Simon Peter is a fascinating individual. At times, he could be counted on as a bold and fearless leader of the early church. At other times, he could not be counted on at all; he would waver and lose faith. Whether courageously getting out of the boat to walk on water (before doubting and sinking) or cowardly denying three times that he even knew Jesus (before repenting and returning), Peter's spiritual highs and lows resonate with a large majority of believers in Christ.
So it is with the actions of Peter in Matthew 16. Side by side, we have two stories - one where Jesus praises Peter and one where He rebukes him.
In vs. 13-20, we have the pivotal experience at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus affirms His identity before His disciples. First, He eases them into this spiritual conversation by asking what the crowds are saying about Him. After hearing several responses like "prophet" and "holy man," Jesus turns the question directly to the disciples themselves. "What about you," He asks, "Who do you say that I am?"
What a question! Leave it to Peter to seize the moment and hit a home run. "You are the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of the living God." Peter makes it clear that he believes Jesus to be the One that everyone has been waiting for, the Savior of Israel.
Jesus commends Peter with these hearty words of praise: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." Where did Peter come up with this answer? It wasn't told him or deduced by him - it was a miraculous revelation by God. For a brief, shining moment, Peter had received the truth about Jesus from the Father Himself and proclaimed it publicly.
However, it was an all-too-brief moment.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, Jesus begins instructing His disciples about just what His identity will mean in vs. 21. He has a mission to accomplish, and it's not going to be pretty. After explaining about the fate awaiting Him, Peter boldly approaches Jesus to tell Him that He has it all wrong.
"Never, Lord! God forbid! This must never happen to you!" I'm sure Peter thought he was being an encouraging, loyal devoted follower, telling Jesus He had to think positive.
But what if Peter had actually gotten his way about this? What if Peter's will had carried the day and - in fact - Jesus had never gone to the cross and died? Peter would have been satisfied, but the cost to the salvation of the world would have been catastrophic. Jesus needed to go to the cross for you, for me, for everyone - including Peter himself.
Peter was lulled to the side of human kingdom, thinking about Jesus and His mission in purely physical ways. That's why Jesus gets angry with Peter. To the one he had just praised, Jesus now says, "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men."
And that is the stark choice before all of us, all the time, just like it was before Peter. Peter had expressed faith in Christ through the divine side of things - God's kingdom, rather than man's. Yet he had scolded Jesus for His understanding of His mission because he had approached it from the human side of things - Man's kingdom, rather than God's.
Like Peter, we are often torn between two kingdoms. Which will you choose?