Jesus' Parables for Disciples
97. Simon, Strengthen Your Brothers (Luke 22:31-34)
James J. Tissot, 'Saint Peter' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
"31 'Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.' 33 But he replied, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.' 34 Jesus answered, 'I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.'" (Luke 22:31-34, NIV)
Jesus continues to teach and prepare his disciples, even during his last precious meal with them. The next two passages are tied together -- this lesson (Luke 22:31-34) foretelling Satan's sifting, and the next lesson (Luke 22:35-38) regarding preparation for their mission in a hostile setting. They indicate a significant shift for the disciples. Jesus has been the focus of hostility and persecution, but not the disciples. Their mission trips have been marked by general openness and hospitality. Satan has been stirring up opposition to Jesus by turning Judas against his Lord. Now the enemy will focus his hostility on Jesus' disciples, too, so that he might wipe out this incipient movement before it has a chance to take root.
Satan's Demand (Luke 22:31)
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you (plural) as wheat." (Luke 22:31)
Jesus makes it clear that the coming battle is not just against human foes, but is inspired by Satan himself. And the disciples, as sworn followers of Jesus, are directly in harm's way.
In English, the pronoun "you" can be either singular or plural. (It is true, however that Southerners in the U.S. do have a plural "you." It's pronounced "y'all".) But in Greek, the number is clearly indicated. In this sentence, not just Peter, but all the apostles who are sharing the Last Supper with Jesus, are the objects of Satan's wrath.
Verse 31 is curious, for the first time since Job, we see Satan making requests of God. The phrase "asked" (NIV) or "desired to have" (KJV) used in this request is the Greek verb exaiteō, "to ask for with emphasis and with implication of having a right to do so, 'ask for, demand' someone."1015 The tense is Aorist, which means a single action in the past tense, rather than a continued action (which would be indicated by the imperfect tense).
How in the world can Satan make any demands upon God? In Job we see Satan accusing Job of a shallow faith, and requesting permission from God to demonstrate that he will cave in to unbelief if life's circumstances turn against him:
"One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.... '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 your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.'" (Job 1:6, 9-10)
We know from the New Testament that Satan is still an active foe of God's kingdom and people in the "Church Age" (as "Satan").1016 Some modern-day Christians doubt the existence of Satan and try to explain evil in other ways. But, to be fair, you must admit that Jesus and his apostles did believe in the activity of Satan.
But Satan has fallen from heaven (Luke 10:18). He has been thrown down with a third of his angels (Revelation 12:4, 9). Presumably he is bound, or soon to be bound (Revelation 20:2, 7). What right does he have to demand anything from God? Frankly, I don't know. Oh, I've heard various speculations, but we just aren't told.
We just have to take Jesus' word for it that Satan has, or had, some ability to accuse and attack God's people. That awareness ought to humble us and make us very dependent upon Jesus our Savior.
Sifting as Wheat (Luke 22:31)
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." (Luke 22:31)
We sift processed flour to fluff it up before baking, but that isn't the analogy here. The word "sift" is Greek siniazō, "to sift by shaking in a sieve."1017 Here, grains of wheat are being sifted, holding back large pieces of foreign matter while letting the wheat through. The ideas of shaking and separating the grain from rubbish are at the forefront of Jesus' description.1018
There are several Old Testament passages and one passage from the Apocrypha that use this kind of expression:
"His breath is like a rushing torrent, rising
up to the neck.
He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction." (Isaiah 30:28)
"For I will give the command,
and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
and not a pebble will reach the ground." (Amos 9:9)
"When a sieve is shaken, the refuse remains;
so a man's filth remains in his thoughts." (Siriach 27:4)
David Allan Hubbard explains,
"The figure of sifting was an agricultural one, and its interpretation hinged on a knowledge of how grain was threshed. The sieve ... must have been used to separate the kernels of grain from the trash they had mingled with in the threshing: pebbles, twigs, etc. With its large mesh the sieve would allow the farmer to sift the useful kernels into a pot or sack while the strings of the sieve retained the unwanted trash."1019
Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31a)
Jesus uses Simon's given name, here, not his nickname Peter. Some commentators say that this usage suggests that he has fallen back into his worldly ways. But as I searched the Synoptic Gospels to see how his name was used, I find that Jesus commonly calls Simon by his given name.1020 I don't see some deeper meaning in this use of his name in this passage.
Peter's Bravado (Luke 22:33)
I want to reverse our study of the next few verses, taking verses 33 and 34 first (outlining the problem) and then examining verse 32 in some detail (the solution).
"But he replied, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.'" (Luke 22:33)
Peter is ready to tell Jesus he's wrong, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. After his great confession that Jesus is the Christ, Peter had taken issue with his Lord when Jesus spoke openly of his own death. And Jesus came back with a stern rebuke, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23).
In our passage Peter claims his readiness for prison or even death. The adjective "ready" is Greek hetoimos, "ready, prepared."1021 But he is scarcely ready.
