But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me.
WE shall study the Man of sorrows, the Mediator of our confession, Christ Jesus. We shall see Him as He surrenders Himself in the night of His passion, and as He, clearly conscious of His purpose, moves straight to His death.
How else could we observe Him, then, except as He is in His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King? For it is as the absolute and only true bearer of that triple office that He passed through the whole course of His suffering. There is no spot so small in the temple of His passion that it has not seen Him suffer and triumph as one always discharging that threefold responsibility.
We see Him as Prophet today. Observe and listen. He has Himself stepped to the pulpit from which He will teach. Yes, He will teach, for He is to instruct His disciples, to demonstrate to them that His suffering is the most imperative need of the world.
 This word has been selected advisedly; it supports the connotation of the Greek of the New Testament, and points out the prophet’s or teacher’s office, which Christ, “seated” as a rabbi, fulfilled.
 Such is the meaning of the original word, translated “shew’’ in Mathew 16:21 of the King James Version.
We see Him here as Priest. For, as you notice, even as He stands at the pulpit, teaching the ignorant and the foolish, a “satan” comes, a satan in the form of flesh and blood, it is true, but a satan, nevertheless. He comes, ascends the rostrum, and places an interfering hand upon the very pulpit from which the highest Prophet of God is giving instruction. That human satan makes a diabolical statement and a satanic gesture by which he hopes to thwart the spirit and counteract the influence of Christ’s teaching. So he tries to conceal the cross, which Jesus already holds up before His disciples’ eyes, behind a veil of satanical perversity and blindness. But observe closely now, for in this we see the Priest in Him assert itself: Christ briskly thrusts that interfering hand aside, so that His prayers and sacrifices may go on unhindered. Truly, He cometh, O God, to do Thy will. As a Prophet He will say what He must, and as a Priest He will in all things be sensitively alert and helpful.
Finally, we see Him as King, here at the entrance to the temple of suffering. For, as He sets out to execute the deed which is the one thing needful for the world, He moves straight to its realization, though there be as many satans around Him as there are disciples within His heart.
Depart, behind me, Satan. That is a statement of the Prophet, Priest, and King. It is His response to the greeting of those upon the way who would lead the Servant of the Lord to God too hastily. In fact, He greets no one along the road, for He goes to greet His God, the God who sends Him into death.
To see Christ active thus in the capacity of His threefold office, surely that marks a high point in the Gospel history. It marks that by the objective fact of grace revealed in Christ’s Messianic presence. But another high point, this one in the subjective life of grace, is also attained on this occasion. Whoever reads the Gospel report of this event painstakingly will see that the disciples of Jesus reached such a summit. The chapter at present open before us tells us that these disciples, Peter at their head, now came to make the full confession that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah. What had long lain dormant within them finally stirred; what had never broken through to overt expression was proclaimed aloud. The conviction burst through, patent and undisguised, in the language of the Christian confession: Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Yes, there are two heights of attainment here, the one objective and the other subjective.
Remember, however, that he who scales mountain heights and reaches lofty peaks finds breathing difficult. And it is especially true of the Kingdom of heaven that summits of achievement are also climaxes of anxiety, acmes of conflict. Whenever, therefore, we with true Christian mysticism want to sing the “introitus” to the hymn of Christ’s passion, we do well to remember that heights of attainment in the life of grace are places of awful tension.
With true mysticism — for there is also a false mysticism. The false mystic struggles hard to scale a mountain top, supposing that when he reaches it he will find a pleasant arbor there and a smooth plateau ahead. But the true mystic knows that when he has attained a ledge on the steep ascent he will meet struggle there, will be confronted by the rock of offense and by the cross which he must take up and bear. A map charting the acclivity of the mountain is the false mystic’s only guide. The ways beyond the peaks? Why, those are easy plains. But true mysticism knows that the cross is waiting at every mediate goal.
The true mystic knows that conflict so accompanies achievement, and he trembles at the thought of it. So we tremble, too. For we are compelled to notice that the first disciple who in his spiritual experience ventured to leap to the pinnacle, and who rejoiced at being able to say, “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God”—that this very man is also the first, having reached the apex, to stumble over the rock of offence, and, what is more, also to cause the Christ to stumble, were that not eternally impossible.
