Jesus—His Life and Message: Peter’s Rebuke
February 12, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Peter’s Rebuke
In the previous article, we read about how in Matthew chapter 16 Simon Peter profoundly responded to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”1 He stated: “You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God.”2 Jesus commended him for his insight and gave him the name Peter, which means “rock.”3
Directly following this event, we read:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.4
Now that His disciples understood that Jesus was the Messiah, He began to teach them what being the Messiah would entail. It would mean a change of geography for one thing, as they were in Caesarea Philippi at the time, which is probably as far north as Jesus had traveled. They were going to leave their home area of Galilee and go south to Jerusalem, where Jesus would encounter the Jewish religious leadership and would suffer and be killed. He added that after three days, He would be raised from the dead.
In general terms, the Jewish people understood that the Messiah would be an earthly political leader who would overthrow their enemies, and would rule in Jerusalem and make it a political base of power. He would be a descendant of King David and would come after Elijah returned. He would set up a messianic kingdom which would have dominion and authority over the entire world. So hearing Jesus say that He would suffer and be killed at the hands of the religious leaders in Jerusalem seemed diametrically opposed to everything Peter, and most likely all of the disciples, had understood about the promised Messiah.
Jesus’ perspective of the role of the Messiah was drastically different from that of His disciples. He knew that it would involve suffering and death.
The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.5
It was only after Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah that Jesus began the process of helping His disciples to understand that the Messiah would need to suffer.
Jesus’ statement that He would suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes indicates that He was referring to the Sanhedrin Council, which was the highest Jewish authority in Israel at that time. It is mentioned 21 times in the New Testament, and elsewhere it is referred to as the “council of the elders” and “the council.” The high priest was the president of the council and was considered the primary Jewish religious authority in Israel. The political authority over Israel at the time rested in the hands of Rome. As one author commented:
The fact that it [Jesus’ suffering] comes from those who made up the Sanhedrin indicates the official and judicial rejection of Jesus by those who had formal responsibility for the life of Israel as the people of God, and so presents us with the paradox of the rejection of Israel’s Messiah by the official leadership of Israel.6
The disciples focused on the fact that Jesus said He would be killed and seemed to miss His profound statement and on the third day be raised. Within the Old Testament, there are predictions which allude to the resurrection, though they don’t specifically state it. You will not abandon my soul to Sheol.7 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.8
Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”9
Earlier in this chapter it was Peter, likely voicing the belief of all the disciples, who stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”10 Peter, once again acting as the spokesman for the disciples, spoke out, this time forcefully contradicting Jesus—expressing dismay and unbelief that such a thing could happen to the Messiah. He couldn’t fathom anything other than the Messiah being popular, welcomed, and successful.
The verb rebuke is very strong. It was used elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel when Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea,11 and also when He rebuked the demon and cast it out from the boy who suffered from epilepsy.12 That Peter began to rebuke Jesus conveys his shock and horror. The idea of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, being rejected and killed by the Jewish religious leaders was unthinkable to Peter. He saw it as an utter disaster and reprimanded Jesus for even suggesting such a thing could happen. Peter told Jesus, this shall never happen to you! In the original Greek, this is expressed very emphatically.
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”13
Jesus’ response to Peter was very strong, and the description of the body language adds to the severity of it. Whereas Peter had taken Jesus aside, we’re told that Jesus turned and directly faced Peter and strongly reprimanded him. The command “Get behind me, Satan” is similar to the command Jesus gave when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness earlier in this Gospel, “Be gone, Satan!”14 Telling Peter to get behind me emphasizes Jesus’ rejection of and disassociation with Peter’s rebuke.
Peter was one of Jesus’ most faithful followers, whom He had just a short while earlier called the rock on whom He would build His church. It must have been terribly disconcerting to Peter to have what he had just said attributed to “Satan.” Why did Jesus react so strongly? One author wrote:
The choice of this epithet suggests rather that behind the “human thoughts” of Peter Jesus discerns an attempt to divert him from his chosen course similar to that which Satan himself had made in Matthew 4:1–11.15
Jesus referred to Peter’s voicing of Satan’s words as a hindrance to Him. The Greek word skandalon, translated as a hindrance, is rendered as an offense, a stumbling block, a trap or snare in other Bible translations. Jesus was making the point that the message Peter conveyed was the message of Satan trying to convince Jesus to compromise and take the easy way out. This was essentially the same message that Satan had earlier tempted Jesus with, when he had tried to divert Jesus from His mission of giving His life as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”16
Satan had tempted Jesus with the “easy” way—no suffering, no death on the cross; and now, through Peter, Satan was tempting Him again.
Jesus pointed out that Peter’s thinking in regard to the Messiah wasn’t in alignment with God’s plan. Jesus told him “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”17 God’s ways don’t always align with ours.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.18
As Christians, each of us can see a reflection of ourselves in the apostle Peter. Sometimes we are spiritually fine-tuned, clearly seeing and rejoicing in God’s truth. At other times we may, like Peter, find ourselves out of sync with the way God is moving in our lives, interpreting events through the prism of our own wants and desires.
The apostle Peter has always been an encouragement to me, because he was so human. At times he was full of faith and incredibly in tune with what Jesus was doing and teaching. At the Lord’s bidding, he walked on water;19 he was present when Jesus was transfigured;20 and when Jesus was about to be arrested, Peter tried to defend Him with a sword.21 At one point Peter stated, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”22 At other times, he was weak and afraid. On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he couldn’t stay awake to pray with Jesus. He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?”23 After Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied even knowing Him—three times—to save himself from being arrested.24 And yet, after the resurrected Jesus called him to “feed His sheep,”25 Peter went on to give his life for his faith during times of great persecution.
Like Peter, we each have times when we’re standing strong in our faith and commitments to the Lord, while at other times our actions may be out of tune with our beliefs, or our convictions weaken or waver. When that happens, we, like Peter, can find forgiveness and renewed conviction and commitment, as we endeavor to live as followers of Jesus.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 16:15.
2 Matthew 16:16.
4 Matthew 16:21.
5 Matthew 20:18–19. See also Matthew 17:12, 22–23; 20:28; 21:38–39; 26:2.
6 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 632.
7 Psalm 16:10–11.
8 Psalm 118:17–18.
9 Matthew 16:22.
10 Matthew 16:16.
11 Matthew 8:26.
12 Matthew 17:18.
13 Matthew 16:23.
14 Matthew 4:10.
16 Matthew 4:8–9.
17 Matthew 16:23.
18 Isaiah 55:8–9.
19 Matthew 14:28–29.
20 Matthew 17:1–5.
21 John 18:10–11.
22 John 6:68–69.
23 Matthew 26:40.
24 Matthew 26:69–74.
25 John 21:17.