PassageI’m combining these passages together because… well, let’s face it, any time people talk about these passages they always talk about them together. It’s just a perfect opportunity to contrast a very good reaction from Peter with a very bad reaction from Peter. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The passage starts with Jesus talking to his disciples. He asks them who people say that he is, and the disciples give a few answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. So then Jesus makes it more personal and asks them who they say he is, and Peter answers: “You are the Christ” (verse 29 (ESV)). In the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus highly commends Peter for this answer:
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17–19 (ESV))That’s not recorded in this passage, Jesus simply tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him.
He then starts to get very explicit in explaining to them what is about to happen:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. (verses 31–32a (ESV))Peter, however, is having none of this, and “rebukes” Jesus (verse 32 (ESV)). You might expect that rebuking the Son of God would not go over well, and you’d be right: he first turns to see the disciples—the ESV Study Bible notes indicate that this means Jesus is making sure to include all of them in his rebuke, which I think is probably right—and tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (verse 33 (ESV)). You can see why this passage contrasts so plainly with the first one; Jesus goes from praising Peter to calling him Satan!
But the suffering doesn’t stop with Jesus. After this blistering rebuke of the disciples Jesus calls the crowd together, and tells them that anyone who follows him needs to deny himself, and “take up his cross” and follow Jesus—in other words, be willing to die.
Then, in a pretty familiar passage, Jesus says:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (verses 35–38 (ESV))Finally, Jesus tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is quite imminent: that there are people standing right there with him who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God “after it has come with power” (verse 9:1 (ESV)).
ThoughtsOne of the things I like about this passage is how plain Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his imminent crucifixion. There are numerous passages in the Gospels where Jesus tries to explain these things to the disciples ahead of time and they don’t get it; in this passage he’s being as explicit as possible. However, instead of having an “aha” moment and finally believing him, they simply disregard him and assume that he must be wrong. And to be clear, though it is Peter speaking, I’m sure they are all in agreement with him.
Speaking of Peter, I’m sure his praise from Jesus for recognizing him as the Messiah is probably what prompts Peter to be so bold in this passage. Jesus has just finished confirming that yes, he’s the Messiah, so… surely he’s not going to suffer many things, or be killed. (Somehow I think the disciples just plain missed the part about him rising from the dead.)
I wonder, when reading this passage, if Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because Peter is tempting Jesus to forgo his crucifixion. This is yet another case where the fact that Jesus is fully man and fully God adds some room for confusion, for me, and I wonder if the “man” part of Jesus is being tempted to skip something that he obviously doesn’t want to do—we see that in Gethsemane. I don’t mean “tempted” in the sinful sense, that Jesus was really thinking about not doing it, I mean “tempted” in an external sense: Satan tempted Jesus in the dessert, but Jesus wasn’t tempted to do the things Satan suggested; Peter tempted Jesus here, but Jesus wasn’t tempted to do what Peter suggests. And to be clear, it would have been in Jesus’ power to not go through with it; he allowed himself to be crucified, which means that he could have decided not to allow it.
Later on, when Jesus talks about losing one’s life vs. saving it, we have to remember that he is using the word “life” in different ways; there is our earthly life, while we’re on this planet, which is inextricably tied to sin, and there is our eternal life with God (or lack thereof). If you cling to this life, you are going to forfeit the eternal life with God, but giving up your sinful life—dying to your sin—will bring you eternal life with God. When Jesus says that “whoever would save his life will lose it,” there is also a bit of a double meaning: If you cling to life on this planet, you have to be aware that no matter what you do, no matter how much you enjoy yourself or avoid enjoyment, no matter what you do or refrain from doing, however you choose to life your life, you are going to die.
Finally, when Jesus talks about those who will “not taste death” before they see the “kingdom of God after it has come with power,” this is a potentially confusing statement. The most common interpretation I’ve seen is that Jesus is talking about the three disciples who were with him and saw the Transfiguration; they actually saw Jesus as He is, God Incarnate. The post on Matthew 16:24–28 listed some other possible interpretations of this statement.