BIBLE DIGEST - Number 87                                                                        November 1998

Allon Maxwell

Matthew 16:13-17(Jesus) asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of Man is"? And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am"? Simon Peter replied, ?You are the Christ , the Son of the living God ."


This passage is NOT a Trinitarian theological statement! Rather it is a claim that Jesus is the man who fulfils specific Old Testament promises and prophecies, dating back to the Garden of Eden. 

Matthew gives us three specific identifying marks from the Old Testament, which we need to examine, in order to rightly understand the Gospel claims about who Jesus is. All three were well known to the Jews of Jesus' day. They were built in to the "prophetic expectations" of the time. The Old Testament promises and prophecies, and the Gospel stories of the life of Jesus, contain the PROOF that Jesus is THE ONE who is entitled to make these claims about himself. (Luke 24:27, John 20:31) They have been recorded by Matthew so that God can use them to reveal to us the same truth that Peter discovered. They are the foundation on which our own FAITH in Jesus MUST be built.

1. - "Son of Man"

This is Jesus' own "favorite" description of himself, taken from the Old Testament, and repeated often in the Gospels. By applying it to himself he is making specific claims about himself. It is a well known Messianictitle, and is intended to direct us to the Old Testament prophecies which use it.

In passing, it also teaches us one VERY important thing about the clear distinction between Jesus and God. We learn that "God is not a man ..... or a son of man". (Numbers 23:19) Therefore when Jesus calls himself "Son of Man", he is saying to us very clearly, that although He is truly the Son of God, he is NOT God!

Perhaps the most significant use of this title referring to Jesus, is in Psalm 8:4-5. and Hebrews 2:5-10:

"What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou carest for him?" 

Hebrews confirms for us that Jesus is THE son of man , of whom this Psalm speaks. 

The "Creation Promise" of dominion over all the earth. (Genesis 1:28) is for Jesus and those who belong to Him. (Gal 3:29)

Another important reference to Jesus as "Son of Man ", is in Psalm 80:17. There we learn that the "Son of Man" is to be identified with "the man of God's right hand". Note carefully that "God", in this Psalm, is the LORD GOD of hosts. (Verses  4 ? 19) The "Son of Man" is someone else who has been "made strong". Of course we quickly make the connection from there to Psalm 110:1. There, again, Jesus is identified as the HUMAN Messiah, who currently sits at the right of God. (See BIBLE DIGEST No. 86 )

A third important reference is in Daniel 7:13. This is a prophecy of the future Kingdom of God on Earth. In the vision, Jesus (one like the son of man) is presented before the "Ancient of Days" (God) and given everlasting dominion over a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. 

These references all confirm for us that the "son of man" is not God, but Son of God. In EVERY place where this title is used of Jesus in the OT, the "Son of Man" is ALWAYS someone else apart from God.

2. - "Christ" (ANOINTED one, Messiah)

The title "Christ" is also taken from the Old Testament. There it more often appears as "anointed". It translates the Hebrew word "Messiah". (which is the same as the Greek word "Christ.") It tells us of the future role that Jesus is to play in the Kingdom of God on Earth.

One of the most important places where this word appears is in Psalm 2:2. There David speaks prophetically of Jesus, as the LORD's anointed. (Hebrew - Messiah) 

This "Messiah" was prophesied by David, to be God's future king, who will reign in Zion. (verse 6)

Another reference to the Messiah is in Daniel 9:26. In this passage, the time of the appearance of the Messiah, and the fact of his sacrificial death, are clearly prophesied. The Messiah spoken of here, was not to be the immortal God in disguise! He was to be a mortal man, who could truly die for our sins.


The "Messiah" of Psalm 2, was also to be God's son . (verse 7) It is this Psalm to which Peter referred, when he identified Jesus as both "the Christ, the son of the Living God". 

It is also applied to Jesus by Peter again in Acts 4:25-27, by Paul in Acts 13:33, and by the writer to the Hebrews in chapters 1:5 ? 5:5.

Another passage which uses different words to describe Jesus as "son of man", "Messiah", and "son of God", is found in 2 Samuel 7;11-16. Here again we confirm the humanity of Jesus as a descendant of David (Son of Man) future king (Messiah) and Son of God ..... not God, but someone else quite distinct from God.


Jesus told Peter that this threefold TRUTH about himself is THE ROCK on which the Church is built. THE TRUTH about Jesus is that:

1. He is the son of man, the human descendant of Adam, heir of God's
    promises to Abraham, and David.

2. He is the Messiah, the anointed one chosen by God to sit on David's
    throne, and rule over the Kingdom of God for ever.

3. He is the Son of God, to whom all power in Heaven and earth has been

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God stands or falls on the truth of those claims. And it was to the truth of those claims by Jesus, that God gave his own witness, by raising Him from the dead. By that act of power, God has declared that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:1-4) That truth is the guarantee that our own frail humanity can be swallowed up in the same victory over sin and death. (1 Cor 15:12-14, 54-58) 


(Remember this is what God had revealed to Peter! This is THE GOSPEL preached by Peter!) 

"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this man , delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross ..... and put him to death ..... and God raised him up again ..... since it was impossible for him to be held in its power ..... Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ ." (Acts 2:22-36, NASB)


Matthew 16 does not say at all that Jesus is God-the-son! The words used there, are "SON OF MAN", "CHRIST" and "SON OF GOD". They mean something quite different. 

The use of those titles from the Old Testament, confirms to us that Jesus is a MAN ..... not God. They confirm to us that Jesus is the King to whom we must surrender the rule over our lives. Most important of all, they identify Him as THE HUMAN SON OF GOD who has authority to speak and act for His Father. 

That truth is the essential foundation on which the Church is built! 

And it contains "Good News" for all of us. It gives us assurance that where the Man Christ Jesus has gone before, other men may follow Him to the same eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. (Rev 3:21)

"Let each man take care how he builds upon the foundation."
(1 Cor 3:10)