It is humbling to remember that as Christians we are still vulnerable to Satan’s deception. One moment we can speak glorious truth and the next moment destructive, satanic words. We must be on our guard, something Peter learned the hard way. The following meditation is from Matthew 16:13–27.
Why Jesus had led his disciples up to Caesarea Philippi, they weren’t sure. At the foot of Mount Hermon, in the far north of Palestine, the population was mostly pagan. Legend told that the Greek god, Pan, had been born in a nearby cave housing a great spring of water. Temples and shrines were built into the cliffs. Philip the Tetrarch made the city his capital, which he named in honor of Tiberius Caesar — and himself.
But for Jesus, Caesarea Philippi was likely a refuge from the pressing crowds and controversy he generated among the Jews, a peaceful retreat where he could ask his disciples a defining question.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“John the Baptist,” answered one. There were a few muted laughs because John had only died a few months ago. But the strange rumor made Philip’s half brother, Antipas, tremble.
Another said, “Some say Elijah.” This made more sense, since the prophet, Malachi, had said Elijah would come (Malachi 4:5). But in that sense, Elijah had died a few months ago.
“Or one of the other prophets, like Jeremiah,” said a third.
Jesus seemed to be lost in thought for a few minutes. Then he looked around the group and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”
This question pierced right to their deepest hope. It was a hope their ancestors had nurtured for centuries — one that had been dashed many times. It was a hope so dear that, even after all of Jesus’s signs, most were hesitant to actually say it.
But not Peter. For right or wrong, he was bolder than the rest. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he answered with characteristic passion. The words echoed off the rocky walls. Every man felt his diaphragm tighten. This was the moment of truth. Their hopes rested on Jesus’s response.
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Awe permeated this holy moment. Before this Jesus had all but proclaimed himself the Messiah. But now the line had been officially crossed. Peter had said what they all desperately hoped was true. And Jesus had affirmed it.
And in that moment, Peter earned his name. From then on he was a memorial stone of the mammoth, Mount-Hermon-like truth of Jesus’s person and his mission — the indestructible truth on which the church would be built.
But then irony struck. The rock of truth quickly became a stumbling block.
Having declared himself the Messiah to his disciples, Jesus immediately began explaining to them that his mission required his capture, death, and resurrection. This did not land on them as good news. How in the world could the messianic kingdom be established if the Messiah dies?
This really disturbed Peter. It wasn’t like Jesus to sound so resigned to being overcome by evil. There was no way that God would allow his Son to be killed and leave all the prophecies unfulfilled. Hadn’t they experienced God’s omnipotent power? And if it was a matter of protection, well, Jesus needed to know that no one would lay a hand on him, except over Peter’s dead body!
So at the next opportunity, bold Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Jesus cut him off with intense authority. “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.”
Peter stepped back, confused. This was the last thing he expected to hear. Satan? He was being used by Satan? And he thought he was trying to help.
Peter might have recalled this moment later in life when he wrote this exhortation: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
As Christians who have received the Holy Spirit, some of the most glorious truths that exist are revealed to us and pass through our lips. Yet we still must watch our mouths (Psalm 141:3), not only to refrain from harsh words of impatient irritability or selfish ambition, but also, as in Peter’s case, to keep ourselves and others from our sincerely held misunderstandings. Satan is very subtle. He is very good at deceiving us where our understanding is limited or partial. If we are not careful, we can be fully convinced that we are advancing God’s kingdom when we are really opposing it.
This is why it is so important that we be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19) and clothed with humility, because, as Peter both experienced and wrote, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).