Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
The above quote is from Jesus predicting Peter’s denial of Him, and in fact Peter does disown Jesus before the end of the chapter. But a closer look at how this is written says so much more. First, Jesus calls Peter by his old name, Simon. Jesus was the one who gave him the name Peter! Strange then that he is calling Peter by his old name, isn’t it? He is using Peter’s old name, his human name, to speak to everyone, not just apostles. This is backed up by Luke using the Greek plural form of “you” in the original writing (at least according to my NIV Bible). So Jesus isn’t just saying, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” No, he is actually saying to humanity, “People, everyone! Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” This is a message to us all!
Now, what is that message? If you look, it hangs on a very important word, “Satan has asked.” The devil doesn’t have power over us, he has to ask first. God is all-powerful, faith is all-powerful, but the devil…he has to very politely ask to get what he wants. Our main verse isn’t the first incident in which the devil has had to ask for permission to mess with someone’s life. In fact, if we turn to the oldest book of the Bible (or at least as far as most people can tell), Job, we find this very same situation at work. Satan shows up before the Lord as God is gleaming over the righteousness of Job. Obviously, this is an issue that sickens Satan and he tries to mix things up, but he can’t do it himself. We read about it in Job 1:9-12,
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out you hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
After God gives him permission, the devil goes out and messes up Job’s life completely. However, much to his chagrin, Job does not curse God at all. In fact, Job 1:22 records, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Upset by this, our enemy returns to the Lord for another request,
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:4-6).
Notice that Satan can’t do any of what he does to Job himself without getting the OK from God first. Even when he does allow the devil to get his way, God sets the rules, which Satan must obey.
Similarly to their master, demons must also submit to heavenly authority. And although demons can compound and build their own army, they are nothing in front of the Lord. Once on his travels, Jesus met a man who was possessed by a legion of demons (in fact, that is what they called themselves: Legion). Knowing that Jesus would not allow them to remain in the man, the demons appealed to him,
The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned (Mark 5:12-13).
Even 2000 demons have no power over the One God. They had to beg him to allow them to go to the pigs, and could not do so until Jesus had given them permission to do so.
Not only does the devil have to ask God for permission to act, but he also cannot lead us astray without first asking us. You don’t believe me? Check out Genesis 3:4-6,
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
It is not until after the devil talks that we sin. God let the snake into the garden to test Adam and Eve; the devil didn’t break in and force them to eat the forbidden fruit. No, he suggested it, and Eve chose, based on the worldly facts (appearance, standard purpose, possible outcome) to act against God. Eve could have just as easily told the snake to go away. We too face this situation every day. The devil approaches us (admittedly, usually in our brains and not in snake-form) and suggest something not-so-good for us to do. Satan cannot force us to do evil, we make that choice. Sin is choosing to turn against God.
As sin is a choice, we should always strive to do our best, just like Job. The Bible records what the Lord had to say about Job after the devil ruins everything in his life,
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason” (Job 2:3).
The devil cannot control us without us first allowing him to. Yes, he can push us, and make the situation we’re in very difficult (and this happens to everyone pretty much all the time), but we can choose to maintain our faith. If we resist the devil, the Lord will be pleased. God not only feels good about Job maintaining his faith, but he also gloats about it to the devil (and likely everyone else in heaven). So when you make the choice not to sin (or to stop sinning) you put the devil in his place and the Lord gets a big smile on his face.
When we fall under the devil’s attacks, we should follow the example of our Lord and Savior. For even Jesus suffered temptation from the devil. After wandering the desert for forty days with no food or water, Satan came to tempt our Lord, even offering Jesus everything if only He’d bow before him. However, while at the same time providing a good example for us, Jesus cast the devil away. We read in Matthew 4:10-11,
“Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
First we see that as soon as Jesus told the devil to leave, he did, because he really had no power over our Lord. When the devil comes to us, we should ask God to drive him away, or rebuke the devil with the name of Jesus. Secondly, notice that Jesus uses scripture to back himself up. The devil will come as strong as he possibly can sometimes, but if we hold firm to the Word of God (and actually read it enough to use it), we have a powerful weapon to drive the devil out of our choices (and perhaps even our lives).
