Question: "What does it mean that Satan wanted to sift Peter as wheat (Luke 22:31)?"
Answer: At the Last Supper, Jesus warned Simon Peter that a test of faith was coming: “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31, NKJV). The outspoken disciple seemed to be in the same predicament as Job when Satan sought to put him to the test (Job 1—2). Satan wanted to “sift Peter as wheat,” which means that he wished to shake Peter’s faith so forcefully that he would fall, proving that God’s faithful servant was lacking.
It was not just Peter who was in danger, though. The word for “you” in Luke 22:31 is plural. Jesus was speaking to Peter, informing him that Satan had his sights set on all the disciples. Some translations, such as the Berean Study Bible, specify the whole group: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.”
The name Satan means “adversary” or “accuser.” He accuses God’s people of doing wrong (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10). As Peter would later testify, the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Sift as wheat is a metaphor that could also be expressed as “shake someone apart” or “break a person down.” Amos 9:9 gives us a similar image of God shaking Israel: “For I will give the command and will shake Israel along with the other nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, yet not one true kernel will be lost” (NLT).
In biblical times, wheat or other grain was sifted through a sieve or large strainer. As it was shaken violently, the dirt and other impurities that clung to the grain during the threshing process would separate from the good, usable grain.
In sifting Peter and the other disciples as wheat, Satan’s goal was to crush them and wreck their faith. In truth, the adversary wants to destroy the faith of every believer (John 10:10). But Jesus assured Peter, “I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32, NLT). Peter’s leadership role in the early church proved that the Lord’s prayer for Peter was answered.
Jesus did not promise to remove Peter’s impending test. On the contrary, He predicted that Peter would fail the test by denying Christ three times (Luke 22:34). Trials are to be expected in the Christian life. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” say the missionaries in Acts 14:22. God uses these experiences for our good (Romans 8:28), to refine our character and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6–7; James 1:2–4,12), and to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).
Whenever we do experience a test, Jesus is with us to strengthen us and intercede for us (Philippians 4:13; Romans 8:26–39). In challenging times, it’s reassuring to remember that Satan’s power to sift Peter as wheat was limited by Christ’s intercession. When Satan comes after us, we should remember that Jesus Christ always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Jesus was confident that Simon Peter would get back up again and go on to strengthen the other disciples. Another reason the Lord allows us to suffer through experiences of testing is so we can learn how to help others grow in faith: “Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6, NLT).
Before Peter’s threefold denial, he was overconfident, trusting in his own strength (Luke 22:33). But after being sifted like wheat, Peter learned that failure is possible because the flesh is weak (see Mark 14:38). Now that he understood how easy it is to fall, Peter would have compassion and mercy for others while helping them avoid the same mistake.
Our true faith and perseverance are revealed not in a walk of sinless perfection but in repentance and restoration. We get up and keep going, like Peter, after we fall. When Satan comes to sift us as wheat, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us (John 17:9, 11, 15). He will protect us so that the devil can never destroy our faith and hope (John 10:27–28; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus Christ began a good work in us, and He is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).