|HOME - Evil's Strategy in Church Life|
|ARTICLE:||EVIL'S STRATEGY IN CHURCH LIFE|
|OUTLINE:||Part I - Evil Introduced|
1. Evil and Us
2. Jesus, Peter and Satan
|Part II - Evil Lays in Wait (Mark chapters 1 to 8)|
1. The Context (Mark)
2. Jesus Opens Eyes
|Part III - Evil is Alerted|
1. Peter's Recognition of Jesus: The Messiah
2. Jesus's Recognition of Peter: This Rock
|Part IV - Evil Speaks Out but is Recognised and Dismissed|
1. 'God forbid, Master!' - Peter Rebukes Jesus
2. 'Get behind me, Satan!' - Jesus Rebukes Peter
|Part V - Evil is Explained|
1. A Stumbling Block
2. Human Assumptions versus God's Plans
|Part VI - Evil is Eclipsed|
1. Affirmation Heals Rebuking
2. Relationships are Restored
|Part VII - Evil is Beaten|
1. Good versus Evil
2. Discipline versus Disorder
|Findings in Focus|
EVIL'S STRATEGY IN CHURCH LIFE
|Part I - Evil Introduced||(back to top)|
|1) Evil and Us|
a) Us - not just 'them'
It is easy for us Christians mentally to 'locate' evil with others and elsewhere rather than around and within ourselves, especially with the media's endless reporting of atrocities and its constant parade of terrorism.
Years ago The Times published readers' letters on 'What is Wrong with the World?'
G. K. Chesterton famously wrote:
This is the Christian view, and the security, direction and survival of the Christian Church is endangered when members
assume that 'real' evil is only distant, but are blind to it among themselves.
b) Discern your teachers!
Beware of Christian self-styled authorities on evil: often those who grasp the subject too thoroughly end up with the subject grasping them with equal vigour! As you cannot ask me my qualifications to write about evil, I have outlined them in the following Information button:
c) Distorted Good
It is unhealthy to think too much about evil - or too little. Evil, unfortunately, is not always easy to spot. Sometimes it is obvious, but usually it is extremely difficult. A great deal of evil is distorted good, which is why it so often goes unrecognised and unchallenged. (Nationalism is distorted patriotism; idolatry is distorted love; smothering is distorted mothering; license is distorted freedom, and so on.)
|2. Jesus, Peter and 'Satan'||(back to top)|
a) A Key Scriptural Passage
A key passage about evil - which forms the basis of this article - concerns Jesus and a leading Christian, Peter. It is set out below. (As Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus rebukes Peter I shall refer to it as the Double Rebuke incident.)
When I last read it, I asked myself whether I would have made the same response as Peter had I been in the same situation. I will give my answer below. Meanwhile, read this important passage, and ask yourself the same question. Would you have reacted like Simon Peter?
Would you have reacted like Peter?
It came as a shock to me to realise that had I been in Peter's shoes at the time -
I am writing this article to alert you to the fact that the same forces that worked through Simon Peter (whatever labels we give them) can work through us. I want to help you understand why and how we today can be trapped into working against the Lord we love and serve.
b) Put fighting before defining!
Before we get into Part II, I must say something about the language we use about evil.
Christians will vary greatly in their terminology.
One purpose of evil is to divide Christians. It would be particularly sad and ironic if they did it to themselves in the process of arguing about the nature of evil!
While Scripture mentions evil, its task is not to reveal it. Scripture's task is to reveal Jesus the Christ, not the forces against him. The Bible is a book of theology; it is not a demonology - thank God!
Scripture uses a multitude of images to convey the nature and reality of evil, and taken together they are very helpful. It is useful to liken evil both to an angel of light and a roaring lion. Such images cannot easily be bettered - whatever century we live in.
