The night which preceded the mid-morning crucifixion of our Lord was a time of numerous memorable activities. Jesus and His apostles ate the Passover meal together, after which He instituted the Lord’s Supper. As they were still together in that upper room in Jerusalem, the Christ predicted that that very night horrible things would transpire: one of the twelve would betray Him, all of them would forsake Him, and Peter would deny Him.
The following words, spoken on that occasion by Jesus to Simon Peter, are recorded in the Bible only in Luke 22:31,32:
(31) And the Lord said, Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. (32) But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.
This is a message about the Savior, Satan, and Simon. It is important to note, however, that there is a shift in Jesus’ message. When He said that Satan had a desire to have “you” (verse 31), the word “you” is plural, referring to all of the apostles. When He went on to say that He had prayed for “you,” this “you” (verse 32) refers to Simon Peter. So, while the devil had the entire group of apostles in his sights, in this conversation Jesus highlighted what would take place in Peter’s life.
What does it mean that Satan asked for/wanted the apostles that he might sift them as wheat? “Sift” is from the Greek word “σινιάζω/siniazō,” defined as “to sift, shake in a sieve; fig. by inward agitation to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow [Thayer, word no. 4617 via e-Sword]. Wheat or other grains were often placed in an object like a sieve or fan. The sieve would be shaken strongly, and in some cases the grain was tossed into the air. After the process of shaking and tossing, the chaff and unwanted portions of the grain would blow away, leaving only the desired grain in the sieve. How did this figure apply to the apostles? Satan wanted to put them through severe trials, attempting to shake and toss their lives in such a fashion that their faith would be destroyed. As we noted already, that night the devil’s tactics were successful, as Judas betrayed the Christ, the other eleven apostles ran away when Jesus was taken into custody, and the overconfident one, Peter, denied his Lord three times.
That night, though, was not the end of the story. Satan wanted Simon Peter, but Jesus wanted Him, too! Jesus was always thinking of others. On the night when His heart would be broken multiple times and He would have to endure terrible injustice and inhumane treatment, He still was thinking about others. Amazing.
Jesus was praying for His sheep. He told Simon, “I have prayed for you.” Jesus cared. Jesus put that care into prayer and put His prayer into action. We need to learn from the Master and do the same.
Later that night, Jesus prayed for all of His apostles (John 17:6-19). But, here in Luke 22:32, we read of His prayer for one apostle, Peter. Jesus prayed that Simon’s faith “should not fail.” Such language makes it crystal clear that it is possible for the faith of a child of God to fail. We recall the warning about failing faith found in Hebrews 3:12: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” Jesus knew that Simon, because he was human, would make mistakes, and his faith would not always be at its maximum level. Jesus’ concern was that the fisherman’s faith would not reach the point of shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19).
Yes, Jesus was aware that Simon would betray Him just a bit later that evening. However, He wanted Simon to know that He had confidence in him and that He was holding out His hand to him, so to speak, to give him another chance. Jesus talked about Simon “returning” to Him. That implies (1) that Peter would need to return to Him, (2) that it was possible to return to Him, and (3) that Peter, indeed, would repent and make his way back to the Master. How blessed Peter was to have an understanding Savior, and how blessed we are two millennium later to have access to the same forgiving, second-chance giving God.
Jesus was not yet through using Peter. Yes, Peter would make a terrible, cowardly decision . . . more than once. But, Jesus knew that Peter had potential, and He knew that the man had a good heart. The Lord can use people like that, people who have a desire to do what is right, people who are crushed in their hearts by their bad choices, and people who are willing to repent and learn from their mistakes.
So what did the Lord do? He basically told Peter that He had a job for him to do after he returned to Him: “. . . and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Peter could still be an instrument of God through which others could be blessed. How encouraging those words must have been to Simon (at least later when he had time to think back and reflect on them), to know that his Lord had confidence in him and would consider him suitable material to serve as a leader of other sheep. Sometimes an encouraging word spoken to a struggling saint may go a long way in boosting their morale, self-image, and outlook toward the future.
And what about those disciples whom Simon would strengthen after the Lord’s death? They would be blessed to see in Peter the example of one who fell, but got back up and moved on in a positive way. May we all learn to serve humbly for His glory.
— Roger D. Campbell