by R.C. Sproul
It is one thing for a student to disagree with his teacher. But it is another thing entirely for a student to rebuke his teacher for his teaching. Yet, that is precisely what the Apostle Peter did. He had the gall to confront the incarnate Word of God, the One who embodies all truth, and rebuke Him for what He was teaching (Mark 8:32).
To make matters worse, the Greek word translated as “rebuke” is used biblically in connection with the condemnation of demons. When Jesus silenced demons, He did it by rebuking them, judging them worthy of condemnation (Matt. 17:18; Mark 1:25; 9:25; Luke 4:35; 9:42). It is clear that Peter’s protest was not mild; he stood up to Jesus with the full measure of hostility. The Apostle who had said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and who had heard Jesus say, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar- Jonah” (Matt. 16:16–17a), presumed to correct and admonish his Master.
What was the nature of Peter’s rebuke? He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22b). Peter was saying that all the things Jesus had predicted (His betrayal and execution) most certainly would not happen to Him. Why? Because Peter was prepared to prevent them from happening — or so he thought.
Jesus’ response was equally sharp. Mark tells us: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (8:33). Here again is the Greek word that the gospel writers use to describe how Jesus spoke to demons. Now Mark uses it to describe what Jesus said to Peter, and Jesus’ words drive home the severity of this correction, for the Lord called His disciple “Satan.”
Why did Jesus equate Peter with the Devil? I believe it was because Peter presented the same temptation the Devil brought to Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. In his record of Jesus’ final temptation, Matthew writes,
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 I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.’” (4:8–10)
Satan asked Jesus to bow down to him. “Nobody will see it,” he suggested. “If you’ll do it, I will give you all of the kingdoms of this world. You won’t have to go through the Via Dolorosa (“the way of grief”). There will be no cross; there will be no cup of wrath; there will be no suffering.” The promise of this temptation was the acquisition of a throne without the experience of pain and suffering.
Our Lord withstood that temptation just as He withstood all of Satan’s offers. But Luke tells us that Satan “departed from him until an opportune time” (4:13b). There is foreboding there, the hint that Satan wasn’t finished with his temptation.
Who could have foreseen that the “opportune time” would follow on the heels of the highest confession of faith among the disciples? Who could have foreseen that Satan would speak through the spokesman of the disciples, the man who had said, “You are the Christ”? But Jesus recognized the work of Satan right away.
Jesus told Peter: “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). Peter was not looking at the Messiah from God’s point of view but was thinking of the Messiah as a political leader who would deliver the Jews from Roman subjugation. For Peter, it was inconceivable that the Messiah should suffer — even though the Old Testament said He would.
Jesus showed Peter that there are two ways of looking at things — God’s way and man’s way. This is the divide between godliness and godlessness. The godly person is deeply concerned about the things of God, but the godless person has no concern for the things of God. Instead, he is preoccupied with this world.
We need to evaluate ourselves on these criteria from time to time. We need to ask ourselves: “Where is my heart? What is my chief concern? Am I preoccupied with the things of this world, or does my heart beat for the things of God? Am I seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Or is there some other priority, some ambition, some goal to which all of my energy is devoted?”
We especially need to ask ourselves these questions if we find that Jesus’ teaching offends us and prompts us to question or even rebuke Him. May we never be so foolhardy.