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Simon Peter

by Rev. James Gracie

By the Sea of Galilee Simon Barjona made his confession of Christ and was rewarded with his new name of Peter, only within a short while to receive a withering rebuke from the Lord for his unbelief! What was wrong? In a sermon preached in North Uist in 1999, Mr. Gracie looks at the danger Peter was in even as he acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah before dealing with the Lord's rebuke of His servant, and then he makes application of the passage.

Published in thePresbyterian Standard in two parts: Issue No. 17, January-March 2000, and Issue No. 18, April-June 2000.

"But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence to me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
Matthew 16:23

S ATAN! This word from the lips of our Lord is surely enough to make one tremble. To realise that it is used toward one of His own beloved disciples ought to make us take particular notice. "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona..." (v.17): "Get thee behind me, Satan..." (v.23). Within seven verses the difference is sheer.

We wish to consider two points: (1) Peter's Danger; (2) The Lord's Rebuke.


One would have thought that Peter was in little or no danger when the Lord called him 'Blessed'. The occasion of such a commendation was Peter's putting into words his noble confession; "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v.16). Such a clear confession of faith brings with it the Lord's blessing.

This was a confession that flesh and blood could never achieve; the Father had revealed it to Peter (v.17). When men were confronted with the Lord all they perceived was one "found in fashion as a man" (Phil. 2:8). They never saw the Divine glory that belonged to Him. They reviled Him: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3). How blessed Peter was therefore to confess the Lord as the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord; and the Son of the living God.

There is the duty for the Church in every age to clearly put into words a confession of what it believes concerning the Person and work of Christ. Today, Confessions of Faith are discarded as antiquated. "We must go back to Jesus" is the ill-informed cry of the age. However, the Church was never more blessed than in the days when she unequivocally and unashamedly held out her Confession of Faith to an unbelieving world, declaring; "I know whom I have believed; I know what I have believed."

As the Church faithfully confesses her Lord, with no uncertain sound, the gates of hell will not prevail against her. She requires such a confession to combat the many wiles of the Evil One who comes all too often not as a blasphemer and heretic – but as an angel of light and as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

However, we may have a good confession but, like Peter, be in great danger. Peter's danger lay in two things:

(i) In what he did not say

Peter's danger lay not so much in what he said, but in what went unsaid not in his outward confession, but in wrong views about Christ entertained within the heart. While confessing that He was "the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Peter had no comprehension of the many things that Christ had to suffer at the hands of the chief priests and scribes, of His death or the reason for it, nor of His resurrection (vv.21-22).

Is this not the case so often today? Preachers are heard. Perhaps no fault can be found with what is said. The fault, however, lies in what goes unsaid. The doctrines that are ignored or perhaps implicitly denied. The Scripture passages never referred to or easily explained away. A little investigation, however, soon reveals false views, wrong perceptions and little discernment lurking behind the innocent utterances. Some, just like the captain of the ship who commends the scenery around him while his ship makes wreck upon the very shoreline he is commending, make shipwreck of the faith while laying their plaudits at the feet of Jesus. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand left the multitude saying, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world" (John 6:14). They would have crowned Him King. Yet when our Lord revealed to them the true spiritual nature of His work, which contradicted what they thought He should be, they walked no more with Him.

Yet Peter was a true disciple. He loved the Lord and was sincere in his confession. Nevertheless, within Peter's heart there were wrong views concerning our Lord's work. With his forceful character, prominent position among the followers of our Lord and his close acquaintance with the Lord, how influential this one man could have proven in leading the other disciples astray! This ought to teach us a number of things:

(a) Our Confession ought to be as full as possible – whether it be our individual confession or that of the church. The opposite notion prevails today. Short and vague confessions may make room for more people within our fellowship, but it also facilitates just as many more errors. Rather, we should seek to establish every doctrine of Scripture knowing that there is no such thing as an irrelevant truth. This is where the Church today has the great advantage in having at its hand the Westminster Confession of Faith which is faithful to Scripture, precise and full in its statements, effective in its denouncement of error, and as a credal confession is second to none.

(b) Peter was surely sincere when he said to the Lord; "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee" (v.22). Peter loved the Lord and the thought of Him suffering as described stirred his feelings. Perhaps we can sympathise with Peter. Yet here is a lesson – sincerity or feelings are no test of righteousness. We can rebuke Christ with sincerity – Peter did! We can contradict Christ, His Word, His doctrine, His worship – all with apparently good motives. However, this always brings us on to the ground occupied by Satan, and causes us to be an offence to Christ.