To his credit, however, Peter does realize that Jesus may well be facing prison and death. He has begun to believe Jesus' predictions of his suffering and crucifixion. But ready? Peter is not ready.
Predicting Peter's Denial (Luke 22:34)
"Jesus answered, 'I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.'" (Luke 22:34)
We know what happens, but Peter doesn't. The verb "deny" is Greek aparneomai, "to refuse to recognize or acknowledge, deny."1022 The word "know" is the common Greek verb oida. It can mean "to have information about," as well as "to be intimately acquainted with or stand in a close relation to, know."1023
Prayed that Your Faith May Not Fail (Luke 22:32a)
We've looked at the last two verses of our passage. Now let's scroll back to verse 32 -- the key verse of this passage.
"But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail." (Luke 22:32a)
It is striking, that in verse 31 the object of Satan's sifting is all the disciples (plural "you"), but in verse 32, Jesus is speaking directly to Peter. He has prayed for Simon himself (singular "you"), that his faith may not fail. Apparently, Jesus has not prayed for the other apostles in the same way. He is praying for, and counting upon, Peter to come through this shaking, this sifting, with his faith intact.
The verb "prayed," Greek deomai ("ask, request"), is in the Aorist tense, meaning that Jesus has already interceded for Peter at some point in the past, and that the intercession is no longer continuing. The matter is apparently settled. This is similar to John 17:15, where Jesus prays not that they will be removed from the world and its temptations, but that his disciples may be protected from the evil one.
The verb "fail" (ekleipō) is interesting. Its basic meaning is "fail, give out, be gone," and here means "to cease as a state or event, 'fail, die out.'" Sometimes it is used of a race dying out, of bankruptcy, or as a description of an eclipse of the sun.1024
So Satan has demanded to sift and shake the disciples, but Jesus has prayed to the Father for Peter especially, that his faith won't die out.
The Effects of Trials on Christians
You've seen believers go through tough times. You've seen calamity befall them -- sometimes of their own doing, but often coming "out of the blue." Many times the calamity is some kind of loss. Loss of a loved one to death. Loss of the sanctity of a marriage by infidelity or divorce. Loss of a promotion. Loss of a job that pays the bills. Loss of a son or daughter, who leaves and goes his or her own way, destroying the hope of happiness and creating a huge knot in your stomach. Loss of a relationship with a brother or sister. Loss of a home by fire. Loss of a fortune by foolishness or fraud.
Shortly, Peter and his fellow apostles are to experience the unthinkable -- the Man they believe to be the Messiah, the Son of God, will be arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified in the space of less than 24 hours. Their own lives will be at risk, too. Their loss will be both unexpected and utterly devastating.
When believers go through difficult days, some fall away while others gradually get their bearings and recover, usually to become stronger.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus warned his disciples that Satan is at work to destroy new believers. As a bird pecks grain from a pathway, Satan tries to pluck the Word out of their hearts. As a young shoot tries to grow in the thin soil covering a limestone shelf, some believers flourish early in the season, but as the sun bakes the soil and the plant withers, shrivels up and dies, so some believers' faith seems to evaporate and die.
Now severe tribulation comes upon Jesus' closest friends and followers. One -- Judas -- has already succumbed to Satan's enticements.
The fledgling Christian movement hangs by a thread, but Jesus does not despair. He prays. He asks the Father that Peter's faith will not be extinguished, that his light will not blink out. He prays, trusts his Father to answer his prayer, and continues to instruct his disciples.
When the trials become the hardest, Jesus' disciples will remember that he predicted their struggle. They will have hope in their darkness, and will again see the Light of Life.
Jesus prays for Peter, for he knows that Peter is the natural leader of these men. Peter is key. Why doesn't Jesus pray the same way for all the disciples? Why the discrimination? Why not some equality? Because people are not all created equal in faith or in leadership. The fact is that God works through people -- and Peter was one of those people. Jesus prays for Peter that his faith will not fall apart.
Judas' faith utterly falls apart. He has no hope left. Whatever faith he had has failed, extinguished. Suicide beckons. But Peter's faith, though shaken, recovers. Jesus has prayed for him.
Turning Back to the Lord (Luke 22:32b)
"And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32b)
Jesus is telling Peter that he will turn again to faith. The verb translated "turned back" (NIV) or "converted" (KJV) is Greek epistrephō, "to turn to." It can mean "turn around, go back," but is often used metaphorically to mean, "to change one's mind or course of action, for better or worse, turn, return," and is sometimes used as term for conversion or repentance.1025
Yes, friends, there is a time of weakness, of faith-shock. But there is recovery. There is healing. There is restoration.
One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Jesus' restoration of Peter, the three-fold, "Do you love me? Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). Part of the restoration of faith is a new mission, a new task. In Peter's case, feeding Jesus' sheep involves strengthening his brother-disciples.
