“Get Behind Me, Satan!”
Ordinary 22 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 16: 21 — 27
Only a short time before this event occurred Jesus had asked his disciples, in private, “Who am I, according to what the people are saying? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We have there a rare glimpse of Jesus excited. “Blessed are you… you are the rock on which I will build my Church. My Father has revealed this to you”. — How wonderful!
Now, here, our Lord is telling Peter (Rock) “Get behind me, Satan! Your thinking is not God’s way!” — How terrible! What has gone wrong?
Some Reflections On the Text
I First Declaration: Verses 21 — 23
Jesus announces His coming Passion
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he
must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the
chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third
day be raised.
From the time St. Peter proclaimed our Lord to be the promised Messiah, Jesus began to explain to His disciples at various times that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. Verse 21 is not presented as a quotation from Jesus, but as a summary statement looking back years later, as to how our Lord saw His purpose in going to Jerusalem. On this occasion, Jesus has obviously made a clear reference to His need to fulfill His Father’s plan, and to undergo whatever suffering comes to Him. Backed up by all the other hints Jesus has given, this reference amounts to an open declaration that He must suffer. There are three groups of people in the background of this account some of whose members are determined to make sure He does just that. They are:
Elders: the rich and well positioned in that society (being members
of the Sanhedrin), who could afford to isolate themselves from the
rest of people.
Chief priests: the religious leaders, some of whom who had become
ambitious and covetous. This group included those who had previously
held this office and the adult male members of those families from
which the high priests were chosen.
Scribes (Teachers of the Law): religious scholars, some (and only
some) of whom were more concerned about criticising the behaviour
of others than to ensure they practised what they preached.
Despite such formidable opponents, Jesus is able in this present situation, to take His teaching to a new depth in the company of people, namely, His chosen twelve, who are learning to recognise who and what He is.
Our Lord has been teaching many things. This new “move” begins to bring them all together into the key focus: Jesus Messiah, Son of the Living God who must suffer, be killed, and on the third day, rise again. This is central to His whole message.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
On hearing our Lord say on this occasion something about the need for Him to be killed, yet on the third day be raised to life, Peter is deeply disturbed. He takes Jesus aside to himself — by the hand, as people do to familiar friends. With the best of intentions and genuine affection he says to Jesus: “Spare Yourself, be merciful to yourself Lord.” In other words, “Why let yourself be dragged through all that when you don’t need to!” He seems to want Jesus to exert power on His own behalf for once. Unwittingly, he confronts Jesus with the temptation to be Messiah by some other path than God’s holy will. Satan himself tried that on Jesus and even he didn’t get very far! Prominent throughout this account is the focus Jesus directs upon conforming to the Divine Will of the Father. He models that, and in this incident, demands His newly appointed leader of the Apostles must learn to do likewise. Peter, like the other eleven, simply could not understand that tragedy, deception, and all manner of misdeeds, can be used by God to achieve His plan. Most of us would probably well understand how dear Peter felt about it all.
He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are
an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as
human beings do.”
Peter has raised an opposition against the will of God — preventing ultimately the destruction of Satan’s rule. In a strictly verbal way, Jesus reacts violently to Peter’s earnest but improper suggestion:
He turned and said to Peter, Get behind me Satan. You are
a stone in my path, because your thoughts are not
God’s thoughts, but men’s. You are meant to be Rock!
Instead you are mere shingle, getting in the way!
Clearly the temptation from Peter is naturally attractive to Jesus: thus the response. Some explain that our Lord, by answering in this way, does not intend to distance Peter from Him. Rather, He pulls Peter in behind Him, for his own safety. Whatever the explanation for the unexpected outburst, we know He saw Himself as their leader and shepherd who expected His disciples to follow Him and not step out in front.
Not long before, Jesus had called Simon Peter “Rock,” solid enough upon which to build His Church. Now He calls him a pebble to be kicked out of the way so as not to stumble on it! Jesus also tells Peter that while he judges his master’s actions by (his own) human standards, and stubbornly clings to an image of an earthly messiah-magnate, he will remain a worthless pebble. If he wishes to live up to his new name and title, he will have to be ever vigilant to look at things as God does, and not with just human vision. The amazing thing is that Jesus tells Peter he can (and must) do it. Thus he must not stand in the Messiah’s path, but follow after Him: literally, get behind Him. That will be the “secret of success” for Peter: to remain in the closest possible relationship with the Master.
