Jesus was responding to observing an argument between his 12 close disciples wherein they were fighting over who would be the leader:
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (Luke 22:24)What does this mean? The word "greatest" here is being translated from the Greek word μέγας (megas). This word can refer to someone who is the biggest or greatest, but more specifically, "predicated of rank, as belonging to persons, eminent for ability, virtue, authority, power."
In other words, they were arguing over who was going to be the leader - the spiritual teacher - after Jesus left. Jesus had been telling them that his body was going to be killed - so they were fighting over who would succeed him as leader.
We should note also that Jesus is speaking directly to Peter - so this tells us that Peter was taking a stand for him being the leader after Jesus left. We can also see this characteristic of Peter in other texts, including the Gospel of Mary.
Yet we see from Jesus' statement above that Jesus is attempting to humble him. He knows Peter will fall away and deny Jesus in order to protect himself. This is why he says here: "And when you have turned back ..."
The phrase, "turned back" indicates that Peter will deny being a follower of Jesus, but will then have a change of heart and return as a pledged follower.
Notice that Jesus is himself taking the humble position of follower. Jesus says, "But I have prayed for..." Jesus is telling Peter and his other disciples that he doesn't call the shots. Jesus is saying that he is devoted to God - and that's why he has prayed over the matter.
Notice also that Jesus says "your brothers" here ("...strengthen your brothers..."). He doesn't want Peter to see himself as the leader and the others as his followers. (Otherwise he would have said "your followers" or "your subordinates".) Rather, he wants Peter to see Jesus' other disciples as peers, not subordinates.
We see Peter's confidence in his devotion as he answers Jesus:
"Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33)Peter is feeling pretty confident of his devotion to Jesus. This kind of pride was precisely why the argument broke out about who was going to be the leader.
Of course, then Jesus famously replies to Peter's statement with:
"I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:34)Why is this important? Most sectarian teachers talk about the fact that Jesus knew ahead of time what Peter was going to do. But this wasn't the point.
The point is that Peter, who felt confident in his devotion, wasn't able to stand up for his being a follower of Jesus when there was a challenge. Why?
Pride. Being proud to be such a great follower.
This element of pride is critical to any of us who seeks to travel the path home to our loving relationship with the Supreme Being. Even those who have achieved an elevated position of devotion may be subject to pride: In this case, being proud of our devotion.
This pride is in fact, what Jesus is describing as "Satan" here, when he says:
"Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat."The word "Satan" comes from the Greek word Σατανᾶς (Satanas) - which means according to the lexicon, "adversary (one who opposes another in purpose or act)."
So is there a guy - the devil - running around who is the adversary of God, making everyone sin?
Such a philosophy is pretty convenient isn't it? It's a great way not to take responsibility for our own decisions. If we can blame all our bad decisions on someone else - e.g., "the devil made me do it" - then we're just great aren't we? 'It's not my fault - I'm great. But there is this bad guy hanging around, making me sin.'
Have you ever heard of the phrases, "poor loser" or "poor sport"? These refer to someone who loses in a sport or other type of contest, and after his loss, he says that the other side cheated. What is he doing? He's blaming his losing on someone else. He doesn't want to take responsibility.
Well, this is what sectarian teachers that claim to represent Jesus are teaching their followers to do. They teach that we should put all the blame for our sinning onto Satan so we don't have to take any responsibility.
They teach that this guy Satan rebelled against God and became God's challenger. And all the bad stuff that happens here in this world is because of the devil. That Satan has gotten out of control and he has taken control over the world and is leading everyone astray. So the devil is responsible for sinning, and all the suffering of the world.
Why do they teach this philosophy? Because this is what people want. If they teach what people want, they will get plenty of followers.
They want people to feel good about themselves, so they will keep following them. This is also why many of these teachers teach that we need to love ourselves before we can love others.
This is called the self-esteem teaching. The idea is that we can pump ourselves up and love ourselves - and think that we are just great. If they teach these feel-good things, then people will follow them. And this is ultimately what they want - followers.
But unfortunately, these teachings are inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus and all of the Prophets. Yes, each of us is a child of God and we are inherently great because we are a spark of the Greatest Person - the Supreme Being.
But at the moment most of us in the physical world are not acting within that greatness. We have become rather selfish. Just look around and see all the hatred and violence that occurs in this world. And the greed. People fight each other in order to get what they want. As a result, we hear about people being shot practically every day. We hear about people who are starving because their governments won't allow them to freely propagate or receive food. We hear about people blowing up innocent people in order to make some kind of statement. We hear about people robbing other people. We hear about people raping others. We hear about people vandalizing others. We hear about people taking advantage of others in one way or another.
