We think we know what’s going on. But often we barely have a clue.
Scripture teaches us that what we see happening in the world is only part of the story. There’s a whole dimension to reality that wields a direct and very powerful influence in our experience and yet is largely outside of our perception. The apostle Paul describes it this way:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Do You Know What Hunts You?
Many times Christians have quoted the first phrase of this verse to help us remember that our fellow human beings aren’t our primary adversaries. And that’s true. But the rest of the verse is quite serious and significant, too. We are up against cosmic powers that govern the present darkness in which we live — powers for which we are no match, at least not alone. Are we taking this enemy seriously enough?
In Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” after Frodo the Hobbit has his first encounter with the evil Nazgûl, he meets Strider (who turns out to be King Aragorn). Strider asks Frodo, “Are you frightened?” Frodo answers, “Yes.” Strider replies, “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”
Do you know what hunts you (1 Peter 5:8)?
Satan Demands to Have You
The disciples found out what was hunting them and what they were really made of on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus warned them it was going to come. In the Upper Room, he turned to Peter in a moment of anguished compassion and said,
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” (Luke 22:31)
Ponder these five words for a moment: “Satan demanded to have you.” The Greek word for “you” in verse 31 is plural. Satan wasn’t just after Peter; he was after all of the disciples. He wanted to press them all through his sieve of terror.
The disciples had an Adversary — a ruler, an authority, a cosmic power, a spiritual force of evil — who had demanded that God let him put them through the wringer. And God was granting Satan permission. And they had no idea what was happening underneath and behind everything they could see.
I don’t know about you, but I find this stunning and unnerving. Satan, who the Bible says accuses Christians before God day and night (Revelation 12:10), can make demands, and sometimes God grants them. We also see this reality in the first and second chapters of Job. And when Satan is granted his demands, like with Job, all hell breaks out against believers. And this attack can take the form of flesh and blood enemies, natural disasters, and bodily disease.
Are you ready?
Don’t Overestimate Yourself
It is a dangerous thing to underestimate the power of spiritual evil and to overestimate our ability to withstand it. When Jesus told Peter that Satan was coming after him and the others, Peter responded,
“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
Peter had a willing spirit, but he didn’t know how weak his flesh was (Matthew 26:41). However, Jesus did and he told it to Peter straight:
“I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)
In human terms, Peter was no wimp. This man had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28). He had the guts to try walking on water (Matthew 14:29). He had seen Jesus transfigured (Mark 9:2). It would be wise for us not to assume that we are his equals. If Peter could be pressed by Satan to deny Jesus, there’s no doubt that we could be as well. Without the protection of Jesus, we have no hope of withstanding such an evil spiritual force.
The Protection of Jesus’s Prayers
In the face of Satan’s attack, Peter had only one hope, as he discovered. Jesus had said to him,
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
It’s interesting that the Greek word for “you” in this verse is singular, as opposed to the plural “you” of verse 31. “I have prayed for you, Peter.” Jesus knew Peter was going to outright deny him repeatedly. Peter was going to have a major failure of faith. He was going to discover that he needed far more than self-confidence to withstand satanic sifting. But Jesus had prayed for Peter, and so Peter’s faith was not going to fail utterly. His faith would be sustained, restored, and strengthened.
Like Peter, ultimately our only hope of enduring this present oppressive darkness is with Jesus’s prayers. And we have very good ground for hope, for Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That intercession ensures that by his omnipotent grace we will ultimately stand (Romans 5:2).
Wear the Armor, Wield the Word, and Pray at All Times
But Jesus does not merely intend for us to be the passive recipients of his mighty prayers. He intends for us to engage our powerful Adversary, the cosmic powers, in battle by the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11). Through Paul we understand how Jesus equips us. We discover that we have spiritual body armor and a sword (Ephesians 6:13–17), and that Jesus expects us to do everything possible to withstand evil (Ephesians 6:13).
In other words, we must take the reality of spiritual evil very seriously. The enemy and the war are not metaphors. They are very real. Being armed, we are called to remain alert by remaining prayerful, “praying at all times in the Spirit . . . with all perseverance . . . for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
If we are not praying this way, it’s likely that we do not take the spiritual forces of evil seriously enough. We do not really know what hunts us. And like the disciples, we do not know how weak our flesh is. Jesus’s word to us, like it was to them, is, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
But if we wear the armor, wield the Word, and pray at all times in the Spirit, we will “not be outwitted by Satan” or “ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We will be ready to wrestle well when he demands to have us.