What can so easily be missed in this rabbinic type of situation is that the Messiah, here, is actually saying:
“Come on Rock! Think like God, not like some grubby little bit
of gravel caught inside your sandal! Wake up. We’ve got
big things to do!”
An addendum to verse 23:
1. Jesus uses the term, “Satan”
This is a very significant moment in the unfolding story of Jesus and
His gradual revelation of Himself. One moment He is pronouncing
a unique blessing on Simon and giving him a title, “Rock,” “Peter”.
Almost, one could say, in the next breath, He is pronouncing what
seems like the worst indictment ever spoken to a human being:
“You are Satan!” What is really going on?
We need to remember that this account would never have been
recorded by the other apostles, nor told by them, had not Peter
himself insisted they tell it exactly as it occurred. This was the
nature of their relationship.
Jesus, speaking Hebraically, did not actually say that Peter was
Satan. His response was more to the effect: “Don’t be Satan!”
“If you go on like that, you may as well be Satan! In fact you will
be Satan!” It is a severe rebuke for Peter but it was a necessary
The term “Satan” is not referred to elsewhere in the New Testament,
but in the Old Testament it occurs in a few places.
2. Our Lord used the term “obstacle”, sometimes translated
The Greek term means “the stick in a trap on which the bait is
placed, and which, when touched by the animal springs up and
shuts the trap” (Liddell and Scott). In the New Testament it
designates an object, act, or person that brings about the
spiritual ruin of others. Jesus terms Peter a scandal, because
he sought to dissuade Him, from accomplishing the Redemption
in the manner ordained by God. (L. F. Miller)
In other words, the temptation to take shortcuts to glory and do it “our way” will always be a deadly trap to avoid at all costs!
3. The experience of St. Peter is for our benefit also.
By the time this Gospel was written and read at the celebration of
the Holy Eucharist, Peter had well and truly come to understand,
probably more than anyone, that the Rock could, at any time,
disintegrate to small stones if he did not remain focused on his Lord,
and abide constantly in His Word. Only by abiding in Jesus and
remaining attuned to the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit would he
(and of course the other eleven) bear true witness to what Jesus came
to achieve. There were no shortcuts for the Saviour, nor for His
disciples! In fact, one of them, as we read later, didn’t make it.
The point of all this is that, until the Lord returns, we are going to
find ourselves, “betwixt and between”! We, too, are going to be, like
Peter, caught between wonderful faith and terrible doubts. St. Peter
came to understand this dilemma for Christians and insisted this
be documented in the Gospel so that we would not, as he did,
crumple and disintegrate into rubble at our first experiences of failure.
We, too, must be “rock-like”: this is often overlooked.
Now, back to the narrative.
II Second Declaration: Verses 24 — 26
Jesus demands His disciples follow Him in His Passion
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come
after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
Having dealt with Peter’s very understandable indiscretion, Jesus now speaks to His disciples to sort out a few of their inadequate ideas!
“Whoever wishes to come after me,
(and it’s your choice)
must deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.
(And that means behind!)”
In Part I of our reading, it was bad enough for our Lord to explain He had to die and be raised from the dead. Now, Jesus says, that all who wish to follow Him as His disciples must undergo the same process! The words of our Messiah are a Hebraic method of saying, that in every way, at every moment we must all bear witness to the majesty of the One and only God. In doing so, we must renounce self (i.e., renounce any claim whatsoever to take anything due to God for ourselves). This was demanded in the Torah: Deuteronomy 6: 4 — 5, and reaffirmed by Jesus in St. Matthew 22: 37 — 38.
4. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
5. Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
The call to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is an outright demand to be prepared to sacrifice everything for the Lord God’s sake, and follow Jesus as the Way to the Father.
Harsh though this may sound, it is, in fact, the pathway to the fullest possible enjoyment of life, as our Lord goes on to explain.
Verses 25 and 26
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever
loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for
There would be no one reading these notes who has not heard much eloquence and oratory expounding these two verses which have inspired many a writer and poet! We choose to draw on John Meier who spells out our Lord’s law of existence in His Church: giving up and going without in this life is gladly chosen by those who wish to gain eternity with Him.