In Part II, I shall outline the strategic place the Double Rebuke incident has in the Gospel story, for it makes little sense if looked at out-of-context.
|Part II - Evil Lays in Wait (Mark chapters 1 to 8)||(back to top)|
|1. The Context (Mark)|
The account of the rebukes by Peter and by Jesus come at a strategic point in Jesus's life, and cannot be understood in
isolation. Mark's story, the earliest, goes as follows -
a) Jesus's Life in Outline (Mark) (Chapter numbers are only a rough guide)
Peter's recognition that Jesus was the Christ / Messiah is a pivotal point, and comes halfway through the Gospel story.
b) The Good News Goes Unrecognised
Mark's account was written to be read aloud. Listeners will have heard in Mark's very first verse that Jesus was the Christ, but will then have heard over seven chapters of Christ's life before Mark tells of Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ / Messiah. And what an incredible story it was - nothing like it had ever happened before!
Mark focuses on Jesus's deeds rather than his teaching, and presents him as a man of action. Listeners to Mark's Gospel will have heard the following amazing sequence -
We are familiar with this incredible programme - but those who heard it for the first time must have been utterly flabbergasted! And yet - after so many examples of God's intervention - no one around Jesus had ventured to say publicly that he was the Messiah!
c) Spiritual Blindness
Such facts should, in theory, have 'spoken for themselves', as we say, but the New Testament repeatedly teaches that it is part of the strategy of evil to try and blind people to God's work.
'The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, ... '
Paul could not help but have Christ's Commission of him in mind: '...I am sending you to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, ...'
(For more about spiritual blindness see the articles Evangelism - the Spiritual Key and Spiritual Warfare and the Ordinary Christian, also on this website.)
It is not only non-Christians with problems of spiritual-blindness! After Jesus had fed the four thousand, he complains to the disciples -
'Do you still not perceive or understand?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and fail to see?
Do you have ears and fail to hear?
And do you not remember?'
(Am I alone in feeling Jesus's exasperation mounting with every sentence?)
|2. Jesus Opens Eyes||(back to top)|
While it is Satan's task to blind us spiritually, it is the Saviour's joy to open our eyes.
a) Walking Trees!
As we shall see in Part III, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter eventually sees that Jesus really is the Christ / the Messiah. Mark aptly prefaces that crucial event with this eye-opening incident -
b) The Need for Time
This story of Jesus's patient and unhurried ministry to one who could not see, paves the way beautifully for Peter's great insight about Jesus because - unusually for a Gospel healing account - the process of regaining sight on this occasion takes time.
This incident prefigures the opening of Peter's spiritual 'eyes' as he begins to see that Jesus is the Christ / the Messiah but whose mind and eyes are, as yet, not opened to see what it would entail.
|Application||(back to top)|
|Part III - Evil is Alerted||(back to top)|
|1. Peter's Recognition of Jesus: The Messiah|
As Matthew adds an important section about Peter which Mark does not have, I shall use his fuller account:
a) 'The Messiah'
The Jews were looking forward to the coming of God's Anointed One, the Messiah, to deliver them. The term the Christ is simply the New Testament's Greek translation of the Messiah. (The two terms are, therefore, completely interchangeable.)
Some thought that Jesus was one of the heralds of the Messiah, i.e. John the Baptiser or Elijah. It was Peter who said 'You are the Messiah / Christ'.
Incidentally, Peter's use of the Christ (i.e. preceded by the definite article) is typical of the Gospel-writers, because it was not Jesus's surname.
b) A Job Description
The Christ is a job-description, not a name.
Just as Herod was called Herod the King, or, more simply just King Herod so Our Lord is called Jesus the Christ, or, more simply just Jesus Christ.
It is precisely because folk tend to think that Christ is Jesus's second name that most modern translations opt for the Messiah translation.
