Is Jesus really who He says He is? Is He really the most important person in history? Someone who deserves our respect and admiration — or is He more than that? Is He someone who deserves our worship? Who is Jesus? ~ Louie Giglio
There was a time when identity theft was something to worry about only if you had your purse or wallet stolen. Now, in our online world, it’s a constant threat as hackers devise new ways of stealing vital details about our lives. It could be someone next door or on the other side of the world accessing information about our home, work, or financial accounts. As a result, we rely on trustworthy servers, established websites, and well-known online merchants, hoping their encryption defenses can prevent thieves from using our information for illegal gain. We want to be in control of all the pieces that form the basis of who we are, what we do, and how much we’re worth.
Our personal identities are even more complex — the result of countless variables reflecting biology and genetics as well as our temperaments and experiences. Even when we think we have a handle on who we are, it becomes more challenging to know the true identity of the people around us. It doesn’t take long for us to learn we can’t judge a book by its cover. But at the same time, we often find that people are exactly whom they appear to be. Loved ones we’ve known all our lives can still surprise us, while new acquaintances prove the accuracy of our first impressions.
Trying to understand the identity of a person from the past can prove even more difficult. Filtered through the perceptions, memories, and written accounts of others over centuries of time, it can be tough for us to find a focused portrait. We’re left to wonder what great historical figures such as Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, and even Elvis Presley were really like. With Jesus, it’s even more complicated. His presence emerges in history, literature, theology — every major area of thought and human endeavor. But who is Jesus, really? Even during His life on earth, people couldn’t agree on who they thought He was. And we’re still wrestling with this question today, aren’t we?
During the course of our lives, each of us makes certain assumptions and reaches specific conclusions about who we think Jesus is. We listen to what others say, peruse passages in the Bible, consider our own personal encounters, and synthesize various pieces of information and experiences. Then we formulate our opinion, usually as a work in progress.
Right now, today, who do you consider Jesus to be? Who is Jesus? What’s the basis for your answer?
If you or any of your group members are just getting to know one another, take a few minutes to introduce yourselves. Then, to get things started, discuss one of the following questions:
- What are some of the common questions you have heard people ask about Jesus?
- What are some of your expectations for this study? What do you want to better understand about Jesus during the next five weeks?
Have someone read aloud Matthew 16:13–20. As you listen to this exchange Jesus had with his disciples, try to imagine you’re right there as part of their conversation.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in Heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” 20 Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah.
What stands out to you from this dialogue Jesus had with His disciples? Why?
Why do you think Jesus asked His disciples what other people were saying about Him?
Why would Jesus then order His disciples not to tell anyone yet that He was the Messiah?
WATCH SESSION ONE: WHO IS JESUS?
Play the video segment for session one. As you watch, use the following outline to record any key points that stand out to you.
Jesus’ exchange with His disciples in Matthew 16:13–20 reveals the central question all people must answer for themselves: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
We have to begin by asking this question from a historical point of view: Was Jesus a real person, or was He just a fable created by people?
A survey of some of the commentators in Jesus’ day can help us answer this question. History gives us the testimony of:
Tacitus, a Roman senator (c. ad 56–120)
Suetonius, overseer of the libraries of Rome (c. ad 69–122)
Pliny the Younger, a Roman legate (c. ad 61–113)
Flavius Josephus, best-known Jewish historian in the time of Christ (c. ad 37–100)
Jesus was clearly a real historical person. This brings us to a second question: Was Jesus who He claimed to be? For this question, we turn to eyewitnesses recorded primarily in the Gospels.
Jesus clearly claimed to be God. In John 10:28–33, a group of Jews were eager to charge Jesus with blasphemy, the sin of a mortal claiming to be God, and to stone Him to death.
Jesus’ assertion that He is the Son of God leaves us with three directions for assessing this claim: He was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
These options do not allow for the claim that Jesus was just a “great moral teacher.” Jesus consistently claimed to be sent by His Father… even up to His death.
We each have to wrestle with Jesus’ claims — for He left us no other choice. We can’t assume a simple, regurgitated, my-grandmother-told-me-so answer: we must each formulate our own response.
Take a few minutes within your group to discuss what you just watched and explore these concepts in Scripture.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being rarely and 10 being daily, how often do you wrestle with the question at the center of this study: Who is Jesus?
- How important is this question to your ability to trust God along with the credibility and relevancy of the Bible?
- How do you feel about the amount of historical evidence for the life and death of Jesus by noted historians? How does this affect your personal faith?
- Do you agree that Jesus’ claims leave us with only three conclusions about His identity — liar, lunatic, or Lord? Do you think Jesus can be good without being God? Explain.
- Prior to this group, how much personal time have you invested in studying the identity of Jesus? What evidence have you found most influential or persuasive?
- How would you respond if a friend asked you, “Who do you really think Jesus is?” Why would you answer this way?
Close out today’s session by briefly reviewing the outline for the video teaching and any notes you took. In the space below, write down the most significant point you took away from this session.
End the gathering by partnering with one or two people from your group and praying for one another. Feel free to write down specific requests in the space below so you can remember to continue praying throughout the week.
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Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We would love to hear your thoughts on Who Is Jesus?