When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (NLT)
Peter here gives us an example of how we can be both very right and very wrong at much the same time. On the one hand, he identifies Jesus as the promised Messiah rather than just mimicking what others might have thought. As always, it is what we think of Jesus that shapes our destinies, not what others may think. On the other hand, he puts his foot in it by telling Jesus that all this talk about a Messiah dying was mistaken. Jesus’ rebuke of him may seem severe, but Jesus had been tempted to be a nonsuffering Messiah and Peter’s well-meaning words could have been used by the evil one to seduce Jesus into taking an easier road.
Peter figured Jesus to be the Messiah, but he didn’t want Jesus to be that sort of Messiah. We too can try to tame Jesus into being our sort of Saviour, a house-trained Messiah who will jump to our commands and desires. Jesus stubbornly insists on taking the hard road and thus carrying out his rescue mission for lost humankind. He won’t become our wise teacher or moral guardian or radical gadfly.
Meantime, this perceptive yet thick headed Peter is to be the human rock on which the church is founded. If we ever wonder why the church is such a mixture of the sublimely good and the embarrassingly bad, consider Peter. Spot on one minute, in the divine doghouse the next. So how come this sort of mixed-up man and the many mixed up human beings who comprise the church will defeat all that the evil one throws at it? Because behind the sometimes-flaky sandstone of Peter and his ilk, there is the solid granite mass of God who delights in using imperfect people for his perfect purposes.