“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, NASB)
The above words were spoken by Jesus to Peter and I think are words that we need to all meditate upon carefully, because this shows us a pattern of how the devil operates in the lives of believers – not just Peter, but all of us. As it says in the Scriptures, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) This passage (Romans 15:4) was written concerning the Old Testament for those who were just being introduced to the New Testament. The same thing applies today, regarding the New Testament and passages like Luke 22:31-32 quoted above – it was written for our instruction, so that “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Therefore, like all of the Scriptures, Luke 22:31-32 was written for our instruction.
Let’s pick apart Luke 22:31-32 and see what we can glean from it – I believe we can glean a lot.
First off, notice the very first two words. “Simon, Simon.” That’s more than just Simon’s name. It’s his name repeated twice. I believe the repetition of Simon’s first name is significant. We can find other parts of Scripture where names are repeated, as well. One that comes to mind is Luke 13:34, where Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” That was a lament. Can you hear Jesus’s frustration with sin in this passage? I believe I can. I believe it would be impossible for Jesus not to be seriously grieved over the sin of Jerusalem.
I believe that God feels our pain, inasmuch as the Scriptures themselves declare that the pattern for Christian empathy is to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) God, then, weeps on at least two different levels. He weeps as one who “weeps with those who weep”, as this verse declares, and He also weeps as a father would weep for his lost child. God is the “ultimate” father. He is more a father to my son and daughters than I am. I am but a caretaker – and somewhat of a feeble caretaker at that. But God is the maker and creator of us all. He cares. He should and does weep on account of sin.
I believe the repetion of the words, “Jerusalem” is Luke 13:34 is related to the anguish that God feels. What then of Jesus’s words, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”? (Luke 22:31-32) I believe we have the same type of circumstance. The repetition of Simon’s first name has the same significance! Jesus is in anguish, knowing the devastating effects of sin.
And this brings me to my second point, which is, “how is is that Satan gained permission to sift Simon Peter like wheat?” The answer is that it was on account of “seeds” of sin within Simon Peter’s own heart, for “sin gives permission to the devil to afflict”. Is this a Scriptural principle? Indeed, it is, and this can be demonstrated by passages such as John 14:30, in which Jesus said, “the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me”. The devil had no right to afflict Jesus, because he had “nothing in [Jesus]”. However, Jesus willfully “became sin” for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and that is the only reason the devil was able to “afflict” Jesus on the cross. But it was by God’s sovereign design.
Second, we see from Luke 22:31-32 that there must have been sin that was in Simon Peter’s life which gave the devil permission to afflict him because of Jesus’s statement, “when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”. This is a definite statement here about Simon Peter repenting of something, for that is what the statement, “when once you have turned again” means. It means, “when you have chosen to do the right thing”, or “when you have chosen to repent” – for the word “repent” means to “turn” in the right direction.
And what of the outcome of all of this? The outcome is that, even though the devil may have permission to “sift us like wheat”, and the devil means it for evil, yet God means it for good, in accordance with a passage like Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” This opens up for us a completely different story, but the principle is the same, that what the enemy meant for evil, God meant for the good.
Ultimately, God’s purpose in allowing the trial, according to this passage, is so that we can be used by God to strengthen others, for we read those final few but significant words, “strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32b). Therefore, do not be discouraged, lift up your head, and say, “God’s will be done! Help me, oh Lord, to be greatly strengthened through this present battle that I am experiencing, so that others, ultimately, can be strengthened and encouraged.”