Get Behind Me, Satan!

Early in my ministry, I had a very ungodly way of doing things. I didn’t know any better because I hadn’t learned much about how the Scriptures instructed pastors to operate. I didn’t see that God instructed His pastors to operate by and preach His word alone in season and out of season, meaning when it is popular and when it is not (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:2). As a result, I operated and talked about what was “in season.” I was led by the shifting winds of human opinion. People loved my preaching and the way I did ministry. Of course they did. It mostly aligned with their own interests. Then, I was called to my first position as the lead pastor of a local church in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. I had never been a lead pastor before, so I looked to Scripture to see what God required of the office. I had read the pastoral epistles before. I had heard them taught in college and seminary classes. I had heard countless sermons from them. Never did I have to apply them to the pastoral office because I never had a lead pastor who asked me to operate that way as a youth pastor, and never had I been a lead pastor responsible for such things. I had to repent because I had been doing things in a way God did not give. I experienced revival. After a year-and-a-half, I was asked to resign the pastorate at my first local church because I wanted to consider a biblical model of ministry. What happens when God’s people stand against His plan, His mission, and His instruction for ministry?

Matthew 16:21-23

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 be raised up on the third day.

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

Jesus foretells his crucifixion (v. 21)

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 be raised up on the third day.

Jesus has revealed that He will build His church upon the foundation of the apostles’ teaching. After revealing how He will build His church, through the apostles’ proclamation of the Gospel rather than through violence, Jesus begins to show His disciples that He must suffer and be killed rather than take His people back from the darkness by force. 

Suffering rather than force. There were many Jews who believed the Messiah would come to throw off the oppressive hand of Rome and forcefully restore Israel to her place of dominance in the world. The zealots were one such Jewish persuasion who were readying themselves like the doomsday preppers of our modern day. Their unhealthy expectations were understandable. Throughout Israel’s history, God delivered the nation from her oppressors by way of violence. It was not a far stretch for anyone to assume that God would deliver Israel from Rome the same way He delivered her from the Egypt, the Canaanites, Assyria, and Babylon. Instead of declaring war on His enemies, Jesus starts talking about how He must suffer and die. Why do you think Jesus teaches that God will suddenly deliver His people differently this time around? I thought God didn’t change (Cf. Numbers 23; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). Why do you think Jesus is building His church by way of suffering rather than force? What implications does Jesus’s teaching, here, have for our view of end-times and how Jesus is renewing the earth?

Jesus began to show. Jesus did not merely insist that God’s people would be delivered through His suffering rather than by force. He showed His disciples how things must be. How did Jesus show them? What did He point to in order to say, “Look! This is how things must be!”? Matthew doesn’t tell us in these three verses. He simply says, “Jesus began to show…” We also do not receive any clues in the broader discourse. However, the entire Gospel of Matthew is about how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law and Prophets. Jesus, Himself, said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Cf. 5:17). The only clue we have in Matthew’s entire Gospel indicates that Jesus shows His disciples these things from the Hebrew Scriptures concerning their Messiah.

Messiah must go to Jerusalem; suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes; be killed; and be raised up on the third day. Normally, when Matthew wants his audience to know that something was being done to fulfill prophecy, he quotes the prophecy from the Hebrew canon. Here, he does not. He simply makes a statement. I wonder if Matthew left that information out on purpose. The omission, here, seems a little out of character, and Matthew must have a purpose for neglecting his usual, “This was in order to fulfill what was said through the prophet…” formula (Cf. 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 3:3; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15, 35; 15:7-9). Matthew will explain how these things fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures in Chapters 26-28.So, we will wait until then to get into those particular prophecies. Matthew has a different goal in mind for these three verses—that’s why he waits to explain why things must be this way. What do you think Matthew’s goal is? What is his intent?

Peter responds (v. 22-23)

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”

Jesus taught that He would build His church upon the foundation of the apostles’ teaching, not by force. He began showing His disciples from the Scriptures that He must suffer at the hands of the religious elite. After confessing that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of the living God and hearing Jesus explain the Scriptures, Peter forbid it ever happen according to the Scriptures. He says, here, that what Jesus has explained about the Messiah from the Scriptures shall never happen to Jesus. Yet, Peter has already confessed that Jesus is the foretold Messiah.

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

Some people out there will present this verse in such a way that makes it seem like Peter has been possessed by Satan or like Satan is standing behind Peter influencing his words. Neither of these explanations are accurate. Satan, σατανας, literally translates to “adversary” and does not necessarily indicate the New Testament formal name given to the serpent or the evil one. In this moment, Jesus refers to Peter as His adversary because Peter is opposing the Law and Prophets—the way things must be according to Scripture. Because Peter is insisting on things that are different that the prescription in Scripture, Jesus points out that Peter is setting his mind on human interests rather than those of God.

When we ask, “What is Matthew up to,” we see him showing us something very important that we should to latch onto. God’s ways are not ours. He honors His own plan, preferences, and purposes. If we oppose His word in favor of human interests, either our own or those of others, we are adversaries of Jesus Christ. Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ and the Son of the living God. He understands what that means even if he does not understand the implications. That means he is part of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus will build His church upon Peter’s ministry. Yet, at this moment Peter is an adversary of Jesus Christ. This means someone can be elect, a member of Christ’s church, and still be an adversary of Jesus at certain points in his or her Christian walk. That is why we normally walk through God’s word instead of merely preaching or teaching about what we want. When we do select a text apart from walking through the Bible, we exposit it rather than begin with a subject we desire to talk about. Why? Our desires, human interests, are not God’s interests. That is why we practice discipleship in community, having times set aside to discuss the sermon and what Jesus taught throughout the Bible. That is why we have a system of church discipline in place—so we guard ourselves as a local church from pursuing human interests rather than God’s. He has instructed us concerning exactly what He desires from His church, even down to how His church is to conduct business and do discipleship.

