At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples two questions (Matthew 16:13-17). The first was, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The second was, “But who do you say that I am?” The disciples wasted no time in answering the first: “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, but still others, Jeremiah or one of the old prophets.” This is a striking answer on many levels. The people thought very highly of Jesus. They did not curse Him at this point. They did not yet spit in His face. But the answers they gave fell short, very short, of the true honor that He deserves. John H. Skilton once wrote:
According to the report of the disciples…some were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist. Those who expressed this view may have thought that they were paying Jesus a very high tribute indeed. John was the promised forerunner of the Messiah; he was a man, a messenger sent from God, (John 1:6); and he had been filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Prophecy had been revived in him, the word of God came to him (Luke 3:2); in the spirit and power of Elijah, as had been said, he went before the Lord, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan had gone out to him and been baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Matt. 3:5-6). Jesus Himself, in fulfilling all righteousness for His people, had come to John for baptism (Matt. 3:13-15). He had testified of John “Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist…
John, however, was now dead. To hold that Jesus was John the Baptist, in the sense that seems to be intended here (cf . Mark 6:14-16; Matthew 14:2; Luke 9:7-9), would be to regard him as risen from the dead–and risen, probably, to bring in the day of the Lord. This was a high view of Jesus, and its advocates thought that it did justice to the special revelation that God had given. But this view did not meet with our Lord’s approval. It did not confess the truth about Him. It would seek to honor Him by identifying Him with a forerunner of the Messiah and not with the Messiah Himself. It did not represent saving, Christian faith.
The disciples also reported that some were calling Jesus Elijah. John had come, as we have seen, in the spirit and power of Elijah, and accordingly could be regarded as fulfilling the promise that Elijah would come (Malachi 4:5-6; Matt. 11:14, etc.). But some men were maintaining, it would appear, that Jesus was actually Elijah, returned to this world to usher in the day of the Lord. Others were saying that Jesus was the highly regarded prophet Jeremiah or some one of the prophets (Luke 9:19). All these views accorded much distinction to Jesus. The men who held them regarded Him as a man favored by God, who had been singularly used by Him in the past, and had now by Divine power been brought back to this world in connection with God’s purposes for His people. But high thoughts all these views were, they were nevertheless infinitely inadequate. Those who held them did not elevate Jesus above a precursor or forerunner of the Messiah; they stopped short of affirming that He was the Christ. They did not have a right conception of Him or of His mission.1
The second question Jesus aims directly at the disciples. “But who do you say that I am.” This time Simon Peter quickly responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This may have seemed to be an easy answer to an easy question, but nothing could be further from the truth. To his response Jesus explained, “flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but My Father in heaven.” The answer was one that must come supernaturally. Man is blind by nature and the question is one that requires spiritual sight to answer. We must not think that it is sufficient to have high views of Christ. We must, if we say that we have saving faith, make the good confession that Peter made at Caesarea Phillipi. And, if we do, we, together with Peter, will find that we are blessed because God the Father has revealed the true identity of His Son to us. Consider carefully what answer you give to this question. Who do you say that the Son of Man is?
1 John H. Skilton, “Confessions of Faith at Caesarea Philippi” in John H. Skilton ed. Scripture and Confession (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973) pp. 79-80