In the book of James, we are counseled to be slow in announcing long-range plans because we have no idea what tomorrow might bring. It may bring great blessing or it could result in great hardship.
After the announcement that Jesus was the Messiah by Peter and the affirming response of Jesus, the disciples likely had “visions of grandeur dancing in their heads”. They pictured a renewed Israel, the political overthrow of Rome and the great blessings promised in the Old Testament. Generations of Israelites had been waiting for the Messiah only to see their lives pass without a Redeemer (it was worse than waiting for a Cubs World Series victory!) Now these men were going to have a front-row seat. How exciting! They must have been grinning broadly.
Imagine the whiplash of emotion they experienced as we read on in the Gospel of Matthew,
21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
The disciples were excited that Jesus seemed to affirm that he was the long-awaited Messiah. Now he told them it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, to suffer terrible things from the Jewish leaders and then be killed. (I doubt the disciples even heard the last part of the sentence about the resurrection because of the shock of the first part.)
Two things we should notice. First, the phrase translated “must” or “it is necessary” (depending on your translation) is an intense word that denotes the absolute necessity of these things happening. It was, if you will, a divine necessity. It was nonnegotiable. The death of Jesus was required to satisfy the demands of the Law so we might be forgiven. This was the only way to save us!
Second, we are told the very people who Jesus came to save were the people who would send Him to His death. Here is a little background from a commentator.
In ancient Israel the “elders” were the heads of tribes or heads of a tribe’s main subdivisions. In fact, every city or town of any importance began to have its elders. When the Sanhedrin came into existence the more prominent local elders became members of this august body, jointly with the chief priests and the scribes. What Jesus is saying, then, is this, that Israel’s very leaders, who should have been the foremost to honor and worship the Christ, were going to afflict him and put him to death.
In the minds of Jews, the Messiah would be a political leader (like David). He would restore the glory days of Israel. How was he supposed to do that if He was dead??? This would have been staggering and overwhelming to the disciples. These statements were blowing the circuits in the heads of the disciples.
Peter could not bear the thought of what he was hearing. I believe this was an impulse response; something like when you say “No!” when you first learn that something bad has happened. The first response of grief is generally shock and denial. This seems to be what we see from Peter.
Peter spoke when he should have listened. He was presumptuous to correct the one He just called God! Don’t miss that irony . . . He is presuming to tell God how to do His work. However, don’t mistake Peter’s heart. He spoke rashly out of the heart of love.
Think about someone you love who has a terminal illness. Suppose they have many treatment options but choose to take none of them. If you love them your first instinct will likely be to tell them that they are making a mistake. And you say this generally before you even hear the reasons the person gives. Why? Because your first response is to hear these words in relation to what it is going to mean for you! YOU don’t want the person to die.
It is possible that the person with the illness has made peace with their situation and because of their strong faith is unafraid of death. Or maybe they have decided to put their life in the capable hands of the Lord . . . who could heal them . . . or not. Their decision could be a great act of faith. However, truthfully, you don’t care. You are concerned about what YOU want
I think this is where Peter is. R.C. Sproul says it well,
Peter was looking at things from a human perspective, assuming that a living Jesus was better than a suffering and dying Jesus. There is a world of difference between the things of God and the things of men. It is our nature, our habit, to focus our attention on the things of this world and give little thought to the things of God. That ought not to be. Christians, of all people, should know better.
With this insight, we read,
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (v.23)
Don’t those words seem a little harsh to you? I do not believe Jesus is actually talking to Peter here. He is speaking to Satan who is trying to use Peter to divert Jesus from the path of salvation.
Sometimes the people who are closest to us, well-meaning people, are used by Satan to derail us from God’s plan. They want what is easiest for us and also for them. They tend to take the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, God’s will sometimes requires a sacrifice. Sometimes the road of God’s will is the road less traveled. We’ll talk more about this in the next verse.
The thing to see now is that Jesus rebuked Satan and told Peter that his perspective was too limited. We must keep these words of Isaiah 55 in mind,
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9
If we forget this, we will look at everything in terms of right here and now. And when we do that, you give the Devil an opportunity and he will use it to do as much damage as possible.
Jesus, as always, sees the situation as “teachable moment”. Jesus doesn’t pout. He doesn’t withdraw from the disciples (perhaps like we would). Instead He sees this as a time to help the disciples grow.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” (24-28)
Jesus gives s tough prescription here. First, he says we must Turn from our selfish ways. – In other words, He summons us to a new guiding principle for life. Instead of viewing life only from the perspective of “what’s in it for me”, we now look at life from the perspective of how best to serve and honor the Lord.
No matter what the issue we seem to go through a series of questions in our head when we make a decision:
- What is most convenient?
- What will be most satisfying?
- What has the most “upside”?
- What will be best for my career?
- What will do the most for my image?
- What will involve the least sacrifice and risk?
