Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Matthew 16:21–23

Matthew 16:21–23 (ESV): Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

Synopsis

The ESV heading for this passage is “Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection,” but it could just as well be “Jesus Rebukes Peter,” because I’m sure that’s how most people think of this passage. (After all, that’s how I think of it, so surely everyone else does too…)

The passage starts off with Jesus explaining to his disciples all that has to happen; that he will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and be killed, but then be raised on the third day. This doesn’t sit well with Peter, however, to takes Jesus aside and tries to tell Jesus that this will never happen. (Verse 22 (ESV) says that Peter was actually trying to “rebuke” Jesus.) Jesus’ response to Peter is pretty well known:

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.” (verse 23 (ESV))

Thoughts

It’s interesting to me that Peter would even try to correct Jesus in the first place. In fact not just correct him, but rebuke him. But I’ve always seen this as Peter trying to demonstrate his loyalty to, and faith in, Jesus. I imagine Peter was still riding pretty high from the immensely good words received from Jesus in the last passage about how blessed Peter was, and maybe saw this as another opportunity to garner some more good words from his teacher.

The thing which really stands out in this passage, though, is obviously Jesus’ “Get behind me Satan!” response to Peter in verse 23 (ESV). And of course Jesus is right, Peter does have his mind on the things of man, rather than the things of God; dying is what Jesus came to Earth for. For Peter to tell Jesus that he would not die in this way shows a profound lack of understanding by Peter on Jesus’ role. (Not that I necessarily blame Peter; I can’t claim that I would have understood things any better. It’s only in retrospect that things seem so clear.)

But I wonder if there is also an aspect of Jesus being fully man and fully God. As much as Jesus never sinned, he was a human, and I think the human part of him was sometimes at odds with his godly nature. (At least, as much as it could be without crossing the line into sin!) I think, for example, of the prayer in Gethsemane when he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (See Matthew 26:36–46 (ESV).) Jesus came to us for one main reason, to die on the cross and be punished for our sins on our behalf, but that doesn’t mean that he, as a man, was always happy about it. I need to be careful how I phrase this, because I don’t think there’s any respect in which Jesus was going to the cross against his will, but it seems that there was also, from time to time, an attitude sort of along the lines of “if only there were another way.” (The fact that there wasn’t another way—that the only way for us to have a relationship with God was for the Son to take our punishment on our behalf—shows us again how serious the problem of sin really is.)

It may be that this is why Jesus’ response to Peter is so harsh in this instance. Is it possible that it was tempting for Jesus the human to not do what he came here to do? I don’t mean “tempting” in the sense of actually crossing over the line into sin; I just mean that a temptation was placed in front of Jesus, which he had to resist.
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