How often in warfare a battle is lost because military strategists did not know their enemy. This becomes a sad, but obvious reality about many Christians who are not aware of Satan’s devices that bring defeat to their lives. Yes, it is imperative that we know our enemy. Certainly, the number one reason for failure in the Christian life is the lack of abiding in the Lord. However, another prominent reason is that the Christian is not aware of his spiritual foe, the Devil.
“Get Thee Behind Me, Satan”
In Matthew 16, a most unusual sequence of events takes place concerning Christ and Peter. We must carefully note the context. When Jesus and His disciples came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, “He asked the disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” In verse 14, they gave their response. Then to the disciples beginning in verse 15,
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
It is at this point we read of Peter taking Christ aside and rebuking him, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (v. 22). Right after the rebuke from Peter concerning Christ dying, we read,
But he [Jesus] turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence [a stumbling block] unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
All of God’s saints will have a death, a “dying daily,” a “taking up his cross” as a very real part of their Christian life. Christ revealed in this incident that Peter was influenced by Satan to stop Jesus from fulfilling the will of God for His life by going to the Cross.
Oh, how often Peter was influenced by this invisible one. Let us note several passages of Scripture. In Luke 22:31–34, we read,
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. And he [Peter] said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he [Jesus] said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
A few years later Paul mentions in Galatians 2, the Jerusalem Council event (Acts 15), beginning in verse 9,
And when James, Cephas [or Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
But then some weeks, and perhaps months, passed, and we read in Galatians 2:11–14,
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
The Holy Spirit through the apostle Peter will warn us years later in 1 Peter 5:8, 9:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Yes, we must ever be vigilant for this great adversary who is out to destroy us. We must resist him, being steadfast in the faith.
Satan, the Deceiver and Deceived
The above verses reveal that Satan is very real and is capable of influencing Christians with thoughts that lead them away from the will of God in matters. Satan is a person. He is a force that pervades the earth. He is not omnipresent, but he is ubiquitous (although at times it may seem he is omnipresent). If he is capable of traveling at the speed of light (we believe that angels can fly even faster), then he could travel seven times around this world in one second. That is not omnipresence, but it is ubiquitously fast.
Even though Satan is a force to be reckoned with, we must never forget that he is a person. He is not a people; he is a person. This tells us (understanding the fullness of the word person, or personality) that he has intellect, emotions, will, and a self. In his creation he was perhaps the most powerful of all the angels, and do we dare even approximate the brilliancy of that creation by God in him (Ezek. 28:13–15)? Yet perhaps the thing that is lacking in his concept of personality is that he has no conscience.
It is evident that he was not created with a conscience. We may wonder, “Did God create a conscience within Adam and it simply was dormant until he fell?” But there is no implication in Lucifer when he fell that there was any concept of a conscience within.
What is his character? We know that he is the original sinner in the vastness of the universe. He brought sin into existence in the universe. He is Satan. The name is going to be identified in the Bible because of what he did at the fall and what he continues to do since his fall. He is Satan, the great adversary, or the enemy of God; and if this is true, it automatically means he is an adversary to God’s people. He is also declared with a personal name, the Devil, meaning “accuser.” He is a slanderer; he slanders God; he accused God of many things that led up to his fall, and thus he is the accuser of God’s people. We read in Revelation 12 that he accuses God’s people before the throne day and night. We also read that Satan was the first murderer (John 8:44). His intent was to kill God and everything identified with God. Christ revealed in John 8:44 that Satan is the liar. He is the embodiment of the lie, as Christ is the embodiment of truth. The End Time, according to the New Testament, will be given to the Lie. The universal lie will take over the world. Satan is proud, and all the followers of the Devil are after his image and likeness in pride, in giving over to the End-time Lie, and in the rejection of God.
But Paul reveals another aspect of the Devil in 1 Timothy 3:6, when he was dealing with those in leadership within a church. He declares that a bishop is not to be a novice. He is not to be a neophutos (Gr.); he is not to be “a new one,” lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. This perhaps is a concept that we normally do not think of concerning the Devil—at one time the Devil was a novice. When he fell, he was not a seasoned sinner. He was not a seasoned veteran in his adversarial work, in his slanderous work. This was all new to him in what he had chosen. And when we begin to read the oldest book in the Bible, Job (where the word Satan is used more than any other time in the Old Testament in those first two chapters), it is evident the Devil was not smart. He was more of a nuisance, like a gnat flying around, coming before God and mouthing off, not understanding anything about Job, not understanding anything about God and those who love and live for Him. Yes, the Devil was a neophyte at that time—a novice.
