One of the most difficult things for the Jews of our Lord’s day to understand is how the Messiah could be both a glorious king of Israel and the world and yet also be a rejected, suffering Servant. The understanding of messiahship by this point was rather diverse. Some felt that the two strands of imagery were so divergent that they had to be referring to two distinct individuals. Of course, others believed that the Messiah’s work was primarily ethno-political and centered upon the exaltation of Israel over its military oppressors, with all ethnic Jews as the victors and all Gentiles doomed. Most interestingly, until Jewish Christians began proclaiming that Jesus was the Servant of Isaiah 53, it was very common to view that passage as in some sense referring to a messianic individual who suffered as a substitute. Only after the identification of Jesus with that personage did the rabbis rather aggressively make a course-correction and assert that the servant was either the nation of Israel or Isaiah himself (and interestingly, to this day Isaiah 53 is not read in Jewish synagogues).
Of course, Jesus is both suffering servant and victorious king. His vicarious suffering for sinners lays the foundation for His glorious spiritual-earthly kingdom in all its present and future aspects. How else shall He win a vast population of that kingdom from all the rebels of the world, and redeem the world and all in it from sin and the curse? But the Jewish mindset of the day was often very warped in its messianic understanding. Because Jesus preached repentance and regeneration, not the overthrow of Rome and the immediate exaltation of all Jewish persons, and especially because He was so vigorously rejected by the unbelieving Jewish leadership, many Jewish people rejected Him as the true Messiah. (Of course, many thousands accepted Him too.) The notion that suffering and glory could coexist in the same Man—indeed, that the suffering was the gateway and necessary means to the glory—was virtually foreign to them. Even the regenerate disciples had a hard time accepting it!
Today, we look at our Lord’s pivotal revelation and declaration of His cross-work, and how it is the glorious foundation of all He has done and will yet do.
A. The Revelation of Jesus (v. 31)
Note that this is just after Peter’s wondrous Spirit-led confession of our Lord’s true identity and God and King. This glorious One, whose kingdom will triumph over all and who will build His imperishable church as the first phase of that kingdom—this One “must suffer many things.”
Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man.” This is His favorite self-designation, as He uses it over 80 times in the gospels to refer to Himself. The imagery is drawn from Daniel 7, a wondrously mysterious and fascinating vision given to Daniel about the ultimate course of all things. The Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven into the presence of the Ancient of Days and is given divine authority to rule over a vast, teeming kingdom filled with every people, language, and nation. The NT is beautifully thorough and complex in how it traces the outworking of this passage. “Clouds” are of course a reference to the shekinah glory, the manifest presence of God active for blessing and/or judgment. It appears that based on how our Lord uses this reference later in Mark 14, the “coming” includes first His ascension into heaven to be crowned as universal Lord and king; His visible return in shekinah glory for His own (Matthew 24:29-31; cf. vv. 36-44, 1 Thess. 4:13-18), and finally His bodily return at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel to establish His glorious millennial and eternal empire (Revelation 14:14-20; cf. 16:17-21, 19:11-21). The gathering of His kingdom’s subjects appears to be progressive as well; allusions to the “families/nations” wording in Daniel 7 elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments, as well as a biblical-theological understanding of the people of God, indicates that His kingdom is populated progressively with His one people, though there are distinctions within that group.
All of this background makes Jesus’ words that much more shocking. The Son of Man will suffer? The glorious One who rules over all things and is adored by the world? Yes. “Must” modifies all four clauses. He must suffer “many things,” a comprehensive statement inclusive of all the diverse, ugly ways in which He was humiliated and hurt. He must be rejected—the word means to examine something thoroughly and it fails to pass the test, so it is rejected as not genuine—by the Jewish leadership. He must be killed—the word has reference to a gruesome, bloody death, not unlike the slaughter of an animal. He does not yet state the purpose of His death—that comes later (e.g., cf. Mark 10:45).
But there is one more must—He must rise from the dead. Here in stark statement is the heart of the gospel—His vicarious death as a substitute for sinners, and His glorious bodily resurrection-vindication which those same sinners will share. We sin if we leave Jesus on the cross or in the tomb. He died a bloody, sacrificial death, yes—but He lives bodily, fleshly, physically forever to rule, save, bless, empower, advance—and return! How good it is to have a living Savior!
Of course, the eleven saved disciples do not fully understand all of this. They can’t, really, until the Holy Spirit comes to permanently indwell and overshadow them in New Covenant fullness (Jn. 7:39, 14:16-17, 15:26). Perhaps Peter’s outburst can be a bit more understandable in that light. But it was still fleshly and unbelieving, as we will see next.
