From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:21-26
If Matthew 16:21-26 gets pulled out of context, it can be twisted into that same bondage found in TRYING to deny yourself by some kind of psychological mind-control or else by plain old intestinal fortitude (gut-level will power). It is a shame to watch believers caught in the trap of trying to deny something ABOUT themselves or trying to decrease. Yeah, lots of people talk about doing it, but they also talk about the difficultly of following through.
There is a contrast that would have grown in Peter’s mind (as well as the rest) that is usually overlooked when studying this passage. But if you’ll look up to the preceding verses you’ll see the famous saying,
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God Matthew 16:16
Do you see what Jesus said about Peter’s testimony?
Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did NOT reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven Matthew 16:17
Interesting that Jesus told them NOT to tell anyone what had been revealed to Peter by his Father, don’t you think? You see, it was for them. Because they were the ones through whom Jesus would pour his life out on mankind. That’s not because they were so special, but because of the fact that they weren’t.
Notice in verse 21 we are told that Jesus began to show his disciples of his upcoming death and resurrection. But they didn’t get it. And Jesus knew they wouldn’t. At least, not YET. He sent his Spirit to remind them of everything he said. The Spirit wasn’t like a recorder that played back the tapes of Jesus’ words, as it was much better than that. He actually gave them insight into what those things were that he told them. And that’s what was going on here. For one day soon, when the Spirit came, they would put it all together. It would finally make sense to them and they would get it!!
What was it that Peter rebuked Jesus for? It was the very thing that would bring reconciliation and life to the world: the death and resurrection. Peter wasn’t being cantankerous or anything, and he sure wasn’t out of line, humanly speaking, because he was horrified at these suggestions Jesus was making about suffering and dying. He was being very discreet since he purposely took Jesus aside to rebuke him instead of doing it in front of everybody. “This shall NEVER happen to you!” But it is EXACTLY what he came to do … it was his PURPOSE, the WILL OF HIS FATHER.
The purpose of the deceiver, Satan, was to keep Jesus from stomping his head since that is the thing that God told him after Adam sinned.
You will bruise his heel, but he will bruise your head Genesis 3:15
It didn’t take too much of a genius to realize that a head wound is far more serious than a heel wound, huh? :) Satan, being the father of lies, is the one who has passed this mindset to man. So when Jesus told Peter to “Get behind me, Satan!” he was speaking to the perverted wisdom of man, through Satan’s lie, that seeks its own interests and NOT God’s. If you and I were there, we would have considered it a noble thing to deter Jesus from the suffering and death he said would happen, but it’s only noble in the sight of man, who judges based on what he sees.
That’s why Jesus led into his comments about taking up a cross and following him. Realize that they did not get it. They did not think that he was telling them to do some kind of religious stuff like soul-searching or something like that. The fact is that they didn’t know WHAT to think other than that maybe Jesus had gone whacko. What in the world does he mean when he tells us that in order to follow him we have to carry our OWN crosses up the hill to be hung out to die in shame and suffering?
I think they would laugh at our pitiful attempts to apply this principle to our own lives. Here we go about trying to get dedicated by following Jesus by trying to figure out what God wants us to do, and the disciples were recoiling from the ultimatum of hanging on a literal instrument of human torture in the most degrading form imaginable!
To deny oneself has nothing to do with a life of looking down on yourself because of failures and sin, it is the viewpoint of seeing everything about one’s life as being worthless and vile. He spoke, of course, of the life that had to be condemned in the flesh through Christ. Peter later wrote:
…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your FUTILE way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19
See? Peter GOT it!! Especially when you put it together with how he began his letter:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be BORN AGAIN TO A LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of THE DEAD 1 Peter 1:3
That was the very thing Peter rebuked Jesus about, but NOW he only gloried in the thing that was shameful to him before.
The absurdity of the modern application of taking up crosses only causes confusion and bondage because we seek to follow a Biblical command that could ONLY be performed by Christ. And by HIS doing he has included us into this death and resurrection.