There is something peculiar in coming into things as a novice. This is why young people must take great warning as they are growing up in their home. They must never think they know more than their father or mother. Children coming into those early teenage years tend to believe that they know more about God and about life than their parents do. Many youth come to an early conclusion about life, and they do not see or understand the true meaning of life or how to live life. They believe as the neophyte: “I’m the seasoned veteran in the matter of living; I know better than those over me.” But every sinner starts out a neophyte. The sinner eventually comes to a seasoned understanding about sin but not about God, truth, or making the right decisions in life. He is still a child; he is still foolish and immature. Oh, the neophytes of history who have believed they were God’s gift in wisdom and knowledge. And the Devil was one of those who bragged, creating his own pomp and circumstance before God in those two chapters, believing he knew Job and why Job served God. Yet, it is clear, he did not know; he was a novice in this matter.
The Bible also reveals that Satan is a deceiver. His very nature is deception. He is not only a deceiver, but he has also literally created the deception of himself. Jesus warned His disciples, “Be not deceived”; “take heed that no man deceive you”; and “do not deceive yourselves” because the Devil is the father of lying. He himself believes his own lie. He is the father of deception, but he has been deceived by himself. This is part of his nature.
Yet in Matthew 13, another insight about the Devil is revealed in the parable of the sower and the seed. The Devil is also a thief of truth—not so much an open robber of truth, but a subtle, secret thief of truth. In Jesus’ own interpretation of His parable (13:19), He says regarding seed sown on the hard wayside ground, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, . . .” This phrase “understandeth it not,” in the Received Text means that “they do not grasp it; they do not put it together.” This wayside hard ground is where the people, day in and day out, walked on the edge of the field until the trampling had compressed the dirt making it impossible for the seed to enter the soil.
When such a soil-people do not understand the word, “then cometh the wicked one [the Devil], and [he] catcheth away that which was sown in the heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.” There is a great influence of the constant trampling by the world upon a human heart. And when the Gospel comes to them, we may wonder, “Why did they not receive the Gospel?” For one thing, the trampled ground is too hard. Thus, when that seed cannot get down into the soil, the Devil comes and takes it away. While the seed is trying to get down into the heart, the Devil is capable of getting that Gospel seed out before it takes root in the heart.
Although we know that the Devil cannot read the thoughts of human beings, he can project thoughts. He has become a careful observer of humanity and human nature. Like a parent carefully observing his child daily, he or she can just about tell, when the child gets up in the morning, what he is going to do; the parent knows what the child wants for breakfast. It is not because he is omniscient like God, but the parent just knows the habits and the proclivities and the character of that child.
The Devil has been an assiduous student of men for six thousand years now, and even though he does not have omniscience, he has learned well the proclivities and desires of every man. He knows by countenance; he knows by conversations over the years; he knows when we are spiritually backsliding; he knows when we do not come back to God in repentance. He knows our personal history well. He takes advantage of the vastness of his knowledge. His capabilities of assimilation are far vaster than all the computers of the world combined. He knows, he knows every individual; he knows the proclivities of that person, and he knows how to get that seed out from the ground before that one will believe.
The Devil Seeks Whom He May Devour
In 1 Peter 5:8, a revelation is given to us under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit that no doubt Peter was all too familiar with. This passage reveals that the Devil loves to destroy the child of God and his living for God. He is determined and settled in heart to do all that he can to destroy souls.
Now, perhaps we need to ask the question, “Why does the Devil hate God’s people?” We know he hates God. There is not one aspect of God that the Devil has any inclination of liking. He hates God, but he also hates everyone that believes in God. He hates anyone that tends to love God. But again, why does he hate God’s people? There are perhaps several reasons:
- He knows that God loves that believer; and he knows that the true believer loves God. Although Satan loves the distorted view of the love of God of Neo-Christianity, he hates the true love of God. He hates God’s loving an individual, and he hates the individual who loves God. The Devil loves to see Christians in discouragement and despair, with fallen countenances amidst the trials and troubles of life. But the thing that intensifies his hatred is when he sees them going through their troubles with a glorious spirit.
- Another reason the Devil hates God’s people is because every true Christian resembles God. We are in His image, and Satan hates God and he hates His image.
- The Devil also hates us because every Christian was a former slave of Satan, and he is still angry at us for leaving him.
- A praying Christian is a constant threat to him and to his government. Truly a praying Christian is a power to be reckoned with against Satan’s plan and ambitions.
- Satan knows a Christian has hope, and he hates any and all hope in God.
- Satan knows that a Christian has the blessings of God, and he hates the blessings of God.
