Strong and shocking words from Jesus “Get behind me Satan”. Why does he use such strong language? It’s because he recognises in Peter’s response to his teaching that he must suffer and die one of the devil’s big temptations.
Earlier we saw how the Pharisee’s demand for a sign echoed Satan’s encouragement that Jesus should test God by throwing himself from the temple. Here we see Peter’s response echoing the devil’s suggestion that Jesus could come into his kingdom (if he just bowed down to Lucifer) without having to go by the way of the Cross. In Christ’s mission there’s no room for soft peddling on this.
This passage demonstrates in dialogue what has been demonstrated through the miracle described before. As we saw with the healing of the blind man, we are at the halfway point in the Gospel and Jesus’ followers have partially seen but not fully seen who he is.
So, specifically here we see the disciples beginning to understand who Jesus is. They know that some people are comparing him to famous people of the past, perhaps Jesus is a prophet like Elijah or John the Baptist. Maybe, somehow he is actually one of them, could John have somehow come back from the dead (as a relative of John there would be a physical likeness)? Could the rumours suggesting that Elijah would reappear near the end be coming true?
Peter grasps it better. It’s not just that Jesus is a prophet of old. He is the one that the prophets promised. He is the Messiah, David’s heir, come to establish God’s kingdom. That’s a bold statement, Peter is beginning to see,
However, when Jesus explains exactly what it means for him to be Messiah, Peter isn’t having it. How ironic that he can proclaim Jesus, “King” and then to tell his king to shut up because he has got it wrong! He simply cannot comprehend that the majestic “son of David”, the anointed king of the Jews would suffer and die. That sounds like defeat and shame. He is looking for a victorious king to push back their enemies.
Yet, Jesus is clear with them and will repeat this point again and again. His way is the way of the Cross. The way down is the way up. He must die the shocking death of a rebel and a criminal because he will take our place and bear the punishment that we as rebels against God deserve. Not only that but if this is so, then the way of the Cross is the way we must go too. Perhaps this is what Peter cannot bear to hear? If Jesus was to suffer and die then so too must we. This both means that we must be ready to suffer for him as his witnesses but it also reminds us that it is only if we have died with him that we can rise with him (Romans 6). We must die to ourselves, to our sin, to our pride and ambitions, to our old person if we are to become new creations.
Have you truly reached the place where you are ready to die completely to self for Jesus? What does it specifically mean for you to take up your cross?