Reflection: Luke 22: 31 – 34.
Towards the end of the Passover meal, a noteworthy episode between the Lord and Peter occurred. We are not told whether the other disciples were privy to this short but significant aside, as they bask in euphoria at Jesus’ announcement that they will be judgers of their tribes in the new Kingdom (vv. 28-30). The Lord then turned to Peter and enlightened him that Satan had “demanded to sift you like wheat” (v. 31). Note that ‘you’ is in the Greek plural form, meaning ‘you all;’ that all the disciples will be sifted by Satan. Jesus, with a single brush-stroke brought Peter down to earth, and painted an inglorious picture of spiritual difficulties for His disciples in this life.
The book of Job sheds some light that Satan’s ‘demand’ was probably made to God (Job 1:9-12; 2:4-6), and it is to God he seeks permission from in order to examine the disciples. There are two implications: Satanic power (Luke 22:3; John 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 2 Tim 2:25-26) is to be seriously and soberly discerned, and as it is supernatural, so must our weapons be (2 Cor 10:3-4). Secondly, God is the only absolute power and Satan cannot hurt us without His consent. Why does God allow him to sift His people through the ages? The answer seemed obvious – our faith is refined through suffering and trial (Rom 8:17), and as we walk through it, our dependence and faith in God ought to increase, so that at the threshold of eternity, the perfected bride of Christ is presented to Him (1 Pet 1:6-9; Rom 8:16-17; Eph 5:27).
Satan’s purpose in ‘sifting’ the disciples is the destruction of their faith in God (v.32). That remains his primary goal today, and it is unimportant to him whichever means he choose to destroy it: whether through illness or health, in poverty or wealth. Thirty years later, Peter recalled what Jesus said to him and repeated it as an advisory, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Pet 5:8-9). The power of the evil one is therefore never out of control, as God is always in charge.
Jesus aims to keep Simon’s faith from failing by prayer (1 John 5:4). The ‘you’ in this verse is singular (v. 32), and we detect God’s characterized concern for those who face imminent danger, especially those who belong to Him. He well knows that Peter will deny Him in a matter of hours (v.34), and how that will totally devastate him. (Try putting on Peter’s shoes). I am thankful that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep individually, and He streamlines His assurances to fit our personality, as He does with Peter. No one, therefore, can snatch us out of our Father’s hand (John 10:27-30; 1 Peter 1:5). One final responsibility: since Peter will be forgiven, restored and strengthened after his public denial of his Lord, he is charged to do the same for the other ten (v.32). I am sure Jesus prayed for them too, but He assigned Peter the task of strengthening them. Often, when we are in community, God sends someone to strengthen us in the faith, so that we can move on to strengthen others who are in dire straits. Faith reinforcing is a community project in the Body of Christ.