By Tom Roberts
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat. but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren” (Lk. 22:31-32).
These are chilling words indeed. They show the reality of Satan’s desire to capture the souls of men. Satan is not an abstract theological concept but a real spiritual entity, an evil force to be reckoned with. How naive we are sometimes to think that Satan is just a character of a “fairy tale,” a figment of our imagination. The Bible instructs us that he is real, an adversary to all of us, and the reason for all temptations. He is an ever present danger and watches for opportunities to strike when our defenses are down. The devil is after you and me.
Jesus knew that Satan would strike Peter and the apostles when the “Chief Shepherd” was taken away. The apostles would be demoralized at the death of Jesus, not understanding the tremendous power of God nor the plan of redemption that was in progress. The Lord had to die in order to be raised, to show the triumph of Christ over Satan. But while the ordeal was in progress, Satan knew that the disciples would be discouraged and that their faith would be low: an opportune time for him to strike.
What was Satan going to do to Peter? “Sift him like wheat. ” What this means is that as wheat was tossed in the air to allow the wind to sift the grain from the chaff, even so Peter was going to be tossed to and fro to see if he had a kernel of true faith that would stand the testing of Satan. “Satan asked to have” Peter. Terrible thought! Has he asked to have us? Who can doubt it? If you have any faith at all, you will be tested. Those without faith are already in Satan’s grasp, but if you have faith in God, you will be tried like Peter. Will your faith withstand the sifting?
Sifting never comes when you are strong. It comes when your defenses are down, when you feel strong temptations. Satan picked the very time to test Peter when he was in turmoil, when he wondered about Christ due to His death, when everyone was scattered and he was alone. At such a time there is no one to help us; our faith in Christ is the lone line of defense against Satan. Will it stand the test? Will we be strong enough to hold out?
While Peter was tossed and turned, even when he denied the Lord, Peter clung to his faith. Much of Peter was chaff. He boasted, “I will never deny thee. ” The testing of Satan reduced Peter to bitter tears after he denied the Lord. All his empty boasting was gone, he was reduced to the ultimate test of all humans: “Do I have faith in Jesus even when I don’t understand all that is happening9 ” Shorn of all human reasoning, strength and effort, can I trust in the Lord?
Thank God that Jesus prayed for Peter! And He has prayed for us (John 17:22ff). We are not left alone, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus cares for us and supplies strength for our labors (1 Cor. 15:58; etc.). With Paul, we can say, “I can do all things through him that strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). 1 cannot overcome Satan alone nor with all human help. I must have the Lord. But the strength that God supplies is to increase my faith through supplying the divine word of truth (Rom. 10: 17). Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. He didn’t supply him with supernatural strength any different from that available to us. Jesus has made our faith that we reach the grace of God (Eph. 2:8,9).
What are we to do when we have overcome through our faith? Sit back and boast? No, there is no room for boasting in such matters. It is not our strength that has defeated Satan, but the faith to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39) that is rooted and grounded in Christ. He is our hope and the center and circumference of our faith. So when we have overcome, we are told (as Jesus told Peter), “establish thy brethren.” In Galatians 6:1 we are further instructed, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted. ” We are never above the “sifting” of Satan. But when we are enjoying periods of spiritual strength through our faith and trust in God, we should care about those who are weak, and “overtaken in any trespass. ” We must “establish our brethren.”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 6, pp. 173-174
March 15, 1984