When the supernatural collides with the natural, people often struggle to articulate what they have witnessed. When Jesus entered the world, people struggled to put him into an existing identity category. Jesus’ critics were able to identify his “father” and mother; they knew where he had grown up; they could see traits of humanity in him. Yet, he seemed to be more-than-human. He performed signs no one else could perform; he spoke unlike anyone else; he was different. And there isn’t a clean category for a “more-than-human” man.
Fortunately, there were some people who could see Jesus for who he really was. (Well, at least to a degree. After his resurrection, the “Comforter” revealed who Jesus was more completely.) In the Gospel of John, the writer includes three definitive statements from three of Jesus’ followers to help the rest of us understand who this Person was (and is).
In John 6, Jesus introduced a concept that caused many of his disciples to “turn back and no longer accompany him” (John 6:66 CSB). He used the metaphor of “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” to explain how people must believe in him, the “bread of life” (6:48), in order to receive eternal life. This teaching offended people, probably because of the exclusivity of the claim, and caused many of them to stop following Jesus. After he saw many disciples turn away, “Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”” (6:67-69).
In the face of mass exodus, caused by Jesus’ claim that the only way to have eternal life is by believing in him, Peter didn’t flinch. Instead, he pulled back the curtain for us to show us what he saw in Jesus: that he was the “Holy One of God;” the more-than-human Person who gives the gift of eternal life to all who believe. Peter was willing to stick with Jesus, realizing that no one else could offer him anything better than eternal life. And if it required total surrender, he was willing to surrender all.
A few chapters later, in John 11, two sisters sent a message to Jesus to tell him that his friend, and their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Jesus, surprisingly, delayed in going to heal his friend. When he and his disciples finally arrived, they “found” that Lazarus had been “in the tomb” for four days (11:17). Jesus, of course, had a reason for arriving so late: he wanted to reveal the “glory of God” (11:40), but the people there didn’t have the ability to see what he was about to do. So, they were grieved that he didn’t come earlier, knowing that he could heal sick people. However, when Jesus arrived, he had a brief interaction with Martha, one of the sisters. After she expressed her disappointment that he had not come sooner, Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23). She acknowledged that there would be a future resurrection, but didn’t seem to realize that Jesus even had power over death. So, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world”” (John 11:25-27).
Despite the tears that filled her eyes, Marth positively identified Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of God” (11:27). She saw what few others could see: Jesus’ relationship with the Father and his anointing as the Savior of Israel (and the world). Jesus’ claim to being the “resurrection and the life” were confirmed when, just a few minutes later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Her faith in Jesus existed before this miracle, but how much stronger it must have been after!
In the chapters that follow, Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, served and taught his disciples, was arrested by jealous religious leaders, was crucified, and buried. In Chapter 20, Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty. He then appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to 10 of the disciples. After Jesus appeared to the 10, they told Thomas, the missing disciple, that they had seen the Lord. Thomas was skeptical, to say the least, and told them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe” (20:25). “A week later [Jesus’] disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God” (20:26-28)!
Not only did people struggle to understand the supernatural nature of Jesus as a Person, they also struggled to understand the supernatural nature of his resurrection. This is obvious from Thomas’ disbelief when he expressed that he would “never believe” unless he saw Jesus, alive again, himself. Yet, after Jesus graciously revealed himself to Thomas, his words expressed a renewed faith in the one who was his “Lord and God”. Thomas, afresh, saw Jesus as he truly was: God. He also called him “Lord,” indicating his willingness to serve Jesus for the rest of his life.
In these passages, three of Jesus’ followers identify him in amazing ways. Peter calls him “the Holy One of God,” Martha calls him “the Messiah, the Son of God,” and Thomas calls him his “Lord and God.”
Who do you say Jesus is?