Who do you say I am?

This is a verse by verse explanation of the transfiguration that begins in Matthew–&1:1 and concludes in chapter 17, verse 8.

The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted conclusive evidence that Jesus was authentic by having Him provide a sign from heaven. But He let them know that signs from the heavens were not uncommon; the people routinely observed and reacted to them. He used the example of observing the color of the sky to know when it was safe to travel on the sea.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:2-3)

Jesus went on to say that since they did not have faith, the sign for them to watch for was one given long ago recorded in Jonah. (Read the prophecy of Jonah –it’s more than you might think.) Why did He say that they didn’t live by faith? Because they didn’t believe that the sign they were now asking for had actually appeared about thirty years earlier!

A sign (a star) was given in the heavens which resulted in the Magi going to King Herod in Jerusalem. That was followed by Herod killing all of the baby boys in and around Bethlehem –the place prophesied about in Micah so many years before.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

Nor did they associate the birth of that child with the prophecy in Isaiah which described Jesus’ birth.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Jesus told his followers to be careful –on their guard– against the leaven (or yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their first response would have been something like: “What’s wrong with their bread; does it taste bad or is it rotten? By the way, did you bring lunch? You didn’t? Neither did I! What will we eat?”

Jesus reminded them that He could be trusted to provide whatever they needed just like He did for the four thousand and the five thousand. It was then that they realized He was talking about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They taught that you had to trust God for everything but you also had to live a good life as well. The “good life” was measured by how well you followed the various laws, regulations, statutes, rituals, etc.

Unleavened bread is like grace –and leaven is like legalism. Just the tiniest bit of leaven totally leavens the whole loaf. In the exact same way, if there is just the tiniest bit of legalism present in teaching, then any words about God’s grace are perverted and emptied of power.

Jesus asked His disciples “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

In the Hebrew bible, Ezekiel is called by that name 93 of the 107 times that it occurs. The book of Ezekiel begins with a description of his vision of Jesus in heaven in all His glory. The rest of the book deals with God having Ezekiel symbolically demonstrate what was going to happen to Israel. One of those demonstrations was with Ezekiel laying on his side to bear the sins of the people –one day for each year of their sin. He had to live a life in a contaminated world, yet he did not contaminate himself.

The people were traditionally on the watch for the person who would fulfill what Ezekiel symbolized. By coming from God and being in the flesh, Jesus completely fulfills the prophecies.

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” and Peter gave his famous response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-17)

Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees., Peter had faith and we will see a little later that Jesus was going to reward him with conclusive evidence –evidence that was not even asked for.

One of the more misunderstood verses is Matthew 16:18. To understand it requires thinking in terms of what the characters of the story were doing.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus described Peter as a rock (probably even pointing to Peter); and He described Himself as “This Rock” (probably pointing to Himself) upon which the church would be built. You might ask where the basis of that claim comes from. It comes from two places. First, Isaiah–&1:16 predicts a cornerstone.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. (Isaiah 28:16)

The second logical step is what Peter, himself, wrote.

As you come to him, the living Stone –rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Please notice that he refers to all Christians as living stones –just as Peter, himself, is a stone or rock. Then he refers to Jesus as The Cornerstone as described in the Isaiah passage above. See how nicely that all fits together?

Another confusing passage is the very next verse in Matthew 16.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

The keys here are not like those that an owner of a house would have. Rather these are keys that unlock a mystery that has been keep hidden since Isaiah’s time. The Holy Spirit revealed (unlocked) who “the Christ, the Son of the living God” was to Peter. That revelation showed him –as it shows us today– Jesus was the “binding” of the law –the ending of the old covenant. He was also the new beginning –the “loosing” of grace –the opening of the new covenant. That was a mystery locked up in heaven and is now revealed by the Spirit.

The disciples were told to not let anyone else in on the secret. It had to be revealed to them by faith just as it is to us.

Peter was hurt to the core when Jesus began telling about His fate –being mistreated and killed by those who were zealous about their religious traditions– and His resurrection. It is so well described in Isaiah 53. When Peter told Jesus to not talk about it or even stop it. Jesus said “Get behind me Satan!”

Satan was using Peter’s words to tempt Jesus just as he did on top of the temple when he offered the entire world in exchange for His soul. This is shown in Matthew 16:24-27 when Jesus asked “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

At the end of chapter 16, Jesus told his disciples that some of them would still be alive to see “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” It is not talking about Jesus’ return on a cloud, but instead what is coming next in chapter 17.

Six days after announcing His pending death and resurrection, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and they (they were the ones who saw Him in His kingdom) saw conclusive evidence that Jesus was authentic. There with Him appeared Moses and Elijah –and they spoke together. That’s when Peter asked if he could build a shelter for each of them.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:5-8)

There’s a lot in this little passage. To begin with, Peter offered to build each of them a shelter. He was probably thinking in terms of the Holiest Place in the tabernacle. That shelter was to keep the glory and power of God separate from them so they wouldn’t die. When God’s glory came down on that tabernacle, it came in the form of a light and cloud –this was much like what Moses had written about.

Another aspect to this passage is that Peter offered equal shelters to the three of them. Three things happened: Jesus was the one who was radiant; His Father said “This is My Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”; and Jesus was the only one left. The conclusion to be drawn was that Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) had served their purpose. The books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews specifically tell us that the law and the prophets were only to lead us to Jesus. Once we see who He is, they have little purpose.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus told them to not tell others about this. Once again he wants us all to know Him by faith as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Then they asked what role Elijah played in all this. The reason they asked is because the Passover was coming up and all of this story is showing to be prophecy coming true. One of the last parts of the Passover supper is to set out a cup of wine for Elijah and check at the door to see if he has arrived yet. That is really something done toward the end of the celebration.

Jesus explained the significance of Elijah’s part. It was a prophecy fulfilled by John the Baptist who referred to himself as “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

Have you found the conclusive evidence that only faith can provide? In Galatians 3:3, it says that God has given you His Spirit and works miracles among you. Think about what that means to you –how He has tailored a life just for you. What are the wonders that He is doing for you?