How Did the Disciples and Paul Know that Jesus Was the Christ?

In my last few posts, I have written about the distinction between Jesus and Christ in the gospels. While the gospels seem to be about Jesus, they are ultimately accounts about Jesus as the Christ.

How did the disciples come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

The letters of the New Testament focus almost exclusively on the Christ. Even when the name Jesus is used it is tied to the Christ. Most of these letters were written by Paul, who was thoroughly trained in the scriptures.

How did Paul come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

Let’s start with the disciples.

As is commonly known, the disciples were not men studying to become rabbis. In other words, they were not students of the law and the prophets, which is to say the scriptures. Instead, the disciples were uneducated men. Acts 4.13 says that the rulers, scribes, and elders “perceived that they [specifically Peter and John in this case] were uneducated, common men.” While we don’t know what each disciple did, some were fishermen, another was a tax collector, and another was a zealot, which was not a profession per se but did describe what Simon was about perhaps is closest to some political activists today.

So, if Jesus’ disciples were not students of the scriptures, then how did they come to know Jesus as the Christ?

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus asks the disciples, “But, who do you say that I am?” But, I want to focus on the account in Matthew 16. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had read the scriptures and logically reasoned out that Jesus was the Christ that the law and the prophets had foretold would rescue Israel from its exile?

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had a teacher who instructed him in the idea and belief that Jesus was the Christ?

The answer to both questions is no.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Flesh and blood means that no person revealed to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. Further, I think we can understand Jesus as saying that nothing that flesh and blood has done, including writing the scriptures, revealed to the disciples that Jesus was the Christ.

I believe we are safe in taking Jesus’ statement this far because in John 5.39-40 Jesus said to students of scripture, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The scriptures indeed bear witness about Jesus as the Christ, but the scriptures do not reveal Jesus as the Christ to you. For the only way to see Jesus as the Christ in the scriptures, which in the Bible means the Old Testament, is to have already had Jesus revealed to you as the Christ.

Matthew specifically records Jesus saying that it was not flesh and blood that revealed Jesus as the Christ, but it was the Father who is in heaven revealed this to the disciples. Jesus elsewhere says that the kingdom of heaven is within you. So, the Father that reveals Jesus as the Christ was in the disciples. And, if it wasn’t flesh and blood that brought about this revelation then it must have been spirit, or the Spirit. That the Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus as the Christ to the disciples fits with many other scriptures where Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher who will bring to our remembrance everything Jesus said and no one is need of a teacher because they have the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit speaks of Christ only.

So, the disciples had Jesus revealed to them as the Christ by the Holy Spirit not the scriptures or the Bible.

It was only after this revelation that they were able to go back to the scriptures and see where they prophesied about the Christ (see Luke 24).

Interestingly, the disciples’ revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, occurred in Caesarea Philippi. Notice the word caesar there? That’s because the city received this name in AD 14 in honor of August Caesar. It was at this time that Caesar Augustus’ image was put on coin with the title “Son of God” on it. So, do you think that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, taking place in Caesarea Philippi has special significance? I sure do.

Surely, it must have been different for Paul who was a great student of the scriptures. If anyone could have reasoned Christ from the scriptures it would have been Paul. In Philippians 3.4-6, Paul said, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law blameless.” Surely, if anyone could have known the Christ through flesh and blood and the scriptures then it would have been Paul.

Yet, Paul was admits that flesh and blood caused him to be nothing but a persecutor of the church, which Paul understood to mean that he was a persecutor of Jesus Christ himself.

So, if all of Paul’s scripture knowledge did not reveal Jesus as the Christ, then how did Paul know that Jesus was the Christ?

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1.11-17)

How was Jesus revealed as the Christ, the son of God, to Paul?

It pleased the Father to reveal the Christ, his Son, to Paul. Once again, the Father revealed Jesus as the Christ.

Further, Paul says that what he preached, Jesus as the Christ, was not man’s gospel. Paul did not receive this revelation from any man.

Nor was Paul taught this revelation of Jesus as the Christ. Paul studied in Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in Israel. Yet, despite all of Gamaliel’s scripture knowledge, he did not teach Paul that Jesus was the Christ. Paul did not learn that Jesus was the Christ from scripture. In fact, because of his scripture knowledge, which only puffed Paul up with pride, Paul became a persecutor of the church and the Christ. Despite what many Christians believe, scripture knowledge without a prior revelation of the Christ by the Holy Spirit leaves us proud and zealous, persecutors of those who truly know the Christ.

To receive revelation of Jesus as the Christ, Paul did not consult with anyone. Again, no man, no flesh and blood can cause you to know Jesus as the Christ. Nor did Paul go to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Going to the religious center of the world to learn from who already knew Jesus as the Christ was not have Jesus was revealed to Paul as the Christ.

What did Paul do instead?

He went away to Arabia. Paul went into the desert. He went into what is a dry and lonely place. It was in this dry, lonely place that Paul could clearly hear from God that Jesus was the Christ. Interestingly, Paul went to Arabia. There are some that believe this means that Paul went to Mt Sinai where the law was given. Why would Paul go there? He went deep into the place that his whole life was based upon and he allowed God to turn it upside down.

So, Jesus is revealed as the Christ by the Father in heaven through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts.

This revelation does not come through scripture. In fact, it is only after this revelation has occurred within us that we are able to see Jesus as the Christ in scripture. The New Testament, which we call scripture, reveals that those who rely on scripture without this prior Holy Spirit revelation of Jesus as the Christ become persecutors of the church, who are those to whom the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus as the Christ.