“If anybody wants to follow me and be my disciples,he must take up his cross and follow me as a
disciple.” -Matt 16:24
Matthew 16 finds Jesus in a very lonely place. He is in Caesarea Philippi (not Israel). He is only being followed by the twelve (not the huge crowds from earlier). Only his disciples are still interested in what he has to say (everybody else has written him off as a heretic). The Jewish establishment wants him dead (as opposed to liberator from Rome). At every level Jesus has been rejected by Israel.
Yet it is here that he finally proclaims to his disciples that he is indeed the Messiah. Why here? I mean, why not in the synagogues of Galilee? Why not in the Temple, or in the Holy City of Jerusalem? Why Caesarea Philippi? Caesarea Philippi is where pagans worship their gods. This is not the place to be announcing that you’re going to be the Messiah, the chosen one.
Then Jesus goes on to say the he is going go to Jerusalem and be killed. One must wonder if the disciples think he’s completely lost his mind. The Messiah will enter the city and reclaim the glory of Israel, not go to be killed. That’s what happened to failed messiahs. Maybe he’s just a little depressed because he’s been rejected by everybody.
Perhaps that’s what Peter was thinking when he pulled Jesus aside. Perhaps his rebuke was something like, “Come on Jesus! Stop walking around like you’re defeated. You’ve got to believe in yourself!” Maybe he thought he would infuse his rabbi with energy and new found hope.
Jesus responds by calling Peter “satan.” Now in the original language the word “satan” is written in a way to suggest that this is not a proper name. Maybe instead of meaning Satan: the devil, Jesus is calling Peter satan: advisory or tempter. Implying that Peter’s position is against what Jesus is talking about. Also, Jesus’ phraseology suggests this as he tells Peter to “get behind me” the same word in the original language he uses in the next paragraph when he says, “follow me.”
What are we to make of this?
It is at this point that the disciples who have been very well behaved. They have followed Jesus and have not questioned his teaching or his plans, suddenly are shown for what they really are: completely confused. Everything Jesus has been teaching them has gone in one ear and right out the other.
The rest of the book of Matthew, the disciples time and time again misunderstand and “misremember” everything that Jesus says and has said. Sadly, this goes on right up to and through the death of their rabbi. What’s even worse is that even today, many of the followers of Jesus do not understand what Jesus is saying.