Jesus has just powerfully affirmed Peter’s confession of Himself as Christ. But immediately afterward, Matthew records, “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.” Most Bibles have a heading immediately after that verse (16:20), which seems to make it separate from the next. But that heading was not in the original text. In fact, in the actual text of Scripture the next verse explains why Jesus did not want the confession of Himself to become commonplace just yet: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Jesus obviously came to fulfill the mission of Messiah, but He didn’t want people to be proclaiming that He was the Messiah. He knew that if they did that, His opportunity to reconcile humankind to God through the cross would be compromised. After all, not even the cruelest Roman would crucify their only hope for salvation. That meant that the Messianic purpose Jesus was fulfilling could only be completed if Satan’s plan to kill God in the flesh was achieved.
That sounds paradoxical, but in reality, it is the wisdom of God. Those made in God’s image had broken their covenant with Him through sin, and that meant that the full penalty for violating the covenant must be invoked, unless the covenant could be broken. But a covenant can only be broken if one of the members of that covenant dies (just like in a marriage covenant). So, because God was unwilling that humankind be extinguished, He chose to die. Satan would get his wish to kill God, but he would not be able to take God’s place in His absence. For God had disguised the greatest blessing the universe had ever seen as the greatest disaster the universe would ever see, and in so doing He overcame His people’s greatest enemy.
It is something we can only glimpse in hindsight. Even then we can still only glimpse it. God’s wisdom and way is far beyond our understanding. For who else would’ve thought to package blessing as disaster? Even though God had done that repeatedly before when He had chosen to bless (save) His people through a worldwide flood – delivering Noah and his family from a wicked society and blessing them with a new earth. Again, He blessed (saved) Israel through the dire famine that resulted in them leaving their homeland for Egypt. Though 70 went into Egypt, millions would leave, and that with untold riches after plundering the Egyptians who had enslaved them.
This is God’s way, and this is why we cannot shirk the suffering that He asks us to endure. Somehow and someway, He is purposing to make it all far more than worthwhile in the end. As He said to His people through Jeremiah as they entered the exile, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Amen, and amen.
A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.Eliphaz the Temanite (from Job 4:12)
God is God, and we are not. This much holds true no matter how much we learn or how much wisdom we gain.