Are these great people, and some guy named Satan is making them do this bad stuff? Or perhaps these are people who should just love themselves more?
No. These are people who love themselves too much. They are self-centered. And they are responsible for their decisions to hurt others. This is the reason behind the long-held teaching, 'as you sow, so shall you reap.' If Satan was doing all the sinning, then he should reap, right? Why wouldn't the teaching say, 'as Satan sows, so shall Satan reap' then?
And Jesus stated to a man he just healed of blindness:
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)If the devil was making everyone sin, then why didn't Jesus acknowledge it? Why would he even instruct the guy to stop if it was Satan who makes people sin?
The reality is, this teaching (that the devil is responsible for sinning) is not consistent with either Jesus' teachings or the teachings of the Prophets. None of these have instructed their students that the devil is responsible for sinning and we are not.
Besides, if the devil is responsible, then how could a person have a change of heart - and repent, as all of these teachers have taught?
Yes, Jesus and all the Prophets taught their students to take responsibility for their sins. Jesus requested that his students ask God for forgiveness for our sins in the Lord's Prayer:
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." (Luke 11:4)To ask God for forgiveness means that we are taking responsibility for our sins. Why would a person ask forgiveness unless they accepted that they were responsible?
Yes, we are each responsible for our sinning. In the human form of life, we have the intelligence to understand the consequences of our actions much of the time: When we understand that an action we take will hurt someone else, and we go ahead and do it, when we have an option to not do it, then we are sinning. We have made the decision.
But there is a deeper element involved as well. Just consider Jesus' next statement in the Lord's prayer -
"And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:4)Remember that with the Lord's prayer, Jesus is instructing his students on how to pray to God. Why would God lead us into temptation? Isn't it the devil that does that? Doesn't God have a challenger - Satan - who leads us into temptation?
This is the sectarian philosophy - which not only relieves people of responsibility. It also creates a boogyman. It creates a bad guy who the church can supposedly protect people from.
This is why, for example, later versions of the Book of Luke have added this statement onto the end of Luke 11:4: "but deliver us from the evil one."
Yes, early church scribes added this to Jesus' original instruction. They weren't happy with Jesus' clear teaching that God can lead people into temptation.
Why would God lead us into temptation? Because God allows us to go after and accomplish our desires. And for those who might be trying to become devoted to Him, He leads us into temptation in order to test us - along with giving us a choice. In other words, He gives us the freedom - and the facility - to reject Him and go off and do what we want.
And sorry, but the Supreme Being doesn't have any challengers. The Supreme Being is in full control here. He has never lost control. No one has gotten in control over the world. And certainly there is no one who has taken over sinning and is responsible for all sinning.
However, the Supreme Being did create a world where each of us has the freedom to make choices. He created a dimension where we could assume temporary identities and act out our desires. This is why these physical bodies are temporary. They only last 50 to 100 years because these bodies are temporary vehicles. They are like cars we drive for awhile.
But these temporary vehicles - these physical bodies - allow each of us to take on a temporary identity and act out our dreams. We get to make decisions. We get to carry out our wishes.
What is this? This is a facility to act out our self-centeredness. We get to act out, so to speak.
We might compare what's going on in the physical world with video games. Video games are programmed facilities where someone can take on a temporary identity (an icon or avatar) and be led from one situation to another. In each situation, there is a choice. And each choice leads to certain consequences. So if the player makes the right choices, they might score a lot of points.
But the game the person decides to play - what is this? It is a way for the person to express their particular desires. For example, a person might want to go out and kick some ass - right? So they log onto a video game that allows them to karate chop people to death - or shoot people.
Or a person might choose a video game that builds cities, for example. Here there is no violence - only creativity. So the game one chooses depends on upon one's temperment and desires.
Still, each video game does come with an array of consequences, some of which are tied to a score. But some consequences are tied to the game. Let's say that the player's game avatar karate chops a friend rather than someone who was attacking them. Then the game might put the avatar in jail for awhile, say.
These of course depend upon the game's programming, right? Where does that come from? It comes from the person or persons who programmed the game in the first place. A programmer might set up the game so that at location one, the player could shoot a gun, or do a karate chop, or shake hands with the opponent for example. The program would set it up so that each choice comes with a consequence.
In programming language, this would be called an "IF/THEN" statement. The program code would say "IF this option is chosen, THEN this happens."
Well, this is almost precisely what is taking place in the physical world, except the consequences are real. The physical world is a dimension that has been programmed by the Supreme Being - but with one major difference: The programming is so good that anyone in it forgets their real identity and completely identifies with their avatar. We completely forget who we are and identify with these temporary physical bodies. Yes, these bodies are real - but they are not us: Just as a car is real but when a driver gets into a car he doesn't become the car.
