Did Satan possess Peter? Could it be that the first apostle had become so profoundly influenced by the Adversary that Jesus had to rebuke him? Most of us are used to thinking of a specific spirit being or person when we read the word “Satan.”

What does “Get behind me, Satan!” mean?

Immediately upon hearing the word Satan, we have visions of Lucifer, the fallen angel who rebelled against God, taking a third of the angels of heaven with him and eventually cast down to earth. He’s the same being we think of in the Garden of Eden, who, under the disguise of a serpent, misinformed Eve into rebelling against God’s command not to consume the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Still, others may remember the movie “The Exorcist,” complete with spinning head and spitting of pea soup. What most people fail to recognize is the use of the title “ha satan” in the Bible doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific spirit being, like Lucifer.

For example, the Book of Job refers to a being typically translated as “Satan” and always with this capitalization, but such a translation is distorted. In the Hebrew edition, the prefix “ha” in “ha satan” would make sense if describing a specific person since it literally means “the.” For example, you wouldn’t call your coworker Sandy “the Sandy.” That would earn you a few odd looks, so you would simply call her Sandy. However, when the Bible uses the title “ha satan,” translators, influenced mainly by their particular theology, will translate it as a particular name, translating it as “Satan.” This disregards the fact that almost everyone else it’s used doesn’t refer to a specific person. It’s not a name, but it’s a designation or title used for anyone who wants to obstruct God’s will, including people.

Simply, it means “the adversary.” However, because we typically translate the Bible through the lens of our theology instead of allowing the Bible to form our theology, we create well-meaning but ill-advised ways of interpreting what we read in the Bible. The church has created a flawed interpretation of the title “the adversary,” assigning it to one particular spirit being, and that’s wrong. So why did Jesus tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan?”

Why did Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!?”

The instruction “Get behind me, Satan!,” said to Peter by Jesus, is found in Mark 8:33 and Matthew 16:23. It seems out of character and harsh for Jesus, especially when talking to Peter, His most loyal disciple. Why did Jesus say that, and what did Peter do to deserve such a rebuke? Peter was speaking for Satan without knowing it. Jesus had just shared the plan with His disciples for the first time: He had to travel to Jerusalem to endure, die, and be raised from the dead, as detailed in Matthew 16:21. Contrary to their expectations of Him, Jesus revealed that He didn’t come to establish an earthly Messianic kingdom at that time.

The disciples weren’t prepared for this new revelation of Jesus’ purpose. Though Peter understood what He said, he couldn’t reconcile his perspective of the Messiah with the suffering and death that Jesus discussed. So, Peter started to rebuke Him for having such a defeatist attitude. Unintentionally, Peter was speaking for Satan. Like Jesus’ adversary, Peter didn’t see his mind on the things of God: His ways, plans and purposes. Instead, his mind was set on things of man, the things of the world and earthly values. Jesus was saying that the cross was God’s will, the plan of redemption for all humanity. Other disciples most likely shared Peter’s reaction, although Peter spoke first.

Peter was unconsciously being used by Satan in thinking he was protecting Jesus. Satan had tempted Jesus in the wilderness on purpose to divert Him from the cross and fulfill the Father’s grand design. Innocently, Peter was doing the same thing, but he hadn’t grasped Jesus’ true purpose. Although Peter had previously declared Jesus as the Christ, He turned from God’s viewpoint and saw the situation from man’s point of view, which brought about the harsh rebuke of “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus went on to explain that Peter didn’t have his mind in the things of God but in the things of men, as described in Mark 8:33.

At that time, Jesus’ stern scold didn’t make sense to Peter. However, His indictment presents a significant message for us. We can see that Peter had the wrong idea of God’s plan for Jesus’ suffering and death, but we can also see how easily we can become Satan’s unwitting spokesperson. This is specifically true when we lose sight of God’s plan for us, which comes about when we focus on our possessions, careers, security and the things of the world instead of upon service and sacrifice and the assertation of God’s message. When Peter’s focus turned to his desires and plans, Jesus rebuked him to get him back on track. Perhaps our focus should always be on God and His plans, and we may never experience a similar rebuke from God.

What does this mean?

How many times have we acted against God’s Word? How many times have we cheated, lied, hated someone, gossiped, or lusted after someone else or their property? None of us can say we’re entirely free of having done these things in our lives. Every single transgression or sin against God’s will puts us in the uncomfortable position of God’s adversary, which isn’t a good place to be. Like Peter, we need a wake-up call. We should be reminded that our focus has been on the ordinary, the purely human or material when it should be on divine things and our behavior being in accord with God’s divine mandates.

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