Commenting on verse 25, Meier writes:
“A truly fulfilled life eludes the grasp of the person who selfishly
seeks self-fulfilment. Only those who cease to grasp at life, only
those who give up their little projects of a tailored-to-order
existence and who surrender their lives to God in imitation of
and for the sake of the crucified Jesus will receive the fullness
of life as a gift from God.”
Doesn’t that warn us about much contemporary popular psychology, which is often totally preoccupied with one’s rights to satisfy one’s own needs before all else. And as it promotes this teaching, modern psychology frequently attempts to discredit the teaching of Jesus and ridicule His approach to finding personal fulfilment.
Commenting on verse 26, Meier writes:
“All human conceptions of loss and gain have been turned upside
down. Winning the whole world is not success but failure,
because this world is passing away, along with anyone who pins
all his hopes on a universe under Judgement. On the last day, not
all the treasures a person has gained on earth will buy the one
thing he has lost: his own salvation, his own, true, eternal
life (see Psalm 49: 5 — 9).
III Third Declaration: Verse 27
Jesus promises justice and complete, eternal restoration.
Jesus concludes His instruction with an apocalyptic vision we are meant to keep before us:
For the Son of Man will come in his Father’s glory, and then
he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
In part I of our reading, Jesus explained some of the deeper meaning and purpose of His coming as Messiah: to suffer, die and rise from the dead.
In part II, He declared in plain language that all who choose to be His followers have to do the same — not just give up their life for Him, but share His CROSS with Him. Now that takes some thinking through.
Now in part III our Lord proclaims His Glorious Return with His Angel Hosts and with the power and majesty of His Father (See Matt. 24: 30). In the midst of all this, Jesus will repay everyone according to “his conduct,” or “his works” or “what he has done” (depending on translation). (See Psalm 62: 12 and Matt. 25: 34 — 46).
In the 21st century, the need to prepare conscientiously for the Lord to return, has all but faded away. It doesn’t seem to fit the “here and now” mindset of church-goers. This is a warning to us to wake up and —as Jesus so often said — “Be ready!”
The three steps and declarations in our Lord’s brief discourse are a “snapshot,” a brief glimpse of His message for humanity. We invite you to meditate on it further at your leisure, and offer for this purpose a slightly “less brief” reflection on our Christian calling.
Appendix: “Our Calling as Members of the Christ’s Body, the Church“
We close with a sentence from Charles Peguy:
“One must not save one’s life as one would save a treasure — but
as one would lose a treasure, by spending it.”
Additional Reading: Matthew 16: 21 — 23
Additional Reading: Matthew 16: 21 — 27
Additional Reading: Matthew 16: 24 — 28
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Get Behind Me Satan
Ordinary 22 Sunday Year A St. Matthew 16: 21 — 27
In this passage, our Lord makes three powerful declarations. They have
1. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go
All of what we call the Old(er) Testament points towards the coming of a
It is very human to give God a few hints as to how things should be done!
2. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me
Then Jesus went on to give a very succinct formula for the best way to keep
3. For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
Our passage closes with what may have been a comment least expected.
We are privileged to be given this vision which, our Lord wants to remain
Let pray for one another — even those people in great need about whom we know
Matthew 16: 21 — 27
Ordinary 22 Year A
21 16 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he 17
22 18 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid,
23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle
24 19 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me
25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his
26 What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit
27 22 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
16 [21-23] This first prediction of the passion follows ⇒ Mark 8:31-33 in the main and serves as a corrective to an understanding of Jesus’ messiahship as solely one of glory and triumph. By his addition of from that time on (⇒ Matthew 16:21) Matthew has emphasized that Jesus’ revelation of his coming suffering and death marks a new phase of the gospel. Neither this nor the two later passion predictions (⇒ Matthew 17:22-23; ⇒ 20:17-19) can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he foresaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God (see ⇒ Matthew 26:29).
17  He: the Marcan parallel (⇒ Mark 8:31) has “the Son of Man.” Since Matthew has already designated Jesus by that title (13), its omission here is not significant. The Matthean prediction is equally about the sufferings of the Son of Man. Must: this necessity is part of the tradition of all the synoptics; cf ⇒ Mark 8:31; ⇒ Luke 9:21. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes: see the note on ⇒ Mark 8:31. On the third day: so also ⇒ Luke 9:22, against the Marcan “after three days” (⇒ Mark 8:31). Matthew’s formulation is, in the Greek, almost identical with the pre-Pauline fragment of the kerygma in ⇒ 1 Cor 15:4 and also with ⇒ Hosea 6:2 which many take to be the Old Testament background to the confession that Jesus was raised on the third day. Josephus uses “after three days” and “on the third day” interchangeably (Antiquities 7, 11, 6 #280-81; 8, 8, 1-2 #214, 218) and there is probably no difference in meaning between the two phrases.
