When Rocky is too rocky

I have my devotions each day by translating certain Scriptures. It forces me to be slow and deliberate, and it is always fruitful to spend such careful time examining key terms. I was doing my devotional this morning and was struck again at the conversation between Jesus and Peter at Caeserea Philippi, way in the north of Palestine (Matt 16:13ff). This is the pivotal conversation in the ministry of Jesus where Jesus investigates how the public understands him. It's also the time Jesus requires His own disciples to answer that most important question: "Who do you think I am?" (He literally asks of the disciples in v. 13, "What are the men saying the Son of Man to be?")

"Some say John the Baptizer." People could think that Jesus was literally John the Baptizer since some people believed that John returned from the dead after Herod had him killed (see Matt 14:1-2). Of course, no one who really knew Jesus would think that Jesus was John. But, you know how people can talk who don't know the facts! But of course, the point is, people would have thought Jesus was John because of the particular message Jesus preached, calling people to repentance in preparation for the impending kingdom of God (see Mk 1:14-15). Their confusion is warranted; John preached the exact same thing (Matt 3). I don't know how Jesus responded to this, but I imagine Jesus with a grin on His face, nodding slowly in the affirmative.

"Others say Elijah." People could think that Jesus was literally Elijah having returned from Heaven (2 Kgs 2:11) to usher in the Day of Yahweh (e.g., see Malachi 3:1-3). They would have no way of knowing what Elijah looked like--perhaps Jesus was really Elijah! Again, their confusion is warranted; Jesus showed every sign that He was ushering in the Kingdom of God. I don't know how Jesus responded to this, but I imagine Jesus with a grin on His face, nodding slowly in the affirmative.

"Others say Jeremiah or a prophet." Jeremiah is an important prophet for Matthew's understanding of Jesus (see 2:17; 16:14; 27:9). Again, some people are saying that Jesus is fulfilling the role of an ancient prophet: speaking judgment on the religious elite (see Jeremiah 7; 26). Again, their confusion is warranted; Jesus did speak against the religious elite on several occasions (e.g., see Matt 23:29-24:2). I don't know how Jesus responded to this, but I imagine Jesus with a grin on His face, nodding slowly in the affirmative.

And then Jesus asks His disciples directly: "Well, what about you? Do you know who I really am?" (v. 15) Simon Peter is the only one who answers as far as we know: "Yeah, I know who you are. You're the Messiah, the Son of the Living God."

This declaration is right on. In fact, Jesus declares that such insight is given by the Father (v. 17). In fact, Jesus gives Simon (Hebrew, "Shimon" - "he has heard") a new nickname, "Rocky" (Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek). And upon "this rock," Jesus says that He'll build His church (v. 18). "This rock" could be Peter, and means that Peter will be a key leader in the primitive church (thus, all Roman Catholics argue). The only problem is the Greek form of the word. "Rocky" as a name for Peter is masculine, while "this rock" upon which the Church is to be founded is feminine. If Matthew wanted us to think the man, Peter, was the foundation, why not easily put "this rock" into the masculine form? Perhaps it is not Peter that is the foundation, but the declaration that "Jesus is the Messiah."

The only problem is, Peter doesn't like Jesus's understanding of the Messiah. Jesus says that He's about to go "suffer much" and be killed and raised from the dead. Peter takes Him aside privately and says emphatically, (literally) "Gracious Lord! This will never happen to you!"

And words come out of Jesus's mouth that I'd never like to hear: "Get behind me Satan!" (v. 23). Why? Because Peter has discouraged Jesus from fulfilling His "necessary" Messianic role. He has tempted Jesus not to suffer in the will of the Father (just as Satan did early in His ministry, see Matt 4). That is, as Jesus said, Peter, because of Satan, has "become a skandalon" for Jesus. A skandalon is "something which causes a stumble." This was used of literal stumbling, like over a rock in the road, and it was used metaphorically to refer to a person who caused another person to sin (hence texts like Matt 13:41; Mark 9:42; 1 Peter 2:8).

Here, in a matter of seconds, what seems to have been a term of praise, "Shimon" to "Rocky," has immediately become a term of derision. This "Rocky" person has become a "rock" on the road of Jesus's ministry and is about to cause Jesus to stumble!

My goodness. How many times have I told God what He should be doing or not doing. "Oh no, Lord! Surely this isn't what You wanted" Surely not! 

Moreover, this conversation reminds me of the powerful influence we can have on others. Our words matter. Our influence matters. If Peter's reprimand tempted Jesus to stumble, how much more easy is it for us to influence others to stumble?

I don't want to be "Rocky." I want to be a smooth path to the Kingdom. I know I'm not fully yet. But little by little, I pray, God is clearing up my path.

Get behind me Satan!