Who Do You Say That I Am?

The question that is asked in the title of this blog post is the question Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:13-20 , Mark 8:27-29 and in Luke 9:18-20: “Who do you say that I am?”

In an article published on October 10, 2022, titled, Understanding Generation Z’s Perceptions of Jesus,” by Dr. Kent Ingle, D.Min., President at Southeastern University, he states that “young people may see Christ differently due to their worldview.” In his article, he states:

Not long ago “WWJD” bracelets were the latest fad. Everyone seemed to have one. The bracelets were handed out in large quantities to youth groups, churches, and schools.

The expectation was that when wearing these bracelets, we would look down and ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Although the trend has faded, I still see people wearing those bracelets….

A glimpse at Barna’s research intoThe Open Generationand a study by American Bible Society reveal that the next generation views Jesus in a way contrary to Scripture. We must realize only 13% of Generation Z members are biblically engaged according to the 2022 American Bible Society study.

Before we can ask people “What Would Jesus Do?”, we need to inquire, “Who do you believe Jesus is?”

Below is what Gen Z members are saying about Jesus and how we can guide them in using Scripture to understand who Jesus truly is.

Dr. Ingle lists the following four prevalent beliefs among Generation Z:

(1) “Jesus was Human and Sinned”

A study by American Bible Society found that nearly 40% of Gen Z (non-Christians and Christians) believes that Jesus was human and sinned. From that group, only 18% of Scripturally engaged (consistent interaction with the Bible that shapes a person’s choices and relationships) individuals believe Jesus sinned.

It’s clear this misconception of Christ derives from a lack of biblical engagement. (Read more at this link.)

(2) “Jesus was an Advocate for Justice”

Gen Z members are at the forefront of standing up against social injustices and inequality. They want to make a positive change in the world around them.

A recent Barna study found that 35% of teens believe Jesus was an advocate for justice. Some may see Jesus through this lens because they want to relate to Him. It is important for young adults to make sure the causes they stand up for are supported by Scripture. (Read more at this link.)

(3) “Jesus wasn’t Raised From the Dead”

Nearly half of Gen Z members (47%) believe Jesus was crucified, however, only 33% believe Jesus was raised from the dead, according to Barna. Meanwhile, 61% of Gen Z Christians believe Jesus was crucified and only half believe He rose from the dead….

The idea of Jesus not being raised from the dead contradicts the power of God, the divinity of Christ, and discounts our salvation through Jesus. We need to help young adults understand the significance of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins so we can have eternal life (John 3:16). (Read more at this link.)

(4) “Jesus is not Active in the World Today”

Barna’s study found that only 32% of Christian teens believe Jesus is active in the world today — meaning a majority do not see Him as working and present in their everyday lives….

We can start showing the next generation that Christ is still active in our world by giving practical examples from our lives. Share stories of how Christ provided for you, healed you, or changed your life. Ask young adults to examine their own lives and find instances where God was at work. (Read more at this link.)

He concludes his article with this statement:

The studies from Barna and American Bible Society reveal to us the importance of biblical literacy among next generation members. If we aren’t engaging them in the Word, encouraging them to read the Bible, and holding them accountable, their beliefs in Jesus will be misconstrued.

Whether it’s through the sermons we preach, speaking in young adult groups, or even meeting one-on-one with a Gen Z member, we need to ask them questions about who they believe Jesus is. They may view Jesus and other aspects of the Bible in a different light that reflects our culture and not the truth.

If we aren’t intentional about asking young people questions and teaching them about who Jesus is—from a biblical perspective—it can affect their spiritual walk and how they interact with others. (Quote source here.)

It is not only in Gen Z, but in every generation there are people who have misconceptions regarding who Jesus is. And as noted in the opening sentence to this blog post, Jesus asked his own disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  GotQuestions.org provides the following answer to that question:

Jesus asked a lot of questions. Query was one of His favorite teaching tools. One of the questions Jesus put to the disciples was “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20). This question drew out a response that is instructive to all of us.

The context of Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is important: “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; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

“Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah’” (Luke 9:18–20). Parallel accounts are found in Matthew 16 and Mark 8.

Matthew relates that Peter did more than just identify Jesus as the Christ; he also proclaimed Jesus’ divine nature: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?” was not a sign of ignorance; He knew all things, including what was on the disciples’ minds. The question was also not motivated by some type of self-conceit or vanity; Jesus did not preen, and He had no desire to fish for compliments. Rather, His question was aimed at provoking the disciples to consider their level of faith. The immediate results of His question make it clear why He asked them what He did.

Jesus began the conversation by asking a related question: “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18). In response, the disciples related the various things they had heard: the opinions included several personages come back to life, pointing to the fact that the crowds viewed Jesus as someone special. But the crowds’ guesses were all wrong. So Jesus directs the question to the disciples themselves: “Who do you say that I am?” In other words, are you following the crowd? Are you sticking with the conventional wisdom about Me? Or do you have another, more insightful answer? What do you really think?

Peter then speaks up. In answer to the question, Peter affirms his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and, more than that, the Son of God. By this time, the disciples had seen many miracles, including the raising of a widow’s son in Nain, the calming of a storm, the casting out of many demons from a man in the Gerasenes, and the feeding of 5,000. The disciples knew that Jesus was more than a prophet; He was absolutely unique; He was, in fact, God in the flesh.

In response to Peter’s declaration, Jesus expresses the blessedness of his faith: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). God, in His grace, had opened the disciples’ eyes to see Jesus for who He truly was.

