Once it happened that while He was praying alone, and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?” (Luke 9:18).
The disciples told the Master about the various rumors and speculation they had heard over the last year or so. Some had confused him with John the Baptist. Others (such as Herod Antipas) wondered if He might be John the Baptist returned from the dead in one form or another. Others believed He might be the prophet Elijah who, in Jewish folklore, appeared from time to time, and needed to come to herald the Messiah. Others speculated that he might be Jeremiah the prophet, raised from the dead, or perhaps, a prophet like Jeremiah, warning of an impending conquest and exile. According to some end-times theories, Jeremiah would return as a messianic forerunner like Elijah. Others believed He came as one of the prophets of old or in the spirit of the prophets. No one suggested He might be the Messiah.
For His part, Yeshua had not directly claimed to be the Messiah. He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man,” a cryptic reference to the eschatological divine-man that fills the role of Messiah—but the unusual apocalyptic title left room for uncertainty. He referred to Himself as the Bread of Life, the True Bread Descended from Heaven, but no one understood what He meant by that. He referred to Himself as “the Son,” but other Galilean Chasidim and holy men also expressed their relationship to God in those filial terms. When the demons were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God,” He silenced them. “He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Messiah” (Luke 4:41).
The disciples hoped from the outset that they had found the Messiah, but Yeshua Himself had never confirmed their hopes. Instead, He seemed to confound every messianic expectation. Instead of raising an army to liberate Israel, He evaded the crowds and fled from those who wanted to make Him king. Instead of rallying the nation beneath His standard of war, He spoke of meekness, peace, forgiveness, and love for enemies. Instead of gratifying the religious devout who prayed and yearned for Messiah every day, He disenfranchised them and offended their sensibilities. Instead of punishing the sinners of Israel, He ate and drank with tax collectors. When asked to give some sign to validate His claims, He refused. His conduct left people so baffled that even John the Immerser wondered if Yeshua was the one to come or if there might be another, more appropriate Messiah still coming.
Rabbi Yeshua put the question directly to His disciples. “But who do you say that I am?”
As the first among the twelve, Simon Peter spoke for the group. He answered simply and directly on behalf of the twelve: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29).