The emphasis of “In Pursuit of Jesus” has been to discover how Jesus is perceived in various cultures around the world. This isn’t a new pursuit. It dates back to the time the Christ Himself. Throughout the gospels, we find people trying to understand His identity and His mission. It’s a fascinating pursuit, and one dealt with early in both the gospels of Matthew and John.

Matthew takes great pains to establish Jesus’s identity. He begins with an extended genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1–17. Anchoring the genealogy in the father of the Jewish people (Abraham; vv.1–2), Matthew takes the reader to Israel’s greatest king (David; v.6), before noting of one of the nation’s defining experiences—the Babylonian captivity (v.11–12). The point of all of this is to establish Jesus’s identity as both Jewish and royal, coming from the line of David the king.

But this is only part of Matthew’s story. His pursuit takes him even further by recording the angel’s announcement of Jesus’s coming birth to Joseph, who would serve as Jesus’s earthly stepfather (1:16,18). In the announcement, the angel provides a name that Matthew clarifies with another name from the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament—one name rooted in His identity and the other rooted in His mission. We read:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:21–23)

Here, Jesus’s true identity—beyond His human Jewishness and royal roots— is that He would be Immanuel (“God with us”). His mission would be one of rescue, earning the name Jesus, the One who came to save from sin. Before launching into the story of Jesus, Matthew was careful to establish His true identity and His divine mission.

John accomplishes a similar thing through a different approach. He opens by establishing Jesus’s divine identity

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Here, John makes it clear that Jesus is the true God who came to humanity in the robes of human flesh. John’s pursuit also has a missional element. In John 1:29, we discover Jesus’s mission:

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John the Baptist repeats the “Lamb of God” title in John 1:36, underlining the significance of Jesus’s identity as the ultimate sacrificial Lamb whose mission was to rectify the sin problem that had plagued the human race since the days of our ancient parents in the garden of Eden (see Genesis 3).

While these gospel writers are very clear about Jesus’s identity and mission, it was not always so clear to the people of His generation. For that reason, the events of Matthew 16 are a critical moment for the disciples in their own pursuits of Jesus. After arriving at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks His disciples:

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13).

In a sort of ancient Gallup poll, the disciples relate what they have been hearing from the comments and conversations of the crowds who often followed Jesus. Their answers show that they are still far away from a true understanding of the Jesus whom they are, at some level, pursuing.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).

While all of these suggestions are positive and complimentary, citing great heroes of the Jewish people, all of them fall short of the reality Matthew had confirmed in Matthew 1. But Simon Peter has drawn much closer to the actual truth about Jesus:

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15–16)

Though his faith will falter and his understanding fail, Peter’s personal pursuit of Jesus at this point is well on track, and Jesus not only commends him for being open to the Father’s instruction (vv.17–20), but He also uses Peter’s declaration of His identity as the platform for explaining His mission to the disciples for the very first time:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)

Scripture consistently affirms that the pursuit of Jesus involves clarity on two great issues: His identity and His mission.

Bill Crowder

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