(c) The most prominent, influential, and seemingly pious of leaders within the church are not immune from falling into error. It is true that we have greater privileges and light than Peter had (at that point in time). Yet with all these privileges the human heart remains the same. We should always beware of being followers of men, particularly when their lives and actions do not accord with their words.

(ii) In what he did say

Peter's danger lay not only in what went unsaid, but in his failing to apply the truth that he did profess. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Was Peter really applying his confession?

The term 'Christ' translates in the Septuagint the word 'Messiah' and means 'the Anointed'. This is how Andrew first announced the Lord to Peter: "We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (John 1:41). Peter knew that the Lord was 'the Christ of God'. Yet all the prophets from Moses onwards declared the suffering of Messiah. Peter himself later preached that, "God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer..." (Acts 3:18).

Why then did Peter not apply his confession? why was he so opposed to Christ's suffering? Surely the Lord supplies the answer to this question in Luke 24:25; "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Unbelief! This rebuke applies equally to Peter as to the men on the road to Emmaus. Peter was foolish for not comparing Christ's claims with the Scriptural testimony concerning Messiah. He was foolish for answering our Lord with such undue haste. He was foolish for not believing such clear testimony. He was foolish having a confession in his mouth at variance with his profession. Unbelief is foolishness in the extreme, particularly when found in the Lord's professing people.

Peter was not only foolish, but also slow of heart to believe. This is particularly so when we note that there was so much in the Old Testament to convince him, and that it was the Lord Himself who was his teacher. He did believe, and yet he did not. "I believe that thou art the Christ" was his confession; "I do not believe that this shall be unto thee" was his profession. Peter was quicker in his intellect to believe mentally than he was in his heart to believe practically.

How often arewe foolish and slow of heart? Truths we may embrace intellectually, we may deny in practice. For example, in the area of the Gospel we may mentally accept the five points of Calvinism, while at the same time in practice become the best advocates of Arminianism or Amyraldianism. Secondly, in the area of evangelism we many believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God, yet at the same time behave as though it is man who is sovereign. Thirdly, in the area of practical Christian living we may confess that all things work together for the good of the Lord's people, while at the same time complain of the providence that brings us trials. The list is endless. Not to apply the truths of Scripture that we confess is both foolish and slow of us.

"Thou art the Son of God." Did Peter make application of this part of his confession? Sadly again the answer must be, No. One quick glance at verse 22 will convince us of this:"Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him...." Peter rebuked the Lord, knowing Him to be the Son of God. Even the devils held their peace before Jesus, knowing who He was: "And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God" (Mark 3:11).

For a church to hold a confession which it does not believe, is unlawful: it would be more honourable for that church to revise her confession or dispense with it altogether. On the other hand, for a church to hold a confession which it does not practice, is dangerous: it would be more honourable for that church to consider just how offensive it is to Christ. "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."

To know that Christ is the Son of God should bring us to bow before Him with reverence and godly fear. However, when we contradict the clear teaching of Christ in the Word we are, in effect, contradicting our confession that He is the Son of God and we take up the very stance that Satan has already occupied. Satan knew who Christ was, and yet on two occasions during the temptation in the wilderness, he said: "If thou be the Son of God..." (Matt. 4:3, 6). We often play light with our denials, contradictions, and ever-so-slight deviations from His Word. However, do we recognise that in so doing we are denying His Divine prerogatives, and become an offence to Him? We, in effect, introduce the word 'if' just as Satan did.

What a blessed place Peter was in, yet what great danger.


We have seen what danger Peter was in even when he had a good confession on his lips. We now consider the Lord's rebuke of Peter.

(i) How was Peter's sin revealed?

Peter had no desire for the Lord to "suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes…" (v.21). The other disciples saw no reason to rebuke Peter for what he said; after all, he was simply putting into words what they themselves felt. But Christ did!

In the Old Testament, Joseph revealed secret things to Pharaoh and Pharaoh called Joseph's name "Zaphnathpaaneah " (which in the Coptic signifies,A revealer of secrets ). Our Joseph is the great revealer of the secret things of the heart things that are even unseen and secret to men. Firstly, this is true of the world. The greatest religious leaders of our Lord's day (the Scribes and the Pharisees), respected by men as pious and representing possibly the greatest religious order to which the world could aspire, are confronted with "God manifest in the flesh." What does such piety make of Christ? A united cry: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! The same verdict is given today by all the great religious orders. Respected by men as pious and holy, from the Muslim to the Mormon, from Hinduism to Romanism, the verdict is the same. The enmity to God in the human heart is revealed when confronted with Christ.

