Matthew 16:21-28

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is the second part of the messianic discourse which began in Matthew 16:13. It is a tightly structured story that is not difficult to learn because it is so well constructed and we've heard it a lot. Two verbal threads link this part of the discourse together: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" and "For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?" However, this story is not primarily constructed on a web of verbal threads. It is structured by the conversation between Jesus, Peter, and the disciples.

The dynamic of the story is first around conflict between Jesus and Peter. In the immediate aftermath of Jesus blessing Peter, Jesus prophesies his own passion and death. Peter then rebukes Jesus, and Jesus in turn calls Peter “Satan” and rebukes him for his resistance to the prophesy.

The prophesy of suffering and death is a complete reversal of expectations. There is no precedence for this anywhere in the messianic tradition. It is virtually impossible to conceive of a Messiah, an anointed one, being killed and then raised on the third day. The prophecy is delivered as indirect discourse, summarized by the storyteller. But Peter’s response is delivered as direct discourse and therefore has more dramatic impact on the audience. His reaction is completely understandable from the point-of-view of anyone who knows the tradition of Israel.

The dialogue between Peter and Jesus is often read in a very objective manner. But it was what we would call a fight. “Rebuke” is a very strong word in Greek. It was unusual for the student or disciple of a rabbi to rebuke his teacher. Peter’s clear intent is to defend Jesus against death; thus, his words need to be spoken strongly. Jesus’ response is if anything even more intense. To call someone “Satan” was both unusual and graphic. Ancient teachers often rebuked their students, but very rarely if ever did a teacher call his student Satan.

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