When Peter announced to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” what was Peter really saying? Today, Sinclair Ferguson identifies the One uniquely anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve as the Prophet, Priest, and King of the people of God.
This week on Things Unseen, we’ve been thinking about the question, Who is Jesus really? Yesterday, we turned to Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question to him, “Who do you say I am?” when he replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15–16).
Near the beginning of his own gospel, John tells us that when Peter’s brother, Andrew, first brought him to meet Jesus, he said to him: “Peter, we have found the Messiah. We found the Christ” (John 1:40–41). So, although we often think of Peter’s confession as a kind of sudden moment of revelation, it looks much more likely that it was the flowering of a seed that had been planted in his mind by his brother. But now, for the very first time, he was saying it out loud, and he was saying it to Jesus. That was a big moment. But what did he mean?
Well, Christ, or its Hebrew equivalent, Messiah, means “anointed one.” And we know that certain individuals and objects in the Old Testament were anointed with oil to set them apart for God’s use. So, for example, Exodus 28 tells us how Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil. Actually, the ritual was so sacred that a unique recipe was used to make the oil, never used for any other person or for any other purpose, actually under penalty of excommunication.
Now, all these people who were anointed were intended to point beyond themselves to the One who was still to come—the One who would accomplish what they could only do in a symbolic way, the One whose heel would shed blood as He crushed the head of the serpent, the One who would be the final Prophet like Moses, but far greater, the Priest who would come who would be after the order of Melchizedek rather than the order of Aaron, the King who would come who would be greater than David and whose reign would extend from the east to the west and the north to the south. And so, in the Old Testament, a whole series of anointed ones appeared like dots to be joined up in a child’s puzzle book, until when all the dots were in place and joined together, it would become clear whose picture they were displaying: Jesus Himself.
It was the prophet Isaiah who had the immense privilege of learning that the One who was to come would be anointed not with oil, but with what that oil symbolized—namely, the Holy Spirit. I wonder if you know his prophecy in Isaiah 11:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from its roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest (or stay, or remain) upon him. (Isa. 11:1–2)
That you remember, was how John the Baptist was told he would recognize the Messiah: the Spirit would descend on Him and remain on Him. And then almost at the end of his prophecy, in Isaiah 61, Isaiah hears an echo that seems to bounce back from the future. He hears this anointed one saying:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. (Isa. 61:1)
And these, of course, were the words Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue. And you remember how Luke tells us that closing the scroll and handing it back, He sat down to rapt attention, and then said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.
And what Peter was beginning to see but didn’t fully understand is that when we come to know Jesus, we discover that He is the Messiah, that He is anointed to fulfill the three great offices of God’s grace. He’s God’s Prophet, who communicates the Word of God to us, and is Himself the Word of God. He is the true High Priest, whose sacrifice for our sins will be nothing less than Himself offered in our place. And He is the anointed King, who has come to restore the dominion that Adam lost and to reign over all His and our enemies.
So, when Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ,” he was only at the beginning of understanding these things, and he stumbled more than once, but at last he had the key, and the door was swinging open into an ever-deepening knowledge of, and love for, the Lord Jesus.
So, I hope you know these things too, and that the same will be true of you, that you’re able to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”