28 August 2011

"Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (v. 23)


We can be pretty sure that Jesus' sharp rebuke to Peter rests on sound historical tradition. At a time when Peter was revered as one of the chief Apostles of the Church, the early Christians would hardly have made up a story in which Jesus depicts him as an agent of Satan.

Why then did Jesus speak so harshly to Peter, especially when only a few moments before he had commended him for having confessed him as the Messiah (Matthew 16:16)? The answer surely is that Jesus had just interpreted his messiahship in a totally unexpected way, as involving suffering and death, a destiny which had never been part of Jewish messianic expectation, and Peter just could not take it in. His understanding of messiahship involved earthly power and glory, not humiliation and rejection.

What is more, Jesus went on to explain that those who wanted to be his disciples must also be prepared to lose their lives for his sake (verses 24-28). He was not necessarily thinking of martyrdom at this point. Rather he was implying that his disciples needed to renounce all selfish ambitions, count themselves as 'dead' to themselves (the meaning of 'taking up one's cross' in verse 24), and follow Jesus with total abandon if they were to find real life.

The final verses of this passage (verses 27-28) relate to the future. The phrase "Son of Man" was Jesus' favourite way of referring to himself and, in this context, seems to allude to the 'one like a son of man' in Daniel 7:13-14, to whom universal dominion is given. Jesus implied therefore that his obedience to the point of death would be followed by his vindication by God and that he would come again in glory to judge humankind. It is an amazing claim to make, yet one of which some of his disciples would shortly have dramatic confirmation (verse 28) - perhaps a reference to Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) or his resurrection (Matthew 28:1-20).

To Ponder

Have you ever entertained preconceived ideas about what Jesus was like? What were they?

How did you react when you discovered that they were mistaken?

What might it mean for you today to 'take up your cross' and follow him?

Bible notes author: The Revd Peter Ensor

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