Simon was a Jew. And every native Jew, the moment he has composed the song We have found the Messiah, wants immediately to swell the music into the jubilant refrain: Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. So Simon Barjona, seated on a new ledge, wishes to enjoy that peace at once and to raise his voice in a hallelujah chorus. In fact, he has it all composed.
 Compare the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
But on this day he, the exuberant singer, finds himself under the discipline of the Master of the musicians. True, Jesus, the First Conductor, has Himself elicited that Messianic hymn from the spirit and soul of His pupil. But, once the theme Jesus is the Christ has been faithfully recited by the elated student-precentor, the Master’s voice drops. It suddenly falls, so to say, from the eloquent heights of poetic song to the lowest level of didactic prose. The lesson He teaches in that voice is hard, is exacting. The disciples are eager, are all agog to sing, to rejoice, to praise peace and shout hosanna. And Jesus? He quietly begins to expound matters. He undertakes to “show” (Mat_16:21) them that He must suffer and die.
In a flash Peter interrupts that discourse: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” And then it happens. Jesus turns sharply around. His voice, calmly discoursing before, rises in tone as it raps out the rejoinder: “Behind me, Satan. Thou art an offense unto me. I called thee a rock, a man of granite, upon whom one can lean; but now, so far from being a foundation stone, thou art a stumbling block.”
 The same expression or a very similar one, sometimes rendered “God forbid”, is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in such other passages as are found in: 2Sa_20:20; 2Sa_23:17; 1Ch_11:9; Jos_22:29; Jos_24:16; Gen_44:7; Gen_44:17.
Just what does it all mean? How must we take this? We who were not witnesses to the event ask naively: Was it really that serious? And even if we are alert enough to remember that the word “satan” by no means always refers to the awful spirit of the pit, and that in this sense it means nothing more than “adversary”, we know, nevertheless, that these considerations do not affect the truth that Jesus’ harsh epithet fixed a wall of wrath and of righteousness between Christ and Peter. For Jesus cannot apply the name Satan to a human being without thereby thinking of the great spirit of revolt who dwells eternally in darkness. The question therefore lingers: How is it that Jesus suddenly addresses Peter so?
We may as well be honest. We shall never answer that question adequately. Our ignorance embarrasses us even here at the entrance to the temple of suffering. We cannot grasp half of the significance of what happens; we cannot understand, for instance, how the sinless soul of Christ reacts to satanic temptation, from whatever side that may come. Such a phenomenon, the second Adam, without sin, on the one side, and on the other a satanical being,—that we have never measured with the eye, nor fathomed with the mind. Who, in fact, would dare to make the slightest comment about the sinless soul of Christ, which lived on earth unstained and responded purely to every stimulus?
But, even though we can never completely answer the question why Jesus on this occasion spoke so, we can say something about it and that according to the Scriptures.
This first of all: Jesus in this circumstance proves to be very man. As such He is subject to every psychological law of action and reaction which is not the effect of sin. Moreover, He is not only truly but also completely a man. Therefore, in this ultra-human existence before God, He sees great significance in all small things. The whole process of His mediatorial career is concentrated as a unity into each moment of His life. Every point within the circumference of His circles is seen only and always from a single focal center and consequently in harmonious relationship to the whole. Hence it must be that the satanic statement which at this time tears its way through His prophetic discourse hurts Him grievously. It recalls to His mind, very likely, that other moment in His life, when, at the conclusion of His baptism, the Spirit drove Him to the wilderness. Again that panorama in the desert rises before Him. Again He lives it, as though it had just happened. Again He experiences how, after the baptism which had been His objective for thirty long years, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to meet Satan. There the great Satan, the very prince of hell, hurled his temptations into the pure, human desires, the manly virtues, and the mediatorial passion of His soul. That Satan also said in effect: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”
Now Christ has reached another mediate goal, another milestone. Again He is to be baptized, not with water but with consuming fire. That pulpit at which He stands here in Caesarea Philippi and from which He as a Prophet teaches is, in a sense, the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning of His mediatorial state of humiliation.
