Jesus’ followers thought that he had come to deliver them from Roman rule. What they wouldn’t understand under after His resurrection, was that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom. Steph Nickel looks at Matthew 16:22-23, where Jesus tells Peter to set his mind on the things of God, and not on the things of man.
The Things Of God
Let’s begin by looking at Matthew 16:21-23, which says, “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 on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”
These three verses overflow with truths.
Jesus knew His disciples wouldn’t understand what He was teaching them until after His resurrection, but even so, it seems He spent a fair amount of time sharing what lay ahead.
A Heavenly Kingdom
As I’ve mentioned before, His followers were expecting a military leader, someone who would free them from Roman oppression. They didn’t understand the kind of kingdom Jesus had come to establish.
Jesus was in his early 30s, in good health, and had the power to draw large crowds. He did so because He fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. That’s right. He could breathe life into a corpse—even one that had been in the grave for days, as Lazarus’ family and friends learned.
Of course His disciples thought He had come to set up an earthly kingdom. That’s the kind of deliverer they had been waiting for for a very long time. Now, some 2,000 years later, it’s much easier for us to understand what He came to accomplish. Or is it?
Peter Rebukes Jesus
If we were among Jesus’ 1st Century followers, we too would likely have felt as Peter did—even if we weren’t as bold as this outspoken disciple. He didn’t simply take the Master aside and ask Him to explain what He meant. He rebuked Him. He actually rebuked his Master? That seems unheard of from our perspective, but you must remember Jesus and His disciples spent the majority of their time together. They ate together, traveled together, drew away from the crowds together. There was a level of connectedness we may find hard to understand. Peter felt free to approach Jesus with his concerns.
And had Peter asked for clarification of what Jesus meant about His death and suffering, I’m sure the Lord’s response would have been different. But as it was, the Lord responded harshly—extremely harshly. Can you image how it must have stung when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan,” and further, “You are a hindrance to me”?
Things Of God, Not Things Of Man
Was Jesus being unnecessarily cruel? It may have felt so from Peter’s perspective—until he later realized what the Lord had truly come to accomplish and how He would graciously use Peter as a big part of His plans to spread God’s kingdom.
It’s all too easy to look back at what people have said and done and wonder what they were thinking. But how often could the Lord say of us as He did of Peter, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”?
That stings. Recently I watched a brief video of Francis Chan contrasting our lifespan vs. all of eternity. He had placed red duct tape around a few inches of a v-e-r-y long rope. He was expounding on how foolish it is to spend all of our time focused on the red area, representative of our life on Earth, while completely ignoring the equivalent of millions of years to follow. What a visual!
It’s easy to say, “Yes! That’s exactly what Peter was doing.”
Focus On A Heavenly Kingdom, Not The One We Imagine
But isn’t it what we do when we get all wrapped up with things that are fleeting: social standing, job security, saving for retirement. Don’t get me wrong we are not to be “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good,” as the saying goes, but we are to focus on furthering God’s kingdom while we draw breath, the kingdom revealed in His Word, not the one we imagine in our minds.
I plan to memorize Matthew 16:23 and review it often. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
May this verse serve as a warning when we are wandering away from the truth of the Scriptures, the very words of our Lord.
For further study, I encourage you to read Matthew 16:13-28, memorize verse 23, and ask God if this is ever the case in your life.
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