“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell any one that he was the Messiah.
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, the chief priests and the 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 concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. – Matthew 16:13-27
This same scene occurs in Mark 8 in a slightly less detailed form. Luke 9 records Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah as well as Jesus predicting His suffering and death, but not Peter’s attempted rebuke of Jesus.
There are a number of observations I would like to point out:
- After Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus then begins to teach them what that really means.
“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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” – Matthew 16:21
The most common belief about the Messiah was that He would return to earth and throw off Israel’s worldly oppressors and establish an earthly kingdom. Once the disciples have declared that they truly believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, He begins explaining to them that their view of the Messiah and what He has come to do is lacking. Jesus came to overthrow spiritual oppression and establish a heavenly kingdom through His suffering and dying at the hands of authorities.
- Jesus’s explanation of how He would accomplish His role as Messiah is so different from what they were expecting that after declaring Jesus is the Son of God, Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him for talking about His death.
Peter’s idea of what the Messiah was going to do is so strongly entrenched in his beliefs that he is bold enough to rebuke the person he just declared to be God in the flesh, the Messiah. Jesus in turn responds by rebuking Peter.
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” – Matthew 16:23
The idea that the Messiah would come and simply throw off the yoke of the Romans and re-establish an independent kingdom of Israel was merely human thinking. That accomplishment would be tiny in comparison to what God intended and then accomplished. Peter couldn’t believe that the authorities would have any sort of “victory” over the Messiah, that He would be killed wasn’t compatible with Peter’s thinking. Peter knew and confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, but was still confused on what that truly meant and how Jesus would live that out.
- Jesus affirmed that Peter was made aware of Jesus being the Messiah by the Lord, even though Peter didn’t fully understand what that meant.
“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17
In the same way we can have the truth revealed to us by the Lord, but not completely understand its full extent or the ways in which it will be manifested. Peter had his eyes opened to the truth about Jesus by God, but still had a lot to learn and was still heavily influenced by “merely human concerns.”
I wonder in what ways we are like Peter. God has revealed Himself to us through Jesus and given us His Word, but I am sure there are many situations in which we “do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
God often accomplishes His work in the world through what looks like defeat on the surface. Christ on the cross is the most important and prominent example, but scripture is filled with others. In teaching the disciples about what He Himself is soon to face, He also teaches them that they will follow in His footsteps by taking up their own cross and losing their life for Him. In doing so they will find true life and greater victory than gaining the whole world. Worldly “victory” means little to nothing in the face of eternity. Heavenly victory often looks like worldly defeat, but its effects reverberate throughout history and continue on into eternity.
Much of Paul’s ministry occurred through hardship, whether that was sickness, shipwreck, imprisonment, beating or worse. One quick example of this is found in Philippians.
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” – Philippians 1:12-14
There really are too many examples of this to list, but another one that I will mention briefly is Stephen. Acts 6-8 records Stephen’s brief but powerful ministry, his speech before the Sanhedrin, and his stoning. God raised Stephen up to be a powerful witness for the gospel, but then he was quickly cut down by those opposing the gospel. After his death, this is what happened,
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” – Acts 8:1-8
In the same way that Paul’s chains served to advance the cause of the gospel, so did Stephen’s death and the persecution of the church.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. God used the persecution to spread the gospel and to send it to the Samaritans who were outcasts from Jewish society. Through the scattering of the church we see God fulfilling what Jesus said when He told His disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
We see this theme over and over throughout scripture. Human concerns would have led Paul to do all he could to avoid ending up in chains and all of the other hardships he faced. Human concerns would have kept the members of the church quiet as they were scattered so as to avoid further persecution. Human concerns would have led them to seek some sort of legal protection or safety. Philip wouldn’t have gone to the Samaritans and Peter/Paul wouldn’t have gone to the gentiles.
In the same way that Peter and the rest initially thought that Jesus was about to establish an earthly kingdom, do we try to establish earthly kingdoms now? Do we sacrifice the true message of the gospel in trying to make this our kingdom? Because of human concerns do we put the preaching and living out of the gospel on the back burner to seek protection, safety, and relative comfort ?
At the time of Jesus’s coming, the Jews were oppressed, but He did not lead them to the temporary freedom that they desired and thought they needed. Instead, He had something far greater in mind. Nor did the path He took make sense from an earthly stand point. It was accomplished through suffering unjust persecution and death followed by a miraculous act of God raising the dead to life.
We should seek justice, especially justice for others and work for the peace of where we live while waiting for our true home (Jeremiah 29), but when does that cross the line into trying to establish our own kingdom and focusing on the concerns of man instead of the concerns of God?
While it might be difficult at times to find the best course of action, I believe we can grow by keeping in mind to:
- Stay humbly in the Word, allowing it to teach us.
- Pray without ceasing and about all things.
- If we do the first two we will be more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in our lives and can better follow its direction.
While we cannot control what others think or say about us, our primary question to ask ourselves should be whether our decisions line up with the preaching and teaching of the gospel.
Does this decision or stance display the truth of the gospel or is it motivated by merely human concerns?