So what is Peter’s error? What is Peter’s sin? What was Peter’s thinking that smelled like smoke and resulted in the reprimand of Christ, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter’s error is his refusal to accept persecution, pain, destruction, and death as part of God’s best plan for advancing His glory and expanding His Kingdom.
Peter is one of Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus desires intimate time with only a few men, Peter is always found in the Jesus’ small group.
He is also one of Jesus’ most zealous disciples. He is the one who requests permission to walk on water. He is the bold one who swears allegiance though all men might fail the Messiah. And Peter is the one willing to draw the sword and single-handedly defend his Lord against a squadron of well armed temple guards.
Simon Peter is also one of the most knowledgeable and informed of Christ’s companions. While many men are confused over the identity of Jesus, Peter is not. Many consider Jesus to be Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other reincarnated prophet. Many others deem Jesus to be a self-deluded false teacher empowered by Beelzebub. However, Peter is given special revelation and insight from the Holy Spirit, and he is the one who rightly declares Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).
Ultimately, Peter is shown to be one of the most influential of Christ’s disciples. When the Apostles are listed, Peter is usually presented first. Following the resurrection when the Eleven are visited, Peter is first on Jesus’ agenda. Then later, following Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter takes the lead as the primary spokesman and herald of the Gospel. And all of this is fitting, for Jesus declares, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this [little] rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). He has no more authority than the disciples, including Paul, but he does seem to have special influence in the midst of the brothers.
However, despite his passion, importance and prominence, Peter is shown to be devil-like at times. Scripture presents Peter as neither to be the Vicar with supreme authority nor the Pope with theological infallibility. For very quickly, following his credal confession, Peter errs grievously and is put in his place. Matthew records this incident:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Peter is a minister and disciple who loves Jesus. He is interested in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He longs to move, shake, and keep ministerial momentum moving in the right direction. His interest is in church growth, and he is passionate about picking up his cross, wearing the yoke of Christ, and bearing much fruit. However, in this instant, Peter is declared to be a “hinderance” and not a help to Christ. Worse than that, Peter is called devilish because he “sets his mind in the things of man and not on the things of God.”
So what is Peter’s error? What is Peter’s sin? What was Peter’s thinking that smelled like smoke and resulted in the reprimand of Christ, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter’s error is his refusal to accept persecution, pain, destruction, and death as part of God’s best plan for advancing His glory and expanding His Kingdom.
Quite often, persecution, pain, destruction and death are the means by which God determines to make his name great and expand his Kingdom, in Joseph’s day, this includes exile, slavery, and prison. In the era of Moses, this involves the years spent in the wilderness. David is shown to be buffeted by Saul, the Philistines, and his own wicked flesh. And towards the end of the Old Testament era, God decrees Israel’s exile and the destruction of Zion and her Temple as the means by which he will make his name known amongst the nations. Now, in the present passage of Scripture, the Son is presenting his plan to endure a cruel death on a cross. And soon, all the disciples will follow suit as they and many other believers are martyred as part of God’s divine plan. Yes, according to God’s will as presented in sacred scripture, persecution, pain, destruction, and death are part of God’s best plan for advancing his glory and expanding his kingdom.
Consequently, we sin like Peter when we refuse to accept this mysterious and hard-to-swallow truth, and we further sin when we seek to avoid — at any costs — the pain-filled plan which God has foreordained. So let us not be “devilish” in our response to God’s tough news.
There is no need for us to seek persecution, pain, destruction, or death. And as Jesus tells his disciples, there are times when we ought to flee from one town and begin ministry in another. Additionally, there are times when we ought to stand and defend our families, our churches, our freedoms, and our rights. But at the same time, let us not seek to avoid — at all costs — the persecution, pain, destruction, and death that accompany the mission of Christ.
Apostles who accept not the hard road identified with Christ find themselves hanging from a cliff and reeling in hell. Churches that forgo persecution, pain, destruction, and death ordained by God find their candlesticks removed. Ministers who refuse to drink the cup of suffering prove themselves to be phony charlatans. And Christian disciples who do not pick up their cross and follow him are not fit for the kingdom.
When Pentecostal showers rain down upon us and thousands come to Christ, let us enjoy these sweet seasons of ministry and ecclesiastical growth. God uses such experiences as part of his best plan for advancing his glory and expanding his kingdom.
And when waves of persecution roll over us, let us sweetly endure these seasons of tribulation. For these too are part of God’s best plan for advancing his glory and expanding his kingdom, even as they may be deemed hindrances to the cause of Christ. Such institutions and individuals are “Satan-like” as was Simon Peter on this one sad day.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.