Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Now that the disciples knew that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, He decided to let them in on the rest of the plan. A huge reason for this was that the time was near. In mere weeks, Jesus would be headed south to Jerusalem, and He didn’t want His closest followers to be blindsided by the events that would unfold there.
Even though the sufferings, death, and ultimate resurrection of the Messiah are repeatedly depicted in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, they were hidden from most people, because they had their own opinions of how the Messiah should operate. As He would do later with two other disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:25-30), Jesus helped these disciples to see from the Scriptures what lay ahead for Him: mistreatment by the religious leaders, death, and resurrection on the third day.
But there was still a lot of the world in the minds and hearts of the disciples, even Peter who, just moments before, had unreservedly declared Jesus to be the Messiah. Peter was determined that none of these horrible things would happen to Jesus, even if he had to take up a sword himself (cf. John 18:10). If given half a chance, he would talk some sense in to Jesus – persuade Him that He was too important to the people to put Himself in harm’s way; persuade Him to avoid Jerusalem until things cooled down.
Jesus was familiar with temptation, and knew that it could show itself in the form of legitimate self-preservation (cf. Matthew 4:3-4). Even from a friend, this form of temptation had to be quickly and ruthlessly put down to prevent its arguments from eventually sounding reasonable.
Jesus words to Peter sound strange and unduly harsh to the ears of us modern Christians. Bu they make sense. Satan means “adversary,” someone who is standing between a person and their goal, attempting to turn them aside. Jesus is not saying that Peter is the devil, but He is clearly pointing out that he is placing himself between Jesus and the goal that the Father set for Him, and that he needed to get out of the way and let Jesus move ahead. Peter’s intentions may have been good, but they were only good from a human, world-based perspective. Jesus had a job to do, a mission to complete, a task to perform in God’s service, and anyone, friend or foe, who tried to dissuade Him from that goal was an adversary.
Father, we can be sympathetic toward Peter, because our minds work much like his. If something looks harmful or dangerous, we determine it to be bad and steer clear of it. And we also persuade those we care about to do the same. But sometimes Your calling on lives, even our lives, leads us into dark, dangerous, potentially deadly places. Help us to always see things from Your perspective; to never shy away or pull back from the things and places to which You are leading us. Give us the grace to see those situations from Your vantage point and, with Your help and strength, push through them to our ultimate goal, just like Jesus. Amen.