Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have known periods of intense agitation and persecution. Today, we are entering into yet another such period, when it seems the whole world is moving to destroy us. The persecution is very real, and the wicked harm it causes is felt deeply. But, do not think all this has a cause outside of ourselves! Indeed, the cause might surprise you...
Jesus' Warning to Peter
At the Last Supper, the Apostles were wrangling over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus put them down, saying that each is equal and a servant of the Lord. Yet, each would occupy a place of authority in Heaven, "judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30). This place of honour is repeated in Revelation 21:22, where we are told that there is no temple in Heaven because "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it". The Apostles are named as founders of the great city of God (verse 14) in recognition of their part in the building of the early Church as the specially-chosen few of the Messiah.
At no time is Peter named as the greatest, nor was he responsible alone for this building of the Church. He had a fiery nature and was in many ways an outspoken man. He tried to protect the Lord in the Garden, with a sword, until Jesus stopped him. But, just before this happened, Jesus had occasion to warn Peter that Satan found a chink in his armour and would use it against him.
Here we find a remarkable fact. Remember how it came about that Job's life was turned upside down in many awful ways? It was so horrendous, that he wanted to die. His case is unique because, unlike so many whose lives deny God by their actions, Job was "perfect and upright" (Job 1:1). He feared God and shunned evil. As a sign of his holy nature he became "the greatest of all the men of the east" (v 3).
Satan sought the ear of God, and said that Job would never be so holy if God removed the "hedge" put around him (v 9,10). Remove your protection, said Satan, and Job would curse God like everyone else (v 11). At that, God told Satan that Job was put into his hands, to do with as he wished... except to harm Job himself (v 12).
Then, Satan began to terrorise Job and his family with many terrible acts. The point is this – he could not have done so except God gave him permission to act. We all know the purpose – so that Job would retain his holiness, and come out stronger than before. God knew this.
Now go forward to the time of the Last Supper. Before issuing His warning to Peter, Jesus said that one of their number would betray him. Then came the silly argument about who would be called the greatest, an argument roundly put down by Christ, but He then told them they would all assist in judging the nation of Israel.
After this discussion, Jesus turned to Peter and told him to expect trouble from Satan. He said that Satan wanted to "sift (him) like wheat" (Luke 22 v31) and "desired to have (him)". The word "desired", exaiteō, tells us that Satan asked Jesus if he could have power over Peter. The word also means to have him for torture or punishment, but not to kill. Thus, Satan acknowledged that he could do nothing against God's people unless He firstly gave permission.
As with Job, Christ gave Satan that permission! Not to destroy Peter, but to show him he was humanly frail and needed the Christ to let him live righteously and truly. Jesus evidently gave Satan permission to attack Peter, for Jesus then said: "But, I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (v32).
This, too, tells us something important. It says that when Satan attacks us, it can only occur of he has been given permission by God to do so. This should give us hope, for it means that either we are holy and being tested, or we have a sin to get rid of. Either way, God gives Satan the opportunity to do his worst, but knows he will ultimately fail! It is as much a trial of ourselves as it is a judgment against Satan.
What Jesus said about His prayer for Peter, tells us that He gave permission to Satan to try Peter. His words also tell us that Peter will indeed be tested, but would come through it with his faith intact, and that his satanic attack would cause him to become stronger as a believer, so that he would 'convert' or turn back to God, enabled by his experience to "strengthen (the) brethren" (v 32). What failed with Peter was not his faith, but his resolve not to sin. Therefore, see this in yourself! Then, Jesus prophesied exactly how Peter would fail, so that when he failed, his memory would be jolted and made aware, causing him to repent and return to God stronger than before. In this way, a man who was impulsive and outwardly strong became a solid bedrock member of the Apostles, with internal strength.
What this tells us in our day is that we will be tested to our limits. In our case, it is because of our laxity in not declaring the Lord to the nation as we ought, and so, as a whole Church, we are being attacked by Satan's envoys. The good news is that this could not happen unless Satan had been given permission to do so. He is thus sifting us like wheat, shaking our faith to its foundations, to see if we curse God or leave Him. This cannot happen, for just as God gave Satan permission to attack us through vile people, so He also has us safely in His hand. We will be battered, but not destroyed! The purpose is to show Satan and the world that God's people cannot ever be removed from His kingdom. So beware – but also, be encouraged!
© May 2012
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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