One aspect of good literature is a really good plot; one that’s filled with surprises, twists and turns. The Gospel of Mark certainly delivers on this point. In our reading today we see Peter giving the most spectacular confession of faith in Jesus in one moment only to quickly demonstrate that his confession was tainted by a humanistic agenda. Mark makes it perfectly clear that Peter, and the rest of the disciple for that matter, had no idea of God’s plan. Jesus, on the other hand, understands the plan perfectly and he will not be diverted from his task.
If you have already read Mark 8 today you can probably guess which episode I am referring to. Jesus asks his disciples if they understand who he is and Peter pipes up, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29).
Yes! Brilliant! He got it right.
For hundreds of years the Jewish people were waiting for this divinely appointed person to appear on the scene. The Christ, “Messiah” in Hebrew, was the person predicted in their scriptures who would finally deliver Israel from their oppressors. After witnessing the signs and wonders Jesus performed Peter was certain that Jesus must be their long awaited deliverer. But Peter’s confession is met with an odd response from Jesus. He tells his disciples not to tell anyone (v.30). Then he goes on to describe to them what was going to happen to him when he goes to Jerusalem (vv.31). This was not something the disciples were expecting, nor do I think they even understood what he was saying. Mark tells us, “And he was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (v.32).
Obviously Peter did not like what he was hearing and was trying to talk Jesus out of it. I don’t think Peter intended to go against Jesus. He most likely admired him very much and didn’t see any purpose in Jesus being harmed. At the same time, as we read the response he got from Jesus it is difficult not to recoil with Peter in pain;
“Get behind me Satan.”
Ouch! That had to hurt.
Just a few verses earlier Peter had made the most remarkable statement about Jesus’ identity, now he was being identified with the most diabolical figure in the bible; or is he? What happened? Is he really playing the role of Satan?
First there needs to be a bit of clarification concerning the word “satan.” What we have in our English bibles (as well as in the Greek) is a transliteration  of the Hebrew term which means “adversary.” While the term “satan” carries with it the meaning “Satan,” or “the Adversary,” it is also found in the Old Testament to describe a human acting in opposition to another human being (1 Sam.29:4; 1K. 5:4; 11:14, 23). So it is quite possible Jesus was just rebuking Peter as someone who was in opposition to him; certainly a serious enough offense. There are a couple of more observations in Mark’s story that are worth pointing out.
This is not the only passage that reports the “Get behind me” rebuke. Matthew also has it in his rendition of the same episode (Matt.16:23). What’s interesting is that there is another verse in Matthew where a similar command is given by Jesus. After being tempted by Satan Jesus commands him “Go, Satan!” (Matt.4:10). What’s missing is the word for “behind me.” Is it possible that this difference is there because of whom he is addressing? The human opponent is told to get behind Jesus, or it could be like our modern, “get out of my face,” but the penultimate diabolical spiritual leader is simply commanded to “depart!.”
Mark gives us another detail which is helpful to understand the emphasis of the passage. He points out that Jesus turns and looks at his disciples before he rebukes Peter which helps to frame the full rebuke, “Get behind me, satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33). Can you picture the motion here? Peter pulls Jesus aside to tell him his plan stinks and Jesus aligns his focus on his followers and tells Peter he doesn’t know what’s going on. I wonder how many times I have stepped in front of Jesus only to return to the following position after my plans proved to be wrongly motivated.
In the larger scope of things Jesus’ mission to the cross was not fully understood by any human being prior to his resurrection. The prophet Isaiah stated his mission clearly hundreds of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. The Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 remains an enigma without Jesus.
It is humanly impossible to perceive of God’s magnificent plan until you meet the risen Savior.
He is the way, the truth and the light. As we approach Good Friday take some time to read this song and marvel at God’s saving work on our behalf.