Matthew 16:19-23 (Mark 8:27-33)
Peter had arguably the most prestigious vantage point in history as he walked among the disciples as they accompanied Jesus on His journeys throughout first-century Palestine (modern Israel). After Jesus showed Peter and the others a lesson in faith (Walk to Faith) the disciples saw more wondrous things. They saw the sick healed. They heard Jesus teach rather forcefully to the Pharisees about traditions. They saw four thousand more miraculously fed. All this forms the background to the next step in Peter’s process.
Jesus removes Himself and the disciples out of Palestine to Caesarea Philippi (modern Syria) and engages in what we may term today as a debriefing. Many people had seen and heard Jesus along with the disciples. Jesus used this opportunity to teach them more about who He is by asking them what the people were saying about Him, “who do people say the Son of Man is?” In answer, several possibilities were brought out – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. All the answers given in Matthew 16:14 were dead people. None of the answers satisfied Jesus so, He asks another question, “But who do you say that I am?”
This question may have seemed odd to the disciples. After all, they have spent practically all their time with Him after being called BY Him to follow Him. Perhaps some possible answers to the question that ran through their mind might include master, teacher, prophet, or healer. They may have had agreement with the names put forth by the general populous. To the disciples then it must have seemed strange to hear the fisherman Simon Peter blurt out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). How did he come up with an answer like that?
In response to Peter’s answer Jesus blessed him and explained how Peter would know that answer. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). God revealed Himself to Peter to illustrate Who He is as a record for us to read, study, and meditate upon. This truth Peter blurted out was not a human thought but the result of the Sovereign God. Even in clarity, we still misunderstand even the simplest to comprehend revelations.
Jesus commends Simon Peter and reminds him of his nickname – Peter. “You are Peter.” Much has been written on about this phrase. In summation and review, Peter means “stone or pebble,” it is Petros in Greek; it is a male gendered noun. Jesus means to remind Peter to remain humble by reiterating the meaning of that auspicious nickname. Jesus then says that the answer Peter gave, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock Jesus will build his church. Rock here is petra in Greek, it means “bedrock”; it is a female gendered noun – in short, it is very different than Petros though it sounds alike. It is this foundation and revelation of the deity of Jesus Christ that Jesus says He will build His church and not the fisherman Peter. Peter echoes this in his first letter when he says to the readers that they are being used as living stones in the building of a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-6).
Peter must have been feeling good about giving the right answer. In fact, this might have been precipitous in his upcoming conversation with Jesus. Jesus started teaching them about His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection (Matthew 16:21). For whatever reason, whether a personal connection akin to “teacher’s pet”, a need to schmooze after showing off, or just plain concern for Jesus’ well being, Peter thought it necessary to take Jesus aside from the rest of the group for a private conversation.
Remember that in Matthew 16:16 Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God” thereby recognizing Jesus as sovereign deity. How odd then to read in verse 22, “Peter…began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” Peter, in essence, just told God His plan must not be carried out. He first affirms Jesus in His sovereign deity and now he denies Jesus in His sovereign deity.
Jesus’ response was quick and revealing. He said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matthew 16:23). The contrast in nicknames for Simon leaps off the page. He is called Peter the stone (by inference from Peter’s letter, a building stone) and then a short time later identified with Satan (Job 1-2), which means “adversary.” The feelings of euphoria turning to despair must have been nearly crushing to Peter.
Jesus identified an action in Peter that is all too common in us today. We come to a newly understood revelation of who God is and how we interconnect with His plan in a way that could only be supernaturally revealed by Him. Instead of seeking to remain at His side for further instruction we then use our own ambitions to define and execute God’s designs and plans. Instead of then being a valuable building material chosen by Jesus Himself, we become like Satan and seek to thwart that which we most want to be a part of.
Jesus follows up by teaching the disciples further (this would include Peter as well). “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). May we learn Peter’s lesson through the Word of God.
We will find Peter next in the upper room on the night of Jesus betrayal.