WHY DID SATAN WANT TO “SIFT” THE CIRCUMCISION SAINTS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What profit can we gain from Luke 22:31-32? What advantage was Satan trying to have over the believers in Christ there? “ And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:  But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” What is Satan’s goal here?
The chief priests and scribes have already conspired to kill the Lord Jesus: “ Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.  And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.” (One of Jesus’ Apostles will assist in His arrest shortly.)
Judas Iscariot has already undergone a radical transformation: “ Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.  And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.  And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.  And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.”
Verses 7-20 say Jesus and His 12 Apostles have already prepared for and observed the Passover, as well as partaken of the meal later called “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians chapter 11). The Lord has already told them something quite startling: “ But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.  And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Judas Iscariot sat there silently, knowing Jesus was speaking of him.)
There had already been an outbreak of petty bickering among the Apostles: “ And they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.  And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” As soon as they had heard about one of them betraying the Lord, they all argued about who would do it. They had all boasted about how “dedicated” they were to Christ. Pride had already popped up once again (Matthew 18:1; Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). But, as Luke 22:31-32says, Satan is just getting started with attacking the 12 Apostles!
Friends, Satan (Hebrew, “Adversary”) is very strategic in his endeavors. Yea, he is much more intelligent than most of us give him credit for; he employs whatever underhanded means he can to accomplish his end. The Lord Jesus explains to us in Luke 22:31-32 that Satan has “desired”—begged intensely—to “sift” these Messianic Jews. We can see the Devil employing here the age-old military strategy “divide and conquer.”
But, before we proceed any further, we will take time to acknowledge the superiority of the King James Bible to modern English versions. Notice the second-person pronouns found in Luke 22:31-32. While many have been conditioned to complain about the Authorized Version’s usage of “thee,” “thou,” and “ye,” they have not been trained in the original Bible languages to know enough about the issue to comment.
Luke 22:31-32 again: “ And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:  But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Please notice that, while Jesus is clearly speaking to Simon Peter, He is speaking about more than Peter. The word “you” in older English is plural (a group); the word “thee/thou/thy” is singular. As with biblical Hebrew or biblical Greek, older English distinguishes between second-person singular (one person) and second-person plural (two or more). Contemporary English, however, does not—it simply uses “you” in both cases. Thus, modern English versions obscure the King James distinction in Luke 22:31-32.
Mindful of the above facts, now we see Satan wants to “sift as wheat” not simply Peter—as modern English versions teach—but rather the group of Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. Scripture already chose wheat as symbolic of Messianic Jews in Israel (Matthew chapter 13, verses 24-43, for example). In addition to what has already come before Luke 22:31-32, Satan will see to it that Jesus’ Apostles are further separated.
It is the night of the Lord Jesus’ arrest; He has less than 24 hours left to live. In Luke 22:31-32, He issues some very solemn statements to His 12 Apostles. As He speaks, He bears in mind that Satan’s schemes against Him are already coming together in other parts of Jerusalem. There is worse news to come, but He does not tell His disciples yet.
According to the succeeding verses, Jesus and His Apostles will finish eating. Suddenly, and mysteriously, Judas will leave the meal. (The 11 Apostles will assume he is going out to purchase items for the feast, or to give something to the poor—John 13:21-30.) Jesus and His disciples, singing a hymn, will go out to the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39; cf. Matthew 26:30). They will see Judas return, leading a mob, coming to the Garden of Gethsemane to take Jesus into custody (Luke 22:47-53). In other words, this is how the 11 Apostles will learn that Judas is the traitor. As Jesus is arrested, the Bible says that all of His followers will flee in fear: “Then all his disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50).
During the Lord’s trial, Peter, hiding afar in the shadows, will publicly deny knowing Christ not once, not twice, but THREE times (Luke 22:53-62; cf. Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; John 18:15-18). Peter was the leader of the 12 Apostles (see Matthew 16:19), and often their spokesman. Now, he will gravely stumble. With one Apostle (Judas) the traitor, and another Apostle (Peter) now the denier, the remaining 10 Apostles will be severely tested to cave in as well. Potentially, all of them, being fallible humans, can permanently forsake Christ Jesus. This is a very real possibility that the Lord Jesus foresees in Luke 22:31-32, well in advance. His Apostles will, not surprisingly, be unfaithful. However, He reminds them that He has been loyal to them, and that, consequently, Satan will not conquer or destroy them!
We read Luke 22:31-32 again: “ And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:  But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
“Simon, Simon” underscores the seriousness in Jesus’ voice. After delivering to Peter the grim news about Satan wanting to split up the Little Flock—mainly by attacking its leadership, the 12 Apostles—the Lord comforts His chief Apostle. Not many people notice, but the Lord, in Luke 22:31-32, revealed that He had prayed specifically for Peter ahead of the impending ordeals. “But I have prayed for thee….” (We do not read the actual prayer, although it preceded Luke 22:31-32.) Jesus prayed for Peter (remember, “thee,” singular), rather than the whole group (“you,” plural, as in modern versions).
“[T]hat thy faith fail not….” We are not to suppose that Peter’s faith will be unwavering (because, as we know, it was not). The implication is that he will fall; hence, his “converting,” or turning around, will be necessary. However, because of Jesus’ prayer, Peter’s denial of God’s only begotten Son will not be continuous. “[A]nd when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” We know that, after he denied Christ, Peter went out and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62; cf. Matthew 26:75; Mark 14:72). Although not recorded in the Bible, we can assume that Peter was “converted” (moved from denier to embracer) sometime after.
When Peter would be turned around, re-oriented toward the right way, Jesus told him to strengthen his brethren. Those brethren would be vulnerable to Satan’s further assaults, but with Peter, their leader, now restored in faith, they would be also rescued from additional spiritual harm. Peter could encourage them to remain having faith in Christ. In fact, he will go on to declare to them the news of the resurrected Christ (Luke 24:34)! As a powerful, Holy-Spirit-filled Apostle, he will go on to lead the 11 Apostles of Jesus Christ into the Book of Acts. Except Judas, none of the Apostles were permanently lost to Satan. In short, the Lord Jesus’ prayer was effectual!
The Devil, however, still employs “divide and conquer” to hinder believers in Christ today.
In his final meeting with the Ephesian church elders, Paul through the Holy Spirit issued a grave warning in Acts chapter 20: “ Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.  And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”
Notice how Satan “sifts” members of the Body of Christ by having them overlook “the word of [God’s] grace” (verse 32). Thus they follow the Law, available in many forms—that is, 38,000 denominations! Splinter group after splinter group develops, until the distinction is no longer “Christian versus non-Christian,” but increasingly “this denomination versus that denomination.” So many precious Christian souls are entangled in such confusion and division!
As Satan attempted to “divide and conquer” the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant, so he uses a similar strategy with us the Church the Body of Christ today. Remember, he attacked the Little Flock by focusing on its chief Apostle (that is, Peter). With Peter discredited, the Little Flock would collapse. Likewise, we see Satan attacking the Church the Body of Christ by concentrating on its leading Apostle (namely, Paul). There are “doctrines of devils” today aimed at questioning Paul’s grace doctrines, Romans through Philemon (1 Timothy 4:1-16)—people using the Bible but not “rightly dividing” it (2 Timothy 2:15). With the Bible not rightly divided, the Christians are divided and conquered!
» How does Satan operate today?
» Who was Judas’ replacement—Matthias or Paul?
» Which counts the most—how you start or how you finish?