From that time Jesus Christ 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. And 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.”
“Get behind me, Satan!” Matthew 16 is brimming with familiarity with many mesmerizing, memorable moments. But do we recall only the words and not the setting, scenery and style in which Jesus spoke? Was Peter literally Satan or if not Satan, himself, was he possessed by the devil? Why in the world would Jesus say to Peter, “get behind me, Satan?” After all, the context is clear, Peter didn’t call out or reprimand Jesus in front of others but took Jesus aside to rebuke him. Peter evokes the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:15, where Jesus instructs the disciples to reprove a brother in private first–Peter has done this before Jesus has said it. There are at least three problems though. First, Jesus didn’t sin in any way. Second, Jesus was not talking to only Peter but all the disciples. Therefore what Peter had to say should have been said in front of everyone. Third, we aren’t there yet–there can be no Matthew 18 without Matthew 16. The context continues to build and it was Peter who sinned, it certainly was not Jesus. The question remains, why did Jesus say to Peter, “get behind me, Satan?”
Becuase of what we have been taught and because of our preconceived notions and presuppositions, the answer is CAGED. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. We need to read the Bible for ourselves, for all it’s worth–we need to unlock it using the CAGED method, where context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels preconceived notions. It’s absolutely possible that what you have been taught is correct but one must confirm everything.
That being said, let me tell you a modern day story that goes to the entire context of the bible. My friend is a missionary and in training to be a missionary. That is, while training to go overseas he is a missionary in the United States–for him to remain anonymous, we will call him Lee. Lee has been mission minded for many years and being mission minded, he frequently discusses missions with other missionaries. John 3:16 is a great verse but it is only a single verse out of an opera of sacred scripture. In order to fully witness to the un-churched, one must start in the beginning and work through the Bible to show Christ and the need for Christ. That’s exactly what these missionaries did and Lee told us their story.
Beginning in Genesis, which is redundant and should go without saying, the missionaries took the un-churched people, who had never heard of Jesus, through the Bible in order. It took many months but eventually they came to the New Testament and our text today and read to them the following: “From that time Jesus Christ 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. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.'” Before the missionaries could continue in the context, a man in the crowd yelled out, “no, he has to die!” There’s a man who was paying attention to the context.
Let us look at the context, remembering to the best of our abilities, the previous context. Peter has very recently confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, which brings us to: “From that time Jesus Christ 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.”
Walking on water, feeding thousands upon thousands, myriads of miracles, and then Peter’s confession–clearly Jesus is telling the truth. Jesus tells the twelve that he would suffer, die and be raised from the dead. Look at the context, it’s in there. Jesus said he would be raised up on the third day. Peter was present numerous times when Jesus said that the only sign given would be the sign of Jonah. Jesus claimed that as Jonah was in the belly of the sea creature three days, he too would be in the belly of the earth for three days–a simile of similes. Yet Peter didn’t understand, it’s as if he didn’t hear the part about Jesus being raised on the third day.
Peter may not be paying full attention and may even be a little slow but does that warrant Jesus calling him Satan? While it is true that a modern man who didn’t listen to, walk with or witness the miracles of Jesus, recognized some 2000 years later that Jesus had to die, can we really expect Jesus to call Peter, Satan because he was an eyewitness to all these things yet still didn’t get it?
Peter actually confesses to this, somewhat: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Peter saw him, heard him, touched him, witnessed many miracles, walked on water to him, and yet he rebuked him. Still, did that warrant Jesus calling him Satan?
I trust that we are all in agreement that Jesus, being the perfect man, God incarnate and the long-awaited Messiah, is completely justified in and by his words. And yet we still wonder why he would go so far as to call Peter, Satan?
Context is King, and we read; “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.” Yes, the answer is that simple. Peter was not setting his mind on what God needed to do but on what he thought was right. Peter was thinking earthly and Jesus was thinking heavenly. But are we truly convinced that Peter should have been called, Satan? While we understand that Jesus said it, therefore it is justified, do we not still wonder why? We may also wonder if Peter was possessed by the devil. No, he was not.
Many people will use this as a proof-text to confirm their belief that christians can be possessed by the devil, even though James writes, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And he is talking about temptation, not possession. John writes; ” greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” Paul writes; He has rescued us from the power of darkness.” And perhaps the most important context is the lack thereof. No believer is ever demon possessed in the Bible, much less possessed by the devil, himself.
However, some people have been tempted by the devil, Jesus is one of those people. In Matthew 4 we read, “and the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
Undaunted the devil responds, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” Do you remember Jesus response to the Satan’s quoting of Psalm 91? That’s right, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
And finally we read; “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”
Peter is not literally the devil, we know this, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Peter loved Jesus, and would become an apostle. There is no way that Peter was literally the devil. Nor was Peter possessed by the devil–Judas, on the other hand, will be a different discussion. Nevertheless, the context of the Bible is clear, the devil cannot enter and take over the hearts of the believers. Peter was not Satan, Peter was not possessed by Satan but Peter was acting exactly like Satan. Therefore Jesus, who spoke with many metaphors and a plethora of parables, responded to Peter’s mimicking of Satan by saying, “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.”
I believe Matthew’s aspiration to his audience is to show the similarities between the devil tempting Jesus and Peter tempting Jesus. Notice the corresponding context. The devil promised Jesus the earth. Peter was thinking earthly as well. The devil tempted Jesus with bread, like Jesus had done before with manna for the Israelites, and now with the five thousand and four thousand. In order to save Himself from starvation, Jesus could simply turn the stones to bread. It was a way out, just like Peter was suggesting a way out. The devil even quotes the Psalms about not striking a foot against a stone. And what does Jesus say about Peter in today’s text? “You are a stumbling block to Me” What Peter has said harkens back to the temptation of Jesus and Jesus responded to Peter as he responded to the devil; “get behind me Satan.” Peter is tempting Jesus. Jesus was God, but he had become a man. A perfect man without sin but still a man, able to be tempted.
We are not there yet, but most of us remember Jesus praying to the Father, before his crucifixion, in Matthew 26:39; “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.'”
Before we feel badly for Peter, our even ourselves, remember what the perfect man had to go through to save the far-from-perfect persons that we are. Peter was certainly not the devil or possessed by Satan but he was interfering with the mission of Jesus by tempting him. We cannot interfere with Jesus in the same way as Peter did, but we certainly can interfere. For those that desire modern-day application, I will beat the proverbial dead horse, CONTEXT IS KING. Unlock the Bible and mine for gold using the CAGED method. It’s 100% free and it will help us to understand the Author’s aspiration to us. Many, many, many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, misconstrue metaphorical meanings, rip verses out of context or don’t quote the Bible at all, leading many astray, preaching man’s interests, not God’s. Read the Bible daily for all it’s worth. Then we can become partakers in the great commission rather than be stumbling blocks.