18 [22-23] Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus’ predicted suffering and death is seen as a satanic attempt to deflect Jesus from his God-appointed course, and the disciple is addressed in terms that recall Jesus’ dismissal of the devil in the temptation account (⇒ Matthew 4:10: “Get away, Satan!”). Peter’s satanic purpose is emphasized by Matthew’s addition to the Marcan source of the words You are an obstacle to me.
19 [24-28] A readiness to follow Jesus even to giving up one’s life for him is the condition for true discipleship; this will be repaid by him at the final judgment.
20  Deny himself: to deny someone is to disown him (see ⇒ Matthew 10:33; ⇒ 26:34-35) and to deny oneself is to disown oneself as the center of one’s existence.
21  See the notes on ⇒ Matthew 10:38, ⇒ 39.
22  The parousia and final judgment are described in ⇒ Matthew 25:31 in terms almost identical with these.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
Our Calling as Members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
Our vocation, or calling as Christians, is deeply etched in the whole of our Judaeo-Christian Biblical culture. It can be enunciated in a single breath and yet take a life-time to explain. As mission-oriented Christians, we certainly need to be able to express our calling simply in our own language. We also need to live it out in our daily lives, and be able to give our personal view and understanding of it in a conversation or discussion. Some are called to be equipped to express this calling in greater scope and depth ― but all members of the Church can build an ever-deepening appreciation of our unique and wonderful heritage as Christians, at whatever level we feel is right for us.
Our experience in assisting ourselves and others to achieve this has shown that it can be helpful to start with a simple statement of fact and gradually enlarge it. What follows is one approach that has proved useful and effective. For some a good starting place is to be able to state:
“I am a Christian ― that is, a follower of Jesus Christ, learning
How we go on from that point is each person′s choice and depends upon circumstances at the time. We have assembled two charts with the intention of helping unpack the above statement. Some may call it too simplistic or forced. We do not see it that way and therefore pursue it as a means of deepening our personal understanding of our vocation as members of Christ′s Body, the Church. This is our way of responding to our vocation within the life of the Church. It is not a matter of stilted conformity to a charter. Rather it is welcoming opportunities to share what we are and believe in among those with whom we mix ― and we can do this quietly without seeking to force-feed anyone. It is as much doing and being what we believe, as it is in telling it!
- – – – – – – – -
The whole of our vocation as Christians is summed up by our Messiah, the Lord Jesus, when He reaffirmed the central core of the Hebrew Christian Faith:
to love the one and only God totally and obey His Divine Word —
This is how it is recorded in the Gospels:
Jesus said: The first Commandment is:
You shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and
The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
(Deuteronomy 6: 4) (Leviticus 19: 18) (Matthew 22: 39 — 41) (Mark 12: 29 — 31)
Jesus demonstrated this perfectly in His life, death and resurrection; and has come to restore us so that we can do the same.
Our Messiah Is Our Model
From a reading of the four Gospels and a sweeping overview of the public ministry of our Lord, we could summarise three significant action-streams, which show what He stands for.
• Jesus calls disciples and proclaims His message.
• Jesus obeys His Father and sacrifices His life for us.
• Jesus rises to New Life, ascends into Heaven, and sends
the Holy Spirit.
We can expand this a little to show how Jesus exemplified in His life the core of the message He delivered. So let us take a look at this in a diagrammatic overview.
A Snapshot of the Messiah in Word and Action
How Can We Reflect This Model?
Remember What We Are. — We are Christians — that is,
followers of Jesus Christ, learning to live the way He taught us!
Note: We offer an expansion of these three “streams” in Unit 6
of our article — “The Gospel to Every Creature”.
A Final Word
May we be richly blessed as we reflect on what it means to belong top Jesus Christ.
