Peter’s question haunts us too. Peter asked, “To whom can we go?” The question came at the end of a long two days. The day before Peter asked his haunting question, a crowd had sought Jesus. Then, after Jesus had taught them, he had miraculously met their physical hunger by feeding this large crowd of five thousand with a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish. So impressed was the crowd by Jesus’ meeting their needs that they had wanted to “take him by force to make him king” (John 6:15). To avoid their plan, Jesus had gone away, by himself.
The next day found Jesus and his disciples across the lake, and the crowd came seeking him again. They would not give up. They wanted Jesus!
Or so they thought. After a series of interchanges with Jesus about who he was and what he did, the crowd dwindled. “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” We get the feeling that Jesus’ conversation with the Twelve in this text was to determine the depth of even their own commitment to him.
The crowd and even Jesus’ closest disciples were struggling with what is easily the most important question of anyone’s life—indeed, of all history: Who is Jesus?
Really, who is Jesus? It’s a question that when seriously considered brings about a division in the ranks of every group who asks it. It even brings about a division within our own hearts. Who is Jesus?
The answers vary. For some, Jesus is the great teacher. He was a great individual with great ideas, who has contributed much by word and example. Jesus can be revered as one of the great teachers of history, certainly alongside Aristotle, Plato, Buddha, and Moses. Jesus is to be respected and even loved.
For others, Jesus is the model person, the best person who ever lived, and we should strive to imitate Jesus—as long as we don’t perhaps take it too far. This view of Jesus has often shaded toward simply attributing to Jesus the most popular values of current culture. Folks who hold this view often see Jesus as looking and acting a lot like they do.
For some, as in Jesus’ day, Jesus is the Messiah, but a worldly Messiah, as Jesus was to the crowd on those two days described in John 6. They wanted him to solve their problems, both there and thereafter. They were impressed that, like Moses of old, Jesus had supplied them with food in the wilderness. “Hey, we can follow a guy like this!”
Of course, the overwhelming answer of the scriptures and of the church at its best through the centuries has been that Jesus is more than these descriptions or any others we might list. Who is Jesus? He is a human being, the person in whom God was uniquely present. Somehow, as Paul said, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). We may not be able to state the how of this truth very well, but we revel in its reality. Somehow, this person Jesus, who was flesh and blood, was the Person in whom the God of Israel and the universe was uniquely present.
Give a little more thought to this question: Who is Jesus? Jesus’ contemporaries knew Jesus first as a human being. The scriptures affirm this part of Jesus’ nature. He was human like us. Indeed, Jesus was fully human. In later writings of the New Testament, especially 1 John, the major issue was whether Jesus was fully human. That little letter begins with the affirmation that indeed Jesus was. The first verse states, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1).
Sometimes it seems almost sacrilegious, even heretical, to think of Jesus as a human being who got thirsty, hungry, and tired. Jesus’ closest disciples had no trouble seeing Jesus like that, however. Neither should we. One of the most astounding verses in the Bible is, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Flesh!
Who is Jesus? Jesus was a human being, fully a human being.
The scriptures also affirm Jesus as fully God. In ways we can only state and neither explain nor understand, the God of the universe was uniquely present in Jesus. This view of Jesus was no afterthought of the church after the days of the New Testament. It was not simply thought up and written down at a later church council. It is seen in the experiences of Jesus in the Gospels (see Matthew 16:16; Mark 1:11; 15:39). Also, it is seen in the reflections of Jesus’ closest followers as they spoke and wrote of their experiences (John 20:31; Acts 2:32-33; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:1-4; 1 John 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:4-5).
So we return to Peter’s question after Jesus had asked the disciples whether they would follow the crowd as they went away or follow him: “To whom shall we go?” Like the would-be followers of Jesus who were disturbed by Jesus’ teachings, do we not sometimes say, “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” It is not easy to be faithful to Jesus when who he is and what he wants us to do runs so counter to what our culture has told us all our lives. But when we consider who Jesus is, we can only come back to Peter’s question, a question that is as much an affirmation of faith as it is a question (v. 68), “To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Who is Jesus? Let us join Peter in confessing that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and let us follow Jesus wherever he leads.