The pastor at my church was giving a sermon on the passage of Matthew 16:21-23 last Sunday. In that passage, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. His disciple, Peter, rebukes him by saying that such an outcome shall not happen to Jesus. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The message of the sermon was about how God’s plans may differ from the plans that we think God has. However, what caught my attention was the pastor’s claim based on the passage that Satan’s plan was always to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus and thereby avert the salvation of humanity that comes with the death of Jesus. This differs from what some other speakers I have heard say about Satan’s plan being always to kill Jesus.
One part of the bible that I think lends argument to that view that Satan wanted Jesus crucified is Luke 22:3, where Satan entered Judas Iscariot and made him confer with the chief priest on how he may betray Jesus.
One attempt at an explanation of this apparent incongruity that I have encountered is in this transcript of a sermon by John Piper who says that Satan saw his efforts to divert Jesus from the cross failing. Therefore he resolves that if he can’t stop it, he will at least make it as ugly and painful and as heartbreaking as possible. Not just death, but death by betrayal. I can’t say that I am too convinced by this explanation. It seems too petty a reason to me for why Satan would make this last-minute ditch at his attempt to avert Jesus’ death on the cross.
My impression of the matter has always been that Satan wanted Jesus killed, but was outwitted instead when Jesus’ crucifixion brought salvation and his subsequent resurrection instead of his eternal death. One view that I proffer is that Jesus was not really talking to Satan when he rebuked Peter. It was simply an allegory of how Peter’s plan is such an impediment to Jesus’ own plan to be crucified, that it is akin to something from the devil. I don’t think that Peter was necessarily being possessed by the devil when he said those words. Jesus’ words were only meant to be a stern rebuke to Peter. However, the real Satan does want Jesus dead, but just didn’t know that Jesus was making use of that plan to obtain salvation for humanity.