- What my kids, family, boss, church happy?
This is just the way we are! We tend to look at the world as if we were the star of life and everyone else is just a bit player. Jesus is calling us to think differently. We are called to look at life in terms of what will further the Kingdom of God.
Peter did not understand what Jesus was saying and why it was necessary for Him to die. Jesus was looking at it from a Kingdom perspective. His death was the only way to accomplish God’s plan to save those He created. Jesus saw with the eyes of eternity. Peter sees things only in terms of the here and now and what he would do. Aren’t you grateful that Jesus did not have the perspective of Peter?
Take up your cross. Jesus now gets more specific. Not only will He be taking up His cross, we must be willing to do the same.
People talk about bearing a cross all the time but usually it is about superficial things. That is not what Jesus is talking about. He is saying we should come to Him willing to die if that is what God asks of us.
This is not difficult to understand. Every soldier that has ever enlisted has done so knowing he/she might be called on to give their life for their country. Every policeman or fireman knows they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice. Every Doctor and nurse knows they will encounter very sick people and could themselves be infected. Yet, they take the job. They are motivated by the higher purposes of justice, freedom, and the protection of their friends and neighbors.
Every Mother knows having a child will be hard on her body. They know there are some risks. Yet they go forward because they already love the life they carry. And when that child is born, most parents would willingly give their lives to protect their child.
This is the same kind of attitude the Lord asks of us. He wants us to be THAT committed to His Kingdom. There is no place in God’s Kingdom for convenient Christianity! He is not satisfied with leftovers because whatever you choose before Him is your true god!
Follow Me. The Lord is not merely giving us instruction; He is leading the way! He will demonstrate what it means to love even at the cost of your life. He challenges us to love passionately, to give generously, and to forgive and extend mercy without reservation. We are to do all these things because we trust Him and honor Him. We are to follow His example.
The reminder here is that a change of direction doesn’t necessarily mean something has gone wrong or is a tragedy. It may simply mean God is taking us a different direction. Rather than panic, it is better to take a “wait and see attitude”. God uses hard things and unexpected things to sometimes do great things!
See the Big Picture! Jesus explained these hard teachings by expanding our view of things. He reminds us that we can gain the whole world but lose our soul. We could be pampered in this life and tormented for eternity. He asks a simple question: Is anything more important than your soul?
Maybe that is something you have never thought about. You have spent your whole life trying to survive the next moment; wanting to do what you want right now. Jesus says that is a foolish way to live.
Think about it, the person who never studies and just goofs off in school will pay a price for that short-sightedness for the rest of their lives. The person who is constantly skipping work to “have a little fun” will have trouble paying the bills because they will struggle to keep a job.
Jesus reminds us that there will be a day of judgment when we will give an account for the choices we have made in life. What we do now will matter forever. The problem for most people is that even though they say this is what going to happen, they don’t really believe it. If they did . . . they would live differently than they now do.
A Hard Teaching
Jesus ended this discourse with words that leave many scratching their heads.
And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
This is a hard teaching because we don’t know what “coming in his Kingdom” means. It obviously does not mean the second coming of Christ. Obviously, all those men have died and Christ has not yet returned.
There are five other alternative possibilities:
- The Transfiguration and the fact that Peter, James and John were going to see Jesus in His radiant glory.
- The Resurrection (Judas would miss this because of his suicide.
- His Ascension after the 40 days following the Resurrection.
- Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended with power.
- The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This coming would be in Judgment against the Jewish nation for their rebellion.
I will not make an argument for any of these. You can decide for yourself which possibility you think makes the most sense.
Truths to Remember
Christianity without the cross is worthless. A Jesus that doesn’t die, is not a Savior!
The English bishop John Ryle wrote:
On matters of church government, and the form of worship, men may differ from us, and yet reach heaven in safety. On the matter of Christ’s atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here, we are ruined forever. Error on many points is only a skin disease; error about Christ’s death is a disease of the heart. Here let us take our stand. Let nothing move us from this ground. The sum of all our hopes must be, that “Christ has died for us” (1 Thess. 5:10). Give up that doctrine, and we have no solid hope at all.1
We can be absolutely right one minute and dead wrong the next. Peter is the example that we dare not become proud of our “spiritual maturity”. It is fickle. We must continually remain teachable or we will end up like Peter . . . serving the purpose of Satan. Once you think you have got it figured out, you are most vulnerable.
The call to follow Christ is a serious and life-altering commitment. Being a follower of Christ is not like belonging to a club or organization. We don’t “fit it into our schedules”. Jesus calls us to recognize Him as Savior and as Lord. Recognizing Him as Lord means we follow Him as a soldier follows a commanding officer, as a child holds the hand of a parent and follows, as a ballplayer executes the play sent in by the coach.
It is call to great commitment. It is a call to the highest place of service. And it is the greatest honor we will ever know.
1 John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1974), 200–201.