Peter's recognition and proclamation that Jesus is the Christ / Messiah is the turning-point in the Gospel Stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
What relief and joy it must have been to Jesus when the first person whom he had called to follow him was the first follower to recognise him! Peter's Recognition and Jesus's Resurrection were both defining events, the first ended Act I of the Gospel story, the second ended Act II.
|2. Jesus's Recognition of Peter: This Rock||(back to top)|
Immediately after Peter's affirmation of who Jesus is, Jesus affirms Peter. The above passage continues as follows -
Immediately after Peter's declaration that he was the Messiah Jesus immediately recognises Peter's leadership and strongly affirms it. As you have read, Jesus says that -
|Application||(back to top)|
1. Peter's Recognition of Jesus
2. Jesus's Recognition of Peter
|Part IV - Evil Speaks Out but is Recognised and Dismissed||(back to top)|
The events of Part III were so positive - the Double Recognition, i.e. the recognition of each other first by Peter,
then by Jesus. What a great day it could have been...
But, inextricably linked with the Double Recognition, there comes immediately afterwards the Double Rebuke.
|1. 'God Forbid, Master!' - Peter Rebukes Jesus|
a) The Suffering Servant
The Bible passage quoted in the previous section concluded with Jesus's command to his disciples 'not to tell anyone'. It was widely thought that the Messiah / the Christ would be a political Saviour and deliverer who would free the Jews from Roman occupation. If word got out that Jesus was the Messiah / the Christ the people would try to force him to meet their military expectations.
As the passage continues, Jesus reveals what sort of Messiah his Father is calling him to be - a suffering servant. This was the very opposite of what the people wanted. Peter spoke not only for the disciples but probably for the nation as a whole when he said, 'God forbid it, Lord! It must never happen to you.'
We are so familiar with Jesus's Passion and Cross that it is difficult for us to identify with the disciples and recapture what a shattering and sickening idea it was. It would take them a considerable time even to begin to come to terms with it.
Jesus would make two further predictions of his Passion. Even after the second prediction, Luke adds bluntly But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Certainly no one grasped it the first time around!
b) Inappropriate Encouragement!
Peter, as we see in the passage above, took him [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him,
saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.'
Jesus's prediction of suffering sounded to Peter as if he was getting discouraged, so Peter naturally assures Jesus that things need not turn out that badly after all! It was a caring response in the circumstances. Peter wanted to encourage Jesus: failure was not inevitable! 'God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!'
Peter's protest missed the central point about the Cross and Passion which, if expressed in a similar format to Peter's protest, might read:
'God decrees it - this must happen to you!' Peter still had a lot to learn!
|2. 'Get Behind Me, Satan!' - Jesus Rebukes Peter||(back to top)|
We come to the crunch point of these events. As we have read in the passage above:
But he [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan!'
Why 'Satan' ?
a) Satan's Opportunity in the Wilderness
Matthew tells of only two occasions when Jesus is so confronted by evil that he actually speaks to Satan - and the first account can only have come ultimately from Jesus himself, since no one else was there at the time. I refer, of course, to Jesus's Temptation in the Wilderness. (See the article The 'Wilderness Experience' Explained on this website for a detailed account of its significance for us.)
In the Wilderness, Jesus got rid of Satan with a quote from Scripture and the command 'Go, Satan!'
Luke adds: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. The 'opportune time' came at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter realised Jesus was the Christ.
b) Satan's Second Great Opportunity
It is an awesome sequence. Satan departs for a while but, in the words of one commentator, 'He reappears in the guise of the chief Apostle!'
The person and the timing were chosen with strategic and demonic precision.
Why did Satan not encourage, say, Thaddaeus or Bartholemew to protest? For the simple reason that they were nowhere near as strategically important or as effective as Peter was at that time. Their responses would not have carried the weight and influence that Peter's would have, coming, as it did, immediately after Jesus's commendation and appointment of him as leader.
The reason I have outlined the context in which the 'Double Rebuke' incident took place is because it shows that -
Evil tries to distort Peter's thoughts (implanted by God the Father) that Jesus is the Christ by encouraging Peter's human assumption that Jesus should not suffer.
Evil takes Peter's undoubted leadership, and tries to distort his leadership of the Christian Church into a leadership over Christ himself. No way! The first was divine; the second demonic - however sincere and caring Peter's intentions might be!
c) Satan is Recognised
When Satan uses Peter to try and make Jesus avoid the Cross, Jesus immediately recognises that behind Peter's well-intentioned remark lies a diabolically subtle temptation to put his own well-being before his obedience to his Heavenly Father. Jesus recognised the return of Satan's third suggestion in the Wilderness.
