The sermon at the church I attended Sunday was taken from Matthew 16:13-16. I’d like to add in verse 17 here:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people 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.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The first aspect of this verse deals with the person of Jesus Christ. We see Him first ask, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now, I’ve always thought that this question was meaning “Who do people say that I am?” especially given the very next question that Jesus asked. But consider the answer that the disciples gave begins with, “Some say John the Baptist.”
But Jesus and John the Baptist were contemporaries. In fact, they had been seen together at the same time, given John the Baptist baptized Jesus! The answer, “Some say John the Baptist”, seems to imply that the disciples were not adding in the aspect of Jesus = Son of Man to the question, and it was surely the case that those in the area may have thought John the Baptist was the Son of Man precisely because they did not think Jesus Himself was. (Note: this does not mean that the disciples did not know Jesus was the Son of Man, but rather that they were answering His specific question about what other people said.)
In any case, Jesus clearly links Himself to the Son of Man and takes that identifier on by asking, “But who do you say that I am?” as His next question. The “you” in the question is plural, so it was addressed to all the disciples. Peter responds on behalf of everyone by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ and Messiah both mean “Anointed One”, so Peter is starting off by saying “You are the Anointed One.” But even more important than that title is that Peter links Christ to God Himself, in saying “You are the Son of the living God.” This statement would have been considered blasphemy by the Jews at the time.
Jesus’ response is quite telling though. He says Peter is blessed, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven [did].” In other words, when Peter says “You are the Son of God” Jesus responds “God revealed this fact to you.”
Now it is perhaps easy for us to glide over the importance of the fact that flesh and blood did not tell Peter this. What is meant by “flesh and blood”? It means it did not come from a physical source, such as Peter reasoning it out or through what he had been taught. God Himself made it known to Peter.
Here’s an interesting question to ask about that though. The fact that Jesus proclaimed that it was God who revealed this to Peter seems to indicate that Peter did not know that he had this knowledge from God. That is, Peter knew something because God had revealed it to him, but he did not know that he knew it because God had revealed it to him. It took Jesus revealing that information for Peter to know that he had actually gained the knowledge supernaturally.
This implies that it is possible for people to sometimes know something without knowing why they know it. And more than that, it is possible for a person to know spiritual truth without knowing that it was God who revealed it to them. That’s a pretty astonishing thing, when you think about it.
Of course, there’s no word here as to how frequently that happens, but we can know for sure that it did happen to Peter at this point.
In any case, Jesus’ words also strike me for another reason. In seeing the words “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you”, I am immediately reminded of John 3:6, where Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This idea is also closely represented in 1 Corinthians 2 and in Romans 8 as well. Let me quote those passages too.
1 Corinthians 2:10-14:
[T]hese things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
What these passages all have in common is the fact that God must reveal Himself to those who would believe in Him. When Peter answered Jesus, it might be tempting for someone to say, “Sure, the Father revealed it to Peter then, but that doesn’t mean that He must reveal Himself to all people.” But the other passages above run counter to that possibility.
Let us look at this logically for a moment. Here are some of the facts presented by these passages.
1) Spirit is necessary to beget spirit (from John 3).
2) Only the spirit of a person knows the thoughts of a person (from 1 Corinthians 2).
3) Those without the Spirit do not belong to God (from Romans 8).
4) The natural person does not accept the things of God because they are foolishness to him (from 1 Corinthians 2).
5) The natural person is at war with God’s law and cannot submit to it (from Romans 8).
Now, given all these facts, we ask: How did Peter know that Jesus was Christ? First, we can argue the following:
6) I say that “Jesus is Christ” is a spiritual truth.
7) Therefore, the natural person cannot accept that Jesus is Christ (step 4).
8) Therefore, to say that “Jesus is Christ” one must not be a “natural person” (i.e., one must be saved) (deduction from 6 & 7).
Interestingly, the Bible seems to flat out state step 8 too: “[E]very spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:3).
But we can continue a bit. Let us restate 6) and continue:
6) (restated): I say that “Jesus is Christ” is a spiritual truth.
9) Therefore, only the Spirit can reveal this (step 1).
10) Therefore, the one who says this might belong to God (step 3).
Now, 10) really should say that the one who says this absolutely does belong to God, but the logic of what we presented so far doesn’t allow that conclusion. After all, I could say, “Pencils that are not in my desk are not owned by me” but this wouldn’t mean that I would own your pencil if you put it in my desk. Similarly, just because those without the Spirit do not belong to God doesn’t, by itself, guarantee that those with the Spirit always do belong to God. So to fix that, let me just point out: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).
Now what can we conclude from this? We know logically that Peter believed because it was given to him by the Father, even though it does not appear that Peter even knew that it had been revealed by the Father. But the other passages clarify that it is not just Peter who knows spiritual truths in this manner, but all of us do. Anyone who is able to recognize that Jesus is the Son of the living God can only do so because it is revealed to us. We must have the Spirit and we cannot be the natural man at this point, because the natural man cannot understand spiritual truths at all.
Just as Peter was blessed because the information he had about Christ was given to him by the Father, so too all who know Christ are blessed because the information is given to us by God. There is no one who is saved who was not given this spiritual truth.
And what is really amazing is something you might not have caught yet. Did you notice that sometimes I write about the information being revealed by the Father, and sometimes by the Spirit, and sometimes by the Spirit of Christ? That’s because each of those is true. The passages I’ve mentioned above are, together, Trinitarian in orientation.
Salvation is not, as some would have it, merely the Son and Spirit obeying the will of the Father. The entire Godhead is in agreement on salvation, and works together to accomplish it. The Father, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit each work to reveal His truth to believers in the passages I’ve quoted above. They all work together to illuminate the truth in us. That’s pretty amazing, when you stop and think about it.