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 on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21–28)
Oh, Peter. What a whirlwind of emotions, what a confusing time you must have experienced. One minute Jesus exclaims “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”. The next minute he turns around, faces you and says “get behind me, Satan”! From rock to Satan in the course of a few verses. What went through your mind? Did your cheeks flare into a blush? Did you feel the eyes of the others burn into you? Did you understand what had just happened?
There, at Caesarea Philippi Jesus had asked you who you thought he was. “The Christ, the son of the living God” was the reply which had brought that great blessing from his lips. You realised that he was the Christ, the Messiah. You understood those Old Testament prophecies, you knew of the hopes that someone from the line of King David would once more reign. You understood that this figure would be anointed by God for the task, and you hoped that you would live to see it. No more Pontius Pilate ruling in Jerusalem, but instead a king of the line of David reigning from Mount Zion in the very heart of Jerusalem.
Remember when you first met Jesus, who was from just that kingly line even though he was brought up in the backwater of Galilee. He taught with a strange authority, and even the ruling party at the Temple had noticed him. Not bad for a carpenter’s son. You had just witnessed five thousand men, along with countless women and children, come out to the desert to hear him teach. What a sight! The land thronged with people, just to hear this man teach. So keen were they that they remained, even when it was too late to get food. Imagine speaking so that people even forgot their hunger!
It wasn’t just the teaching, though. When it was too late for those thousands to get food, you had witnessed Jesus feeding that same multitude with just five loaves and two fishes. Extraordinary. What did you make of that?! What a miracle!
Later that same day you set out with your fellow disciples onto that Sea of Galilee you had fished your entire working life, only to be caught up in a storm as night fell. As you strained, hauling at the oars, there came Jesus on the waves, coming straight at you. Or, was it a ghost? No, it was Jesus calling out “take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”!
Really, was it him? You put it to the test and asked him to command you to come and join him on the water. He did - and you did! But then the storms, the waves, the wind…. So you sank, and Jesus pulled you to safety.
Being a great teacher is one thing, but being able to do all this! Surely this is someone anointed by God. Or even more. Psalm 2 speaks of the “Lord’s anointed”, but goes on “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’”. Is this the son of God? Your fellow disciples certainly thought so: “Truly you are the Son of God”, they worshipped. So when Jesus looked at you at Caesarea Philippi, and asked that question: “But who do you say that I am?” What else could you say? “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”. And you were right.
Then it all started getting confusing. Jesus started talking about how he would suffer and then die in Jerusalem. But this was supposed to be the king who would reign in Jerusalem. Death was not part of the deal. And this business about being raised on the third day - what does that mean. Perhaps it was the heat, or just the excitement of the past few days. So you took him aside, “this shall never happen to you”. And why should it happen? Jesus can walk on water, surely he can escape all this? Why not just go to Jerusalem and work a miracle there?
But, no. “Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but of man”. Then the teaching about the importance of the soul, the importance of self denial, and the reality of coming judgment. The importance of seeking God’s perspective on events, and not a human view.
You see, Peter had the wrong Messiah in mind. The Jews of his age were hoping for a messiah in the mould of the warrior David, the king who had extended the boundaries of Israel, but Jesus had bigger boundaries in mind. Rather that looking at earthly, temporary kingdoms he was looking at the eternity of the human soul. It is there that he seeks to reign. A kingdom of heaven, not a kingdom of Israel. An eternal kingdom, not a temporary one. What earned the rebuke was Peter trying to mould Jesus into the sort of messiah that he, Peter, wanted.
Over the years many people have tried to refashion Jesus into some sort of contemporary messiah, one who shares the concerns of the present day. One who is, in effect, just a bigger version of whatever is considered a good person in a given day and age. One who is just a reflection of a wider society. The problem is that Jesus just won’t play along with that game. He is who he is, and whatever we might hope or say is simply irrelevant.
Rather than trying to create a Jesus who reflects earthly concerns, you need to find a Jesus who is concerned with your soul. One who calls you to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him. There have been plenty of people who have claimed to be messiahs over the ages, but only one who has walked through death and offers life in all its abundance. Will you follow him?