- Satan also hates children, knowing that one day another child of God may step forward to be another Martin Luther, or another John Wesley. He loves to abort children before they can live their lives for God.
Another activity of the Devil is his constant posture of ever opposing, hindering, and seeking to corrupt the work of the Gospel. Between the words of the preacher and the ear of the hearer in the pew, the Devil is evilly working to distort that Word. By the time it comes to the ear, he is throwing in thoughts to distort that Word from God. He is constantly casting questions into the mind as the true Word of God is being preached: “Is that what he said? Did he really mean that? Did he leave some words out? Is he trying to tell me something?” Yes, questioning, questioning the Word of God. He is notorious in hindering the Word of God from purely entering the human ear.
He also blinds the minds of men to the Gospel. The Devil may also inflict disease and trouble. We do not believe (as the Charismatics promote in their theological system) that every sickness and every disease is of the Devil. Nevertheless, he does sometimes bring affliction to God’s people. Yet, we add the postscript that when disease and affliction are permitted (as in the case of Job), God’s sovereign eye is always on it, and controlling to what degree the suffering will be.
Another activity of Satan is that he is ever tempting Christians to sin. The Devil controls unsaved people. He controls their minds; he controls their logic; he controls their decisions; he controls the execution of those decisions. An unsaved person is under the influence of the Devil. Satan empowers false religions; he authors and promotes false teachings. He is ever accusing Christians before the throne of God. But the accusation does not stop there. He is constantly throwing in thoughts down here on the planet Earth into the minds of God’s people, ever accusing them. He is ever testing Christians, with the motive to break them. When God tests, it is not to see if we will break; it is to see our faith become stronger. But when the Devil tempts and tests God’s people, he is out to break them; he is out to wear them down.
We must also include that the Devil is ever destroying the lives of disobedient Christians. As we observed in a previous article, the Devil empowers disobedience: “The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Paul also noted that the Devil is “the prince of the power of the air.” This is not to say that disobedient Christians are possessed of the Devil, but somehow the influence of his spirit, this spirit-creature, is ever empowering, energizing the disobedience of humans. When a professing child of God is given to disobedience, the Devil is inspiring it.
Be Sober, Be Vigilant
In 1 Peter 5:8, we initially read of Peter’s warning: “Be sober, be vigilant.” Satan knows that God has a plan for history. The Bible gives the details of that plan. Additionally, he knows that God has a plan for every individual. Satan desires to vehemently oppose the plan of God for the ages; but at the same time, he is opposing this for every individual. God is a personal God; He deals with everyone personally. The Devil is a personal Devil; he knows us. Everything that comes to us from him is hand-tailored by his wicked and evil mind.
We find in the earlier part of the First Epistle of Peter the extreme forms of persecution. But as the epistle comes to its conclusion, Peter brings out the final persecution. This final persecution is Satan himself. Peter, as a faithful under-shepherd of Christ, warns us about this final persecution. With this burden, he begins with this brief segment of four words: “Be sober, be vigilant.”
When we read the word sober in the Bible, it does not refer to abstinence from alcohol. In its classical Greek form, sober referred to a serious attitude of the mind about something. It is in the mental context of how I observe something. How do I think about a certain thing? Do I think about it lightly, casually, or nonchalantly? The word sobriety declares that I must think seriously, and with concern about a matter. In the context of 1 Peter 5:8, I must have a serious attitude of mind when I think about the Devil. Be sober! Don’t think you can cast him off. I cannot discard him or make light of him. I dare not think that, “Well, I am a Christian, so I can just easily handle the Devil.” There is only one power in all the universe that is greater than the power of the Devil, and that is the power of God. Apart from God, there is none equal to the Devil; we must therefore take him very seriously. I cannot underestimate him.
Additional to being serious-minded about this great enemy, I also must be vigilant. Vigilant means “to watch carefully.” It has the understanding that we are looking around and behind ourselves; we are looking to our left and right; we are looking ahead; we are looking in the corners and the crevices of life. We cannot afford to spiritually fall asleep, but we must be vigilant. Sobriety deals with my internal attitude about him; vigilance calls me to a defense against him. It is what I see with the eye-gate and what I hear with the ear-gate.
