Matthew 16:21-28 Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
21Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you’, 23but He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
24Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, 25for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? or what will they give in return for their life?
27‘The Son of Man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.’
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
Jesus lived in a region of Roman occupation, and violence was just a normal part of everyday life, especially if anyone dared to challenge the authority of the Roman governor. Torture and crucifixion were common in that environment. The disciples had grown up in that sort of world, where one powerful force would overrule another and take charge, so it’s hardly surprising that Jesus was constantly reminding them of a better way, but the better way hadn’t sunk in. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16) there was likely an expectation that Jesus would take on the Roman authorities and use His power to overthrow them. The first problem with that is that the use of violence to overthrow a power, and that is what would have been what most people at the time thought was needed to get rid of the Roman occupying forces, would only breed a new power struggle, and more violence. That’s one reason why war is so senseless, and why those who want to dominate our current world with force are only breeding more of the thing we need to rid this world of: violence. It appals me to hear that some current and some former service personnel in the Australian Defence Force are running an Instagram campaign promoting violence because that is so counter to Christ’s teaching and example. The second problem is that Jesus had been teaching the disciples a better way to live. Love conquers all. “Love your enemy” Jesus said. Have yourself labelled as a resister by not resisting.
It’s hardly surprising that Jesus would be subject to violence from within the religious establishment, considering He was often highly critical of those very people, and challenged their authority. Peter, on the other hand, couldn’t see how Jesus would be able to achieve what He proclaimed if He were subjected to such torture and a horrific death – and while we’re at it let’s not forget that those who were crucified would have been totally naked, unlike the sanitised pictures we see. Peter couldn’t image such a denigrating, humiliating death being part of the Good News. How often do we fall into the same sort of trap? How often do we argue against what God wants to do because we don’t like it, or can’t (won’t) see it? How often do we allow others to dictate what we do, and how we do it, when we should be proclaiming God’s message to all?
What did Jesus say to the one who had just proclaimed Him to be Son of Man, and the Messiah? “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus wasn’t condemning Peter for his attempt to save Christ from the cross, but condemning Satan, working through Peter’s problem in accepting the inevitable. There’s a real lesson for us there. Jesus separated Peter, one of His most ardent followers and someone able to listen to God, from the influence of Satan, who was taking Peter’s weakness and using it to attack Jesus. Can we separate the sin from the sinner in the same way? Our contemporary society can’t. I can think of many people who have been brilliant in their own way but have done something seriously wrong, and their great works have been discarded as well as them, and I can think of many others who have been treated similarly when their greatest failure is to have a different opinion from the majority. That’s what happened to Christ, except that we try to remember His good deeds, and try to explain away those bits which are difficult to accept.
Set your mind on divine things, not human things, and we stand a chance of redeeming the world. Do the reverse and you will be a stumbling block for God – though God will win in the end, so why fight?
What did Jesus mean by asking His disciples to deny themselves and pick up their cross to follow Him? It’s something which slips off the tongue easily and is gone before we think what it really means. Looking at Christ’s own example, and as followers we are challenged to follow in His footsteps, we can see that self is not the most important aspect of life. I think of the podium at major sporting events: in the middle is “I”, to the left, as we face the medal winners, is “S”omeone important to us, and on the right is “N”obody in particular. That spells sin. Instead of thinking of ourselves first, and others last we should reverse that process and think of everyone else before ourselves, except that we have a duty to care for our health, and not neglect it lest we cannot serve others.
There is great satisfaction in helping others, and not much in looking after oneself at the expense of others. We sacrifice the enjoyment and fulfilment in our lives when we ignore others, and that is what Jesus was railing against. When we encounter Christ again our work in looking after others will be rewarded, and that should be important to all of us.
We might think that the final verse in this passage indicates Jesus’s expectation that His second coming would be within the life-span of some of His disciples, but what if we consider seeing the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” as having our eyes opened to a realisation that God’s Kingdom is here and now, and is all around us? Let us wash the paste off our eyes and see what God has given us.