Strangers And Aliens (23c): Lions Are Real (1 Peter 5:6–11)

6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 6Ταπεινώθητε οὖν ὑπὸ τὴν κραταιὰν χεῖρα τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα ὑμᾶς ὑψώσῃ ἐν καιρῷ, 7πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν, ὅτι αὐτῷ μέλει περὶ ὑμῶν. 8Νήψατε, γρηγορήσατε. ὁ ἀντίδικος ὑμῶν διάβολος ὡς λέων ὠρυόμενος περιπατεῖ ζητῶν [τινα] καταπιεῖν· 9ᾧ ἀντίστητε στερεοὶ τῇ πίστει εἰδότες τὰ αὐτὰ τῶν παθημάτων τῇ ἐν [τῷ] κόσμῳ ὑμῶν ἀδελφότητι ἐπιτελεῖσθαι. 10Ὁ δὲ θεὸς πάσης χάριτος, ὁ καλέσας ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν αἰώνιον αὐτοῦ δόξαν ἐν Χριστῷ [Ἰησοῦ], ὀλίγον παθόντας αὐτὸς καταρτίσει, στηρίξει, σθενώσει, θεμελιώσει. 11αὐτῷ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν.

v. 8: Being Sober In Light Of The Adversary
Occasionally, in Scripture, we are given glimpses of the spiritual realities behind the scenes, as it were. One thinks of the chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:15–17) that surrounded Elisha. They were present but unseen until Yahweh opened the servant’s eyes. In Zechariah 3:1–2 we are given a glimpse of a scene in which Satan is accusing Joshua the high priest. There is too that mysterious note in 2 Chronicles 21:1 in which Satan is said to have “stood up against Israel” (NASB95) and provoked David to perform a census in Israel. The spiritual realities and battles to which we are given an occasional glimpse burst, however, through the back curtain and on to center stage during the earthly ministry of our Savior Jesus. In the gospels we see Satan tempting Christ (e.g., Matt 4:1–11). He enters Judas (John 13:27) and demonic activity seems to increase dramatically during Jesus’s ministry (e.g., Matt 8:16; 8:29; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; 17:18).

Most of us in the developed world, especially in the West and in the Northern Hemisphere, see lions only in exhibits and zoos. Just a few miles from where I teach is what locals know as the “Wild Animal Park” (now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park) has a Lion Camp. In the Ancient world, however, lions were not an attraction but a threat. The psalmists frequently invokes the lion as a metaphor for both spiritual and military threats (e.g., Ps 7:1; 10:8; 22:13; 91:13). What makes the vision of the coming of the Messiah so striking in Isaiah 11 is the reversal of the natural order in which a lion, rather than eating fresh kill, eats straw like the ox (Isa 11:6–9). This eschatological promise would take on even greater meaning in the second century, of course, when Christians were thrown to “the wild beasts” by Romans for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as a manifestation of a god, for denying the Greco-Roman pantheon, and for refusing the renounce Christ.

Peter’s identification of Satan with the lion would have made perfect sense to these nervous Christians in Asia Minor to whom Peter wrote. The sobriety (Νήψατε) to which he calls us is spiritual. In the New Testament this verb (νήφω) occurs 6 times, 4 of which occur in the context of Christ’s return (1 Thess 5:6, 8; 1 Pet 1:13; 4:7). Paul calls Pastor Timothy to be “sober in everything” (2 Tim 4:5). The enemy for which the Christians of Asia Minor (and the rest of us as well) must watch is not ultimately those who seek to put us to the sword for bearing the name of Christ but those who seek to destroy us spiritually by leading us away from Christ, his gospel, and his church. Thus, we must “watch” (γρηγορήσατε), pay attention. The criticism from pagan masters, neighbors, and co-workers is painful and humiliating but we have an opponent (ὁ ἀντίδικος) who is much more dangerous than they.

Jesus warns us to settle with one’s earthly, legal accuser (ἀντιδίκῳ; Matt 5:25). We may not settle with this adversary, however! In Luke 18:3 the same noun is translated “adversary.” That is certainly the sense here. Yes, we have been bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20). Our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong, in body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus (Heidelberg Catechism 1) but it is also true that we are still in the midst of a spiritual battle. The Evil One has been defeated at the cross. The Second Adam has conquered that ancient dragon (Rev 3:21) and he will soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20). Jesus is the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” who has conquered (Rev 5:5). Still, he patrols (περιπατεῖ), as it were, “as a roaring lion.” He is seeking ( ζητῶν) to devour (καταπιεῖν). We may not, we must not underestimate the danger of the Evil One.

If the earliest Christians faced martyrdom (as do our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in parts of Africa and elsewhere today) one of the greatest dangers faced by late-modern westerners is that of thinking that the universe is closed, that spiritual realities have been banished by the Enlightenment to the pre-modern mythologies. The fall is not a myth. The cross and the resurrection are no myths. Christ’s return shall be an empirical fact with which arrogant, close-minded moderns shall have to reckon, but, of course, it will be too late then.

Next time: We are not alone.

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