B. The Rebuke of Peter (v. 32)
The Greek text tells us that Jesus was repeatedly saying these things to His men. He is speaking literally, plainly, bluntly, frankly, with open and unadorned forthrightness. He knows they don’t get it, and He knows they need to know it. He will be leaving soon; the One they have loved, lived with, been taught by for three years will soon enter the next phase of His mission, and they need to be prepared. They need truth to anchor them in the dark days to come, and in the glorious yet difficult days of gospel and kingdom expansion after His resurrection-ascension.
But Peter, ever the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth (so like all of us!), can bear no more. Peter gets it. And he says no! Lit. “having taken Him to himself,” Peter pulls Jesus aside, away from the group and wants to correct (!) Him before this gets out of hand.
Peter was a man of his culture and time, as all of us are. This does not excuse his misunderstanding—much less his vocal opposition to revelation from God—but it does help us understand him and ourselves. Like him, we too have difficulty seeing beyond the expectations and interpretations (of life, the world God, etc.) of those around us. Often, these are so transparent to us that they are the sheer lenses we don’t even realize we’re wearing. Thus when something in God’s Word hits our internal framework or grid incorrectly, our instinct—not merely because of our fallenness, but also because of our environmental conditioning (which of course is also fallen!)—is to resist it. This requires repentance at some deep level, because it is still rejecting what God says in favor of our own fallen reasoning and thinking. But it also ought to make us gentle and patient with others and even ourselves. Extricating oneself from the fallen web of ideas and assertions that comprise an ungodly worldviewis no small task. This even sadly happens in the church, where pride, arrogance, unbelief, and other fleshly attitudes and rationalizations for disobedience can take root in a church culture—and once again be very difficult to see (even to the point of calling the true biblical position heretical or disobedient!). O how we need the discernment of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes every day!
In Matthew’s fuller account, besides his rebuke (a Greek word that carries the idea of forceful, even vehement, warning—the same word used of Jesus’ warning in v. 20), Peter says something like, “May God be propitious to You, Lord!” In other words, “God, have mercy on Jesus for saying such a stupid thing!” This can’t happen to Him—He’s the Messiah!
One writer I read years ago says that this passage is an illustration of compassion being Satanic. Peter meant well. He loved Jesus. And it was true his understanding of Scripture and such was not what it would soon be, such that he and the other apostles would glory in and exposit faithfully and die for the truth Peter is here rejecting so sharply. But his compassion, because it is not fueled by submissive faith in the revelation of God, is a beachhead of operation for Satan, though Peter knows it not.
C. The Resolve of Jesus (v. 33)
Jesus, of course, being God and the Word of God incarnate, shows no such dithering or autonomy towards the revelation of His Father. Moreover, He sees the sincere—if disastrously fleshly—rebuke of Peter as a flaming arrow still smelling of the sulfur of Hell. (If we are to have His mind and see things as He does, how would that change how we view a thousand seemingly innocuous and innocent moments of each day?)
“Seeing His disciples”—both because He knew they likely shared Peter’s opinion and were too afraid to voice it, and because He did not want them led astray, away from God’s grace in the cross-work, by Peter’s foolish outburst—He has His own rebuking to do. The man who a short while before He called a blessed recipient of revelation from God is now a mouthpiece for the Archenemy of God and men.
Matthew records that Peter is a stumblingblock to Jesus—that awful word that denotes something over which people stumble into eternal perdition! Obviously Jesus can’t go to Hell, but He recognizes the temptation is just as deadly. To listen to Peter would be to disobey His father, abandon His mission, rip apart the Triune Godhead, plunge the world into endless hellfire, and curse the name of God as a failure for all eternity.
Peter’s words, though human, have the singe of Hell about them, for they come from his unredeemed humanness. Jesus is perfectly aware of this, and treats it accordingly.
Why is Peter able to be this threat of stumbling? Because He is pursuing, setting his mind upon, evaluating with a (fallen) human perspective and plan rather than the divine perspective and plan of heaven. This contrast between our thinking and agenda vs. God’s is everywhere in the Bible, and it is the root cause of most of life’s problems because it is ultimately unbelief. We must have God’s ways, plan, character, priorities, and holiness as the starting place for thinking, reasoning, and interpreting. Only then will we walk straight on the narrow path all the way to life.
May God help us to believe Him fully, choosing His ways over our own, and glorify the risen, reigning, soon-returning Son of Man thereby. Amen.