“Who do you say that I am?” I imagine that Jesus wanted to see how he was coming across to the world, especially to those closest to him. He wanted some idea of how well his mission was being fulfilled. Obviously there are many ways people can interpret both who Jesus was, and what they think he was trying to say, and the endless list of do’s and don’ts associated with “Christianity,” a religion developed and modified continuously over the last two millennium. I have a friend who, when discussing tenants of Christianity, was always fond of reminding me that Jesus wasn’t a Christian.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his address to the Harvard Divinity School class of 1838, “Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion…. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons.” I think Emerson answers the question of who Jesus was with great insight in this essay.
Who do I say that Jesus was? A messenger. A divine messenger. A messenger sent by God to correct the flaws in our awareness, the flaws in our understanding of God and mankind and the universe and their relationships. A message that has been largely ignored by the masses to this day. I don’t mean ignored by those who do not profess Christianity. They have presumably never ventured to understand who Jesus was or what he was trying to say. It is ignored by the vast majority of people who profess to follow the teachings of Christianity, who as Emerson said, don’t follow the teachings of Jesus, but instead follow Jesus, which turns out to be their replacement deity. Mankind is hung up on the need to “worship” something. This is a throwback, not doubt, from the many monarchs who demanded worship on penalty of death. Worshiping God or Jesus or anything, moves us no closer to understanding it.
Jesus had no need to become the object of our worship. He wanted us to understand that we had twisted our relationship with God into some sort of Master/Slave relationship, with the addition of an enormous bureaucracy between God and us. I think who Jesus was, essentially was immaterial. What he was about we have spent little time understanding.
Most “Christians” await with great eagerness the Second Coming of Christ, when they expect Jesus to exact vengeance on their personal enemies and all those they have judged “unclean,” even though the teachings of Jesus tell us to do no such judging. But why would Jesus need to come and give us lesson #2, when we have not demonstrated an understanding of lesson #1?
Who was Jesus? What kind of question is that? Who are you? Who am I? Telling where we were born and who our parents were, doesn’t tell who we are. Who Jesus was, we can only speculate, or better yet ask him. But my guess is the answer is mostly beyond our comprehension. He was obviously a being entrusted with a great purpose, a great message. We all have a purpose, if we will only seek it out. If we want to appreciate Jesus and learn from his greatness, then we must understand what he teaches us. Not what Paul said, or Moses, or Elijah, or anybody else. Not that they weren’t great people who had great insights or opinions, but there are literally thousands of such persons we would do good to spend time learning from.
The better question would be this: “What did Jesus want us to understand?” In my experience, if you ask, you will receive. Ask God to help you understand what Jesus wants to tell you, and you will be lead to that understanding, if only you are willing to think for yourself, and not rely solely on others to tell you what they think Jesus is about.