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Today's Bible Q&A with John MacArthur

Offending Christ

Matthew 16:21-23 October 17, 1982 2320


Our study of the church concludes in Matthew 16:21-23:  "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.  Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee.  But he turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan.  Thou art an offense unto me; for thou savorest not the things that are of God, but those that are of men."

Throughout its pages the Bible emphasizes how man sees things one way, but God sees them another.  For example, Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. "  Psalm 77:19 points out that God's footsteps are not known to man.  Psalm 92 says, "O Lord, how great are thy works!  And thy thoughts are very deep.  A [senseless] man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this" (vv.  5-6).

By trusting in our human understanding alone, we will miss what God is doing in our lives.  Peter was like that.  In his human wisdom he tried to correct the Lord.  We also try to correct the Lord when things don't seem to go our way.  Like Peter we savor our way instead of God's.  So we should seek to see things the way God does.  That's what Christ taught the disciples in our passage.

Now the disciples acknowledged Christ to be the Messiah, but they didn't understand that He had to suffer and die.  In a sense they were thinking like the lost because "the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1 Cor.  1:18).  Their understanding was so incomplete that Christ ordered "his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus, the Christ" (Matt.  16:20).

From the disciples' vantage point, the Messiah was destined to reign in glory, not suffer in humiliation.  Their view was especially evident when Jesus stooped to wash their feet.  Peter told the Lord, "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (John 13:8).  It didn't seem right to Peter that the Messiah should serve others.  And when Christ was arrested just prior to His crucifixion, "all the disciples forsook him, and fled" (Matt.  26:56).  Even after Christ's death, the disciples continued to be confused about what happened (Mark 16:12-13).

In Matthew 16:21-23 we read of Christ's beginning to instruct the disciples about His coming humiliation, death, and resurrection.  But the disciples' response to Christ's instruction greatly offended Him.  To understand why, we need to look closely at what both Christ and His disciples were saying that day.



On behalf of all the disciples Peter confessed Christ to be the Messiah (v.  16; see pp.  xx-xx).  For more than two years they heard His teaching and saw His supernatural works.  Revelation from God, not human wisdom, led them to their great confession of faith (v.  17).

Although most Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to be a political and military figure, Christ came to build a spiritual entity called the church.  Not even death itself can defeat His mission (v.  18; see pp.  xx-xx).  The church was built on the foundation of the apostles, who confessed Christ to be the true foundation of the church (v.  19; see pp.  xx-xx).  For the time being, however, Christ told His disciples not to confess Him before others until receiving further instuction (v.  20).



I. THE PLAN OF GOD (v.  21)

"From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day."

A. Its Unveiling (v.  21a)

"From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples."

The Greek phrase translated "from that time forth" marks a key transition in the book of Matthew.  In Matthew 4:17 that same phrase signifies the beginning of Christ's public ministry to Israel.  Here it denotes the beginning of Christ's private ministry to His disciples.  Christ "began" the process of showing His disciples that He must die and be raised from the dead.

B. Its Necessity (v.  21b)

"How he must."

The Greek term translated "must" reveals the divine necessity for Christ's death and resurrection.  His atoning work was set in motion before the foundation of the world and made necessary by four things.  First, it was necessary because of human need.  Man is a sinner and cannot have eternal life unless his sins are paid for (Rom.  5:6-8).  Second, it was necessary because of the redemptive requirement.  Hebrews 9:22 says there is no remission for sins without the shedding of blood (physical death).  Third, it was necessary because of divine decree.  By God's determinant counsel and foreknowledge, He brought Christ's death and resurrection to pass (Acts 2:23).  Fourth, it was necessary to fulfill the prophetic promises foretelling the Messiah's death (Matt.  26:53-54; Luke 24:25-26).

There are no alternatives or options to God's eternal and sovereign plans.  No one has the right to say, "Lord, I have a better plan, and I'd like you to change your plans. "  That may sound ridiculous, yet we can be tempted to think that way when difficult circumstances arise.

C. Its Content (v.  21c)

"Go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day."

1. Christ's journey to Jerusalem

It was necessary for Christ to "go unto Jerusalem," the city of sacrifices, to be the Passover Lamb (1 Cor.  5:7).  Presently He was secluded in safety with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi, but His arrival in Jerusalem would expose Him to great opposition and danger.  That's why Thomas said to the other disciples, "Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him" (John 11:16).  The Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem instigated most of the trouble against Christ (cf.  Matt.  15:1-2).  Because the Lord exposed their hypocritical self-righteousness and self-centeredness, they hated Him.

