“"Satan Demanded to Have You"”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
“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)
There are several points of confusion in this passage, and it’s a shame, because it should be a cause of introspection and renewed humility for each of us, as well as a source of encouragement. Let’s dive into the details.
The 2nd-person pronoun is such a small word, and yet in this passage it looms large. Jesus has just addressed the Apostle Peter in the clearest terms possible, saying not once but twice, “Simon, Simon” to identify his primary audience and get his full attention. Reading the text in English, we naturally associate the “you” in this verse with the one addressed just a moment ago, “Simon.” In modern English we have different forms for singular and plural in our 1st and 3rd person pronouns (I/we; he/they), but for the 2nd person we have just one catch-all: “you.” Not so in Greek! In this verse, Jesus directly addresses Peter, but Satan has demanded to have all of them! In principle this is no surprise—of course Satan wants to test each and every person to failure, and at every turn. But when we’re used to reading this passage with a view toward Peter in particular, we miss out on Jesus’ inclusion of the rest of the group, and that colors what follows.
While each one of us participates in consuming the fruits of the agriculture industry, the vast majority of us are rather insulated from every remaining step in the process. We probably all know what sifting is, in the abstract, but why would someone sift wheat, and—more importantly—why would Satan want to sift Jesus’ Apostles? There’s a similar use of the word in the Old Testament, but with God doing the sifting:
“For behold, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’” (Amos 9.9)
God is distinguishing the wheat—his people—from the chaff—the nations. Furthermore, he is ensuring that nothing of a similar size and weight to the grains of wheat, such a pebble, or a sinner among God’s people, would manage to hide and evade scrutiny. Clearly, Satan’s goals are different in desiring to sift the Apostles, but the violent shaking and the scrutiny remain. The process of sifting wheat would involve passing the entire crop through a series of loosely woven baskets—sieves—with the mesh becoming finer and finer, to sort with an ever-increasing and unrelenting scrutiny. To use one of our own expressions, Satan had demanded leave to pick them apart. He wanted to cast accusations for every weakness and failure, and there was much for him to find! Peter, the most outspoken and resolute (not to say, impetuous and bull-headed) of the Apostles, would, within that very night, publicly deny even knowing Jesus.
But of course, Peter is not alone in this. Shortly after our text in Luke 22, after they’d left the upper room for the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, Jesus brought up the topic again and told them,
“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26.31)
So, it was predicted by the prophets (Zechariah 13.7, to be precise), Jesus stated it clearly soon after the scene that has occupied our primary attention, and further, Jesus hints at it even within that very scene, when he predicts Peter will repent and return, after which he will need to “strengthen [his] brothers,” meaning the rest of the Apostles (Lk 22.32). First of all, this is a great encouragement to us—Jesus knows Peter is going to fail, in an awful, soul-endangering fashion (cf. Mt 10.33, 2Ti 2.12); and yet, even before Peter commits the sin, Jesus openly appeals to him to repent, and indicates he will not only be accepted, but immediately put back to work in Jesus’ service!
It’s a mistake, but it’s almost understandable why some have idealized and mythologized Peter, assigning him an even greater role in the kingdom of heaven than Jesus gave him—as if it weren’t enough! His initiative and willingness to speak and act while others hesitate, are great assets, talents entrusted to him, which he put to work and returned an immense profit to his Master; but they don’t make him the chief Apostle; that’s Jesus’ job (cf. He 3.1). Nevertheless, we all ought to respect and even imitate the good example Peter provides. Not that we ought to fail, or certainly to deny Christ; but when we do, we should keep in mind that, however worthless and contemptible we may judge ourselves to be, Jesus is advocating on our behalf, standing between his Father and Satan our accuser, and urging us to come back. Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus is recorded in John 21.15-22; it’s certainly awkward, but—importantly—not humiliating. Jesus wasn’t looking to hold his sin over his head and gloat about his own correct prediction; rather, he simply told Peter, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21.17). It’s the same thing Jesus had told him beforehand, and it’s the same thing he wants us to do: “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22.32).