notice a couple of things we find when we personally apply this question. We find that…

A. It is an Individual Question

The Lord Jesus was no longer interested in hearing the opinions of the public. In verse 15, His question was a personal one. As you read that question, hear it as if Christ is speaking to you and you alone. Who do you say that He is? Ultimately, it does not really matter what everyone else confesses regarding the Lord Jesus. As far as you are concerned, the only opinion that matters is yours.

The Lord Jesus wants to know how you define Him. Don’t talk about the church’s creed, or the denominational stance. He isn’t asking you to tell Him what your parents or grandparents thought of Him. No, the question is an individual one. How will you answer? What do you say? The world can express its opinion, the church can express its opinion, and even the Father can reveal to you the truth regarding His Son, but only you can answer this question for yourself.

Who do you say that Jesus is? What is your confession regarding Him? How do you define Him in your life?

Years ago, a writer sent a manuscript to a publishing company, in hopes of having his book published. In the book, the writer had included numerous quotes from other authors. A few weeks later, when the manuscript came back, the publisher included this note, “Too many quotations. We want to know what you think.”

For a moment, we need to stop rehearsing what others have said, and we need speak for ourselves. The penetrating, all-knowing eyes of Jesus look upon you today, and He asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

It is not only an individual question, but notice also further that…

B. It is an Important Question

If He is what He claimed to be, what His disciples affirm Him to be, and what the Word of God declares Him to be, then what you think of Him, and what you personally believe about Him is of the utmost importance.

Your definition of Jesus will mean the difference between guilt and forgiveness, sinner and saint, lost and saved; heaven and hell.

Considering the weight of eternity, no question, no issue is more important than a proper definition of Christ in your life.

Romans 14:12 says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” On that day, when each of us, individually face the God of eternity, only one thing will matter – what we personally believed about Christ.

I recently had to visit a new doctor. At my first appointment, I was given a stack of papers nearly as thick as a phone book, and asked to fill them out. There were all sorts of questions. I thought part of the way through the paperwork, “It is a good thing I am not too sick, or I could die before I answered all these questions.”

The entrance exam for heaven only has one question, but it is a question of unparalleled importance

– who do you say that Jesus is?


With recent books and documentaries and movies about the life of Jesus, there is a lot of talk about Him in our day.

I fear however that far too many people talk about Jesus, but never talk too Him. If you were to talk to Him today, what would you say to Him? What would He say to you?

What if He asked you the question of this text? How would you respond? Could you honestly affirm with Peter that you know Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God?

Defining Jesus is something we must all do at some time or another. We must decide what we believe about Him. Whatever others may say, there is coming a day when all that will matter is what you have said.

i McHenry’s Stories for the Soul; p. 155

ii;        accessed 4/24/08