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Why Is Peter So Angry With Jesus?

Peter's RebukeI wrote about Peter’s Rebuke a few days back, focusing on how Peter didn’t/couldn’t understand Jesus as a suffering Messiah. There’s another important component that a friend pointed out. In addition to Peter struggling to come to terms with a suffering Son of Man – an idea completely foreign to him – Peter realized his aspirations for himself were dashed. Peter’s ticked.

For Peter, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah that has come to restore Israel – to crush Israel’s enemies – and to sit on the throne. Peter had just declared Jesus the Christ. He was very likely hoping to be a high ranking official in Jesus’ kingdom. We see similar hopes in the request of James and John: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Jesus says no to all this. Jesus was saying I’m not that kind of king. I’m going to be crushed now let’s get going we’ve got work to do.

Peter’s angry. He pulls Jesus aside and gets in his face. And maybe, as my friend notes, “grabs him by the tunic.” Imagine – yelling at God – telling him he’s got it all wrong! But Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke. Rebuke is a very strong word – it’s the same one used to drive out demons. This wasn’t a fun-loving conversation with lambs and a smiling Jesus. Jesus was shattering Peter’s entire world view.

It’s easy to pick on Peter – he’s such an easy target. But don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we yell at God, often? We’re scared things aren’t going to go our way. We’re afraid things will go badly. We worry we’ll look bad. We think we know what’s best. Instead of trusting God, we rebuke Him saying, no God, stop – this is crazy! Just like Peter.

Deep down we’re afraid. When we’re afraid, we act rashly. For Peter, there was likely some genuine concern in his rebuke of his friend, Jesus. Perhaps Peter even thought this a good teaching moment to help Jesus better understand the historical meaning and purpose of the Messiah. But based on Peter’s anger, we see he was afraid. He was afraid he wasn’t going to get what he wanted and perhaps even expected or felt entitled to. Peter’s hopes of high position, fame, power, and perhaps fortune were dashed. Moreover, Peter was a follower of Jesus. If Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die, what did that mean for Peter? It’s one thing to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you,” after a quiet supper of bread and wine. It’s quite another to walk into the inferno that was awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.

In Peter, we see the need to die to ourselves – to put aside our agenda, our hopes and aspirations – even our identity. Our world views are shattered and we learn to trust Jesus no matter what we face. We learn to get back up and on track even when we fall away from God.

I love the tenderness of God that Tim Keller teases out of the last chapter of Mark. In it, we’re told that Jesus has risen, and to, “go, tell his disciples and Peter.” Why did he single Peter out? Keller notes (paraphrasing), that Peter was probably feeling pretty low given his rebuke as well as denying Jesus after he swore he wouldn’t. Peter probably would have responded to the women who discovered the tomb saying, “Leave me alone, I’m not worthy to be called his disciple.” But God called him out. God called him by name.

God had other plans for Peter. Just like us.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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