Posted by: mattcolvin | December 7, 2011

A Stumbling Block to Jesus? Matthew 16:13-28

Thursday of the Second Week in Advent: Matthew 16:13-28.

21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

I want to focus on this phrase “You are an offense to Me.” It is not a very accurate translation: “offense” does not capture the full force of σκάνδαλον, which means rather “something that causes someone to fall away from God and His kingdom.” It is often translated “stumbling-block”, and its cognate verb σκανδαλίζω, means “to cause someone to stumble” or “to cause someone to fall away from God.” In most instances, it is used of things that cause someone not to follow Jesus as the Messiah. (1 Cor. 1:23, Rom. 14:13, Mt. 18:7.) But what does it mean in the case of Jesus himself? How can the Messiah stumble, or fall away?

To understand this, I submit that N.T. Wright’s thoughts on Jesus’ self-understanding and His Messianic vocation are helpful. Peter tells Jesus “This shall never happen to you.” Peter is putting before Jesus a false, alternative way of being the Messiah. He is effectively doing what Satan did in the temptation in the wilderness: suggesting to Jesus that the path to the kingship of the world might consist in something other than suffering and death. Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, so shocking to our ears, makes sense in terms of this similarity of purpose.


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