Friday, December 10, 2010

From Simon to Peter to... Satan?

Today's blog is on Mattew 16:21-23. So, Jesus and his disciples have just had a really good session (see my previous two notes). Sometimes, he'll tell them something and they'll completely miss the point, so he has to go back and explain it them all again. This time, though, things have gone pretty well. That's probably why Jesus chooses this time to start telling the 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." He's letting them know what is going to happen to him when they go to Jerusalem, and he's also telling them that it is all necessary: "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things."

Peter, though, doesn't like it. He takes Jesus aside from the rest of the disciples and rebukes him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." A nice thought, right? He's telling Jesus not to be so pessimistic, and he's probably a little afraid that it might be true--he does love Jesus, after all. All in all, at the first read nothing in his statement seems to warrant Jesus' reaction: "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." To call this "harsh" would not do it justice. I can imagine Peter stumbles back, disbelief and hurt in his eyes, and the other disciples stop talking among themselves to stare at Jesus' angry expression and wonder: did I hear that right? He was so happy with Simon--I mean, Peter-- earlier, and now he just called him Satan?

I've heard it said that theology and knowledge of God is unimportant, that not only the most but the only important thing is to "just love Jesus." This passage emphatically demonstrates that this is not the case. Because Peter does love Jesus. He walks across the waves to get to him, he fights armed Roman guards to save him. Peter loves Jesus, and his comments to Christ stem directly from that love. Imagine that a loved one, going to the doctor for unknown pain, insists that the cause of the pain is fatal and that he/she will be dead soon. You would tell them to stop talking like that, even if you thought it might be true, exactly because you love them so much that you don't even want to think that such a thing might happen. That is what Peter's doing, but he gets slapped down. Hard.

Peter's rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus' counter-rebuke, stems from Peter's rejection and ignorance of what Jesus has just told him. Jesus gives him knowledge about himself--I'm going to die soon, and this has to happen-- and Peter refuses to acknowledge it. He has willfully remained ignorant of what Jesus has just told him. Not only that, but (unknown to him) he is also echoing what Satan told Jesus when Jesus was in the wilderness.
So, Matthew 4:1-11. Satan comes and tempts Jesus in the wilderness. The last temptation is when Satan takes Christ to a very high mountain and "showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Now, Christ is already going to get all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory. He knows, and Satan knows, that God's plan for Christ calls for his death. Satan is giving him a pretty tempting offer: you don't have to die. You can have the kingdom without the cross. Take the easy way out. That, in effect, is what Peter is tempting Christ towards as well. Suffering? "Far be it from you, Lord." Death on a cross? "This shall never happen to you."

So, Peter, speaking out of misguided love and willful ignorance, gets rebuked harder than anyone else in the gospels. Jesus knows how hard he rebuked him, and so his next words are an explanation--essentially, "this is how it has to be." He says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Basically, "I am going to suffer, and I'm not going to run from it. You will also have to suffer if you want to follow me."

There is also another small lesson here. Nowhere is there an apology for hurting Peter's feelings. Peter's feelings deserved to be hurt. Jesus rebuked him and let him know why he was rebuked, but he did not apologize for doing something that needed to be done. However, he didn't hold it against him either, because just 6 days later he picks Peter to accompany him before the Transfiguration (the topic of the next blog).

I've heard it suggested that Peter was actually possessed by Satan when these things happened. I do not believe that to be the case for the following reasons:
1. There is nothing in the passage to suggest possession. In all other passages involving demonic possession, the possession is clearly established.
2. The explanation given above is more than sufficient to explain Peter's rebuke of Christ (not wanting the death of a loved one to be spoken of or thought about) without resorting to actual possession to explain it.
3. Christ calling him Satan is explained by Peter unwittingly mirroring Satan's temptation of Christ (as explained above). Peter is unknowingly tempting Christ in the same manner Satan did.
4. The last thing Christ says in his rebuke of Peter: "For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Even in his rebuke, he is teaching Peter. Not only is he teaching him, but he is expecting Peter to learn. In every other instance of possession, he speaks to the demon, not the person. Here, he is talking to Peter as a man, not as a demon or demon-possessed person.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

No comments:

Post a Comment