The passage of Mark 8.31-9.1 is a turning point of Mark. It denotes Jesus’ rebuke against Peter followed by a call to discipleship. Once more, Peter, after much insight, had put his foot in his mouth because he did not understand the implications of his insight.
I find Jesus’ rebuke of Peter fascinating in that Jesus didn’t only harshly call Peter “Satan” but also that Peter did not have in mind “the things of God.” What things was Jesus talking about? Usually, preachers end there with some sentimental saying. The opposition of the interest of Satan and the “things of God” seem to be more specific than our sentimental interpretation.
The call which follows in Mk. 8.34 has been preached so much that it has become cliché. I believe the “things of God” Jesus referred to were the call to discipleship, to follow Jesus on the road to the cross. In Mk. 8.34, Jesus gave three indispensible prerequisites to following Him using three commands: self-denial, take up cross, and follow. The first two commands, denying of the self and taking up the cross, are Greek tense aorist imperatives, showing a sense of immediacy. The final command is to “follow” in the Greek tense present imperative. The last exhortation shows a continuous following process during Jesus’ time.
Popular preachers usually use this passage to rile up the emotions of the congregation in old-time revival meetings. Our popular preaching is so much less than the real madness of Jesus’ proclamation. We don’t often notice the circumstance Mark was describing; Jesus had not yet gone to the cross! In the Greco-Roman world, the crucified were the political rebels. According to Josephus (Vit. 420), many rebels were crucified for opposing the Romans. The crucified were the rebels in the eyes of the empire. To follow Jesus might land one in such hot water that the follower would appear to be the hated social deviant. Thus, before carrying the cross, the disciples would have already been deemed socially marginal people who lived a life of lowliness and died a death of painful humiliation.
Now, back to Satan! If the things of God has to do with being a Christ-centered rebel who would be socially marginalized, then the very opposite, being Satan’s channel would be to live the easy life of conformist. This very conformity and comfort would prevent a disciple from fulfilling the real goal. It would, in fact, prevent Jesus from fulfilling his real goal. What does this have to do with us?
We have to take note that Mark was not addressing the society in general but addressing the faith community in particular. Every Jew was born into Judaism in Jesus’ day. There was no conversion. In other words, Jesus’ call to the faith community was radical in this way. Those who had the faith did not always live out the radical edge of that faith because of risks. Those who did not live out that faith were essentially doing as badly as those who did Satan’s work. Hardly any teacher in Jesus’ day could suggest such a radical call or rebuke. In comparison, our faith today in the West looks more like a respectable garden party or a walk in the park than Jesus’ call.