The devil hates us, and not without reason. We have freedom, he does not. Satan can’t do anything without somebody giving him the “Ok.” He is not only jealous of God, but he is jealous of us. God lets us make choices, and from that the Lord determines our paths. Satan is already marked as the bad guy, he has no choice, and he has no freedom. He can’t even freely walk amongst us, but he has to project himself through other means to interact with us. God always gives us the power to choose. In fact, our power of choice has wide-sweeping effects to save or destroy;
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned (Jeremiah 18:7-8).
God always gives us the chance to better ourselves. We always have a second chance. The devil hates this because he has no chance and his life always sucks, and in the end he will lose. In fact, his loss is already written about in Revelation 20:10,
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lack of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Knowing that this is what Satan has to look forward to, we can understand why he is so full of hate for his Maker and for us, the apple of God’s eye. We are allowed to make the decisions in our lives, but then God fills in the blanks. We read about this in Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” All we do is say “yes” or “no” and the rest comes from God. So, if we choose to God with God all the time, we have the power to commune with the all-powerful instead of giving the naturally powerless (and doomed) Satan a place in our lives.
God, unlike Satan does not ask permission to do anything. He makes a bold statement and backs it up. Since he has all-power, God never needs to ask, so he doesn’t. We can see Jesus demonstrating this in John 1:42-43 when first meeting some of the future apostles,
And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Here we can see that Jesus doesn’t ask or suggest, he commands. He even goes as far as naming somebody who already has a name- not even asking for Peter’s opinion on the name. Why should Jesus ask? He’s God in a body. Even when he’s not in the body, God doesn’t feel the need to ask us how we feel about his choices. We read in Genesis as the Lord speaks with Noah,
So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Genesis 6:13-14).
God says he will destroy the world because of man’s choices, but he wants to save Noah. Does he ask Noah to make a boat? No! He tells him to, God even commands Noah how to make it, because God doesn’t need to ask.
We often talk about salvation as though it is a choice- and it is. But do not think that God is asking you to be saved, he isn’t. We can understand how the Lord brings about salvation by looking at the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. As a tax collector (actually the chief tax collector in Jericho), Zacchaeus was a traitor to his people (as the tax collectors worked for Rome) and also very greedy (as they often took more than required). One day, Jesus visited Jericho, and Luke 19:3-4 explains what happened next,
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
So here is a little greedy traitor up a tree looking down to see who this guy is that has all of the Judean world up-in-arms. Now, pay attention to how Jesus responds to Zacchaeus, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today’” (Luke 19:5). Jesus didn’t even ask Zacchaeus if he could stay, he just told him. Of course, little Z could have said “no,” but he didn’t and ended up being saved by Jesus from his sinful life. So too we are not asked by the Lord to come to him. The same thing happened to Matthew when Jesus first called him, the Bible records, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). Jesus doesn’t ask for us to follow him, he demands it, whether or not we listen to our Lord: that is the choice we face.
Not even death can withstand our Lord. Everything is under his command and the Bible wants to make sure that we understand that. Once, a little girl had died, and her father begged Jesus to come and heal her, so Jesus went to her house. After he had entered her house and told the mourners to leave, something amazing happened,
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished (Mark 5:41-42).
God has full confidence. Even though this girl was dead, Jesus didn’t care, he told her to get up. God has full confidence because he has total power. Therefore, we should not fear the devil or even death itself, for both of these are under the power of our Lord. We already read about the devil’s already pre-determined end, likewise will death itself be dealt with. Revelation 20:14 describes death’s last appearance on earth, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” Even death can die, and it will happen by Jesus’ hand. Our God has all power over everything.
And yet, even though our Lord has the power to do everything he wishes, he allows us to choose our path. The devil can tempt us, but we now know that he has no actual power. So with sin in our lives, we too have no power, just like Satan. However, with God as our Master and Commander, we have total power, just like him. To those who choose to walk with him, the Lord says, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). God gives the faithful absolute power; we just need to understand that we have it. All we need to do is to choose God over worldly things. Why? “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus also tells us in Matthew 21:22, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” If we choose God, anything is possible, because our God has absolute power.
Our standing with the Lord is much better than that of Satan. For when our enemy stands before God, he is usually begging and pleading in hopes that God will give him the ok (and the Lord only does so to allow our faith to be tested). But for us, things are so much better,
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us- whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).
God loves us, and he has all the power in the universe. So, if we are faithful and believe in his son Jesus and what he did on the cross, we too have that power. So, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God” (Philippians 4:6). And always say to yourself as a reminder, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).