Strengthening Your Brothers (Luke 22:32b)
The verb "strengthen" is Greek stērizō, "to cause to be inwardly firm or committed, confirm, establish, strengthen."1026 I love this word. It is such a positive, weighty, substantial word -- "strengthen." It is Peter's future mission. For many of us, it is our mission, too.
First, God strengthens us. One of my favorite benedictions in the Bible uses this word, from the lips of Peter himself:
"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)
I'll resist my temptation to comment on this wonderful verse, with its four verbs so full of promise: restore (katartizō), strengthen (stērizō), make firm (sthenoō), and make steadfast (themelioō). Here are some other New Testament passages that use Greek word stērizō and tell of God's strengthening:
"Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ...." (Romans 16:25)
"May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father ... encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one." (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near." (James 5:8)
Have you been hurt? Has your faith been wounded? Then let God fulfill this promise of his Word in you!
But after Jesus' servants are strengthened, then they go out to strengthen their brothers and sisters. This Greek word stērizō is used several times in the New Testament concerning this ministry:
"Paul ... traveled from place to place ... strengthening all the disciples." (Acts 18:23)
"We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:2)
"So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have." (2 Peter 1:12)
Weakness and Strength
When Peter relies on his own bravado, his strength is an illusion. But in persecution, Peter learns to rely on God's forgiveness and God's strength. In his weakness, he finds strength. And then that strength becomes a vital source of strength to many others around him.
What are disciples to learn from these few verses?
- We can be very unrealistic about our own readiness, very full of bluff and bluster. If you are a discipler or mentor to younger Christians, you know they can be too reliant on their own experience, their own perception of strength. You know better. You are there to catch them when they fall and to strengthen them.
- We are not immune from shaking, tribulation, and temptation. Jesus faced Satan's onslaught and we -- each of us -- must also.
- Prayer is the key. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells his disciples to pray as their protection against the trial to come (Luke 22:40, 46).
- Jesus is rooting for us. He intercedes for us before the throne of God (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; see Isaiah 53:12b). He prays that our faith will not fail, that it will turn around, be healed, and become strong again.
- Even though we fall to temptation, there can be repentance and restoration.
- Faith in Christ is a very precious thing. It is our lifeline to the mighty salvation brought to us by Jesus.
- God uses key leaders to strengthen and establish churches and nations. I marvel at how God used St. Patrick to bring faith to a nation. How God used St. Francis to "repair his Church," and John Wesley to turn England back to God. There is a strategic element here. If you are a leader, Jesus is praying for you especially, because if you follow him in spite of your struggles and failings, you will strengthen dozens, hundreds of lives.
- Strengthening our brothers and sisters is a key part of our mission. When we see people weak and struggling, we are to come alongside them and strengthen them with Christ's strength.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
An old song sums up the disciples' prayer:
"I am weak but Thou art strong,
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I'll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee."1027
Father, I see myself in Peter's shallowness. I've been boastful and flippant. I've been rebuked by you, too. And I've been crushed by circumstances and trials, but you have prayed for me and strengthened me. And now, Lord, I am praying that you will use me to strengthen my brothers and sisters, and enable them to strengthen others, and yet others. So that temptation will not be the last word, but strong faith in the Lord will be present in the land when you return. Thank you for your graciousness to me. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for not giving up on me. In Jesus' bold and powerful name, I pray. Amen.
"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)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Why would you sift grains of wheat? (Luke 22:31) What kind of experience does "sifting wheat" convey?
- Extra credit: Why is Satan able to attack us? (Luke 22:31) What are the chief weapons he has at his disposal?
- How could Peter be so unrealistic about the level of his own strength and faith? (Luke 22:33-34) Why is he so out of touch? How does a person get in touch with their own spiritual strength?
- How can a believer's faith possibly become extinguished? How does Jesus' prayer affect Peter's faith? What are the limits of the power of prayer for another person's faith? Can we "believe them" back to God?
- Is Peter stronger or weaker after his "fatal flaw" had been revealed? Why does God allow temptation to come to us at all?
- In what ways do you think Peter strengthened his brothers after Jesus' resurrection? In what ways can we strengthen our brothers and our sisters?
- Extra credit: In light of verse 32, why is it so important in God's plan that each of his children be part of a local congregation?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Exaiteō, BDAG 344.
 Acts 5:3; 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20; 5:15; as "the devil": Acts 10:38; 13:10; Ephesians 4:27; 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8, 10; Jude 9; and several references in the Book of Revelation.
 Siniazō, BDAG 924.
 Marshall, Luke, p. 820.
 David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentary series; Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 235.
 Luke 4:38; 5:3-5, 8, 10; 6:14; 7:40, 43-44; 24:34
 Hetoimos, BDAG 401.
 Aparneomai, BDAG 97.
 Oida, BDAG 693-694.
 Ekleipō, BDAG 306.
 Epistrephō, BDAG 382.
 Stērizō, BDAG 945.
 "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," unknown author.
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