Children are most often oblivious to this vigilance. They may go downtown or to the mall with no consciousness of the lurking dangers surrounding them. But a conscientious Christian parent is ever vigilant, pulling the child away from certain sights and dangers. Some stores boldly and immodestly aggrandize the word secret in their name while their merchandise is boldly displayed in their windows. We must ever guard the mind of the child, both the sons and daughters. Even maturing Christian young people could reason, “Well, I am now old enough to see this.” A day will come when they will travel to town on their own. The teenage years may not have the same earlier care of the guardian parent. Or, they may think with sobriety and vigilance and tell their soul, “I know what is down that mall aisle; I know the store that I am going to have to pass; so I need to protect my attention from seeing the ‘wicked thing.’”
Dear reader, we are living in an age that people mock this biblical line of thinking saying, “What’s the big deal?” Satan’s temptations need only a sixteenth of a second to register vividly in the mind. We must ever be guarding all the gates to the heart. Yes, the Devil has a way to influence and entice us. He knows what we see and what we hear; and he adds to these sight and sound suggestions of thought. He knows what we hear in conversations, and he feeds further secret thoughts about these conversations.
What does Peter declare in 1 Peter 5:8? “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary. . . .” He does not call the Devil God’s adversary; he calls him your adversary! The Devil is my personal adversary. “Because your adversary, the devil . . .” We must remember to whom Peter is writing. He is not addressing the world. The Devil is not an adversary to the world or to the unbeliever. He is only an adversary to God’s people. Peter’s audience were Christians. He declares, “Your adversary,” those who have been born again and taken out of the Devil’s clutches and now are Christ’s possession. They have left their former father, the Devil; they have left their liar; they have left the power that controlled them. This is why the Bible, when speaking of salvation in many of the contexts, deals with a snatching or plucking. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zech. 3:2b). The deliverance by God is not gradual. One day we were in the Devil’s clutches, and God snatched us out of his clutch. We were translated from the Devil’s kingdom of darkness into the marvelous kingdom of God’s light. We were brought from death unto life! In a moment of time! And therefore the Devil is very angry. Quicker than he could turn his head, we were plucked as a brand out of his clutches. We left him; we left this dictator; we left this lord; we left this god. Those who have come to put their trust in Jesus Christ have come to believe and recognize that Christ is the greater authority. And this too is what will make the Devil mad.
But we must also remember that in this snatching, Satan is wickedly upset. He is angry; he is crying out in anger, and he will do everything he can to get us back. He is ever attacking us with sights and sounds and thoughts and drawing desires. He knows what we enjoyed back there when we were with him. He knows our pleasures. He knows what was in that life of sin we experienced, that he did not even need to tempt us to do. He knows! And if he cannot get us back, he will be content to get us caught up in being like God in our own decisions of worldly and carnal desires.
The Devil is not upset with a carnal Christian. He knows that this Christian is not going to have the “life” of Christ; such a professing Christian is going to be up and down, in and out. The Devil knows that carnal Christianity will go for days, weeks, and months without communion. He doesn’t have to spend much time in temptation on such professing Christians. All he needs to do is just give a little feeding of the world, a little pushing, a little pressing to keep the carnal, professing Christian on the road of the flesh. His projected reasoning is “You be your own god; don’t let the Bible tell you how to live; don’t let it become the standard of your life.”
Peter continues, “your adversary, the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about [with the motive], seeking whom he may devour.” Much has been written about this roaring of the Devil. But there are two reasons why a lion roars. He does not roar when he is stalking, for that would scare away the prey. The Devil is stealthful; he is very subtle. The lion’s stalking of his prey is not simply admiration. No, the lion is out to kill that prey; his intent is to devour that prey. The roaring of the lion only comes when he has successfully taken his prey! It is announcing that “I have taken down my victim to devour.” The second reason for the lion’s roar is to let all the other animals know that this is his sole possession. None has the right to come and partake of the fruit of this kill.
And yet the Devil may roar at us to create a fear, calling us to yield to him. However, he has not secured us yet. Oh, dear Christian, it is the intimidation of the roar that we often permit to bring defeat. The roar is to plant the thoughts that “God has left you; God’s power is no longer with you.” The roar is the sound as if he already has us. It is an intimidation; it is the projection of a false understanding. We must resist him! We must cry out against the Devil, resisting him, in confidence of our blessed Saviour, “No, you don’t have me; no, I have not been taken prey by you.” The Devil may even respond, “It is senseless to pray.” He will try to convince us in the roar, “You’re going down; you’re going under.” Yes, dear Christian, the Devil is seeking—he is seeking the weak; he is seeking the secret backslider; he is seeking the one that he knows has not known the power of God in overcoming. The Devil knows it. Yes, he is seeking!
May God grant us wisdom in these days when the Devil is at his most artful hour against God’s saints. May we discern his wiles, his devices, and learn to overcome through Christ, His Word, and the Holy Spirit.