Matthew 16:21-23 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Matthew 16:21
  • Matthew 16:22
  • Matthew 16:23

Jesus continues His significant private conversation with His disciples In Caesarea Philippi. After Jesus acknowledges His identity as both God and Messiah to His disciples, He explains to them how He will be killed in Jerusalem and rise from the dead. But they do not comprehend; Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him for speaking these things. Jesus admonishes Peter and tells him that his thoughts and motives are Satanic.

The parallel gospel accounts of this event are found in Mark 8:31-33 and Luke 9:22.

Matthew reports from that time on, when Jesus confirmed to His disciples that He was the Christ, that He began to show them what He must do. It was a turning point. It should have been a shocking moment, because Jesus told them that He must go to Jerusalem to be killed and raised up from the dead. However, it appears that what Jesus stated plainly sailed right over their heads.

Jesus had alluded to His death and resurrection before (Matthew 10:38, 12:39-40; 16:4). But He had only done so in prophetic riddles. This was the first time Jesus explained these things to anyone directly. He explained to them that He would suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes. The term elders refer to the city or national Jewish leaders, including members of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The chief priests were the Levites who ran the Temple. And the scribes were the lawyers, experts in the Law of Moses. Jesus told them that after He suffered many things at their hands, that He would be killed. He showed them that these things must happen.

The notion that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God could be defeated and be killed was difficult for them to grasp. In fact, it seems they refused to accept it. On one hand it may have touched upon some of their deepest fears, that their master would be killed. The disciples were willing to die for Jesus and His kingdom (Matthew 26:35; 26:51; John 11:6). They had accepted this as a possible, perhaps even likely, fate for themselves.

But they considered that Jesus’s death would have represented a total catastrophe. Such an inconceivable disaster would signal to them that their cause was defeated, and the kingdom of Israel was lost. Everything they had forsaken to follow Jesus would have been a waste. Such a perspective would be supported by the many prophecies of the Messiah, Son of David, redeeming Israel and setting up an eternal throne in which righteousness dwells

(2 Samuel 7:11-16, I Chronicles 22:9-10, Psalm 89:3-4, 89:35-36, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Matthew 1:1, 1:17, 9:27, 12:23, Luke 1:32-33, John 4:25-26, Acts 15:15-17). What they did not understand was that Jesus would come in two advents, first as the suffering servant depicted in prophecy, and secondly as the conquering king (Revelation 19). This was a dilemma among Jewish thinkers, some even considered that there might be two different Messiahs.

Their paradigm did not allow them to absorb what Jesus was telling them. It is likely that the disciples had never considered that it was possible for Jesus, the Messiah to die. They had apparently paid attention to the prediction of Messiah as the conquering king, and ignored the suffering servant presentation. This might have made it completely unthinkable for them to even imagine God’s anointed Messiah being defeated. In any case, the disciples were confused and upset when they heard Jesus say these things.

Upon hearing Jesus say this, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. He tried to persuade Jesus against talking like this or letting these things happen. It is interesting to note that Peter took Jesus aside. Perhaps from Peter’s perspective, he did not want to embarrass Jesus by confronting Him in front of the others. We can infer from this that Peter was quite certain in his view.

Peter exclaimed to Jesus; God forbid it. By this, Peter meant; “You are wrong Jesus, God would (or should) never let this happen.” But Peter was wrong. Not only would God allow Jesus to be killed. God sent His Son to be killed (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 4:9-10). This is why Jesus said these things must happen.

Jesus did not allow Peter to go any further into his rebuke. Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Christ knew that Satan was tempting Him away from God’s plan through the rebuke of His disciple. Jesus refused to listen to him any further. He explained to Peter, “You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Jesus was warning Peter that at this point, he was only looking out for his own personal interests and not the interests of others, as God would have him do (Philippians 2:4).

This is an intriguing and challenging episode. It tells us that Satan can work through God’s people, when they choose wrong perspectives. This emphasizes a primary point of Jesus’s teaching, the importance of the human heart, the seat of our choices. Choices we make in our heart is the origin of all human words and actions. When we choose a wrong perspective, a perspective that is untrue, it sets us up to be a tool of Satan, without intending to be so.

Peter appealed to God in his rebuke of Jesus, saying “God forbid it.” Jesus replied to Peter “You are actually advocating the desire of Satan.” Peter, who we know is a believer, and who we know has been blessed of God to see Jesus is the Christ, is still a tool of Satan for believing other things that are not true.

Paul speaks of this in 2 Timothy 2:24-26,

“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

We see in this passage from 2 Timothy that Paul encourages Timothy to gently correct those in his church who oppose what is true, that they might be led into “a knowledge of the truth.” In this way they can “escape the snare of the devil having been held captive by him to do his will.” The way Satan gets believers to do his will is through getting them to believe things that are untrue.

Paul encouraged Timothy to be gentle in his correction of believers. Jesus did not seem to be so gentle, telling PeterGet behind me, Satan.” This is likely because of the principle of “from everyone who has been given much, much will be required;” (Luke 12:48). That Jesus spoke sternly to Peter demonstrates the love Jesus had for him. As Jesus states to the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation:

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”
(Revelation 3:19)

Jesus knew that as long as Peter thought in a manner that was untrue, he would be an obstacle to God’s plan. Of course, Peter could not really stop God’s plan from happening. God is omnipotent. But as an obstacle, Peter would miss out on the kingdom benefits and blessings that God had in store for him. He would also have to answer for his obstinacy and rock-headedness against God and suffer the consequences. Peter’s denial of Jesus, and his subsequent remorse for his failure might be viewed as being such an adverse consequence (Matthew 26:69-75).

Peter was envisioning Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom, and likely one that furthered his own interest. We see this among all the disciples, in their internal competition among one another to see who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:34). He, along with the others, did not understand that Jesus’s kingdom will be a kingdom that is run by servant-kings. He was setting his mind on man’s interests, but not he did not have God’s interests in mind.

One of Jesus’s primary points of emphasis in training His disciples was to reorient their zeal, and willingness to die for a cause away from personal ambition to gain power and position, and instead turn it toward a godly ambition to serve God by serving others. Jesus led them to understand that true greatness comes through humility and service (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:6).

It is interesting, that Jesus’s stinging rebuke of Peter for trying to Satanically tempt Him away from His mission apparently occurs immediately or very shortly after Jesus called him “Makarios” or “blessed” and gave him high praise for his confession of Christ and relationship to His Father in heaven. If nothing else, this is a clear indication that a believer can be walking with God one moment and walking in darkness the next. Believers must be ever vigilant to walk in the light, as He is in the light (I John 1:5-7).

When we consider Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ and Son of the living God and Jesus’s high praise of Peter’s rock-like faith that will overpower “the gates of Hades” in the preceding passage, and compare it with the satanic interests of Peter in this one, we see a question for ourselves: Are we going to follow the truth and assault the gates of hHades/things of this world or are we going to follow the things of this world and be an obstacle to God’s kingdom being funneled through us, as God has instructed us to do? This is a question every believer faces daily.

Biblical Text:

21 From that time Jesus began to point out to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem and to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised up on the third day. 22 And yet Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.”

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