The biggest issue in the religious world today is, three words, you can summarize it. Three words with a question mark. Who is Jesus? That’s not just in North America. All around the world, the biggest issue is: Who is Jesus? I could add a fourth word. Who is Jesus, really?
And it’s interesting, in the book of Mark, Mark is written to a Roman audience. The book of Mark, from beginning to end – it’s sixteen chapters – breaks right in the middle of chapter 8. And in chapter 8, it’s the apex of the book and he asks a fundamental question of His followers. Look at verse 27.
In chapter 8, Jesus says, “And He went out along with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way,” you get the idea He is just walking with them, He’s talking with them, “He questioned His disciples, saying, ‘Who do the people say that I am?’”
He has done miracles, blind have seen, the dead have been raised, five thousand people were fed, later four thousand people were fed, the religious leaders have attacked Him. And He is walking with the disciples and after all of this, and imagine, if you will, the life of Jesus going through the book of Mark.
And He’s right in the middle of the book and He turns to them and He says, “Boys, so who do people think that I am? What is the scuttlebutt out there? When people hang out in the downtown Jerusalem coffee shops and they think about, ‘Hey, what do you think about this carpenter, this itinerant preacher?’ – what are they saying?”
Verse 28 it says, “And they told Him, ‘Some think You’re John the Baptist;’” option A, “some think Elijah;” option B, “and others, one of the prophets,” option C.
I want to look at the context of this question, I want to look at the timing of this question, and I want to look at the location. Why did He ask this question at Caesarea Philippi?
So let’s just start with chapter 8 and let’s find out what was happening before this occurred. Chapter 8, verse 1, “During those days, another large crowd gathered, since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people. They have already been with Me three days and they have nothing to eat. And if I send them hungry now, they will collapse on their way home.’ His disciples answered, ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’ ‘How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied.”
Now, observation. “During those days, another large crowd gathered.” You need to know, if you would move back behind chapter 8, that there were five thousand people, we had a similar situation, and the five thousand people, they were in a Jewish arena. They were a place where all the Jews gathered. And do you remember? He had two loaves, three fish – how many people did He feed? Five thousand. How many baskets were left over? Can anybody tell me? Twelve. Does twelve, like, ring a bell at all for anybody, in terms of, like, how many tribes were there? Twelve tribes.
Does anyone think about bread? Manna? “I am the bread of life;” manna from heaven? When God was authenticating His Word through Moses and they needed food, the manna from heaven, came from heaven, came from God. Do you understand, when Jesus fed the five thousand and they picked up twelve baskets, what the message was? “I am the bread of life, I am the One who has come down from heaven, and I am sufficient for every and all Jews who would come to Me as the Messiah. So much so that there are twelve baskets you pick up afterwards,” And it’s a picture of His sufficiency for all Jews of all time who would come.
Now He is teaching not in a Jewish arena, but He’s teaching in a more Gentile arena, where there are both Jews and Gentiles. And there are needs and He’s popular, large crowd, it’s mushrooming. And so three days, can you imagine going to a three-day seminar with no breaks and no food? That’s what we are talking about here.
And so He looks at them and they are hanging on every word – why? Because He is giving them words of life. And He turns to the disciples and says, “You know, we need to get some food going here!” And basically, they are a real quick study, kind of like we are, going, You know, where are you going to get any food? We don’t think You could ever do this more than once.
And so you know the story, so, “How much do you have? Give Me what you have.” He then breaks it and how many people get fed? Four thousand. And how many baskets are picked up? Seven! Yes, that’s very good.
What does the Word “seven” in Scripture, and historically, have the idea of? Perfection or wholeness. “I am the bread of life that has come down from heaven, not only for the twelve tribes and the Jewish nation, but for whosoever would come and believe.” Are you tracking with me?
Then notice, verse 11. The Pharisees come and they begin to question Jesus. They are seeing miracles that are just off the charts. And so they come to test Him and they ask Him for a sign from heaven. And you kind of want to put your hands on your hips and go, Okay, four thousand people. A few loaves of bread. Like, what sign are you really looking for, guys?
And so He sighed deeply and He says, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it,” then He left them. See, they’re not really responsive. The test wasn’t so they could get an A. The test was try to get Jesus to make an F.
Now He is getting in a boat and He is with the disciples and He’s a teacher. What do teachers do? They use every moment, every time to teach.