But like the video game, the physical world has been programmed with a myriad of choices and consequences to each choice. Each choice in this world comes with an IF/THEN statement: A consequence, in other words. This life is in fact, a world of choices, connected with a world of consequences.
This is not a random thing, either. The consequences that play out are consistent. And this is the reason for the expression, 'history repeats itself.'
It is not that history is repeating itself, because there are different people making choices at different times and situations. Rather, because of the consistent programming of choices and consequences in this world - by God's design - similar choices create similar consequences.
This happens on a one-on-one basis as well. If a guy walks up to another guy and slugs him, the guy will likely slug him back. Or the guy will get arrested for inciting violence. These are common consequences. Why? Because they have been programmed in to the physical world.
But this programming doesn't mean that we don't have the freedom of choice. The guy who slugs another guy could easily stop and think, 'maybe I shouldn't hurt someone else,' and then decide not to do it. Such a decision would completely change his future.
In the same way, each of us has - in every situation - a particular set of choices that we can make. Each choice comes with not just one consequence: Rather, each choice comes with an array of consequences and situations that lead us to other choices and consequences.
It is an array. An assembly of choices and consequences, each of which leads us to another.
Why? Why is the world set up like this?
First, because each of us rejected our innate loving relationship with God. We wanted to get away from Him. Just as the video game player wanted to get away from his life of responsibility and go act out his fantasies in the video game, we wanted to get away from our life with the Supreme Being and act out our fantasies. So He created the physical dimension for us, and these temporary physical bodies.
But along with these, He created choices and consequences. To help us learn. And grow.
If, for example, He just created an unlimited fantasy environment that had no consequences - just the freedom to act out our desires at the expense of others - would there be any learning experience? Would there be any chance that we would change from our self-centered consciousness and learn to love? Could we ever return home to Him - to the spiritual realm where love is the primary consciousness of its citizens?
No, because there would be no way out. Choices and consequences are a facility for us to learn and change. A way for us to return home to our relationship with Him.
Just think if a person could enter into a video game that was unlimited in its power and pleasure and had no way to turn off or exit the game. Everyone who entered the game would never return. They'd be stuck in the game forever. Would that be a fair thing to do?
No. The Supreme Being is fair. Yes, He did give us the freedom to decide whether we wanted to love Him or not. Yes, He did give us a world where we could act out our fantasies - and pretend that we are great - even pretend we are gods if we want. And yes, we could even stay here forever if we wanted to. He has set it up so that if we want to remain away from Him - the world will continue to lead us astray.
But He also gave us a way out. He set up choices and consequences to help teach us - to help guide us back home to Him. He also has sent His representatives - Jesus and the Prophets - to bring back those who want to return home to Him.
So what about "Satan"? How does this fit in? Jesus did talk about "Satan" yes?
Yes and no. The correct translation would be "the Adversary." This is a symbolic metaphor. A metaphor that describes our ability to make the wrong choices. This is expressed within the format of Jesus' statement:
"Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat."or, as translated in the Devotional Translations:
The real adversary, in fact, is self-centeredness. This is the cause of pride, greed, lust, violence, hatred and so many other faults - which are adversarial to our path back home to our relationship with God.
And what is self-centeredness the adversary of? It is the adversary of love. It is the opposite of love. When we are self-centered, we cannot truly love - with no expectation of return. We might say "I love you," but we cannot truly love when we are self-centered.
And yes, self-centeredness can easily be personalized. Because self-centeredness is a force common to each of us, one could express that self-centeredness is a common adversary. And we might even say this is an adversary of God - because the Supreme Being is all about love. The Supreme Being unconditionally loves each of us, and wants us to return to our loving relationship with Him - because that is what will make us happy.
The Supreme Being also maintains some self-centeredness, and this ultimately is where we get ours from. But because He is unlimited, He has the capacity to have unconditional love for everyone and be self-centered at the same time.
We don't have that capacity. We were created by Him to love and serve Him - but this love must be offered freely. So He gave us the choice - the choice to be loving or self-centered.
That is our overall choice. Each of us can make that choice, and live with the consequences of that choice. If we choose to learn to love and serve Him - and love others - then He will guide us, and we will return home to Him and become fulfilled.
If we choose to remain self-centered, then we will continue to reject our relationship with Him. We will continue to chase self-centered fantasies and remain in a perpetual state of emptiness. And to boot, we will suffer the myriad of consequences for each of the choices we make as we pursue our self-centered desires.
It's our choice. Because love requires the freedom not to love.