Rebuking the Idea of Resurrection : Studies in Mark, Pt. 32

The story of Jesus rebuking Peter has always been one of the most attention getting narratives of the Synoptics. Among commentators, one or two things are usually emphasized: 1) Peter rebukes Jesus’ “failure” mentality (that is, Peter believes that Jesus’ vision is too shortsighted), or 2) Jesus rebukes Peter for being possessed by or in-league with the devil, that is, satan. While other views exist (usually just a nuanced view of these two points), these are certainly the ones that dominate literature on Mark. It is my contention, though, that there is a better way to read and understand this story.

A few posts ago, I argued that in chapter 8 of Mark’s work, Jesus is essentially taking stock of His ministry. He asks many question to gauge precisely where His disciples are and what they think about Him. He also wants to know what others think about Him. One of the questions Jesus asks is, “Who do people…and who do you, say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.”

Certainly, Peter got the answer right (Mark refers to Jesus as the Messiah in his opening verses). Yet, Jesus saw right through Peter’s answer. It is like being the teacher of a children’s Church school class. Every time you ask a question, the inevitable answer is “Jesus”. The kids say “Jesus” (and sometimes it is the right answer) but they hardly understand the full ramifications of what they’re saying. So, even though Peter mouthed the right answer, he did not really know what He was saying. This is proven by the fact that as soon as Peter speaks, the reader becomes aware that Mark is portraying Jesus in teacher mode.

As a wise teacher, Jesus wants to see if Peter really understands the answer he gave, so, Jesus presses the issue further. It is akin to Him saying, “Okay, Peter, you say that I am the Messiah but do you really know what that means?” Jesus then says, “I, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and be killed and after three days, be raised” (Mk. 8.31). Upon hearing this, Peter is floored; he is taken aback. What else can he do but pull Jesus aside and lay into Him?

Mark tells us that Peter “rebuked” Jesus. The Greek word “epitimao” implies an incredibly strong rebuke (the same word is used when Jesus rebukes demons as well as the wind and waves). We would love to know exactly how that entire conversation went but we just don’t have it. Yet, the term “rebuked” is not our only clue as to what Peter might have said to Jesus. Indeed, in verse 33, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, satan.” The word “satan” here can be taken as the nomenclature, satan, that is, the devil. However, it can also be taken as its base meaning: accuser (thus, “satan” literally means “accuser”). Therefore, the statement reads, “Get behind me, accuser.” In my view, this fits really well with the overall context of the passage. For example, if Peter had been in-league with satan, as some have pointed out, it would have made more sense of Jesus to say in His next sentence, “You have in mind the things of evil” or “You have in mind the things of satan,” not just “You have in mind the things of men.” Thus, Jesus is not rebuking Peter for being in-league with the prince of darkness. So, this leads us to ask the question, then, “What did Peter accuse Jesus of?”

Well, from the text, we know that the discussion between Peter and Jesus concerned Jesus’ comments about dying and being raised (8.31). We also know that, unlike His usual tendency to speak in parables, Jesus spoke plainly about dying and being raised (8.32). Yet, we find out in 9.9-10, after Jesus has told them again that He will be killed and raised, that Peter and company are “debating what rising from the dead meant.” The word “debating” (suzeteo) should not be softened to “discussing” or any such word. It is used in the following story a number of times and has the connotation of debating there as well. What this passage shows us is that the disciples did not have trouble with Jesus’ comments about His crucifixion or death but rather with His statements concerning resurrection.

Evidently there were different viewpoints as to what “rising from the dead” meant. Were some trying to understand this parabolically? Figuratively? Needless to say, the disciples were arguing about it, which shows that they didn’t really understand it (or at the least, they had not come to a consensus on it). Now, this is where things get really intriguing and actually, here is where I think most commentators (every one that I’ve read anyways), miss a very important point. Typically, the rebuke scenes are read in such a way that the death and crucifixion are taken to be the focus. Put differently, these verses are usually read as Peter being uneasy about the death of Jesus. However, in context, it appears that the story can be read differently. In fact, it seems that as in 9.9-10, Peter is more perturbed by Jesus’ resurrection statements than His crucifixion ones; it is the resurrection statements that he just cannot wrap his mind around.

It is probably bad enough for Peter that Jesus would associate Himself with a vile Roman cross, an association that directly falls upon those who travel with Jesus. Just as well, Peter was probably hot and bothered that the professed “Messiah” would ever be killed by Rome, much less via crucifixion. But that was only the starting point, to make matters worse for Peter, Jesus says that He is going to rise again. Of course, Peter, a good Jewish man, believed that resurrection from the dead was possible (when he previously saw Jairus’ daughter raised, he probably thought “resuscitation”). However, Peter believed in a common or general resurrection, not a single-person event. Therefore, when Peter hears Jesus say this, He pulls Him aside and rebukes and accuses Him.

Peter rebukes Jesus for the words He has spoken and Peter accuses Jesus for misunderstanding the resurrection. Peter was waiting for the vindication of all of Israel, including her deceased, not just the raising of one man. In short, Peter had merely human concerns; Peter did not have in mind the things that Jesus had in mind—that through a one-man death and resurrection, not only Israel but all of creation—would be vindicated and restored. (*Note: It only makes sense that Peter would misunderstand a resurrection, as opposed to misunderstandng a crucifixion!)

After speaking plainly about this, Jesus returns to riddler mode and tries to explain the concept of a one-man death and resurrection and what it means for all creation. He says things like, “Those who give or lose their lives for me will find life” and “You can’t gain the world by giving it your soul but you can gain it by giving your soul to me.” He also says, “If you are unashamed of me in this life, I will be unashamed of you forever.” Jesus’ statements bespeak crucifixion (e.g. cross) and resurrection, death and life. There will be a one-man crucifixion and resurrection via Christ and all those events extend “life” to all persons. Some may die while following Christ and others may not. However, in living or dying for Christ, one partakes of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus even said that some standing there listening to Him would see the Kingdom of God come in power (I take this as a reference to the resurrection). Thus, as Jesus pauses in chapter 8 to take stock of His ministry, He realizes that this is what He needs to teach. This is what the people need to know and hear. More needs to be said about the resurrection!

Before leaving this episode, I should make one last point. One of the reasons this story is so often misread is because it is seen through the lens of the later story where Peter defends Jesus when the soldiers come to take Him away (Mk. 14.43-51, etc.). But we should not read it this way! This story in Mk. 8 comes first and should be read on its own (after discussing this with my wife she pointed out to me that, if anything, from a narrative perspective, Mk. 14 should probably be read in terms of Mk. 8). It should also be noted that in Mark's account, in chapter 14, Peter is not mentioned as the one who defends Jesus! To get this, you have to go to the other Gospel accounts! In other words, you have to read Matthew or Luke's account onto Mark's to know this about Peter. This, I submit, is something that we should be cautious of doing! Let's take this story on its own and let's take it in context.

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