A Suffering Messiah: When God’s Plan Doesn’t Make Sense - Mark 8:31-33

Back to Message Archive


In his commentary on the Gospels John Calvin wrote: Pride is so deeply rooted in the hearts of men that we often think wrong is done to us, and complain, if God does not comply with everything we consider to be right.

This statement strikes at the heart of a common sinful temptation: we are so prone to believing that we know better than God. And while we may never say it out loud, our complaints, fears and anxieties reveal our hearts. We are prone to believing that God should operate on our terms. And when His plan doesn’t align with ours, we question His intentions.

While this is a temptation that many struggle with today, we are not the first to be tempted in this way. We aren’t the first to question God’s ways and His plans. In Mark 8:31-33 we see this same lack of trust in the disciples – the closest followers of Jesus during His time on earth. 

Context – Jesus is the Christ

As we come to vs. 31 we are returning to a conversation that’s already in progress. In vs. 29 Peter has just made a great declaration – confessing his belief that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel.

It’s a significant moment in the Gospel of Mark, but it’s immediately followed by a seemingly odd command from Jesus. Jesus, knowing that the disciples don’t yet fully understand the ministry of the Messiah, commands His disciples not to tell anyone what they believe about Him.

An Announcement from Jesus: The Messiah must suffer (8:31-32a)

  • Incomplete expectations – Jesus knew the minds of the disciples and the common beliefs of the day. The expectation was that when the Messiah came He would come as the long awaited King ushering in the eternal Kingdom of God. And while Jesus is the King and He is bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, there was something else that must happen first. Before He claims victory as the conquering King He must first fulfill His role as the suffering servant for the sake of sinners.
  • The Necessity of a suffering Messiah – As Jesus teaches His disciples He leaves no room for alternatives when He declares that He must And His suffering will come in the form of rejection and death. While the disciples expected a conquering king, the Scriptures foretold this essential work of Christ for the sake of our salvation (Is. 53:4-6). Jesus states the purpose of His death clearly in Mark 10:45.
  • He spoke plainly - While Jesus had often spoken in parables or through signs and miracles, Mark tells us in vs. 32 that in this case He speaks plainly. Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole or in metaphorical language. He’s speaking openly and clearly. He is telling His disciples what it means for Him to be the Messiah. He must suffer, die and rise.

Peter rebukes Jesus – The disciples’ pride and doubt (8:32)

  • A bold rebuke – Most likely as the spokesman for the rest of the disciples, Peter goes to Jesus and rebukes Him for suggesting that He will suffer and die (Matthew 16:22). The word translated as rebukeis the same word used earlier in Mark when Jesus is ordering demons to listen and obey. Peter is bold and assertive in his stand against Christ. He rebukes Jesus without any idea that what Jesus is describing is the plan of salvation that was established before the foundation of the world.
  • Thoughts to consider –It’s easy to shake our heads at Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, but we are all prone to similar foolishness. We are quick to position ourselves against God when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

Jesus rebukes Peter (8:33)

  • A public rebuke – While Peter had pulled Jesus to the side, Mark makes it clear that Jesus rebukes Peter in the presence of all of the disciples. This probably indicates that Peter is the spokesman and they all deserve the rebuke He receives.
  • Get behind me, Satan - Jesus uses strong language to draw attention to the seriousness of the offense. Not only are the disciples questioning Jesus, they are, in a sense, suggesting that He abandon the course that would lead to salvation. This is the kind of thing that the devil desires and the same tactic He used when He tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
  • A man-centered gaze – After the shocking command Jesus points out the source of the problem – Peter and the rest of the disciples have their minds fixed on the things of man rather than on the things of God. If they had a Godward focus they would have recognized the authority of Jesus and trusted that what He said was true.
  • Disciplined as a son– While it’s not explicit in the text, it’s easy to see that this rebuke from Jesus isn’t condemnation, but admonition and loving discipline. God disciplines and warns us in order to guard us and draw us back to Himself (Hebrews 12:5-8).
  • Thoughts to consider –While we may not rebuke Jesus to His face, we are all guilty at times of setting our minds on the things of men rather than on the things of God. We trust ourselves and our own wisdom more than God and His wisdom. We decide that we know better than the One who made us. We must consider our hearts and commit ourselves to trusting God and believing Him above all.