So as you pick it up, look at verse 14. “The disciples,” here’s a little historical background, “the disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for the one loaf they had with them in the boat.”
Now, Jesus is teaching, but Mark wants us to know the historical landscape is, By the way, they don’t have a lot of food in the boat. Jesus teaches, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned, ‘watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’”
In other words, there is a tiny something in the teaching of the Pharisees – yeast – something that will grow in your heart and will just destroy your ability to believe and trust. And there is a yeast, there is something in the way that Herod looks at life.
And as you study Scripture, the yeast of Pharisees is hypocrisy. And the yeast of Herod is worldliness. Hypocrisy, pretending to be more than we are, will always not allow us to see Jesus for who He is and follow Him; and worldliness will always put barriers before our eyes so we cannot see who He really is.
And so they discussed with one another. So He says, “Beware, I just came teaching. The Pharisees, they just attacked Me. Beware, guys. Those are religious leaders. When you were little Jewish boys growing up in the synagogue, and you heard them and you heard them pray on the street corners and you see how many hundreds of verses they have memorized and they are in the position of authority,” He says, “guys, be careful! There is something behind that that can really send you south.”
You know the Bible is not written by men because no one would put this much indicting information about the real followers. So He says that and so after He says, “Watch out,” notice in verse 16, they discussed with one another and said, “It’s because we don’t have any bread.”
Okay. “Aware of their discussion,” verse 17, “Jesus asked them, ‘Why are you talking about not having bread?’” Now get this, “Do you still not see or understand?” See what? “Don’t you see who I am? Don’t you understand who I am?”
And then He goes to say, “Are your hearts hardened?” That’s why, by the way, you can’t see Jesus. The ultimate reason people do not see who Jesus is our hearts are hardened.
He says, “Do you have eyes, but fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” He says, “What part of our experience together are you not getting? Don’t you remember when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets?”
Socratic method, He asked a question. Their answer: Twelve. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets?” They answered, “Seven.” Notice this, “Do you still not understand?” Understand what? “Understand what I’m trying to communicate! I am the bread of life! I am the Messiah! I have come!”
So, four thousand people have been fed, attacked by the Pharisees, the disciples don’t get it. They don’t see; they don’t understand. Now, notice what happens in the text, verse 22. “They came to Bethsaida. And some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village, and when He had spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him, He said, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and he said, ‘I see people, they look like trees walking around.’”
A man has an encounter with Jesus, he asks for help, Jesus interacts with him in such a way. Before, he was completely blind, it was all dark. And now he sees, but he doesn’t see fully; he doesn’t see clearly.
Are you starting to catch why this illustration is here? Now, notice what happens. Then they looked up and so he said, “Once more, Jesus put His hands on him,” so he gets another touch, another interaction with Jesus, “and his eyes were opened and his eyes were restored and he saw everything clearly.
Jesus sent him home saying, ‘Do not go into the village,” and Jesus was with His disciples going from this village, to Caesarea Philippi, and while He was there He said, “Who do people say that I am?”
You see what Jesus has done? He has taken this moment to say, “Disciples, you don’t get it. You don’t see Me clearly. You’re like this blind man. You have had encounters with Me, but you see Me like a tree walking. You see, but you don’t see clearly.”
He has another encounter, then he sees clearly. So now, to help them see, He says, “Okay, who do other people say that I am?” Well, you get John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe a prophet, and you know the next question: “Who do you think that I am?”
But here’s what I want you to see. The context here helps us understand this question: Who do men say that I am? is the greatest teacher in the world bringing people to a point where they can answer it for themselves correctly.
The second is, you need to know about the timing. Where does this come in the book? The theme of the book of Mark, written to a Roman audience, is following Christ on the road of discipleship. This is about being a follower, a radical disciple. This is about people who go from the kingdom of darkness, now into the kingdom of light. And the book of Mark is: Follow Me!
Well, there are two questions, in terms of timing, you always have to ask to follow anyone, right? Question number one: Who are you? Question number two: Where are you going?
Why would anyone follow anyone if you didn’t know who they really are and where they’re going? And if you study the book of Mark carefully, you can do it just like this: Chapter 1 through chapter 8 answers the question: Who am I? Chapter 8 from the middle and the end of the book is: Where am I going?
