HE WAS SINLESS… Perfect. He never had an evil thought (Heb. 7:26; 4:15), He never did a wicked deed (Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:3-5), nor did He ever speak an unkind word (1 Pet. 2:22-25). Ever.
When He was unjustly criticized, He never stooped to the level of His enemies and retaliated with His own verbal diatribe. When His peers lied about His identity, He never lost His temper and fired back with a hot salvo of malicious rhetoric. Sure, He sometimes responded to the gross hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees, but He never sinned in either deed or tongue in return. Ever.
There were a few occasions, however (Caesarea Philippi—Mark 8:27; Galilee—9:30; and on the road to Jerusalem—10:32), when the Lord did have to pull out His verbal rototiller with His own. He needed to talk to His disciples and tell them about something that He knew would initially confuse (Mark 9:32) and trouble them (vv. 33-34). He needed to prepare their hearts with the news-seed of His impending rejection, brutal murder, and inevitable resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34).
Unfortunately, EVERY time He tried to pull the twelve aside and tell them what was going to happen, they reacted in a dysfunctional way (8:32; 9:32-34; 10:35ff). Their long-term doctrinal baggage didn’t jive with the Lord’s actual plan to save (cf., Luke 19:10; Eph. 1:10; 2:16, 22-23).
You see, they were thinking LITERAL kingdom, but Jesus was thinking spiritual kingdom (Mat. 16:18-19; cf. Col. 1:13). They were thinking that His death would mean the tragic END of the kingdom; Jesus was thinking that His death would ultimately inaugurate the glorious BEGINNING of His spiritual kingdom—the church.
Peter in his brash confusion took the news hard. He, like his peers, not only held inaccurate ideas about what kind of dominion the Messiah would bring to bear (cf. Mark 9:1; Acts 1:6), but he had some very strong opinions about what would, and what would not, happen to King Jesus. He knew Jesus’ identity (Mat. 16:16; cf. Mark 8:29). He had witnessed the Lord’s wonder-working power over and over again. And he knew, or so he thought, the day was coming when The Promised One would not only stand up to Rome and her awful tyranny, but He would crush those ruthless Gentiles beneath His feet and bring them to subjugation.
But when the Shepherd pulled His little band of friends aside and told them that He was not only headed to Jerusalem, but that He was going to actually die, Peter was forced to object. He took the Lord aside and began to rebuke Him for His folly. Perhaps Peter thought Jesus was being a pessimist. In any case, Peter had to put his foot down and let the Lord know that He was wrong—at least this one time (Mark 9:32). “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Mat. 16:22)!
The Bible says, “But He (Jesus) turned and said to Peter (and the rest of His disciples—Mark 8:33), ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Mat. 16:23). Let that little episode rattle around upstairs. Peter rebuked Jesus(!), and then Jesus rebuked Peter—in front of the other eleven!
And Jesus didn’t say, “Get behind Me, Peter…”, nor did He say, “Get behind Me, Simon…” He said, “Get behind Me, SATAN!” Say it to yourself, good reader—“Satan.” Abaddon, Apollyon, the great dragon, the old serpent, the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 9:11; 12:9). The adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). The accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24). Belial (2 Cor. 6:15). The enemy (Mat. 13:28), the evil one (Mat. 13:19), the father of lies, the liar, the murderer (John 8:44), the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:3), the temper (Mat. 4:3).
Whew. “Satan!” I can image the fine little hairs on Peter’s ears turning black from the scorching they had just received.
But the question that begs to be answered is WHY exactly did Jesus call Peter “Satan” in the first place? Why such a strong renunciation of Peter’s objection? Did Jesus finally snap and lose His cool? Had He been saving up His emotional S&H Green Stamps and then just rudely cash them in on Simon Peter? Did Peter just happen to be in the way when the Lord lashed out and side-swiped one of His chosen few?
The problem with any of these answers or interpretations is that they all rob Christ Jesus of His sinlessness, and—let me say it again—He NEVER sinned—in either deed or word. Ever.
So how can we explain this incident? How can we reconcile the Sinless One with the fact that He called one of His best friends (cf. Mat. 10:2; 17:1), “Satan?”
The answer is, Peter wanted to keep the status quo; he wanted to keep Jesus from the grave because he mistakenly thought Jesus was about to set up a physical kingdom. And because he was conscious of Christ’s miraculous power, and because he knew that the Anointed One was uniquely qualified to lead the Jews in victory over Roman oppression, Jesus HAD TO stay alive! Jesus could not, under any circumstances, die!
And THAT’S WHY Jesus called him “Satan,”—because PETER WAS THINKING IN AN EVIL, STATANIC FASHION. If Jesus didn’t die on the cross, then the church-kingdom would never be established. If Jesus wasn’t crucified and murdered on Calvary, then mankind would never have the opportunity to be saved from sin. If Jesus didn’t die at the bloodthirsty hands of the Jews and Gentiles, then Jesus couldn’t and wouldn’t be raised to walk in newness of life.
Peter wanted to keep everything the same. He had unwittingly bought into the devil’s plan. He was going to stop the cross—even if it meant his own death (Mat. 26:35). Jesus said, “Peter—you’re acting and thinking just like Satan!” “You’re anti-cross when you should be pro-cross!” “You’re anti-death, when you should be pro-death!”
Peter needed to hear that and so did the rest of the group. The cross wasn’t going to be the end, but the beginning.
As I think about it, it occurs to me that I’m a lot like Peter at times. I don’t want to die to myself (Mark 8:34). I certainly don’t want to have to carry a heavy cross—much less on a daily basis (Luke 9:23). I just want resurrection on the Last Day (John 5:28-29). Let’s skip daily death and go straight to “rise”! The problem is—I can’t have resurrection without first a crucifixion, right (Rom. 6:3-4)? Think about it.
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike