There’s always been a lot of discussion as to what exactly sin is – or how we can define it and what characterizes it. I grew up saying it was “anything we think, say, or do, that does not please God.” In college, I had a professor who pointed out that an underlying notion in sin was unbelief that God was generous and good (see how that plays out in the account of the Fall in Genesis 3). People have posited that it’s an attempt at independence, rather than dependence on God. There’s the age old adage that pride is the root of all sin (often citing Lucifer and his fall). But recently, I’ve started to realize how much impatience has to do with sin – and I think you see it most clearly in Satan – the “Impatient Accuser”.
The idea has been floating around in my head for a while based on some conversations I’ve had, but it came to a head when Dr. Blount made an interesting comment in Trinitarianism about the episode where Jesus rebukes Peter in Matthew 16:23. I’ve never really heard much teaching on that passage, and honestly never studied it in much depth myself – but I think he had a great insight. The context of the story (Matt 16:13-20) is that Peter had just confessed Jesus as “the Christ” (the Messiah, the Annointed One), so you would think that Peter is finally getting it and understanding why Jesus is here. But when Jesus goes on to say (in Matt 16:21) that being the Christ means he is going to suffer a lot – Peter gets bold, takes Jesus aside, and tries to fix his theology, explaining that he should not experience such suffering. At this, Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 16:23).
Why is Jesus so harsh on Peter?
Dr. Blount suggested that the reason that Jesus calls Peter, “Satan,” is that he is doing the same thing that Satan (“The Accuser”) did in the temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11). He’s tempting him to go about getting something now, in his own way, that is promised to him by God in a future time. In the wilderness, everything that Satan tempted Jesus with was actually promised to him and was within his “right” to have, but not right now and not in his own way – rather in the Father’s timing and in the Father’s way. Jesus could have commanded the angels to guard him, he could have turned stones into bread, he had the right to have the authority and kingdoms (see more evidence of this read Part II of this post). But Jesus waited on the Father and trusted that those things would happen in their right time.
You see the same thing in the passage with Peter. Jesus knew that he had to suffer as the Messiah (the Christ), and then God would exalt him in due time (see Phil 2:5-11). But Peter has his own idea about how Jesus is to be the Messiah, and that does not include suffering and having to wait for the kingdom to occur – it was going to happen now. So Peter tries to remind Jesus of this – the result of which is that Jesus calls him, “Satan.” I’m not dogmatic about this, but I don’t think he’s saying that Satan is taking control of Peter, but rather that Peter is acting like Satan and is tempting him in the same manner as Satan ( – it’s interesting to note that “Satan” is technically not a proper name, but rather a title for someone, meaning “the accuser”). Jesus’ rebuke to Satan in the wilderness is the same as his rebuke to Peter here: υπαγε σατανα – “Go away, Satan!” So what it seems that Jesus is getting on to Peter for is tempting him to be impatient and get things in his own way. Jesus is giving Peter (in that moment, as he tempts Jesus) the same title as Satan, because he is presenting the same temptation as Satan does in the wilderness.
What God has been teaching me recently through this insight, is that sin so often is asking for good things (often things that are our “right” or have been promised to us) and trying to get them in our own time. Sin is always impatient. Sin does not want to trust God and his timing, but rather get things now. It’s often too easy to think that sin is just doing bad things, and has nothing to do with good things. And so one of the great ways that the Accuser tempts us is to say that we can have good things now, and that we don’t have to wait to get them (even when those things were possibly even promised to us). The temptation is to believe that God is holding out on what he has promised us – that we don’t have to wait for him to give us good things – we can take them for ourselves now. Why wait on God? After all, we have the right to good things – we deserve them, so God is cruel not to give them to us when we want them (which is always now). So one of the biggest temptations I see in my life is to be impatient with the promises God has made to me. Sin makes me want it now, instead of later. Satan’s temptation is that I don’t have to be patient to get what I want – I don’t have to rely on someone else’s timing.
May we learn to not listen to the lies of the Impatient Accuser! More thoughts on this idea in other passages in future posts…