Who am I? I am the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, God in the flesh. Where am I going? I am going to the cross. I am going to suffer and die, pay for the penalty of sins of all men of all time and then out of My death, sins will be covered. I will be raised from the dead by the power of God, and I will provide life and their thirst quenched for whosoever would come.
And He says to the disciples, “In order for you to be life givers like Me, first, you need to know who I am. Second, follow Me on My journey to the cross.”
Because if you keep studying chapter 8, if you get really excited, and you think, I’ve got the first eight chapters down, you go home this week and He’ll say, “If any man comes after Me, let him do” – what? “take up his cross and follow Me.”
And then He’ll say, “Because it’s only logical. Because if you try and keep your life and do your own thing in this temporal world, you’ll lose it. But if you lose your life for My sake, you’ll find it.”
So we have a profound context, you have clear timing. And then this is done in an interesting location. Why does the author let us know this is happening in Caesarea Philippi? Jesus has been teaching them and teaching them and I bet there are times where He is getting a little bit frustrated, because they are not quite, “Do you not see? Do you not understand?”
And by the time they get to Caesarea Philippi, this is a place where, if you know historically, there are a bunch of caves. And it was a place where the occult was rampant. It was a place where people had secret practices. You can go there today and there are little waterways and they have inlets where people have all different kind of things carved, where they would offer sacrifices and there were occult practices and idols of all kinds.
And so, literally, when He asked them the big question, “Who do people say that I am?” it’s almost as though there is a large painting behind Him that says, “Here are all your options. Here are all these idols, all these cults, all these ‘isms.’ Here are all these people with all these belief systems. Who do people say that I am compared to this?”
It would be like Him going to some big New Age place and say, “Now, there are many opinions about Who is Jesus? Who do you say that I am in light of all these possibilities?” Do you get it?
Do you understand where we are going and do you now understand how profound it is, in verse 27, when He says to them, “Who do men say that I am?”
Because the fact is, a genuine relationship begins with an accurate view of the other person. When you think about dating someone, when you think about marrying someone, when you think about going into business with someone – have you ever had a relationship with someone that you thought, This is looking really good and I feel really comfortable, and you’re either going to get involved in some significant relationship or friendship or marriage and then you find a piece of information that brings into question their whole character and their whole motive? And what happens? Whoo.
See, Jesus understood with these followers, who would become the foundation of transforming the entire world, first and foremost, they had to know in their heart of hearts and with their intellect, and have opportunity to really explore and expose: Who is this Jesus? And you know what? In our day, you need to do the same thing.
I don’t mean intellectually agree with what you have been taught from childhood. I mean when the question is: Who is Jesus, really? there ought to be an intellectual, a volitional, and a heart response of absolute conviction that is built on your own evaluation of what He is, what He has done, what He said, and the evidence over the last couple thousand years.
Because there were multiple views of who Jesus was when He was walking the earth, and there are multiple views now.
I just did a little study out of the book of Mark and I have six different views of who, while He was walking on the earth, these people saw the miracles. Right? These people heard Him teach. And here are six different views, just out of the book of Mark.
John the Baptist, number one, he taught. “He was one who was mightier than I,” but later sent his disciples to evaluate Jesus’ true identity. He says, “He is one who is mightier than I,” then he says, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
So early on, John goes, “Man! This is it!” Well, he is in prison and he is having a little bit of a bad day. So in Matthew 11:1 and 2, it says, “After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve, He went on from there to teach and to preach in the town of Galilee. And when John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples and,” - remember what he said? “Hey, are You the one? Or should we wait for another?”
And Jesus’ response was, He reaches out of Isaiah, Old Testament passage, and He says, “You go tell John the blind see, the poor are fed, the dead are raised; and blessed is the one that doesn’t stumble over Me.” His identity, He rooted back into the promises of God. But even John the Baptist…
The second group is His family. His family thought He was delusional, insane, out of touch with reality from Mark 3:21. It says, “When His family heard about this,” they [Jesus and the disciples] didn’t have time to eat and He was doing all this preaching, “when they heard about it, they went to take custody of Him.”
Basically, His brothers are going, “Hey! We need a white jacket, we need a good clinic, we need a good psychologist, I think this guy needs drugs in a hurry. We’ve got to set Him down. He’s nuts! He’s delusional!” That’s an interesting view, isn’t it?