The dramatic scene portrayed in this week’s Gospel according to St. Mark is often known as Peter’s confession of faith. Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declares or confesses that Jesus is the Christ, or “the anointed one.” In St. Matthew’s portrayal of this precise scene, Jesus tells Peter that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” This declaration helps us to understand that Peter was not simply speaking for himself or for the other disciples. Rather, he is given infused knowledge from the Father himself so as to reveal Jesus’ true identity to the disciples. Therefore, Peter’s confession of faith is not simply his opinion. In this moment, Peter serves as God’s instrument to help others know who Jesus really is.
After Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ identity, a moment of great joy, Jesus begins to teach the disciples openly that as the Christ, He will have to suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders of the Jewish nation, be killed and then raised after three days. In this sudden shift of tone from joy to sorrow, Jesus links His identity as the Christ with a Messiah who must suffer, in fulfillment of the suffering servant image given to us in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Given this sudden shift in tone, we can understand why Peter would so quickly rebuke Jesus. From a human perspective, Peter is perplexed. He cannot understand how the Savior is supposed to save the world by suffering. It is interesting to note here that Peter had just made a confession of faith based on infused knowledge from heaven. Moments later, he has returned to earth and rebukes Jesus for linking his messianic mission to suffering.
In return, Jesus rebukes Peter with immensely powerful language. He says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Why does Jesus practically equate Peter’s rebuke to something Satan would say or had said? If we examine the dialog between Jesus and Satan in the desert during the 40 days following Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, we observe that a central theme in the devil’s temptation of Christ was the temptation for Jesus to abandon His mission of doing the Father’s will. The Father’s will consisted in Jesus suffering and dying for the salvation of the whole world. So, when Jesus heard Peter’s rebuke, it quickly reminded Jesus of His battle with Satan during the 40 days of temptation in the desert. Having overcome these temptations, Jesus rejects anyone who would re-introduce them.
The remainder of the Gospel passage is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching that in order to enjoy the glory that He can offer, the faithful disciple must learn to endure and persevere through the crosses that are given him. From a human perspective, the cross is folly and Peter’s rebuke of Jesus makes perfect sense. For those who have eyes of faith, the cross and the suffering that accompanies it is the gateway to eternal life.