When most of us think of Satanic activity, we may think of Ouija boards, poltergeists, sorcery, etc. But what about the subtler ways the devil operates – even through us? After all, he is by nature a master deceiver. Jesus said that he “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him” and that “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). What if, as Christians, we are neglecting to realize the very damaging and sly things that Satan is doing each day, because we are focused only on the obvious. The Apostle Paul highlighted this concept when he warned fellow believers about false apostles and deceitful workmen in the church itself. He tells us not to be surprised by this because “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Based on solid biblical truth, we have reason to be wary of Satan’s cunning modes of operation. He wants to catch us off guard.
Let me bring to your attention a reasonably well-known, but highly undervalued verse in the Bible. This Scripture makes obvious the hideous ways the devil works to damage God’s kingdom, and it is through God’s own people! The setting is that our Lord Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer, be killed, and then be raised to life. He is, in a nutshell, laying out the purpose for which He came to earth. Without this ultimate plan, none of us can be saved. But, as Jesus expounds the coming days of His death and resurrection, Peter pipes up with an incredible statement. The Bible specifically says, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord!’ This shall never happen to you’ (Matthew 16:22).
In a crazy turn of events, Jesus then looks at His dear friend, His disciple, and declares to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). Wow! Jesus looks at Peter and tells Satan what to do! What is going on here? We know that Peter is not possessed by Satan, for Peter clearly was a follower of Jesus Christ, even despite his failure. Why then is Jesus addressing Satan when he looks at Peter? Because the apostle in this moment is allowing the thoughts and ways of the devil to be his guide in attitude and behavior. Peter is allowing Satan to control him in this instance. He is giving the devil a strong foothold in his life and, by doing so, is moving to stop the most important plan of God. Peter becomes a momentary enemy to God with this declaration motivated by the ways of Satan (whose name, in fact, means “adversary”). No wonder the Apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:27, “give no opportunity to the devil.” So, is it possible that committed followers of Jesus Christ can be involved in Satanic activity? Absolutely! Let’s explore how and be on guard.
When Jesus accused Peter of acting in Satanic ways, He made clear the reason. Christ announced directly, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). That’s it. Plain and simple. The activity that warranted Jesus to name it “satanic” is the deed of concentrating on things that are of man and not of God. I am sure, then, that I am guilty at times of devilish work. Any time that I decide to put the interest of my humanity above the interest of God and His plan, I am on Satan’s side. This is utterly convicting. How often we are tempted to believe that only unbelievers and “very lost” people are involved in Satanic activity, and how wrong we are! The devil is a most cunning creature, who uses whoever he can to defy the plan of God. As demonstrated in this precise moment with Peter, the main endeavor of God that the devil seeks to destroy is the salvation of humanity. That salvation required the infinite suffering of Jesus, His cruel death, and His miraculous resurrection. Peter had wanted none of it to happen – in Peter’s humanity that is. Poor Peter loved His Lord, and he did not want Him to suffer. Peter had given up his way of living to follow Christ, and he no doubt wanted to keep following, misunderstanding the long-term plan. Peter thought His Lord unworthy of suffering and death – and maybe part of the reason was selfishness – that Peter did not want to suffer and die. In any case, God’s plan was being thwarted.
I think of what would have happened if Peter would have gotten his way and Jesus would not have died. None of us would be forgiven. None of us would ever enter into the kingdom of God. None of us could have true relationship with God. None of us could ever walk in the New Heavens and New Earth. No wonder Jesus called this behavior satanic. The devil wants to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10); he wants none of those good things for you.
We understand that what seems like a harsh reaction by Jesus to his beloved Peter is truly a just reaction. It is honest. Peter was letting Satan have his way in him. That is scary. That is horrible. And we do the same when we put our own selfish or shortsighted plans ahead of God’s ideas. If I take the path of least resistance even though I know it does not honor God’s commands, I am acting in a devilish way. If I do what is best for me even though it is not the best for the witness of Jesus to the world, I am being Satanic. If I exalt my desires above the desires of God as spelled out in His Word, I am joining the devil’s side. If I refuse to stand up for Christ for fear of human consequences, I am aiding Satan. Jesus came to this world, and He suffered. I will suffer, too. Jesus came to this world to die in my place. Now I must die to self. Jesus came to this world to obey His Father and work the plan. I must obey and work the plan, too. When I allow any of my human longings to be more important than my longing to love God and His ways, Jesus rightly says to me, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Let’s us pray and commit to never hear those words said to us. Let us keep setting our minds on the things of God and not the things of man. It’s that simple … and that difficult.