We have here Christ’s discourse with his disciples concerning his own sufferings; in which observe,
I. Christ’s foretelling of his sufferings. Now he began to do it, and from this time he frequently spake of them. Some hints he had already given of his sufferings, as when he said, Destroy this temple: when he spake of the Son of man being lifted up, and of eating his flesh, and drinking his blood: but now he began to show it, to speak plainly and expressly of it. Hitherto he had not touched upon this, because the disciples were weak, and could not well bear the notice of a thing so very strange, and so very melancholy; but now that they were more ripe in knowledge, and strong in faith, he began to tell them this. Note, Christ reveals his mind to his people gradually, and lets in light as they can bear it, and are fit to receive it.
From that time, when they had made that full confession of Christ, that he was the Son of God, then he began to show them this. When he found them knowing in one truth, he taught them another; for to him that has, shall be given. Let them first be established in the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and then go on to perfection, Heb. 6:1. If they had not been well grounded in the belief of Christ’s being the Son of God, it would have been a great shaking to their faith. All truths are not to be spoken to all persons at all times, but such as are proper and suitable to their present state. Now observe,
1. What he foretold concerning his sufferings, the particulars and circumstances of them, and all surprising.
(1.) The place where he should suffer. He must go to Jerusalem, the head city, the holy city, and suffer there. Though he lived most of his time in Galilee, he must die at Jerusalem; there all the sacrifices were offered, there therefore he must die, who is the great sacrifice.
(2.) The persons by whom he should suffer; the elders, and chief priests, and scribes; these made up the great sanhedrim, which sat at Jerusalem, and was had in veneration by the people. Those that should have been most forward in owning and admiring Christ, were the most bitter in persecuting him. It was strange that men of knowledge in the scripture, who professed to expect the Messiah’s coming, and pretended to have something sacred in their character, should use him thus barbarously when he did come. It was the Roman power that condemned and crucified Christ, but he lays it at the door of the chief priests and scribes, who were the first movers.
(3.) What he should suffer; he must suffer many things, and be killed. His enemies’ insatiable malice, and his own invincible patience, appear in the variety and multiplicity of his sufferings (he suffered many things) and in the extremity of them; nothing less than his death would satisfy them, he must be killed. The suffering of many things, if not unto death, is more tolerable; for while there is life, there is hope; and death, without such prefaces, would be less terrible; but he must first suffer many things, and then be killed.
(4.) What should be the happy issue of all his sufferings; he shall be raised again the third day. As the prophets, so Christ himself, when he testified beforehand his sufferings, testified withal the glory that should follow, 1 Pet. 1:11. His rising again the third day proved him to be the Son of God, notwithstanding his sufferings; and therefore he mentions that, to keep up their faith. When he spoke of the cross and the shame, he spoke in the same breath of the joy set before him, in the prospect of which he endured the cross, and despised the shame. Thus we must look upon Christ’s suffering for us, trace in it the way to his glory; and thus we must look upon our suffering for Christ, look through it to the recompence of reward. If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him.
2. Why he foretold his sufferings. (1.) To show that they were the product of an eternal counsel and consent; were agreed upon between the Father and the Son from eternity; Thus is behoved Christ to suffer. The matter was settled in the determinate counsel and foreknowledge, in pursuance of his own voluntary susception and undertaking for our salvation; his sufferings were no surprise to him, did not come upon him as a snare, but he had a distinct and certain foresight of them, which greatly magnifies his love, John 18:4. (2.) To rectify the mistakes which his disciples had imbibed concerning the external pomp and power of his kingdom. Believing him to be the Messiah, they counted upon nothing but dignity and authority in the world; but here Christ reads them another lesson, tells them of the cross and sufferings; nay, that the chief priests and the elders, whom, it is likely, they expected to be the supports of the Messiah’s kingdom, should be its great enemies and persecutors; this would give them quite another idea of that kingdom which they themselves had preached the approach of; and it was requisite that this mistake should be rectified. Those that follow Christ must be dealt plainly with, and warned not to expect great things in this world. (3.) It was to prepare them for the share, at least, of sorrow and fear, which they must have in his sufferings. When he suffered many things, the disciples could not but suffer some; if their Master be killed, they will be seized with terror; let them know it before, that they may provide accordingly, and, being fore-warned, may be fore-armed.
II. The offence which Peter took at this he said, Be it far from thee, Lord: probably he spake the sense of the rest of the disciples, as before, for he was chief speaker. He took him, and began to rebuke him. Perhaps Peter was a little elevated with the great things Christ had how said unto him, which made him more bold with Christ than did become him; so hard is it to keep the spirit low and humble in the midst of great advancements!
1. It did not become Peter to contradict his Master, or take upon him to advise him; he might have wished, that, if it were possible, this cup might pass away, without saying so peremptorily, This shall not be, when Christ had said, It must be. Shall any teach God knowledge? He that reproveth God, let him answer it. Note, When God’s dispensations are either intricate or cross to us, it becomes us silently to acquiesce in, and not to prescribe to, the divine will; God knows what he has to do, without our teaching. Unless we know the mind of the Lord, it is not for us to be his counsellors, Rom. 11:34.
