This is a long quote today, but very encouraging (even double-encouraging) if you read to the end! John Piper explains Luke 22:31-32 “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.”
Now Jesus goes on in verse 31 and says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat.” The “you” is still plural. Jesus is telling Simon what Satan intends to do to all the disciples. What does Satan aim to do? What does “sifting like wheat” refer to in real life? The best clue comes in the next sentence where Jesus says, “But I prayed for you that your faith fail not.” Satan aims to sift Simon and the others like wheat. Jesus aims to keep Simon’s faith from failing. So probably “sifting like wheat” means doing something to make the disciples’ faith fail.
We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women. What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company. Faith cannot fall through the mesh. It’s the wrong shape. And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands.
Therefore the sifting of Simon Peter and the others is Satan’s effort to destroy their faith. And this remains Satan’s main goal today. It is relatively unimportant to Satan whether we are healthy or sick, rich or poor; what he wants is to sift out our faith. If he can do it by suffering, he will try that; if he can do it by wealth, he will try that. Peter learned a good lesson that night. Some 30 years later he wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, 9: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith.” Jesus pictured Satan as a farmer shaking Christians in his sieve, trying to tear them apart from their faith. Peter pictures Satan as a lion who can devour anything but faith. The only person that can fit through Satan’s sieve is an unbeliever. The only thing that will fit down the lion’s throat is an unbeliever. This is the victory that overcomes Satan’s sieve and Satan’s throat, our faith (1 John 5:4). If we hold it fast to the end, Satan cannot destroy us. That’s why John writes to the church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:10:
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.
But Jesus Prays for Your Faith
It is a great encouragement to know that God is always stronger than Satan, and that by faith in him we can avoid Satan’s destruction and gain a crown of life. But the text is not yet done; God’s word of consolation and hope goes farther. We need for our daily struggles some encouragement that in a time of suffering and weakness we will not abandon the faith and curse God. We need some reassurance that the ups and downs of our faith will not end someday in a permanent down and fail utterly. And Jesus gives us that encouragement and reassurance in verse 32.
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 brethren.
It is encouraging to know that God is infinitely stronger than Satan, and that if we simply trust God to the end, he will give us eternal life. But it is doubly encouraging, doubly hopeful, that Jesus Christ and God the Father do not stand back and watch to see if we will have the strength to endure in faith. In fact, I am sure that if the Holy Trinity were not busy day and night strengthening my faith, it would evaporate in a minute. Notice Jesus prays to his Father for Simon (now the word “you” is singular in verse 32: I prayed for “you,” that is, Simon). He asks God to do what needs to be done in order to preserve Simon from destruction. And Jesus is completely confident that his Father will answer his prayer, because he says, “And when you have turned, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus knows that Simon will deny him three times. He says so in verse 34. But evidently Jesus does not consider this brief denial to be the utter failure that Satan is after. It is a temporary weakness, a brief faltering of confidence, but it is followed quickly by bitter tears of repentance (Luke 22:62) and turning. Jesus knew he would turn from his sin because he had prayed for him, that his faith not fail utterly. The Father granted Satan the power to sift Simon, but, in response to Jesus’ prayer, he did not let Simon fall through the sieve. Nor will he ever let any of his children fall through Satan’s sieve. Here is the double weapon of hope and encouragement that he gives us: not only is God willing and supremely able to save forever all of us who trust him; he also conspires with the Son to keep us trusting to the end. We are not left without a shield against the enemy, nor are we left to hold this shield of faith merely by our own strength. God will always see to it that faith has the victory and that his children have faith.
This is the meaning of that terrific text in 1 Peter 1:3–5,
We have been born anew unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The almighty power of God guards us for our eternal salvation by working in us the perseverance of faith in answer to Jesus’ prayer. I love to think of God the Father and God the Son collaborating in our salvation. Jesus shows in another place how they work together to keep us safe. In John 10:27–30 he says,
My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
No one can snatch them out of my hand, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand, because we are one hand, and it is mightier than all. Simon Peter, I have prayed for you; my Father and I have conspired to hold you tight; and so your faith will not fail. And that same promise applies to all God’s children. Lay hold on it and be encouraged by it whenever you start to doubt that your trust in God will endure to the end.