Mark 8:31–35 (NKJV)
31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Peter was sorely rebuked by Jesus. When understood in context its fierceness is appropriate given His teaching that only by losing one’s life for His sake could one truly live. Even though Peter’s words seemed like an encouragement, a genuine concern for Jesus’ well-being and safety, even an attempt to shield Him from suffering and death Jesus knew Peter’s own self-preservation was paramount now that increasingly hostile circumstances were coming.
It is interesting to note that while Jesus “openly” spoke to His disciples Peter’s response was an “aside”, away from the others, perhaps even whispered in His ear. It was almost like Peter thought that Jesus must be mistaken and wanted to correct Him. The upshot is that Peter, a disciple, questioned Jesus, the LORD about the very core purpose of His coming and Jesus knew that to deviate from the Plan even for an instant meant forfeiture of God’s promised redemption of Israel and the whole world.
The immense gravity of this teaching becomes even clearer when the word “rebuke” is considered (ἐπετίμησε). It’s obviously translated ‘rebuke’ in vvs 31and 32. However, in v30 it is translated “warned them” (not to tell anyone that He is the Christ). This is another stern, unequivocal saying to show the disciples that He meant business.
So, the point is that if we think we can avoid self-denial, or avoid suffering for His sake we are really thinking that Jesus didn’t mean what He said. This is tantamount to Satan’s question in Genesis “Hath God said…? And we all know what happened next. There is no way around it; following Jesus means death to self and it’s the only pathway to life and suffering is part and parcel of true discipleship. To think otherwise is to think just as Satan does.
This passage, and others like it, portray Jesus as anything but the lovey dovey Jesus often depicted these days. In fact, Christianity has been reduced, at least by some, to a promise of certain ‘feelings’ like happiness, joy, peace, contentment, and even love as if these are just emotions, that if you don’t feel them you don’t have them.
Take love, for example. Jesus said that “if you love me, keep my commandments” which, in certain circumstances might entail having certain ‘feelings’ but is most certainly not reducible to mere emotions. That is, if we obey the Lord when we ‘feel’ like it, or only if such obedience issues in warm fuzzies, then I’m afraid we are thinking as Satan would have us think. Why? Because feelings are fleeting, always changing, unpredictable, arbitrary and even capricious whereas obedience to His wishes is not. This is why He said “if you love me, keep my commandments” and not “if you love me, you’ll feel good about yourselves”. If the Enemy can persuade us to think certain feelings are necessary to serve the Lord, then the absence of such feelings will assuredly inhibit any spiritual advancement.
I have witnessed, and many others have noted it as well, an increasingly flippant and careless attitude towards this weighty matter of obedience. It is as if people actually think, although probably would never admit it, that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit exist to serve their interests, to insure their success, and secure a trouble-free life. Of course, if many Christian congregations are filled with immature “baby” Christians, all demanding attention and needing to be the center of attention as babies do, then such thinking can be explained. Remaining in such a spiritual state, however, is as unnatural as a grown adult having a tantrum because no one is paying proper attention to their needs. A church filled with crying congregants because they are ‘feeling’ bad about one thing or another is a church filled with people thinking like Satan thinks; the elevation of themselves to the center of attention.
While the disciples displayed egoism, unbelief, misunderstanding and dismay as disciples, the goal Jesus had for them was that they become apostles, “sent forth ones”, the first wave of emissaries preaching the Gospel to the whole world. The book of Acts shows they rose to the task, thinking and acting as Jesus taught them, rebuking people, devils and overcoming all that stood in the way of their proclamation. It is an interesting exercise to compare the goings on in the Acts of the Apostles with what we see in typical American churches today.
The rebuke of Jesus continues, although now with entire churches and regions in view. The opening chapters of the Revelation show this to be the case. It will be a good thing when we all “have an ear and hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” and learn to think like Jesus and not the Enemy.