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“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you…”
Jesus spoke these sobering words to Peter before going to his death. And what a terrifying thought! To be had by the evil one, to be under his dominion and rule and a prisoner to his deathly purposes. Jesus continued,
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)
Yes, this exchange would’ve been sobering for Peter—but how should it impact us? Equally sobering is Satan’s active work to make this a reality for as many people as he can—and especially for Christians. If you’re a believer, what the enemy wants is to fail your faith. He wants to have you:eternally defeated, estranged from God, condemned for eternity—
But Jesus promises he won’t let you go.
Satan’s demands must’ve looked and sounded something like they did in Job (see Job 1:1-12), a confrontation in the heavenly places when God sovereignly let out Satan’s leash without releasing it completely. This was a spiritual exchange—but only insofar as God said it would go, according to his eternal wisdom and perfect plans.
Similarly, Satan demanded to work in Peter’s circumstances, to knock him off his spiritual feet. But Jesus doesn’t respond to Satan’s desires in a way we’d expect. He doesn’t say:
No. What does Jesus say? “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” He doesn’t promise comfort or escape. Nor does he throw up his hands in defeat, leaving Peter alone to fight Satan’s schemes. He promises spiritual strength. He promises endurance to the end.
Even today, Jesus’ protection over us isn’t necessarily about shielding us from Satan’s attacks (though he can and does do this), but from the spiritual effects of those attacks. His prayer isn’t for us to be free from trouble, but for us to stand firmly in faith when trouble and temptation come.
He prays that our faith will endure no matter what.
We should be careful not to presume exactly how Satan has his hand in our particular circumstances; much goes on in the spiritual places that we can’t see or grasp. But we do know that our enemy is against us. God’s Word says he’s the deceiver, tempter, and thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He will leverage anything and everything to cause us to fear, doubt, and—in the most extreme cases—to walk away from Christ.
We would be watchful and wise, then, to discern some common ways Satan attempts to “sift us like wheat,” to fail our faith, so we can be on guard:
King David was “a man after God’s own heart,” a sincere believer—but he was also a sinner. Reigning over the kingdom was going well for David, but one day he let his guard down and slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. So David sinned against God and his neighbors, though he most likely never saw this fall coming (see 2 Samuel 11).
Sin is Satan’s deadliest weapon. Temptation slyly lures sinners into Satan’s trap of false promises (“This will make you happy”) and finally into sin, which leads to spiritual death (James 1:15). Sin weakens our communion with God, the only One who can truly satisfy us and give us eternal life. Satan loves to see believers entrapped, distanced from God, and, to his greatest delight, estranged from him forever, so we must be on guard against sin through confession, prayer, and connection to the church body.
When Satan demanded to sift Job like wheat, the results were the deaths of all his children, the burning of his property, and the murdering of his livestock by raiders (Job 1:13-22). Finally, Satan struck Job with loathsome sores from head to toe (2:7). His wife’s response to their suffering? “Curse God and die” (2:9). Job’s response? “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).
Suffering is unavoidable in this life and will cause us to move in one of two directions: toward God in dependence, or away from him in anger, bitterness, and rejection. Job grasped that God’s hand was in control of the worst of circumstances and trusted him, even though he wasn’t aware of the spiritual battle being waged.
Job’s suffering wasn’t without purpose, and neither is ours. We know this by gazing at the cross, where God sacrificed his Son so we might live forever—all because he loved us. And in Jesus’ resurrection, we see how God transforms death into life, the guarantee he will be with us in our darkest hours and into eternity. Yes, our enemy may demand to sift us through suffering, intending it to harden our hearts, embitter our spirits, and deceive us into believing God simply isn’t good—but God would use affliction to draw us closer to himself.
Gideon thought himself a normal man, but was called a “mighty man of valor” by God (Judges 6:12), sent by him to save Israel from the hand of Midian (6:14). The Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon for this good work (6:34), giving Midian into Israel’s hand by an army of only 300 men (7:7). In their success, God wanted them to know that he, and he alone, had saved them, so they wouldn’t boast in their numbers or strength, but in his promise and provision.
Yet Gideon’s story is one of success-subtly-turned-sour. It teaches us to be on guard against Satan’s schemes during seasons of prosperity and comfort. After all his God-given success, we read that “Gideon made an ephod of [gold]...And all Israel whored after it...and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (8:27). This is all that’s said about Gideon’s idolatry; the slide into it seemed subtle. But we should take note because the special temptations within success are subtle, and Satan loves to use such fruitful seasons to deceive God’s people and lead them into sin.
Believer, this is heavy stuff. Yet, though Satan may demand to sift you, the Son of God has prayed for you! Yes, your enemy may prowl around like a lion seeking to devour your faith, but the Lion of Judah has conquered him who would attempt to destroy it. If sin leading to eternal death is Satan’s greatest weapon, then you who’ve been made eternally alive in Christ cannot be ultimately claimed or touched by him. Jesus will keep your faith.
Even today, Jesus has freed you from Satan’s power and loosened his grip on you; he’s given you his Holy Spirit who empowers you to identify and resist the enemy’s advances. As John Piper so beautifully writes, “Let us shame Satan by making much of Jesus.”
May it be so. You are safe in Jesus, even when the enemy attempts to sift you through sin, suffering, and success. Your faith will not fail, not because you uphold it, but because Jesus does and Jesus will, forever.
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Kristen Wetherell is a writer, Bible teacher, and the content manager of Unlocking the Bible. She is the author, along with Sarah Walton, of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering (The Good Book Company, April 2017). She blogs at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter. She and her husband, Brad, are members of The Orchard in Arlington Heights, Illinois.