Written Word

Why Did Jesus Say to Peter, “Get Behind Me, Satan!”?

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.” (Matthew 16:23)

Jesus had just finished telling the apostles that he would suffer, die and be raised to life on the third day. This should not have been a total surprise to the apostles since it had been foretold by the Old Testament prophets. This truth was repeated by Jesus on Easter Sunday morning as he conversed with the two on the road to Emmaus: He said to them, “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

There is No Escaping the Cross

Before Jesus could offer victory to us he had to suffer. His death upon the cross was inescapable if God’s eternal plan was to be realised. Satan wanted to prevent the sacrificial death of Jesus, for he knew that through that sacrifice the holy justice of God would be satisfied and the remission of our sins secured. His death enables us to be set free, pardoned, forgiven. “Get behind me, Satan” was our Lord’s declaration that he was determined to give his life to atone for our sins.

Satan’s activity is seen again when, after Jesus was baptised, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where Satan tempted him. (Luke 4:1-13) The temptations Satan presented to Jesus came in the form of an alternative to his death upon the cross. Each temptation was designed to engage Jesus in a compromise, but each time Jesus refused. He had an appointment with death on Good Friday. And it must be kept.

Peter’s words, “Never Lord …This shall never happen to you'” (Matthew 16:22) sound so noble and honourable, but they are not expressing the will of God. Preventing the fulfilment of Jesus’ mission – to forgive us our sins – is the very thing Satan desired. But without the death of the Lamb of God, the sin of the world – yours and mine – could never be taken away.

The very thing Peter was trying to prevent was the very thing Jesus came to do – “to give his life as a ransom for many” and, through his atoning death, “to bring you to God.” (Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 3:18)

The words of the old hymn are so appropriate: “I must needs go home by the way of the cross/ There’s no other way but this.”