Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me; for You are not on the side of God, but of men.”

Matthew 16:13-23

The Apostle Peter was first called by Jesus as he and his brother, Andrew, and their partners, James and John, were unsuccessfully trying to catch fish. Jesus had several groups of followers. There were women who followed Him. There was a group called “the Seventy,” (some of the Seventy included people like Luke and Mark, who later became evangelists, each writing a Gospel, and other well-known early saints of the church), and of course the twelve disciples that most of us are familiar with. Of this group of twelve, there was an inner circle of three—Peter, James and John. And of these three, Jesus singled out Peter to be the rock on which “I will build My church.” (Matthew 16:18) He told Peter that even the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. He would give Peter the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Imagine that, receiving the keys to Paradise, a place that once had been lost, Jesus was going to give Peter, the not-very-good fisherman, keys to the front door. And before going to heaven, Peter would be given power to bind and loose sins on earth, so much so that Peter’s decision to bind or loose a sin would be honored in heaven. (Incidentally, bishops and priests are given the power/authority to bind or loose sins on earth, having received this responsibility as descendants of the apostles, the bishops with Apostolic Succession, the ability to trace their ordinations back to the time of the Apostles, and the priests as representatives of their bishops. The sacrament of confession, we believe as Orthodox Christians, is honored by God, so that when we confess our sins, and the priest offers the prayer of Absolution, asking for those sins to be loosed, that they are loosed in this life and loosed in heaven for eternal life.) Peter receives this honor of “first among the disciples” and leader of the church because he makes the confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

In the very next verses of Scripture, Peter immediately falls. As Jesus tells the disciples of His upcoming death and Resurrection, Peter challenges Jesus. No way was this going to happen to Jesus. Peter, in an act of human bravado, tells Jesus there is no way he is going to let this happen. Jesus then rebukes Peter with words that sound shocking: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Did Jesus just go from giving Peter the keys to the kingdom to calling him Satan just a couple of verses later? Yes, He did. Did He really think that Peter was Satan? Let’s discuss.

The devil is real. He lurks around each of us. For those who are trying to do the wrong thing, there is nothing much for the devil to do, except maybe encouraging our wrong thoughts. For those who are trying to do good, the devil is more active. The devil is the enemy of God. The “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17) are from God. The devil wants to destroy God and the good things that come from God. Peter had received a gift from Jesus, in being named the leader of the Church. The devil immediately entered into Peter to put ideas of doubt and even opposition into his head. Perhaps, in Peter’s comments, the devil was even trying to tempt Christ. Here Christ said that He was going to die and be raised from the dead, He laid out the plan to our salvation and for the devil’s destruction. This plan would be painful and excruciating and Jesus would suffer every bit of it with human pain, and He knew that. By having Peter challenge this idea, maybe the devil thought that Jesus would be tempted to use Peter’s bravado as a way out of His mission. In saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus was addressing both Peter and Satan. He was telling Peter not to let Satan get a hold of his mind. And he was telling Satan to leave both Him and Peter alone.

We know that the devil does not like anything that is good. Thus, any time we are doing something good, we can be sure that the devil will try to twist it into something bad. Many times, people come for the sacrament of confession and especially when it’s their first time, I warn them that the devil is lurking right outside the door of the church to attack them, that their good feeling might not last long, that they might walk right into the temptation they just repented of. Just like Peter, they may feel God’s glory and immediately after be tempted, or even fall into temptation.

Before the Crucifixion, Peter, the leader of the disciples, swore again that he would not let anything happen to Jesus. Jesus told Peter that on that very night, before the cock crowed to announce the sunrise, that Peter would deny Jesus three times. And it happened. The leader of the disciples denied three times that he knew who Christ was. Afterwards, Peter wept bitterly for what he had done. However, he did not show up at the cross. On top of denying Jesus, he abandoned Him.

Jesus did not fire Peter from his position as leader of the disciples. In John 21, we read that Jesus restored Peter by asking him three times if Peter loved Jesus and then charging Peter to “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15) and “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:16) He even foretold that Peter would die for Him, he would end up being an example to all the disciples, continuing to this day.

And immediately, in the next verses, rather than be overjoyed and responsible in his newly-restored position, again Peter falls to the sin of judgment. He asks Jesus whether the Apostle John was going to die, like Peter was. Jesus said to Peter, almost in a rebuke “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow Me!” (John 21:22)

One of the many lessons of Peter is that we will all fall again and again through sin, and we can all rise again and again through repentance. The devil will tempt us most in the moments we are trying the hardest. The devil can twist something that is pure and Godly and distort it into something that is painful and shameful. Like Peter, we must rise again and again each time we fall. In the end, Peter died for Christ. Today he is recognized by the church, along with St. Paul, as the paramounts of the Apostles.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
I know You as a calm haven, O Lord, Jesus Christ: come quickly, before it is too late, and deliver me from the lowest depths of sin and despair.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Six, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Following Jesus, even helping to lead the Church in some way, doesn’t mean we won’t fall. The key is to get up again, and again, and again, as many times as is necessary, but keep on going like St. Peter. Because while we may not have been given the keys to the Kingdom of heaven, a life of faith and repentance puts us in a good position to have St. Peter open the gates for us.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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