The Other Day’s Chocolate: none
The Other Day’s Passage: Matthew 16:21-23
The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “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.”
For context: in this passage, Jesus has just informed his disciples of his impending crucifixion at the hands of Jerusalem’s religious authorities. Peter protests that there’s no way such a thing could happen to Jesus, God’s chosen Messiah. Is Jesus calling Peter “Satan,” the actual Devil? I’ve heard people analyze the apparent harshness of Jesus’ response, speculating whether Jesus is addressing Peter as Satan and what he means by it. But there in my friend’s basement, something hit me that had never occurred to me before.
As you may know, Satan is named “Satan” because the name means something. The Hebrew word satan means “adversary” or “opponent.” It’s used to describe many different agents throughout the Bible, not just the Father of Lies himself, and in fact the very first satan identified in the Bible (Num. 22:22, 32) is the Angel of the Lord! In the original Hebrew, the word “adversary” here is satan. It’s used to describe kings of Israel, foreign kings, opponents in battle, and more. The term often has courtroom connotations, describing something like a prosecuting attorney, and generally means “someone who opposes something.”
So, when Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan,” is he suggesting that Peter is under demonic influence or aligning himself with the purposes of the “Prince of this World?” Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the point. He’s identifying Peter as an opponent, at that moment, to his redemptive mission that culminates at the cross and empty tomb. In so many words, he’s saying: “You want to fight me on this, Peter? Get out of my way, because if you think the struggle for God’s kingdom won’t cost me my life, you’re just as blind as all my other enemies.”
It’s hard to let go of our own preconceived notions of God, Jesus, and what’s wrong with the world, and sometimes we can’t let go on our own. Sometimes it takes a harsh reprimand.
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