But Jesus knew what was what and how to handle it!
Jesus discerns the real, and ultimately evil, source of Peter's misguided encouragement, and knows how to tackle the source directly, firmly and with authority.
'Go, Satan!' Jesus does not parley or negotiate with evil. He does not enquire about its nature, its family history, its hierarchy, its destiny, or stop to glean some useful details for his next lecture on demonology! Jesus deals with evil with contempt - not with fascination or interest. (For the Biblical basis for 'contempt' see the article Spiritual Warfare and the Ordinary Christian also on this website.)
The earliest Christian exorcism recorded outside of the New Testament is the one word exi (our word 'exit' without the 't') - the command to go out. One notable authority on Christian exorcism translated it as Git! Another possibility would be Scram! while the modern phrase Get the hell out of here! strikes the right notes both theologically and psychologically!
We acknowledge the reality of evil, but if we treat it with anything but contempt it can subtly ensnare us.
Get Behind Me, Satan!
Why did Jesus add the words 'behind me'? When Matthew, earlier in his Gospel, related Jesus's call of Peter, Jesus used the very same phrase.
We are so accustomed to the translation Follow me that it is a surprise to learn that what Jesus actually said (in Matthew's account) was Come behind me. Jesus did not use the verb to 'follow', just the adverb of place - 'behind'. The position of a follower is to be behind the leader, just as, for instance, in the east sheep go behind shepherds. (It is only in the west that we expect sheep to follow shepherds from the front!)
When Jesus said 'Get behind me, Satan' it will have reminded Peter of his original Call to be behind Jesus and following him, not in front of him and attempting to lead him. However high Peter's position would become, it could only ever be one of subordination to Jesus, never domination over him. (The word 'domination' comes from the Latin word for 'Lord'!)
If Peter has no right whatever to lead Jesus, Satan has even less! The command 'Get behind me, Satan!' prohibits the distortions that Satan was trying to introduce, and maintains everything strictly under the leadership of the Lord Jesus the Christ.
[There is a vast range of interpretation about what exactly was going on. What I have written is largely my own interpretation. It has, I believe, three things in its favour: it is basically simple, it fits the account and it is in harmony with Christian experience.]
d) But Who was Jesus addressing - Peter or Satan?
Matthew's account says of Jesus But he turned and said to Peter.
Although it was physically addressed to Simon Peter, that does not mean that it was not, in whole or in part, addressed to Satan. Jesus's reactions to situations were almost always those of a teacher.
So Jesus will have wanted Peter and the disciples to learn the truth about the invisible aspects of what was happening. In addressing Peter he made clear to all present who it was that, at that moment, was Satan's mouthpiece.
If Jesus had addressed empty space when he ousted Satan to save Peter embarrassment, neither Peter nor the disciples would have learned the very uncomfortable truth that Satan had managed to use their leader to tempt Jesus.
The command 'Get Behind Me, Satan!' drives both Peter and Satan away from any position whereby they might lead Jesus. For Peter, in addition, the words remind him of his true calling as a follower of Jesus. In my view it was a command to Peter and Satan, to put both of them (as we most aptly say) 'in their place'.
Jesus's contempt of evil is captured particularly well in The Message's translation: Satan get lost.
|Application||(back to top)|
1. Peter's Rebuke
2. Jesus's Rebuke
|Part V - Evil is Explained||(back to top)|
|1. A Stumbling Block|
Stumbling-block is variously translated - hindrance, obstacle, offence, and dangerous trap It provides a dramatic contrast to the rock. At one moment Peter is the stone on which Jesus will build: minutes afterwards he has become the stone against which Jesus might fall! What a warning there should be for us here!
Of course, the two are linked. If Peter had not first been Jesus's rock it is unlikely that he would ever have been Jesus's stumbling-block! Or to express it more clearly: if Jesus hadn't put Peter in a senior position, evil would not have targeted Peter to tempt Jesus.