But Christ willingly offered Himself to His enemies.  He said, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again.  No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:17-18).  Just prior to His crucifixion Christ told the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11; cf.  Matt.  26:53).

Receiving Back Jerusalem

Jerusalem means "foundation of peace. "  The city is about thirty miles east of the Mediterranean Sea, ten miles west of the Dead Sea, and elevated on a plateau about twenty-five thousand feet above sea level.  Its highest point is the Mount of Olives.  Because it sparkles in the sun, the city is also known as the Golden City.

We are first introduced to it in Genesis 14:18, when it was then called Salem and administered by Melchizedek, who is a picture of Christ.  The Jerusalem area includes Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac.  There the Lord provided a sacrificial animal--another picture of Christ--to take Isaac's place.  Later, David captured it from the Jebusites, naming it the City of David and making it the capital of Israel (2 Sam.  5:5-9).  Later he brought the Ark of the Covenant (the symbolic place of God's dwelling) there, and eventually it became known as the City of God (Ps.  87:3).  King Solomon, describing the city as "comely" (Song of Sol.  6:4), built the Temple there (2 Chron.  3:1).

Jerusalem was the sacred center of worship for the Jewish people.  In both prosperity and destruction it remained as the city of God in the hearts of its people.  The psalmist expressed it this way:  "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Ps.  137:5-6).  Back then the Jewish people loved the city, and today they still do.

In practice, however, Jerusalem was neither the city of God nor the foundation of peace.  In the days of Christ the city was in fact extremely hostile to God.  King Herod sought to kill Christ as an infant (Matt.  2:13).  Christ was hated for cleansing the defiled Temple (Matt.  21:12-15) and healing a lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:16).  Later in the year He attended the Feast of Tabernacles, and the religious leaders tried to arrest Him (John 7:32).  In John 8 the people tried to stone Him for teaching in the Temple (v.  59).  When He taught there again from Solomon's porch He had to escape for His life (10:39).  And when He later returned for His last Passover, He was killed.

It's not difficult to see why Jerusalem received a new name, given in Revelation 11:8:  "Their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. "  Jerusalem, however, will receive back its rightful name and be a true foundation of peace when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom (cf.  Zech.  14).

2. Christ's suffering

In addition to going to Jerusalem it was also necessary for Christ to "suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes" (Matt.  16:21).  Those three groups constituted the Sanhedrin, which was the legal court in Israel.  Elders were respected tribal heads who became leaders and judges throughout the land.  The chief priests were primarily Sadducees, and the scribes were primarily Pharisees.  They were the religious leaders of Israel who placed Christ on trial.  In truth His trial was a mockery, but from their viewpoint it stood as a formal trial and condemnation.

3. Christ's death

It was necessary for Christ to "be killed," a Greek term that means "to be murdered," "be robbed of life," or "put away. "  The term carries no thought of just punishment for a crime.  In a veiled way the disciples previously heard Christ tell of His death when He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19).  John the Baptist said it this way:  "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29).  But here in Matthew 16:21 Christ's statement about His death is so explicit that the disciples finally understood He was telling them He would die.  It grabbed their attention in such a way that they seemed not to have heard what He said next about His resurrection.

4. Christ's resurrection

Christ plainly stated it was necessary that He "be raised again the third day. "  Earlier He made this veiled statement to the scribes and Pharisees about His resurrection:  "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt.  12:40).  Perhaps He was specific about the three days because He didn't want the disciples to be thinking like Martha, who said about her brother Lazarus, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24).  Christ's unique resurrection would occur within three days, not at the last day near the end of time.

Even though Christ's statement was explicit, the disciples didn't fully grasp what He said.  They knew Christ had raised Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:22-24, 35-42) and the widow's son in the village of Nain (Luke 7:11-16).  But maybe they were thinking, If Christ Himself is killed, who would raise Him?  Perhaps they envisioned the scenario of being left with a dead Messiah.  Whatever their reasoning, Peter took the opportunity to object to what Christ said.  Peter's brashness is especially shocking when considering that Christ just said the gates of death would not conquer His kingdom program of building the church.


"Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee."

A. He Took Christ Aside (v.  22a)

"Then Peter took him."