Supplement 1 — Additional Reading
An Introduction to Matthew 16: 21 — 23
In the beginning of these verses we find our Lord revealing to his disciples a great and startling truth. That truth was His approaching death upon the cross. For the first time He places before their minds the astounding announcement that “He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer, — and be killed.” He had not come on earth to take a kingdom, but to die. He had not come to reign, and be ministered to; but to shed His blood as a sacrifice, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
It is almost impossible for us to conceive how strange and incomprehensible these tidings must have seemed to His disciples. Like most of the Jews, they could form no idea of a suffering Messiah. They did not understand that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah must be literally fulfilled. They did not see that the sacrifices of the law were all meant to point them to the death of the true Lamb of God. They thought of nothing but the second glorious coming of Messiah, which is yet to take place at the end of the world. They thought so much of Messiah’s crown, that they lost sight of His cross. We shall do well to remember this. A right understanding of this matter throws strong light on the lessons which this passage contains.
We learn, in the first place, from these verses, that there may be much spiritual ignorance even in a true disciple of Christ.
We cannot have a clearer proof of this than the conduct of the apostle Peter in this passage. He tries to dissuade our Lord from suffering on the cross. “Be it far from Thee,” he says: “this shall not be unto Thee.” He did not see the full purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world. His eyes were blinded to the necessity of our Lord’s death. He actually did what he could to prevent that death taking place at all! And yet we know that Peter was a converted man: he really believed that Jesus was the Messiah. His heart was right in the sight of God.
These things are meant to teach us that we must neither regard good people as infallible, because they are good, nor yet suppose they have no graces because their grace is weak and small. One brother may possess singular gifts, and be a bright and shining light in the Church of Christ. But let us not forget that he is human, and thus liable to commit great mistakes. Another brother’s knowledge may be scanty. He may fail to judge rightly on many points of doctrine; he may err both in word and deed. But has he faith and love towards Christ? Does he hold the Head? If so, let us deal patiently with him. What he sees not now, he may see hereafter. Like Peter, he may now be in the dark, and. yet, like Peter, enjoy one day the full light of the Gospel.
Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, that there is no doctrine of Scripture so deeply important as the doctrine of Christ’s atoning death.
We cannot have clearer proof of this than the language used by our Lord in rebuking Peter. He addresses him by the awful name of “Satan,” as if he was an adversary, and doing the devil’s work, in trying to prevent His death. He says to him, whom He had so lately called “blessed,” “Get thee behind Me, thou art an offence unto Me.” He tells the man whose noble confession he had just commended so highly, “Thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Stronger words than these never fell from our Lord’s lips. The error that drew from such a loving Saviour such a stern rebuke to such a true disciple, must have been a mighty error indeed.
The truth is that our Lord would have us regard the crucifixion as the central truth of Christianity. Right views of His vicarious death and the benefits resulting from it, lie at the very foundation of Bible-religion. Never let us forget this. On matters of church-government, and the form of worship, others may differ from us, and yet reach heaven in safety. On the matter of Christ’s atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here, we are ruined forever. Error on many points is only a skin disease; error about Christ’s death is a disease at the heart. Here let us take our stand: let nothing move us from this ground. The sum of all our hopes must be, that “Christ has died for us.” (I Thess. 5: 10.) Give up that doctrine, and we have no solid hope at all. (J. C. Ryle) (slight modifications for Internet use.)
Supplement 2 — Additional Reading
An Introduction to Matthew 16: 21 — 27
A change now comes over the gospel story; a change in direction. All roads have been leading to Caesarea Philippi; Peter’s act of faith has been the objective of our Lord’s instructions. He now turns his eyes towards Jerusalem; there he is to die. Peter has just confessed his belief that Jesus is God; he must remember that he is also Man. They must get all ideas of an earthly triumph right out of their heads; as man he must suffer and die. And this at the hands of the accepted leaders of Israel, not the Gentiles. Up till this, our Lord has made only veiled references to his coming death; this is the first clear, express declaration. Only faith in his divinity could stand up under this severe blow. Peter is shocked at the thought of it; the Master is overwrought; he needs cheering up. Enlightened by faith, Peter was solid rock; with human reason alone, he is a mere stone by the roadside. Our Lord is stern in his rebuke; he will not be turned aside from the way of the cross; Satan proposed this same way out to him when he suggested an alliance, at the beginning of his ministry.