So Jesus asks the question “Who do you say that I am?” and He receives the correct (divinely inspired) response from Peter. This marks a turning point in Jesus’ teaching ministry with His disciples. Starting then, the Lord gives His disciples additional information, as shocking as it was for them to hear: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

Jesus had refrained from telling His disciples about His death and resurrection until they had reached an important milestone: namely, that their faith had grown to the extent that they could express their conviction that Jesus was the Son of God. How the disciples handled the additional information of Jesus’ death would depend on who they believed Jesus to be. Knowing that He is the Son of God, they should be able to trust Him—even to the point of accepting His death (and resurrection) without being shaken.

Unfortunately, the disciples had a hard time processing what Jesus was now telling them, as evidenced in Peter’s response (Matthew 16:22–23). Even having faith in Jesus as the divine Son of God, the disciples were thrown into confusion at the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Mark 9:32).

Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is a good example of one of His teaching methods. Asking a question demands engagement, promotes thinking, and draws out a considered response. Jesus’ question and subsequent teaching also illustrate the progressive nature of God’s revelation and our need for growing in faith. Throughout history, God has revealed His message gradually, starting in Genesis and continuing through the close of the canon. He did not reveal any more than mankind needed or was capable of receiving at any given time. Also, Jesus’ delay in introducing the subject of His death and resurrection suggests that the disciples’ faith needed to mature to the point that they could hear and understand. All of us are called to grow in our faith. There is always more to know of Christ. “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). (Quote source here.)

Jesus made seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John stating clearly who he is. Here are those seven statements and verses:

GotQuestions.org provides the follow information on each of those seven “I am” statements:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven statements beginning with the words “I am.” Each of these “I am” proclamations furthers our understanding of Jesus’ ministry in the world. They also link Jesus to the Old Testament revelation of God.

In the Old Testament, God revealed His name to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). Thus, in Judaism,I AMis unquestionably understood as a name for God. Whenever Jesus made an “I am” statement in which He claimed attributes of deity, He was identifying Himself as God.

Here are the seven metaphorical “I am” statements found in John’s gospel:

“I am the bread of life (John 6:35414851). In this chapter, Jesus establishes a pattern that continues through John’s gospel—Jesus makes a statement about who He is, and He backs it up with something He does. In this case, Jesus states that He is the bread of life just after He had fed the 5,000 in the wilderness. At the same time, He contrasts what He can do with what Moses had done for their ancestors: “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die” (verses 49–50).

“I am the light of the world (John 8:129:5). This second of Jesus’ “I am” statements in John’s gospel comes right before He heals a man born blind. Jesus not only says He is the light; He proves it. Jesus’ words and actions echo Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

I am the door (John 10:7 and 9, ESV). This “I am” statement stresses that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven by any other means than Christ Himself. Jesus’ words in this passage are couched in the imagery of a sheepfold. He is the one and only way to enter the fold. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (verse 1, ESV).

“I am the good shepherd (John 10:1114). With this “I am” statement, Jesus portrays His great love and care. He is the One who willingly protects His flock even to the point of death (verses 11 and 15). When Jesus called Himself the good shepherd, He unmistakably took for Himself one of God’s titles in the Old Testament: “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

“I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Jesus made this “I am” statement immediately before raising Lazarus from the dead. Again, we see that Jesus’ teaching was not just empty talk; when He made a claim, He substantiated it with action. He holds “the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:18, NLT). In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus showed how He can fulfill Yahweh’s promise to ancient Israel: “[God’s] dead shall live; their bodies shall rise” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV). Apart from Jesus, there is neither resurrection nor eternal life.

“I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). This powerful “I am” statement of Christ’s is packed with meaning. Jesus is not merely one way among many ways to God; He is the only way. Scripture said that “The very essence of [God’s] words is truth” (Psalm 119:160, NLT), and here is Jesus proclaiming that He is the truth—confirming His identity as the Word of God (see John 1:114). And Jesus alone is the source of life; He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life and the Giver of eternal life.

“I am the true vine (John 15:15). The final metaphorical “I am” statement in the Gospel of John emphasizes the sustaining power of Christ. We are the branches, and He is the vine. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit unless it is joined in vital union with the vine, only those who are joined to Christ and receive their power from Him produce fruit in the Christian life.

There are two moreI amstatements of Jesus in the Gospel of John. These are not metaphors; rather, they are declarations of God’s name, as applied by Jesus to Himself. The first instance comes as Jesus responds to a complaint by the Pharisees. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). The verbs Jesus uses are in stark contrast with each other: Abraham was, but I am. There is no doubt that the Jews understood Jesus’ claim to be the eternal God incarnate, because they took up stones to kill Him (verse 59).

The second instance of Jesus applying to Himself the name “I AM” comes in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the mob came to arrest Jesus, He asked them whom they sought. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus replied, “I am he” (John 18:4–5). Then something strange happened: “When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (verse 6). Perhaps explaining the mob’s reaction is the fact that the word he has been provided by our English translators. Jesus simply said, “I am.” Applying God’s covenant name to Himself, Jesus demonstrated His power over His foes and showed that His surrender to them was entirely voluntary (see John 10:17–1819:11). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the same question that Jesus asked his disciples, and that he is still asking us today…

Who do you say . . .

That . . .

I am? . . . .

YouTube Video: “Who You Are To Me” by Chris Tomlin ft. Lady A:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here