Peter took Christ aside to straighten out His supposedly wrong thinking.  The Greek term "took" suggests that Peter caught hold of Him and forced Him aside.  Peter's action accentuates not only his brashness, but also Christ's humanity.  Because God condescended to reveal Himself in the flesh through Christ, Peter could talk to Him as a man talks to his friend.

Although Peter's reaction was presumptuous, you and I can respond in a similar way.  In the midst of difficult circumstances have you ever said, "I don't understand why I must go through this trial and suffer so"?  Perhaps the trial is the loss of a loved one or a job.  Whatever it is, it's tempting to offer God an alternative plan that would eliminate the difficulty.  Often our plan is to have unmitigated joy and bliss, not pain or suffering.  But we must ask for the Lord's help in submitting our will to His for what's best in the long run.

B. He Rebuked Christ (v.  22b)

"[Peter] began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee."

The Greek term translated "rebuke" shows Peter's words to be full of vehemence.  He came on strong in his zeal to correct the Lord.  Perhaps he did so because of his intimate friendship with Christ.  As a disciple Peter had spent much time with Him, and Christ had just said to him, "Blessed art thou. . . .  Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father" (v.  17).  Perhaps feeling a little proud over his friendship with Christ, Peter thought he was more privileged than the others.  Whatever the reason, Peter wanted to lead Christ to a better understanding about the meaning of His messiahship.

Peter's plan was for the Messiah to rule in power, glory, pomp, and majesty.  But God's eternal plan was for Christ first to suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  Because of that difference, Peter said to Christ, "Be it far from thee,"  an idiom that means "pity thyself," "God be gracious to you," or "heaven forbid. "  Today we would say something like, "Give yourself a break" or "Don't be so hard on yourself. "  Peter addressed Christ as "Lord," but was telling Him what to do.  Peter then added, "This shall not be unto thee. "  That was a bold and flat-out rebuke!


"But [Christ] turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan.  Thou art an offense unto me."

Undoubtedly Christ's reply was a shock to Peter.  On the surface Peter's rebuke seemed noble because he didn't want Christ to suffer such horrible pain and death.  But God's plan wasn't the same as Peter's, so Christ had to respond to what he said.

A. Against Satan (v.  23a)

"Get thee behind me, Satan."

The Greek phrase translated "get thee behind" means "be gone" or "go away. "  Verse 22 tells us Peter was just beginning to rebuke Christ.  Here we see Christ putting a quick end to it.  He knew exactly what was happening  --Satan was using the words of Peter to tempt Christ.  Satan's approach was similar to the one he used against Christ in the wilderness:  trying to entice Christ to avoid the cross (Luke 4:4-13).  But Christ knew it was the cross where He would bear all the sins of the world.  After the temptation in the wilderness, the devil departed from Christ, but only for a season (v.  13).  He kept coming back, trying to divert Christ from the cross.

The heaviness of heart Christ experienced in anticipating the cross was clearly evident in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There Christ prayed, "If thou be willing, remove this cup from me. . . .  And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:42, 44).  Satan knew the cross would crush his head (Gen.  3:15; cf.  Rom.  16:20) and destroy his hold on the power of death (Heb.  2:14).  He also knew the cross was where sins would be paid for and where sinners would be liberated from his dark dominion into the kingdom of light.  So Satan despised and hated the cross.

B. Against Peter (v.  23b)

"Thou art an offense unto me."

Those words were directed against Peter.  His presumptuous remarks made him a trap and stumbling block to Christ.  The Greek term translated "offense" (skandalon) speaks of enticing someone to his doom.  The enticement--like a baited trap--was meant to end in another's ruin and destruction.  So Christ recognized  Peter's words about the cross as a satanic trap.  Unfortunately the cross continues to be a stumbling block to most people (1 Cor.  1:23).

Peter didn't realize that his attempt to dissuade Christ from the cross was like putting arrows in Satan's bow to shoot at the Savior.  Satan is so subtle:  In Peter's desire to love and protect the Lord, he was actually taking Satan's side.


"Thou savorest not the things that are of God, but those that are of men."

The Greek term translated "savorest" (phrone[ma]o) means "to think. "  Christ placed Peter's action into a category we all are in from time to time:  we sometimes think man's thoughts instead of God's.  It was God's eternal plan that His Son should suffer and die.  According to man's thinking that plan seems incomprehensible.  However, God's ways are not the same as man's (Isa.  55:8).  Romans 8 says, "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (v.  7, NASB).  Peter saw only the crucifixion, but not the exaltation.  At times we think the same way.  Pain is so unpleasant we are prone to see only the present suffering, but not the spiritual benefit it accrues (cf.  1 Pet.  1:6-7).  We seek to escape the very trials God uses to perfect and conform us to Christ's image (Rom.  8:26-29; James 1:4).



