A question of, and from, Jesus, that came up more than once from more than one questioner
Who is this? Who are you? Who is he? Who do you say? These are at least some of the questions Jesus evoked, or even asked. What information did they have? (More than we perhaps think, even though no FB then!)
hillside near Bethlehem
From the earliest days, Jesus evoked instances of wonderment. Think about the shepherds’ response to the message from on high:
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:17-20, NRSV). Mary perhaps kept her experiences to herself for many a year. The shepherds did not. The sequence of those above lines may obscure the fact that at that time there were “all who heard”. Maybe shepherds were lowly individuals - I am unconvinced of that; nevertheless they told others their amazing tale. How far would such a tale spread and for how long be remembered, discussed, speculated on? Was it not a community that just longed to hear about things like this?

Similarly, in Jerusalem itself, there was an early centre of publicity about Jesus. The infant Jesus was taken to the temple to carry out the requirements of the Law (i.e. the O.T.). Their visit did not remain a private matter and Mary left with more to ruminate on. She was not the only one, for during the visit: At that time Anna came in and praised God. She spoke about the child Jesus to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free (Luke 2:38, CEV). No doubt she and Simeon compared notes (he was introduced earlier in that chapter). How long would this be discussed and recalled - this community had an ancient history and treasured memory! A remnant, (few?), many(?) had hopes and expectations awaiting fulfilment. They so longed for a free Davidic kingdom. (I dare Anna was not still alive to be disappointed when Jesus died!)

Years passed with Jesus apparently in the obscurity of his village, family and trade. Then, like so many, he participated in the event of John the baptiser down at the Jordan River. His involvement was unique and must have been retained in the memories of all, including John.

Connected to that was a very early moment when Jesus was identified as Christ. This comes from the time he was calling his special group of followers.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[a]). He brought Simon[b] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[c]).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:40-49, NRSV) Their exalted ideas accord with the expectations of their community and the impact of John the baptiser. But, never did Jesus endorse expectations of political power or armed force. Accordingly, right from the outset the truth was restricted. No community tragedy developed there and then. In any case, their ideas and concepts had to undergo radical conversion. I think they must have soon been forced to suspend their thinking about this new Rabbi; but they would continue his followers. (Anointed, in Greek, Christ.)

At one point in the record Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue encountered a man with an “unclean demon”. So there were shouted words: “Ha![a] What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region (Luke 4:34-37, ESV). So, remarkable (and dangerous) information about Jesus began to circulate in rural Galilee. Here was someone in a different league.

But there was the early "scratching at straws". Jesus knew that some found derogatory things to say of him. He himself gives their report, showing their contradictory criteria: John the Baptist did not go around eating and drinking, and you said, “John has a demon in him!” But because the Son of Man goes around eating and drinking, you say, “Jesus eats and drinks too much! He is even a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34, HCSB). Clearly Jesus’ manner of living was commonplace (drinking wine and eating usual diet) but could be exaggerated into criticism, matching his undesirable company.
Ruins of ancient Samaria (city; capital of old northern kingdom) - did Jesus have contact right here?
Jesus even had conversation with a foreign woman (Samaritan). She spoke of the expectation. The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Messiah means Christ. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us” (John 4:25, NIRV). Jesus disclosed to her that he, Jesus, was the one they and she looked for. Then Jesus said, “The one you’re talking about is the one speaking to you. I am he” (John 4:26, NIRV). This was exceptionally and uniquely frank, but it was away from the Jewish throngs and pressure groups. The locals managed to get Jesus to accept their hospitality (!) for a couple of days. Their perceptions at parting come out in these words: They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. We have now heard for ourselves. We know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42, NIRV). Did ripples spread from there? I doubt it - the "upright" could readily discount anything coming from Samaria! 

We can get some appreciation of the tension in those days by looking at the mob reactions to Jesus’ doings. He had miraculously fed the crowd (an event of 5 loaves, 2 fish and twelve baskets of left overs, recorded by the 4 Gospels). John alone spells out (very briefly) the really dangerous result:
When the people saw him[a] do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!”[b] When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself (Jesus 6:14-15, NLT). People were ready to use force, right then. During those ministry years, Jesus did not put himself forward as Christ, Messiah or king! (Others did announce themselves as “Christ”, with tragic results.) John’s record there shows that the group were deeply committed to the person of Jesus.

Note: Taken seriously, John's emerging picture is consistent with that of the Synoptics and their contemporary world. I hope I have shown this. John also conveys the disciples’ progressive, and even incomplete, grasp, of who Jesus is. 

Eventually, John the baptiser fell foul of the ruler, Herod Antipas. In prison, John seems to have been disturbed by the news of Jesus he had.
Then John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord, asking, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:18-19, HCSB). This, then, was John asking who Jesus was. Maybe there had been some mistake?

John received a detailed answer: He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed,[g] the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed” (Luke 8:22-23, HCSB). Despite the absence of a one-word label, I hope John was able to satisfy his mind as he thought over what Jesus did and awaited his own impending end.

Concerning that looked for “one who is to come”, the reference is to expectations of that time based on lines from the Old Testament (see below for examples of those lines). It was thinking accumulated around the desire or longing for a better future from their God; for a restoration in light of the many promises of an "eternal kingdom" of the LORD, for "Israel" to be made great again. In fact, that renewed Davidic kingdom....

Jesus had an opposition raising just that "who" question: “Who does this fellow think he is?” the Pharisees and teachers of the Law exclaimed among themselves. “This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?” (Luke 5:21, NLT). I wonder if they seriously considered the possibility Jesus was true?

Given mulling over the earliest information and then the testimony and later questions from John, plus all that they had seen and heard, it is unsurprising to find the closest followers of Jesus trying to sort out their ideas and understanding. Eventually their reactions were recorded in relation to a frightening storm experience. Jesus had rebuked and silenced the storm:
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41, NRSV). Just who are we following, they said? Matthew, Mark, and Luke, note the awe of the followers at the way the elements obeyed Jesus.

What had they directly heard and seen? Sin forgiven, healing, demons expelled, nature commanded, dialogue with religious hierarchy, care for the poor, straight teaching with assurance, religion set aside. By now the lines had been drawn and Jesus was using parables to reveal, and conceal. He was also continuing to tell people to keep quiet about his mighty works. He was referring to himself only as the “Son of Man”. To get a fuller appreciation of the followers’ experience, read Mark, chapters 1 to 4.

Jesus and his followers knew of people’s speculations about him, and of course, about the expectations held by their community. There came a day, recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke when he put the matter directly to them all (i.e. the disciples, which must include the 12 and perhaps others).

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, NRSV). Peter is depicted as spokesperson. His reply was reported with variation, like this:
Matthew: You are the Christ the son of the living God
Mark: You are the Christ
Luke: the Christ of God
Matthew explicitly tells us that Jesus directed his disciples not to pass on this truth  to others.

The question Jesus asked them was actually one God wants and wanted all to answer: Who do you say that I am? For those whose answer matches the truth, he is Lord and what he did to be their Saviour is real and available to be grasped. Today, who do you say?

By the time Jesus asked the question, the bewildered followers were sure their dreams and hopes rested on Jesus. But, to their chagrin, it seemed he, Jesus, would not stop talking about betrayal and suffering, about soon enduring the ultimate penalty. Perhaps the recent film, "Mary Magdalene", which sits loose to the NT in places, captured the desires, speculations and confused plotting of the (male) Apostles, but, contrary to the impression I gained from the film, Jesus of the Gospels positively discouraged promotion of physical rebellion and violence. (The audio quality of the film is too poor in places to allow me to clearly hear the dialogue.) It seemed that no one could grasp the unprecedented kind of "king" Jesus was. Until the last week, he intended to be seen as simply Servant. Even then, it was donkey, not (war-)horse. Romans must have been bemused on "Palm Sunday". Exhilaration, danger, suspense and despondency were their companions yet a while. Full understanding and expectation was delayed.

Some lines from their previous era (ie, Old Testament)

So when I want to speak to them, I will choose one of them to be a prophet like you. I will give my message to that prophet, who will tell the people exactly what I have said (Deuteronomy 18:18, CEV).

God bless the one who comes
 in the name of the LORD!
  We praise you from here
 in the house of the LORD (Psalm 118:26, CEV).

How beautiful upon the mountains
 are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
 who announces salvation,
 who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
 together they sing for joy;
 for in plain sight they see
 the return of the LORD to Zion (Isaiah 52:7-8, NRSV).

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
    and your daughters shall be carried on the hip
(Isaiah 60:2-4, ESV).

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence (Daniel 7:13, NLT).

 I, the LORD All-Powerful, will send my messenger to prepare the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will appear in his temple. The messenger you desire is coming with my promise, and he is on his way. (Malachi 3:1, CEV).

It is true that passages like these must have spoken to the first hearers. It is also true that there are some serious implications, such as to the Day of the LORD or to a sudden temple presence. Those less favourable ideas may have been neglected in the focus on "restoration”, "justice" and prosperity. Notice also the LORD/Lord distinctions reflecting the original. I wonder what people thought...?

Hear again THAT pointed question:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, 
“But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-29, ESV).

Image(s) courtesy of www.HolyLandPhotos.org

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (HCSB) are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Scripture quotations marked (NIRV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL READER'S VERSION®.Copyright © 1996, 1998 Biblica. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of Biblica.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Note: I retain in the publishers' text where they occur the references to footnotes, but usually not the notes. You can check them out by viewing the text on-line. Often they are replicated in different translations.

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