From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (verses 21-23)
This is an incredibly sharp rebuke dished out by Jesus. I’ve read it many times, but even so it takes my breath away. There’s something about it that is so abrupt, harsh, and overpowering, especially in light of the strong affirmation he has just given Peter immediately prior.
There is also something that sounds terribly familiar in the words, “Get behind me, Satan!” Indeed, if we were reading the original Greek, it would be more familiar yet. We’re taken back to the scene of Jesus’ temptation immediately following his baptism. Satan tempts him three times, with Jesus turning each aside by quoting scripture. But his strongest words, in Matthew’s account, are reserved for the final bout. He again quotes scripture, but prefaces it with a succinct, two-word blast: “Go, Satan!” It is these same two words that are used here in this chapter, supplemented by two others: “Go (behind me), Satan!”
Why such a strong response? Two things come to mind:
(1) In both cases, Jesus is being encouraged to set aside his central mission of saving the lost. That’s why he came. And he knows full well the mission’s accomplishment will require the excruciating cost of his own life. Satan suggests he bypass sacrifice, offering him instead all the kingdoms of the world if he simply bows down in worship. Wouldn’t that be so much easier, Satan implies. Peter, without understanding the implications, urges the Master to permanently set aside any thought of suffering and death. That’s entirely beneath you, Peter implies. But Jesus answers decisively (indeed harshly) each time, not allowing the tempting thought to even have a moment to take root. He has set his face like flint toward the cross. He will let nothing divert him.
(2) Both encounters are part of Satan’s tempting stratagem. He is the one who energizes both. After the first encounter, Scripture tells us the Devil left Jesus “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). This is one of those moments, and Jesus has eyes to perceive it. So, he goes straight to the source and commands: “Go!”
There are two parallel lessons for us. The first comes immediately in the next verse: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”(verse 24). Just like Jesus, we, too, are called to set our face like flint, not letting anything divert us from his calling on our lives.
The second lesson comes in James 4:7 – “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Just like Jesus. Turn the tempting thought aside. Follow Jesus’ lead.
Lord Jesus, I stand in awe of your decisive determination to go to the cross, because you were committed to winning salvation for the lost. Thank you. Strengthen me to follow your lead, with decisive determination also. And give me eyes to see the Devil’s tactics, resisting him just as you yourself resisted. I can’t do it in my own strength, but “in you” all things are possible.
Reflect: What mission has the Lord currently called you into? How might the Devil seek to divert you? What will it mean for you to resist?