From Christ's words we can learn two main lessons.  The first is that Christ is the Messiah, the fulfillment of God's redemptive plan, but to seek the Messiah apart from His death, burial, and resurrection is to set oneself against God.  Peter later understood that and wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet.  1:3; cf.  vv.  18-21).

The second lesson is that God refines us through suffering.  To follow Christ means we take up a cross and lose our life in the process (Matt.  16:24-25).  There are no crowns without thorns.  God refines us like gold, burning off the dross of sin to make us spiritually pure.  So when trials come, we should pray, "Lord, help me to accept Your will as my will. "  That became Peter's prayer for us all:  "The God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.  To him be glory and dominion forever and ever" (1 Pet.  5:10-11).


Focusing on the Facts

1. What didn't the disciples fully grasp about the Messiah?

2. What is the significance of "from that time forth" in Matthew 16:21?

3. What four things made Christ's death and resurrection necessary?  Support your answer with Scripture.

4. What does the disciple Thomas's comment about Jerusalem imply about Christ's status there (John 11:16)?

5. What city in Israel is called "Sodom" and "Egypt" (Rev. 11:8)?  Why?

6. Who were the "elders and chief priests and scribes" (Matt. 16:21)?

7. What is the meaning of the Greek term translated "be killed" in Matthew 16:21?

8. Once the disciples understood Christ was telling them He would be killed, they seemingly never heard his next words about the        .

9. What does "took" suggest in Mattheew 16:22?

10. We must ask for the Lord's help in submitting our will to           .

11. What was Peter's purpose in rebuking Christ?

12. In what specific way was Satan tempting Christ?  How do we know it must have been a weighty temptation?  Support your answer with Scripture.

13. What is the significance of "offense" in Matthew 16:23?

14. The         remains a stumbling block to many people (1 Cor. 1:23).

15. What does God use to perfect and conform us to Christ's image (James 1:4)?

16. What are two main lessons we can learn from Matthew 16:21-23?


Pondering the Principles

1. As Christ was coming to the crucial point of fulfilling God's eternal redemptive plan on the cross, Peter gave wrong counsel to the Lord.  Peter's seeming benevolence contradicted God's revealed will.  When counseling others, be certain your words reflect the truths of Scripture.  When receiving counsel, make sure you check the advice against God's Word.  Pay close attention to what the following Scriptures say about good and bad counsel:

Exodus 18:13-25--Why did the people come to Moses (v. 15)?  What was Moses to tell the people (v. 20)?  What kind of men was Moses to select as judges of the people (v. 21)?  What was Moses' response to the wise counsel he received (vv. 24-25)?

  • 1 Samuel 23:2--What did David do before going to battle against the Philistines (cf.  Ps. 16:7)?
  • 1 Kings 12:6-20--What wise counsel did King Rehoboam receive (v.  7)?  What evil counsel did he heed (v. 13-14)?What was the result (v. 19)?
  • Jeremiah 32:19--What kind of counsel does the Lord give?  How is that possible?
  • Psalm 19:7-11; 119:130--What provides trustworthy counsel?

2. Through the well-meaning words of Peter, Satan was craftily setting a baited trap.  The Lord's swift and strong response to Satan and Peter is an example to heed.  The Puritan Thomas Brooks offered this scriptural advice in his Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices:  "Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait that Satan holds forth to catch you. . . .  It is our wisest and our safest course to stand at the farthest distance from sin; not to go near the house of the harlot, but to fly from all appearance of evil. . . .  Joseph keeps at a distance from sin, and from playing with Satan's golden baits, and stands.  David draws near, and plays with the bait, and falls"  ([Edinburgh:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987], pp. 30-31).  Having learned about Satan's crafty schemes, Peter wrote, "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).  Be on the watch for Satan's baited traps!

3. Through suffering God refines us.  Look up the following verses and write down the principles they teach about affliction.

  • Psalm 119:67; 2 Corinthians 4:17:
  • 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16; Revelation 2:3:
  • Job 23:10; Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 1:7:
  • Deuteronomy 8:5; John 15:2: