“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” Mark 8:31-33 ESV
If we are to understand what Jesus means by Get behind me, Satan!, addressed to his disciple Peter, we need to revisit a little bit of the origin of what the Bible calls “the Satan”, Ha-Satan. We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of Satan as a proper noun or name. Look, there’s Mark, there’s Jon, there’s Satan! But it’s not that way. It’s simply a noun which is always used with the definitive article, the Ha-Satan, the satan, which simply means the accuser.
The satan is referred to three times in the Old Testament. Once in passing in an episode with David, once in Zechariah where it says “Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua.” Zechariah 3:1 NLT
But the only episode that has a lot of detail about HaSatan comes from the book of Job. In the book of Job we find the HaSatan, the satan, accusing Job before God, and then orchestrating three successive catastrophes that befall righteous Job. First, he loses his livelihood and he’s bankrupt. On the heels of that, he loses his children. He’s bereaved. As if these two were not enough, Job loses his health and is struck down with terrible afflicting boils. The satan is behind it all…
Yet after chapter 2, and Job is a very lengthy book, satan is never again mentioned. He disappears from the text but does not disappear from the story. Beginning in chapter 3, satan, the accuser, morphs into or posseses Jobs three friends, Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar. These are three friends of Job who come to commiserate with him in his sorrow and suffering. He’s lost his livelihood, his children and his health and they come as friends to share his sorrow.
But very quickly, they morph into or become possessed by HaSatan and they begin to accuse Job. They begin to attempt to explain to Job why these three catastrophes have come upon him and they insist it must be because Job has sinned. Somehow Job has done something to cause him to deserve this horrible fate. And Job protests his innocence. As these successive debates continue to rage through the book, they become increasingly vicious as they become more and more HaSatan-esque, or satanic, and more viciously accuse their friend Job.
Now when God does arrive on the scene in the book of Job, he announces clearly that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have NOT spoken accurately concerning Job. They have falsely accused him. But let’s take a moment and ask why? Why did Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar pile on and accuse their suffering friend. Why would anyone do that to their friend??
The reason they were accusing Job was out of a motivation to preserve their world view. Their world view was this – “Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people (does this sound familiar?). We are good people, so nothing bad will ever happen to us.” That was the false foundation to their false security. It’s how they maintained their peace of mind. It’s how they slept at night. That was their paradigm.
So when Job says “No, that’s not true. Because I’m a good man to whom horrible things have happened…”, it threatens the very foundation of their security. So they have to attack Job in order to preserve the false foundation of their false security, and they manifest the satan. See how that works? It’s very interesting, very diabolical. But we need to recognize it. You could say it this way – satan is the spirit of accusation.
Learn this – the satan is the spirit of accusation, especially of fear based accusation, which is what was motivating the miserable comforters of Job. It wasn’t that they hated Job, they didn’t. But it was that they needed to preserve their own sense of well being and future security by assuring themselves that this is true – that good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people. And we’re good people, nothing bad will ever happen to us. And Job was threatening to undo that, to expose that as a lie, because he was saying, “No, I’m a good man to whom bad things have happened.” And so to preserve the false foundation of their false security, they manifested the satan and began to accuse him.
The spirit of accusation is the spirit of satan, especially fear based accusation. Because when people feel threatened in some way, their security, their position, their politics, their ideology, their worldview, when they feel that threatened, they tend to channel that anxiety into accusation. And here’s the kicker – it works. If you are feeling threatened in some way, something is happening in your world, in your worldview, you ideology, in your situation, your circumstances that is causing you anxiety, if you will channel that anxiety into an accusation against someone else, it will make you feel better. Just like meth, or heroin, or alcohol, or whatever your drug of choice, will make you feel better. But it’s also satanic.
It will make you feel better. If you are anxious and tense because something is challenging your worldview or circumstances or assumptions and you’re being forced to look at things differently and it is causing you anxiety and you channel that anxiety into an accusation against someone else, you will feel better. And because you feel better, you might think “this must be God…”. You’re only off a little bit…it’s actually the devil.
This is the primary work of satan, and it’s the opposite of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of satan is the spirit of accusation, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy. He is the advocate. He is the one who comes and takes our side and stands with us and comforts us. He stands with us against the accusation.
Whats this got to do with Jesus rebuking Peter with Get behind me, Satan!?? Guess that’s for next time…
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.””
Mark 8:31-33 ESV