To understand the link between Peter the rock and Peter the stumbling-block we need to remind ourselves that -
|2. Human Assumptions versus God's Plans||(back to top)|
Jesus, in the passage, explains in the simplest of terms how a leading Christian like Peter can become the mouthpiece of
Satan. If we translate his words literally he said:
'Because you do not think the things of God but the things of men.' - or, as we might express it, 'That's your human agenda - not God's!'
However it is translated, the truth is clear and - to my mind - terrifying!
The truth is that it is not just the few Satanists who are the agents of Satan.
We Christians can become Satan's agents when we act on human assumptions rather than discerning God's will and obeying it!
Peter was not being evil or unreasonable. He loved Jesus, and was being caring and sensible when he tried to reassure Jesus that his future need not be as bleak as he envisaged.
|Application||(back to top)|
|Part VI - Evil is Eclipsed||(back to top)|
|1. Affirmation Heals Rebuking|
Jesus treats Peter very kindly and carefully after his necessary rebuke of him. Jesus reaffirms Peter as the leader, and makes a point of selecting him, with two others, when he leaves the rest of the Apostles.
Jesus makes sure that Peter is present when God the Father reaffirms him for the second part of his ministry. The Father does so in words that are virtually identical to those heard at Jesus's Baptism when he affirmed Jesus for the first part of his ministry.
The pattern of events is up-and-down. Peter begins by affirming that Jesus is the Christ; then Peter plummets to the depths when Jesus exposes that Satan has used him.
But Jesus takes Peter to the next mountain-top, and they both leave behind what John Bunyon might have called the Valley of Rebuking!
Peter's Confession that Jesus is the Messiah / Christ was undoubtedly a mountain-top experience (humanly speaking) for Jesus himself. Now in this second mountain-top experience, it is not Peter that affirms Jesus, but the Heavenly Father himself. 'This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; ...'
God the Father gives Jesus a massive and symbolic 'YES' to his obedience in accepting a Messiahship that would lead to the Cross. Among other things, the Transfiguration must in some way have underlined for Jesus the future promise of Resurrection.
Like the blind man whom Jesus healed gradually, Peter ends up being able to see everything clearly.
|2. Relationships are Restored||(back to top)|
Often the truth hurts, but Jesus was not afraid to hurt Peter, if that would deal with evil. Peter's hurt could be healed.
At the mount of Transfiguration Peter says 'It is good for us to be here.' Matthew tells how the three disciples fell to the ground when they heard the heavenly voice. He then adds the beautiful verse -
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
'Get up and do not be afraid.'
At this point we could leave the story, neatly rounded-off.
|Application||(back to top)|
|Part VII - Evil is Beaten||(back to top)|
|1. Good versus Evil|
We have seen two 'mountain-top' experiences - Peter's affirmation of Jesus, and then the Father's affirmation at Jesus's
Between the two was the 'valley' of Peter's rebuke of Jesus and Jesus's rebuke of Peter.
We could have left the narrative on the second mountain-top, but that would have shifted the events away from us rather than nearer. It is more realistic to stay with the Gospel narrative as it descends to another valley. But in it Jesus wins his second victory.
The story, as told in Mark , goes thus:
A man comes to Jesus and asks him to cure his son who is an epileptic-demoniac (i.e. in this case his epileptic-behaviour was due to an evil spirit). The Father says that he had earlier brought him to Jesus's disciples but that they had been unable to heal him. Jesus asks for the boy to be brought. He questions the father, who describes his son's medical history and symptoms. Jesus 'rebuked the unclean spirit'. The boy collapses, is delivered and is healed.
|2. Discipline versus Disorder||(back to top)|
The disciples then privately ask Jesus why they had not managed to cast out the spirit. Jesus replies that 'This
kind can come out only through prayer' (and fasting).
|Application||(back to top)|
|Findings in Focus||(back to top)|
Here in summary are some of the main things that the above study has produced and their implications.
|Copyright John Richards 2004, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|