Jesus now points out the way to perfection:
(1) The Cross. An expressive symbol of suffering, well understood by
the Jews since the Roman occupation. It will take on a new meaning
after Jesus’ crucifixion.
(2) Follow me. Not accompany me from place to place, but live my life;
it is a personal, individual relationship, so well expressed by
Saint Paul (Galatians 2: 19 — 20).
The sombre prospect of the cross raised a difficulty about the speedy coming of the kingdom, promised by John and Jesus.
It will not be delayed long; it will be realised in the life time of at least some here today. (Actually the church was well established within thirty years. See Romans 10: 18.)
From The Gospel Story by R. Cox. (Reprinted with permission)
Supplement 3 — Additional Reading
Matthew 16: 24 — 28
In order to see the connection of these verses we must remember the mistaken impressions of our Lord’s disciples as to the purpose of His coming into the world. Like Peter they could not bear the idea of the crucifixion. They thought that Jesus had come to set up an earthly kingdom, and they did not see that He must needs suffer and die. They dreamed of worldly honours and temporal rewards in their Master’s service. They did not understand that true Christians, like Christ, must be “made perfect through sufferings.” Our Lord corrects these misapprehensions in words of peculiar solemnity, which we shall do well to lay up in our hearts.
Let us learn, in the first place, from these verses, that people must make up their minds to trouble and self-denial, if they follow Christ.
Our Lord dispels the fond dreams of His disciples, by telling them that His followers must “take up the cross.” The glorious kingdom they were expecting was not about to be set up immediately. They must make up their minds to persecution and affliction, if they intended to be His servants. They must be content to “lose their lives,” if they would have their souls saved.”
It is good for us all to see this point clearly. We must not conceal from ourselves that true Christianity brings with it a daily cross in this life, while it offers us a crown of glory in the life to come. The flesh must be daily crucified; the devil must be daily resisted; the world must be daily overcome. There is warfare to be waged, and a battle to be fought. All this is the inseparable accompaniment of true religion: heaven is not to be won without it. Never was there a truer word than the old saying, “No cross, no crown!” If we have never found this out by experience, our souls are in a poor condition.
Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, that there is nothing so precious as a person’s soul.
Our Lord teaches this lesson by asking one of the most solemn questions that the New Testament contains. It is a question so well known, and so often repeated, that people often lose sight of its searching character. But it is a question that ought to sound in our ears like a trumpet, whenever we are tempted to neglect our eternal interests: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
There can only be one answer to this question. There is nothing on earth, or under the earth, that can make amends to us for the loss of our souls. There is nothing that money can buy, or man can give, to be named in comparison with our souls. The world and all that it contains, is temporal: it is all fading, perishing, and passing away. The soul is eternal: that one single word is the key to the whole question. Let it sink down deeply into our hearts. Are we wavering in our religion? Do we fear the cross? Does the way seem too narrow? Let our Master’s words ring in our ears:
“What shall it profit a man?” and let us doubt no more. Let us learn,
in the last place, that the second coming of Christ is the time when
His people shall receive their rewards. “The Son of Man shall come
in the glory of His Father and then shall He reward every man
according to his works.”
There is deep wisdom in this saying of our Lord’s, when viewed in connection with the preceding verses. He knows the heart of a person. He knows how soon we are ready to be cast down, and, like Israel of old, to be “discouraged because of the way.” (Numbers 21: 4.) He therefore holds out to us a gracious promise. e reminds us that He has yet to come a second time, as surely as He came the first time. He tells us that this is the time when His disciples shall receive their good things. There will be glory, honour, and reward in abundance one day for all who have served and loved Jesus. But it is to be in the dispensation of the Second Advent, and not of the first. The bitter must come before the sweet, the cross before the crown. The first advent is the dispensation of the crucifixion; the Second Advent is the dispensation of the kingdom. We must submit to take part with our Lord in His humiliation, if we desire to share in His glory.
And now let us not leave these verses without serious self-inquiry as to the matters, which they contain. We have heard of the necessity of taking up the cross, and denying ourselves. Have we taken it up, and are we carrying it daily? We have heard of the value of the soul. Do we live as if we believed it? We have heard of Christ’s second advent. Do we look forward to it with hope and joy? — Happy is that person who can give a satisfactory answer to these questions! (J. C. Ryle) (Slight modifications for Internet use.)