Our Adversary, the Devil
“Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
— I Peter 5:8–9
The historic Gospel pericope for Invocavit, the First Sunday in Lent, is Matthew 4:1–11, the Temptation of our Lord Jesus in the wilderness. The adversary in Christ’s temptation was Satan, or the devil. The devil is also our adversary. Our theme text, I Peter 5:8–9, tells us that we should always be on guard because our adversary, the devil, is always seeking to devour our soul and that we should resist him in steadfast Christian faith.
The Apostle begins with this sober warning: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). The Apostle calls upon each of us to be on constant guard against our chief spiritual enemy, the adversary of our soul, the devil. He also exhorts us to be “sober.” This term refers to mental self-control, being calm and collected in spirit, spiritually focused and attentive. It is sometimes used in contrast to being asleep or drunk: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and, for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:6–8). Note the action mentioned here: putting on spiritual armor in preparation for battle and being ready to fight with the necessary equipment to win the battle. This spiritual readiness and preparation was also stressed by the Apostle Peter earlier in his first epistle when he said: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). This is also the proper attitude we should have as we await Judgment Day. In chapter four Peter warns, “The end of all things is at hand. Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (v. 7).
Closely allied to this soberness is vigilance. This term refers to the state of being alert. Originally the word was derived from a word which means to have been roused from sleep, to be awake. To be “vigilant” is to be alert, watchful, and on guard. Our Lord used this word in admonition to the three disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Tarry ye here, and watch with Me…’ And He cometh unto the disciples and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, ‘What, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation! The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Matthew 26:38, 40–41). The Apostle Paul uses this term which is translated “watch” in admonishing the Ephesian pastors: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28–31). This use of the word is a clear parallel to its use in our title-text since danger to souls is the theme. Pastors and laymen alike are to be on the lookout for grievous wolves and the predator of souls, the devil. Paul admonishes us all: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13). “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Just as a shepherd must watch, alert to all predators, and as a soldier on guard duty must watch for every intrusion by the enemy, every Christian must also be alert and on guard, watchful and prepared.
The spiritual danger is real “because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). In the Holy Land the lion was the top predator, the king of beasts. “A lion…is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any” (Proverbs 30:30). Scripture speaks of the characteristics of the lion as a predator, referring to his fierceness, his great strength, his stalking ability, his great appetite for prey, his boldness, his lying in wait in secret places and sudden attacks, his roar as he strikes fear in his prey, his teeth and claws as terrible weapons, and his tearing of his prey into pieces. If one reads the words which describe the lion as a predator, no one should underestimate the danger a lion poses. The devil is likened unto a “roaring lion” in our text. He is the top predator of souls who “walketh about seeking whom he may devour,” stealthily and patiently stalking his intended prey. Who is his intended prey? You are! He is called “your adversary.” The term “adversary” is a court term: an opponent in a lawsuit, the one who is against you in court. The Hebrew word “Satan” means “adversary.” In our text he is also called “the devil.” The word “devil” means “false accuser, slanderer.” In Revelation 12 we find Satan called “the accuser of our brethren” (v. 10). Dr. Luther speaks of this work of the devil and how he handled him:
When the devil comes during the night to plague me, I give him this answer: Devil, I must sleep now; for this is God’s command: Work during the day, sleep at night. If he does not stop to vex me but faces me with my sins, I reply: Dear devil, I have heard the record. But I have committed still more sins which do not even stand in your record. Put them down, too… If he still does not stop accusing me as a sinner, I say to him in contempt: Holy Satan, pray for me! You never have done anything evil and alone are holy. Go to God and acquire grace for yourself. If you want to make me righteous, I tell you: Physician, heal yourself. (Plass, What Luther Says, #1191, Vol. I, pp. 403–404).
Luther, in sarcastic mockery, treats the devil with utter contempt! The devil tries to get us to despair over our sins and loves to accuse us. Remember how he slandered Job before God? “Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, ‘Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not Thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth Thine hand now and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee to Thy face’” (Job 1:9–11). In Zechariah 3 we read: “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee! Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the Angel. And He answered and spake unto those that stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And unto him He said, ‘Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.’ So they set a fair mitre upon his head and clothed him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by” (v. 1–5). Satan stands “to resist [us],” but God intervenes and rebukes him! Our Lord says, “The Lord rebuke thee” (v. 2). Here Christ is our Advocate. He is the solution to Satan’s attacks, as it is written: “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And He is the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1–2). Our Savior takes off from us all our filthy garments, those sinful rags of human righteousness. (“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6). He gives us a “change [of] raiment” and a “fair mitre” or crown, clothing us in His perfect righteousness. It is written of our Savior, our faithful witness in God’s court: He “loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father” (Revelation 1:5b–6a). Satan may howl and roar, hoping to strike fear and terror in our hearts with his accusations, but he cannot successfully accuse us because the Gospel assures us that all our sins have been paid for in full by Christ, and that we stand in perfect, white robes of righteousness before God, because our Savior kept the Law perfectly in our place. When Satan tries to use the Law against us, we should reply with Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” When Satan accuses us of sin, we can reply with I Timothy 1:15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” James tells us: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
How we are to resist him is clear: We are to use the one weapon stronger than Satan — God’s Word! “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day and, having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:12–17). The Word of God gives us all we need to battle this roaring lion. Against all Satan’s accusations we are assured that not one of them shall prevail in God’s court! It is written, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us… For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31–34, 38–39).
