Question: "Why did Jesus say to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan'?"
Answer: The command “Get behind me, Satan,” spoken to Peter by Jesus, is recorded in Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33. “Get behind me, Satan” seems harsh and out of character for Jesus, especially when addressing Peter, one of His most devout disciples. Why did Jesus say this? What was it Peter did to deserve such a rebuke? Without knowing it, Peter was speaking for Satan.
Jesus had just revealed to His disciples for the first time the plan: He was to go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and be raised to life (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31). Contrary to their expectations of Him, Jesus explained that He had not come to establish an earthly Messianic kingdom at that time. The disciples were not prepared for this new revelation of the Messiah’s purpose. Though Peter understood His words, he simply could not reconcile his view of the conquering Messiah with the suffering and death Jesus spoke of. So Peter “began to rebuke Him” for having such a fatalistic mindset.
Unwittingly, Peter was speaking for Satan. Like Jesus’ adversary, Peter was not setting his mind on the things of God—His ways, His plans, and His purposes (Colossians 3:2; Isaiah 55:8-9). Instead, his mind was set on the things of man, the things of the world and its earthly values. Jesus was saying that the way of the cross was God’s will, the plan of redemption for all mankind. Peter’s reaction was most likely shared by the other disciples although, as always, it was Peter who spoke first. Peter was inadvertently being used of Satan in thinking he was protecting Jesus. Satan had purposely tempted Jesus in the wilderness to divert Him from the cross, from fulfilling the grand design of the Father and the Son (Mark 1:12-13). Innocently, Peter was doing the same thing. He had not yet grasped Jesus’ true Messianic purpose.
Although Peter had just moments before declared Jesus as the Christ, he turned from God’s perspective and viewed the situation from man’s perspective, which brought about the stern rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus went on to explain: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).
At the time, Jesus’ stern reprimand did not make sense to Peter. However, Jesus’ indictment presents a profound message for us. We can easily see that Peter had the wrong perspective of God’s plan for Christ’s suffering and death. But we must also see how easily we can become an unwitting spokesperson for Satan. This is especially true when we lose sight of God’s plan for us. This comes about when our focus is on our careers, our possessions, our security, and the things of the world rather than upon sacrifice and service and the proclaiming of God’s message. When Peter’s focus shifted to his own desires and plans, Jesus rebuked him in order to get him back on track. May our focus always be on God and His plans, that we may never experience a similar rebuke from our Lord.