Beware of the Adversary

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Matthew 16:22-23“And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God be merciful to you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but man’s.’”

The course of human history is wrought with men and women—some very well intentioned—who have stepped in God’s way. In this case, Peter is a prime example of how quickly we can “lose” our composure and become an adversary before God. In these situations, men and women often seek to “rescue” God from his own evil plan. This is what we see in Peter, and well intentioned or not, he was wrong. Jesus spoke sharply to rebuke him, addressing him as satan, and calling him a stumbling block. These are powerful words, but the spirit that was in Peter at this moment was the spirit of the adversary. 

At the beginning of His ministry, the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness, and embedded in these temptations is the very spirit we see in Peter. On three occasions the devil attempts to persuade Jesus to abandon the path that was set before him for the less demanding way. In other words, he baits Jesus into ditching God’s will for humanity, and he does so cloaking his deception in light. First, He moves to convince Jesus that He does not really have to subject Himself to starvation because He wields the power to remedy His own hunger and is able to easily turn stones into bread. On his second attempt, he seeks to convince Jesus to throw himself down from the heights and God would be obligated to swoop in and act. He reinforces his deception by quoting the very words of God (Psalm 91), falsely attempting to reassure Jesus that these are God’s own words and not his own. Finally, the Adversary promises Jesus the kingdom—an easy life—if He would simply bow down and worship him, thus tempting Jesus to bypass the cruel suffering that God was subjecting Him to. In each of these temptations, we see the enemy attempting to either thwart the plan of God or paint God as the adversary. As we can see, there is no limit to what he will do. This is why it is said of him that he deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). When the enemy uses counterfeit truth, then he is able to infuse men and women with the conviction that their cause is noble, righteous, and ordained by God. In reality, though, they are acting like adversaries. This is why truth is the enemy’s most powerful weapon, because he twists it in the attempt to make the Author of Truth look foolish, cruel, inadequate, self-seeking, and incompetent. 

We see this happen in the very beginning when the serpent tells Eve that God is forbidding the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because He is withholding enlightenment and godliness from His creation. In other words, the devil is swooping in to save Adam and Eve from the dictatorship and tyranny of God, pointing out that they “will not surely die.” On the contrary, they will become more alive, acquiring divine sight and knowledge. Why would God not want them to attain this? Perhaps they misunderstood Him. The seed of doubt concerning God’s character, intentions, and instruction is planted, and the two are quickly knocked off course, blaming each other, blaming the serpent, and ultimately blaming God. Satan attempts this same tactic in the wilderness, and he tries again through Peter. Peter, believing that he is doing right, rebukes Jesus for speaking such “evil”. Little did he know that the “evil” he was trying to protect Jesus from was the very centerpiece of God’s redemption of mankind. This is why Jesus’ rebuke was sharp and needed to be–Peter was standing in God’s way. 

Thus, we see that the greatest weapon the enemy uses against mankind is not direct sin. Men are inclined to sin; our nature drives us toward sin. Little effort is needed by the enemy to drive us into greed, sexual immorality, slander, malice, and the like. Why spend his energies on these when there is little return on his investment? His greatest weapon, his weapon of mass destruction, is his ability to use truth and “good will” to turn us into little adversaries—questioning, judging, and doubting the very word and authority of our Creator. If the enemy can twist our view of God by discretely polluting His plan, His character, and His credibility, then we risk becoming as Peter was: satan. He pulls us in to do the work for him. This should wake us up to the deceptive power of the enemy. After all, if it can happen to Peter, then we are all vulnerable. In this state, we stand in God’s way, question His motives, rebuke His actions, and unwittingly drive to overthrow Him. Often times we fervently join this fight under the banner of truth and righteousness, convinced that we are actually doing God and ourselves a favor. When the enemy has poisoned our minds in this fashion, he wins because it is in this state that we believe in the deception so much that we become disoriented and we make war against the light by throwing ourselves in God’s way.

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