Secondly, even with Peter the believer it is the same. It was Jesus who told the woman at the well all things that ever she had done. "Is not this the Christ!" she exclaims. Peter was later brought to acknowledge, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:17). Today, by His Word and Spirit, the Lord Jesus searches the hearts of His people.

(ii) The Lord's Censure

Jesus concluded His dialogue with Satan in the wilderness, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." When the Lord rebuked Peter it was because Peter sought, like Satan, to take Jesus from the path of duty. The Lord refers to Peter as Satan, not because he had become Satan, nor even that Satan had "entered into him" (this is said of Judas alone [John 13:27]) but because he now occupied exactly the same ground that Satan had previously occupied. Further, Peter was now under the influence of the corruptions of his own heart – he spoke like a carnal man and not a spiritual man. Thus Christ denominates him from his carnality.

To go the way of the Cross was difficult. Peter, however, desired the path of least resistance. And though the disciples often offended Jesus, we do not read of any thing said or done at any time that Jesus resented so much as this. Even Peter's later denial of our Lord did not attract such a rebuke. From this we learn:

(a) The attitude of our Lord to His own atoning death. Many views prevail today concerning the Person and Work of Christ. He is a prophet, a faith healer, a problem solver. Yet the apostle states: "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). The death of Christ is the central truth of Christianity. Why? The answer is straightforward. Here the one subject that occupies the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is addressed. What subject? Our relationship to God the Father. This explains why Christ rebuked Peter so severely. Coming between the Lord and the salvation of His people, seeking to prevent our Lord doing the work the Father had given Him to do – this, above all, was of the devil and an offence unto Him.

(b) The attitude of our Lord to Peter's words. By his words, Peter was being worldly-minded. However, the Lord gives the conditions of true discipleship (vv.24-26).Firstly, self-denial. We must deny sinful self, ungodliness, godless friendships, worldly lusts, pride and self-righteousness. As one writer states: "We must not admire our own shadow, not gratify our own humour; we must not lean to our own understanding, nor seek our own things, nor be our own end." This is both the strait gate and the narrow way. Secondly, taking up a cross. The Lord dispels Peter's notion of a worldly kingdom or privileges. We each have a cross to bear which Infinite Wisdom and Sovereign Providence lays on our shoulders for our good. To this we must patiently submit. Thirdly, following the Lord. Though the Lord were a Son, "yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). We must follow Him, who Himself suffered, wherever He will lead. So often our comforts, our name, our flesh and blood, even our own misplaced zeal for what we think is the honour of Christ, all conspire to draw us away from the path of duty. However, this is an offence unto the Lord.


Jesus says in the Greek, ει τιζ θελει – "if any man be willing to come" (v.24). What worldly man can willingly make choice of Christ? As with the rich young ruler, consulting with flesh and blood, the cost becomes too high. Peter had to learn that the way of discipleship has a cost, which must be willingly accepted. The psalmist gives us encouragement: "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power" (Psalm 110:3). Let us apply the truths of this text. We learn:

(i) Our need of being saved

Peter's first need was to see the corruption of his own heart and the need of an atoning death. Preaching must first be such as to show men their utter alienation from God. Do we know that sin has brought us into a state of enmity with the Creator?

(ii) The Love of Christ

With what resolution the Lord set His face as a flint toward Jerusalem. "The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting..." (Isa. 50:5, 6). He undertook the work of our salvation, and He did so willingly. What love, even to Peter, is behind these words of rebuke. There is love behind every rebuke the Lord gives to his dear children. Do we know the love of Christ constraining us?

(iii) Our Obedience to Him

If Christ was such a willing Servant for us, how much more should we be willing servants for Him. Peter eventually learned what it was to follow Him. The Lord forewarned Peter: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee...when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me" (John 21:18-19). Do we know what it is to be following the Lord?

(iv) Touch not the Lord's Anointed

The Lord rebuked Peter for even suggesting something that was to the ultimate detriment of His Church. See how Christ loves His own. We should therefore be instructed: "Touch not mine anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm" (Psa. 105:15). On the contrary, we should always seek to do that which is for the good of Christ's Church, lest we incur the rebuke of the Lord.

May the Lord bless these thoughts to each of us.