Jesus must suffer at the hands of the religious elite, die, and rise again because that is how God said it would be throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To say He had to die in order to get people into heaven is not accurate. We can be more accurate in our answer if we look to the book of Revelation, Chapter 5 and verse 12:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

The elect do benefit from Christ’s crucifixion. In that sense He did die for His people. There is a more basic truth to be gleaned from this doctrinal, angelic praise. The purpose for which Christ was crucified was so He might win His just reward, which includes His bride (His church) but is specifically His own power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. This necessarily means Christ’s atoning sacrifice and the salvation of His people isn’t about any of us getting to Heaven. It is about Christ’s glory and Christ making Himself and the Father known in all of His strength, riches, wisdom, honor, and blessing. The doctrine becomes clearer as we consider Romans 9. God creates vessels for honorable and dishonorable use so that His strength and the riches of His glory may be known. The salvation of the saints is about God’s glory, not their final destination. In Romans 11, we read that God hands every person over to disobedience so that He might reveal the riches of His own mercy on all people. It is all about His glory. Whatever condition we are in, whatever the condition of the world, whatever God does from creation to crucifixion to resurrection to redemption and whatever else, it all serves a particular purpose—God’s glory. He desires to be known. He desires every facet of His being be revealed so He may be worshipped as He is. By His design, He created the world as it is with the need for an atoning sacrifice so He might be known. He handed all people over to sin and sent Jesus to the cross so that He might be seen as just (righteous and holy because we cannot keep His Law) and the justifier (humanity’s only able deliverer from our own unrighteousness and insufficiency) of those who believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:26).

What happens when the elect oppose what is written for their good, when they act as adversaries of Jesus? Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block for Me.” What does Jesus mean by this statement to Peter? It does not mean anyone has lost his or her salvation. It does not mean someone is no longer a part of Jesus’s church. Peter is still the rock. In that moment, we are stumbling blocks to Christ’s mission and Gospel as it goes forth. He overcomes those who stand in the way of His mission and substitutes Himself as the atonement for His chosen people. When the people of Jesus act as His adversaries, they are still covered by His atoning sacrifice and eventually delivered from their sin. Grace, grace, God’s grace! If we are being conformed to the image of Christ, that is also how we treat our adversaries—loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Cf. 5:44), which is precisely what Jesus will teach in the next passage (v. 24-28). Those who, then, use this verse as a template to speak to their own enemies or those who disagree with them err because they have not understood Christ’s Gospel or His call upon His people to be people of grace, prayer, and love. Ministry under the headship of Jesus Christ is a ministry of meekness, not force.

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Jesus’s Identity According to Matthew 14-17:

Who Jesus is:Who Jesus is not:
The expected Messiah (Isaiah 35:4-5; 61:1-2):
The one who would heal His people, take their infirmities, raise the dead, and restore justice to the earth.
John the Baptist; the new Elijah (Cf. Malachi 4:5-6):
Not merely a prophet, teacher, or good person.
Compassionate provider; Israel’s Messiah (Cf. Exodus 3:6-9; 34:6; Psalm 78:38-39; 2 Kings 13:23; Isaiah 14:1; 49:13; Lamentations 3:32; Zechariah 10:6).Not merely  an inspirational figure or brilliant strategist. Not limited by human means.
The Son of God; the king who perpetually sits on the Messiah’s throne prepared through King David (2 Samuel 7:14-17; see also Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; Daniel 3:25; Micah 5:1-3 concerning the “Son of God” motif in the Old Testament). Israel’s deliverer.Not a wish-granter or halfway savior.
The one who upholds God’s Law and justifies the Father’s people from the inside out (Cf. Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 29:13-14; Jeremiah 23:5).Not the one who abolishes God’s Law according to people’s preferences, traditions, or philosophies (Cf. Matthew 5:17).
The one who engages and uproots false teachers, churches, and religions in His own perfect timing.Not the one who instructs his people to attract the world into the church no matter the cost or hunt down false teachers and their ministries.
The one who came to the lost sheep of Israel and through whom the nations of the world are blessed (Genesis 12; 15; 22).Not the one who condemns people based on religious ritual, standards, or traditions (outward acts).
The one who takes the infirmities of His people (Isaiah 53:4) and who makes provision for those who glorify the Father with their whole lives.Not a slot machine for people to use for their own glory or exaltation by putting in time, money, or self-righteous works.
The one who upholds God’s Prophets and focusses attention on Scripture rather than on signs of the times.Not a showman who idolatrizes the miraculous.
The one who wants to be known (Cf. Genesis 1:27; Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 10:2; Deuteronomy 6:4-25; 14:4, 18; Job 12:9; Psalms 19; 46:10; Isaiah 5:16; Jeremiah 5:21ff; Ezekiel 11:12; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Romans 1:20).Not one who desires to see His name built up into human-centered religion.
The Messiah and Son of God (Cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:43; Isaiah 53)Not merely a messianic figure or a son of humanity.
The one who upholds God’s interests rather than human interests.Not one who teeters on the beam of human opinion or expectation.

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