We must be on constant guard against Satan because he is constantly stalking us. Read what Luther remarks about the stealth of the devil:
And here mark well that he [Peter] says, “The devil goeth about.” He does not pass before your eyes when you are armed against him but explores the situation in front and behind, within and without, to determine where he may attack you. If he now tries you here, he will quickly turn there and attack you in another place. He charges from one side to the other and employs every kind of cunning and trick to seduce you. Although you are well armed in one place, he will attack you at another; and if he cannot overthrow you at that point either, he will yet again assault you somewhere else. Thus he never gives up, but he circles around you and never lets you rest in peace. Therefore we are fools and pay no attention; we go on without watching. This makes it easy for him to gain ground in us. (Ibid., #1176, Vol. I, pp. 399–400).
Always remember how Christ defeated the devil for us by paying for all our sins! It is written: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:13–15). We also triumph over Satan and his demon–angels in the cross! We know: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). He bruised the head of the serpent with a mortal blow on the cross: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14–15).
The devil seeks “whom he may devour.” Remember how Peter fell? He refused to listen to Christ’s direct warning and put his trust in himself! “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ And he said unto Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison and to death.’ And He said, ‘I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me’” (Luke 22:31–34). Peter failed to heed this warning against self trust. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Peter did not do what he exhorts us to do: “Resist [him] steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (I Peter 5:9). Remaining strong, firm and unmovable in the Christian faith is the only way we can withstand and resist the devil. We “fight the good fight” (I Timothy 6:12) by “holding faith and a good conscience” (I Timothy 1:19) and by remaining “established in the faith” (Acts 16:5a). Jude exhorts us all: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). This usage of the word “faith” refers to the Christian faith to which we hold, namely, the holy doctrine of God’s Word. We remain steadfast in doctrine by God-wrought faith, that is, confidence in the same. Paul exhorts Timothy: “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 3:14–15).
Remember how Satan misquoted God’s Word when he tempted and deceived Eve? We are not to be ignorant of his devices and his tactics, as he tries to deceive and seduce us. He tried the same tactic with Christ as he did with Eve by misquoting a portion of Scripture in the wilderness-temptation (cf. Matthew 4:1ff.). His masterwork today remains the Antichristian papacy, a monument to the perversion of God’s Word. The Antichrist is described in Scripture as “him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved” (II Thessalonians 2:9–10). Mark well that all those who fall victim to the Pope and his lies do so because “they received not the love of the truth.” And the result? “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thessalonians 2:12). Therefore, to resist Satan and all his deceptions requires belief in “the truth,” the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). This is why Satan constantly attacks God’s Word. If he can get a person to forsake the Word of God, “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17b), then that person has no weapon to use against him!
Christ taught us to cite Scripture against Satan when He replied, “It is written” as the authoritative refutation to every one of Satan’s deceptions (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). The devil knows that, as long as we wield God’s Word, we will have a weapon victorious over him, which is why he constantly works to get us to forsake God’s Word. Our Lord, therefore, admonishes us: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31b–32). The Word of God frees us from all bondage! Through the Gospel, we are no longer enslaved to sin, death, hell or Satan! And through the same Word, we are set free from error!
We resist the devil by remaining steadfast in the Christian faith, knowing that the same afflictions we are enduring are also being endured by our Christian brethren throughout the world. As long as we are in the world, we face our common adversary and must endure much tribulation (Acts 14:22; II Timothy 3:12). These are “the sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18). Our Lord had to endure the onslaughts of Satan; so we too must share in such sufferings (Philippians 3:10; I Peter 4:13), confident of our victory because of His victory over them in our place (Cf. Hebrews 2:18). Our common foe will not give up in his attempts to devour us, but our faithful God will deliver us from his hungry jaws! Peter concludes his first epistle with that certainty in the two verses immediately following our title-text: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10–11). And the Apostle Paul tells the Roman Christians, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20a). Here we see that, as Christians, we have the same victory over Satan as our Lord Jesus Christ! Let us live in that victory, by faith, every day for His Name’s sake!
— E. J. W.