What comes to mind when you think of spiritual warfare? Maybe you imagine warring angels and demons, flaming swords drawn, locked in immortal combat. It certainly is that – think of Daniel 10 where the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that he would have arrived sooner had he not been “resisted” by the Prince of Persia, requiring backup from another mighty one name Michael. That’s Bible-talk for some fiery supernatural combat! So yes, that does happen.
But lately, when I think of spiritual warfare, I’ve been thinking of the Apostle Peter. Through his interactions with Jesus we get some explicit insights into what spiritual battles look like, when we are the battlefield.
We see this in Matthew 16, where Peter gives his classic response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” He immediately blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirms Peter’s answer and points out that he didn’t come up with that on his own, but rather he came to it through the revelation of the Father. A genuine God-moment for Peter! But within a few verses things take a turn for the worse.
After this divinely-inspired affirmation by Peter, Jesus tells his disciples that he is on his way to Jerusalem to die, and then be raised to life on the third day. Peter will have none of that. He takes Jesus aside and says to him, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to you!” Peter’s intentions are noble and good. In his mind he will never allow anything bad to happen to Jesus, because he believes Jesus is the Messiah. Peter is ready to defend his Lord with his own life. And he means it!
Jesus sees what’s really going on and immediately calls it out. He looks at Peter and says, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” Ouch! That must have stung! But Jesus sees what is happening in Peter which Peter himself cannot see. The devil is at work, influencing Peter’s thoughts in a way that goes contrary to the will of God. Peter has become the battlefield!
The word Jesus uses for ‘stumbling block’ here actually means “the trigger of a trap” – it’s the thing that gets one off course. The devil has played on Peter’s sense of loyalty and justice (both very good things) and twisted them in a way that will thwart the very desires of God. And here we get the key to understanding spiritual warfare! The key that helps us recognize it, and win the battle every time. Jesus tells Peter how he recognized the devil’s influence in Peter’s thoughts and words. He says, “You’re not thinking of God’s things here Peter, you’re thinking humanly instead.”
There it is! The key to spiritual discernment is having our hearts, and minds, set on the things of God, and not what seems to make sense to us. What has God said? What does God want? What is God doing? These things may not always make common sense. But will we dismiss them because of our own reasoning? The devil is on the battlefield!
Later, before his crucifixion, Jesus says something else to Peter that is key in understanding spiritual warfare. He tells Peter that the devil has demanded him (and the others) so he could sift them like wheat: read – give them a thrashing. (Luke 22:31-32). Grammatically, the Greek word here is a case of “resultative aorist” which implies the devil received what he demanded. Jesus is telling Peter that the devil is on the battlefield and he and the others need to beware.
The devil has been given permission to do the sifting. But Jesus sees beyond this trial of Peter (who would soon deny the Lord three times) and tells Peter that He has prayed for him. His prayer is that Peter’s faith would not be lost through the ordeal he is about to face. What Jesus is saying is that, while the devil is on the battlefield, so is He! The devil has determined to ruin Peter, but that is not going to happen. In the end, Jesus (and Peter) will triumph.
So here is what spiritual warfare looks like, when you and I become the battlefield. I wonder if we’re in such a battle right now. The devil is always on the prowl, hell-bent on sifting us like wheat. But here’s the good news – Jesus is on the battlefield too! And if we genuinely set our hearts and minds on the things of God alone, we will come out the other side standing, and stronger (see Luke 22:33).
I am praying for you Forest Brook. And so is Jesus. May your faith not fail.