Again satan is present, a satan of flesh and blood, but a satan none the less. Again there occurs that influx of hellish passion: What God wills and declares inevitable need never take place! That, surely, is suffering. It explains the brusque reprimand.
But more can be said. Christ who always sees the organic unity in the mission of His life also sees the climax in God’s purpose. After that other summit of attainment, His baptism, the Spirit drove Him into the desert to meet Satan. Now, at this second level of achievement, that same Spirit drives Him out to meet another satan, Simon Barjona. How terribly effective are the several repetitions in the fugue of God’s wrath! The Holy Spirit Himself places Peter’s rebellious hand upon Christ’s pulpit. And for the Saviour, fully aflame as He is with love for mankind, it is far worse suffering to meet a satan of flesh and blood than to confront that one great Devil who is sheer spirit. Jesus Himself is human. He called Simon Barjona a friend. And a friend’s opposition to the task which God placed upon the Son of man is a burden outweighing a thousand times the enmity to Him and the Father breathed out by the Demon of the pit. Hearing His bride speak and act satanically, seeing a human being, one of those for whom He is giving His life, become an instrument of Satan, observing the flesh in Simon Peter assert itself to take exception to heaven’s law of atonement through fulfillment, and all that, mark well, at the moment of Christ’s prophesying — that must have been Jesus’ severest suffering up to this time. For He knows all the while that this same rebellion of flesh against spirit will presently nail Him to the cross.
Hence we do not wonder and we do not take issue with Him as Jesus curtly declares, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Silence is the response befitting this spectacle of the terrible grief which the Son of man, as a true, complete, and sinless human being, felt at this time. Silence, and an offer of thanksgiving as we notice that the pure and perfect Mediator takes uncompromising issue with as little even as the mere idea that God’s counsel shall not be fulfilled in Him, or that the heavenly plan of redemption, bearing with it the gift of eternal peace, shall not accrue to Peter and to us.
Tremulously we place our fingers upon our lips at seeing this consuming fire of holiness, these flames of love, the quick lighting of this prophecy, which leaps out at the slightest contact with satanic will and spirit, and which by that very spontaneity of its reflex action proclaims the immutable law of, and wonderful fidelity to, God’s determinate counsel. We worship and praise the quick response which sensitively obeys God’s justice and promise of faithfulness; we bow before the perfection which never profanes the flawless round of God’s righteousness and truth.
What besides? Well, you and I are standing at the entrance to the temple of suffering. What if we should sometime be told: Behind me, Satan?
The question strikes us dumb. Full well we know that we, too, have earned that black and ugly epithet. As often as we fail to believe, to serve the Prophet, Priest, and King, we are satans to Him. O yes, He is no more with us as He once walked beside Simon Barjona, but His Spirit, we know, has returned to dwell with us; and as often as we do not believe Him, as frequently as our hearts ponder some other way of redemption, we grieve that Spirit. And that familiar phrase, “grieving the Spirit,” is the New Testament term for what before the day of Pentecost was called “being a satan to Jesus.”
Yes, in us, too, flesh wars against spirit. For us also the entrance to the temple of passion is a place of amazement. There the Spirit of God begins battle against the flesh. There the atmosphere is oppressive. Fortunately, if we are really troubled, if we grow awfully tense within, the Worker of our salvation reprimands us for our overbearing impatience.
We shall have to make amends for such conduct long. It will be so throughout life. Even though we love the Lord, our experience will be that of Simon Barjona, who was sent back into the place of instruction one moment and who the next minute again spoke satanically upon the mountain of transfiguration.
Our course, then? Shall we turn back, depending upon our inadequate selves?
By no means. You remember that we pointed out two high spots. The one was a ledge on the slope of the subjective life of grace, of the experience of faith, of apprenticeship with Jesus. On that level we, like Simon Barjona, have spoiled everything.
But when the vapors of hell have lifted, when the wrath of Christ’s words has dispelled the nebulosity of Peter’s misconception, we look up to that other height. There on that second summit, on the mountain of objective grace, Jesus still stands, untainted by our pollution, Prophet, Priest, and King in purity and virtue.
To us, here at the beginning of the passion history, it is incomparable comfort to know that He stands so adamant on the threshold of the temple of suffering that not even the violent gusts of hell can cause Him to waver.