Scripture: Luke 22:31-34
That’s one implication of Jesus’ words: Satan is real, has great power, and must be reckoned with seriously and soberly in this age. But a second implication is that Satan’s power is by permission from God. There are not two ultimate powers in the universe. There is only one: God. When Satan wants to have the disciples, he must go to God first. That’s an important word for our day, because the demonic forces of unreason and insubordination and hate and violence are becoming so strong and ever nearer to home that our faith in God’s supremacy may be tested to the limit. We will need to remember words like these: “Satan demanded to have you,” and their meaning: Satan cannot hurt us any more than God permits.
This raises a very important and hard theological question: Why would God grant to his archenemy any of his demands? As soon as you start to think about that question you realize that it is part of a much larger one, namely: Why does God tolerate the activity of Satan at all? Revelation 20:2, 3 tells us that at the end of this age, when Christ returns, God is going to bind Satan and confine him for 1,000 years, “that he should deceive the nations no more.” Then after the 1,000 years and the final victory of God he will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10) forever. God has the right and the power to put Satan out of commission, and the question that we ask in our finitude and ignorance is: Why doesn’t he do it now? Why go on century after century permitting Satan to wreak havoc in the world?
It may be that this is none of our business and that we should trust the wisdom and goodness of God without an answer. But I think the Scriptures indirectly suggest a possible answer, which may encourage and strengthen our faith. I think the reason God permits Satan to persist in his “sifting” work is that in the end it will be good for the church and will bring more glory to God. It’s clear from the whole NT that God intends to bring the bride of Christ to perfection through affliction and temptation (1 Peter 1:6; 3:17). We must suffer with Christ if we would be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). Through suffering and trial our faith is refined. We are drawn to rely ever more heavily on God, and we are moved to cherish his grace more strongly. Satan has his role to play in fanning the flames of our refining furnace, and so God awaits the appointed day of judgment.
Not only does the ongoing work of Satan ultimately do good for the church, but it also will bring more glory to God. I picture God as an omniscient general whose aim is to fight and win the war in the way that will bring him most glory for his magnificent, strategic wisdom and power. Instead of steam rolling over the enemy all at once, he combines strategic advances and retreats that allow the enemy some illusion of success and brings out all their arrogance and hate for the general, so that it can be seen for what it is. In his wisdom the general knows when the end should come. He will give way for a time to allow the enemy to rage in defiance, and then when sin is seen for all that it is, he will close in and destroy the enemy in such a way that none can doubt the wisdom and glory and power of the general.
So Satan has power, but it is all by permission, and it is never out of control. We must be sober in our prayers, fight the good fight, and anticipate the victory of God at the perfect time.