2. It savoured much of fleshly wisdom, for him to appear so warmly against suffering, and to startle thus at the offence of the cross. It is the corrupt part of us, that is thus solicitous to sleep in a whole skin. We are apt to look upon sufferings as they relate to this present life, to which they are uneasy; but there are other rules to measure them by, which, if duly observed, will enable us cheerfully to bear them, Rom. 8:18. See how passionately Peter speaks: “Be it far from thee, Lord. God forbid, that thou shouldst suffer and be killed; we cannot bear the thoughts of it.” Master, spare thyself: so it might be read; hileos soi, kyrie—“Be merciful to thyself, and then no one else can be cruel to thee; pity thyself, and then this shall not be to thee.” He would have Christ to dread suffering as much as he did; but we mistake, if we measure Christ’s love and patience by our own. He intimates, likewise, the improbability of the thing, humanly speaking; “This shall not be unto thee. It is impossible that one who hath so great an interest in the people as thou hast, should be crushed by the elders, who fear the people: this can never be; we that have followed thee, will fight for thee, if occasion be; and there are thousands that will stand by us.”
III. Christ’s displeasure against Peter for this suggestion of his, Matt. 16:23. We do not read of any thing said or done by any of his disciples, at any time, that he resented so much as this, though they often offended.
Observe, 1. How he expressed his displeasure: He turned upon Peter, and (we may suppose) with a frown said, Get thee behind me, Satan. He did not so much as take time to deliberate upon it, but gave an immediate reply to the temptation, which was such as made it to appear how ill he took it. Just now, he had said, Blessed art thou, Simon, and had even laid him in his bosom; but here, Get thee behind me, Satan; and there was cause for both. Note, A good man may by a surprise of temptation soon grow very unlike himself. He answered him as he did Satan himself, Matt. 4:10. Note, (1.) It is the subtlety of Satan, to send temptations to us by the unsuspected hands of our best and dearest friends. Thus he assaulted Adam by Eve, Job by his wife, and here Christ by his beloved Peter. It concerns us therefore not to be ignorant of his devices, but to stand against his wiles and depths, by standing always upon our guard against sin, whoever moves us to it. Even the kindnesses of our friends are often abused by Satan, and made use of as temptations to us. (2.) Those who have their spiritual senses exercised, will be aware of the voice of Satan, even in a friend, a disciple, a minister, that dissuades them from their duty. We must not regard who speaks, so much as what is spoken; we should learn to know the devil’s voice when he speaks in a saint as well as when he speaks in a serpent. Whoever takes us off from that which is good, and would have us afraid of doing too much for God, speaks Satan’s language. (3.) We must be free and faithful in reproving the dearest friend we have, that saith or doth amiss, though it may be under colour of kindness to us. We must not compliment, but rebuke, mistaken courtesies. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Such smitings must be accounted kindnesses, Ps. 141:5. (4.) Whatever appears to be a temptation to sin, must be resisted with abhorrence, and not parleyed with.
2. What was the ground of this displeasure; why did Christ thus resent a motion that seemed not only harmless, but kind? Two reasons are given:
(1.) Thou art an offence to me—Skandalon mou ei—Thou art my hindrance (so it may be read); “thou standest in my way.” Christ was hastening on in the work of our salvation, and his heart was so much upon it, that he took it ill to be hindered, or tempted to start back from the hardest and most discouraging part of his undertaking. So strongly was he engaged for our redemption, that they who but indirectly endeavoured to divert him from it, touched him in a very tender and sensible part. Peter was not so sharply reproved for disowning and denying his Master in his sufferings as he was for dissuading him from them; though that was the defect, this the excess, of kindness. It argues a very great firmness and resolution of mind in any business, when it is an offence to be dissuaded, and a man will not endure to hear any thing to the contrary; like that of Ruth, Entreat me not to leave thee. Note, Our Lord Jesus preferred our salvation before his own ease and safety; for even Christ pleased not himself (Rom. 15:3); he came into the world, not to spare himself, as Peter advised, but to spend himself.
See why he called Peter Satan, when he suggested this to him; because, whatever stood in the way of our salvation, he looked upon as coming from the devil, who is a sworn enemy to it. The same Satan that afterward entered into Judas, maliciously to destroy him in his undertaking, here prompted Peter plausibly to divert him from it. Thus he changes himself into an angel of light.
Thou art an offence to me. Note, [1.] Those that engage in any great good work must expect to meet with hindrance and opposition from friends and foes, from within and from without. [2.] Those that obstruct our progress in any duty must be looked upon as an offence to us. Then we do the will of God as Christ did, whose meat and drink it was to do it, when it is a trouble to us to be solicited from our duty. Those that hinder us from doing or suffering for God, when we are called to it, whatever they are in other things in that they are Satans, adversaries to us.
(2.) Thou savourest not the things that are of God, but those that are of men. Note, [1.] The things that are of God, that is, the concerns of his will and glory, often clash and interfere with the things that are of men, that is, with our own wealth, pleasure, and reputation. While we mind Christian duty as out way and work, and the divine favour as our end and portion, we savour the things of God; but if these be minded, the flesh must be denied, hazards must be run and hardships borne; and here is the trial which of the two we savour. [2.] Those that inordinately fear, and industriously decline suffering for Christ, when they are called to it, savour more of the things of man than of the things of God; they relish those things more themselves, and make it appear to others that they do so.