We have talked on this podcast about Satan. Not a lot — we don’t fixate on him. But we do talk about him and his designs, usually to look at what Satan cannot do to us. There’s a lot he cannot do to us as Christians because Christ has disarmed him in two very important ways. We looked at this back in February, in APJ 1750. Pastor John, today we flip the question and ask, What can Satan do to Christians?
Peter warns believers that Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8–9), which raises two questions. One is from Russ in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He writes, “Hello, Pastor John! My question for you is about 1 Peter 5:8–9. Is Peter saying that the devil seeks to devour us in and through our suffering? Or is he saying the constant attacks of Satan are our suffering?” And Steve in Rochester, New York, is asking about this same text. “Pastor John, hello! First Peter 5:8 says Satan is our enemy, and I believe it! But enemies are opposed to us in very specific ways, and I’m not clear about this with Satan. My question is how — how is Satan our enemy? Thank you.”
First, here’s what 1 Peter 5:8–9 says:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
So Russ asks, “Does the word sufferings refer to whatever Satan does to us, or does it refer to actual Christian pain or suffering, which Satan is behind?” Now, I think virtually all interpreters agree that the second is the right answer. Peter is referring to real sufferings of various kinds that Christians are experiencing throughout the world, and Satan is behind them, making every effort to use those sufferings to destroy the faith of Christians. That’s what “seeking to devour” means. He would succeed in devouring a Christian if he could use those sufferings to cause us to throw away our faith in the goodness and the wisdom and the care of God, and turn us against God.
Tried by Fire
Now, I think that’s the right interpretation about what sufferings refers to, first, because the other kinds of temptations that Satan throws at us — like temptations to lust, or covetousness, or pride — can indeed devour people, and he’s about them, but they’re not called sufferings. So not all of Satan’s attacks on us are called sufferings. In fact, Satan is very good at attacking us with pleasures as often as with sufferings. More people’s faith, I would venture, is devoured by being lured into sinful pleasure as is devoured by sufferings.
Another reason that I think that interpretation is right — namely, that Satan’s particular strategy referred to here in verse 9 is Christian suffering — is that Peter has already referred to this in 1 Peter 1:6–7. He says,
Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
So he has already prepared us at the very beginning of his letter that our faith will be tested as with fire through these various trials — that is, sufferings. So in answering Russ’s question, I think we are already in the middle of answering Steve’s question, because Steve is asking, “Well, what are the specific ways that this satanic lion opposes us? How is he our enemy in this text?”
“Satan’s aim in causing suffering is to deceive us into believing that God is against us and not for us.”
Now, the main answer we’ve seen is that he’s our enemy by causing Christian suffering. His aim in causing that suffering is to deceive us into believing that God is against us and not for us — that God is helpless, perhaps, and can’t stop the suffering (poor God). In other words, by this suffering, Satan aims to undermine our faith in God’s goodness, or God’s power, or God’s wisdom, or God’s kindness. And if Satan can do that, we will be devoured, destroyed as Christians. We will make shipwreck of our faith, and he will have won a tactical victory.
But we can be more specific now in how Satan does this, because that’s what Steve is asking. I’ll give four examples of how Satan opposes Christians through suffering.
First, Satan is behind much, though not all, sickness. For example, after Jesus heals the woman bent over for eighteen years, he defends his action to the rulers by saying, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). In other words, Satan is behind this disease, this bent condition that this woman is in for eighteen years.
We see an example of this in the lives of Christians in 2 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul had been given those amazing visions. Paul explains how God designed, planned to keep him from getting conceited by these visions. Here’s 2 Corinthians 12:7: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” This is especially important, because here we have both the activity of God and the activity of Satan.
We know that Satan did not aim at preventing Paul’s pride. He wants Paul to be conceited. He wants to destroy his faith with pride. Saving Paul from conceit was God’s purpose. God aimed to keep Paul humble and holy, and yet the instrument of God’s sanctifying work is called a “messenger of Satan.” That’s amazing. So what we learn is that even when Satan is bringing about some kind of thorn or suffering in the life of a Christian, he’s not sovereign; he’s not ultimate. He’s under God’s supervision. And while Satan’s design is the destruction of Paul’s faith, God’s design is the strengthening of Paul’s faith and the preservation of his holiness and his humility.
Thrown into Prison
But there’s another way that Satan brings about the suffering of Christians. He sometimes throws them into prison. Revelation 2:10 says,
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.
And we ask, “Well, how might Satan do that? How does Satan do that? How does he throw Christians into prison?” And one answer is the same way he threw Jesus under arrest in the garden, the same way he threw Jesus on the cross. How did that happen? Here’s John 13:2: “During supper . . . the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” Then in John 13:27 it says, “After [Judas] had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” And he went out and betrayed Jesus — as it were, threw him in prison, only worse.
“Satan is not sovereign. God is. Wherever Satan is acting, he’s acting by permission.”
We can assume that sort of thing happens regularly to cause Christians much suffering. Satan puts it in the heart of people to betray Christians or to lie about Christians, and so bring them into suffering, whether prison or some other consequence.
Take Up the Sword
So I conclude that in 1 Peter 5:8–9, the lion’s roar — this roaring lion going about trying to devour people — is the roar of Satan’s effort to strike fear into Christians by the suffering he brings into their lives. He aims for that fear to destroy their faith. We know from 2 Corinthians 12, and from the story of Job 1, and from the fact that Jesus commands demons and they obey him, that Satan is not sovereign. God is. Wherever Satan is acting, he’s acting by permission, not because he has ultimate control.
Nevertheless, he’s real. Oh, he is real. He is strong. He’s evil. He’s on a long leash. Under God’s providence, he does terrible damage. Therefore, Peter does not say, “Ho-hum, God is sovereign.” He says, “Be sober. Be watchful. Resist, firm in your faith. Fight.” That is, take up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and stick Satan in the face with it. Believe God’s promise, and stand your ground, and do not be sucked into Satan’s temptation that God is evil or that God is weak. Let the fires of suffering purify and strengthen your faith, not destroy it.