In Matthew 16:17, Jesus pronounces Peter blessed because Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. In Matthew 16:23, Jesus rebukes Peter as a Satan, trying to tempt him from his mission. What happened? Peter confesses Christ by forsaking the evaluations of the flesh and relying on the Father’s revelation. In seeking to shield his master from suffering and death, Peter savored of men not of God. From standing firm against the gates of hell to being one of the Devil’s own siege weapons, Peter’s fall is dreadfully quick. Yet it is the common lot of the disciples of Jesus Christ to this very day.
The problem, as Jesus clearly points out, is the fact that Peter falls back on his own conception of what it means to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Sin is such that only with constant vigilance can its corrupting influence be mitigated. We know the truth, we learn God’s will from the Bible through private reading and personal study, preaching, and study groups. And yet, as sinners, we are constantly avoiding the implications of God’s word to us personally. We place ourselves and our comfort at the center of the Lord’s work, instead of God’s glory.
Peter was not content with Jesus’ description of his mission: rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. It did not fit with his idea of Christ’s glory. It did not fit his idea of discipleship. What would it mean for the student, if the master was to be so cruelly and dishonorably used? And that is the point of Jesus’ teaching in the rest of the chapter (Mat. 16:24-28). Of course, our Lord has already been crucified and is raised in glory. But we are content to let him bear the cross for us. We chafe at any notion that suffering is part of our life with God. To that our Lord says, “Get thee behind me Satan.”