The Temptation of Jesus
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, February 9, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
Jesus came from Nazareth at the age of thirty to the desert of Judea that he might be baptized by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God the Father declared from heaven, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." In this declaration Jesus was being identified both as the Son of God and as the Suffering Servant. He is both the King to whom nations are given as inheritance, as we read in Psalm 2, and the Suffering Servant that we read about in the book of Isaiah, especially chapter 53. As the anointed Messiah Jesus had to suffer before entering into his glory.
Jesus was baptized by John in view of the baptism of suffering on the cross that was awaiting him. Truly Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Who Is the Devil?
After his baptism, "Jesus was led by the Spirit," we read in Matthew 4:1 "into the desert to be tempted by the devil." In his gospel Luke says, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit"--the Spirit of God that came upon him in baptism-- "in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil" (Luke 4:1,2). This idea of being led by the Spirit tells us of the complete submission of Jesus Christ to the will of his Father. And what was God's will for Jesus at that time? To experience temptation at the hands of the devil.
Now, we must recognize that there is a personal devil who is the chief of all personal demons. This devil and his demons oppose God, Christ, his holy church, and all that is good and righteous. This is reality. The story is told of Martin Luther who, when he was once tempted by the devil, took his ink bottle and threw it at him. Even today you can see the ink on the wall of his room. This devil, called Satan, opposes God, his Christ, and the people of his church on a daily basis.
All unbelievers are under the management of this evil spirit and they all obey him, as we read many places in the Scriptures, especially in Ephesians 2. The word devil means slanderer and the name Satan means adversary, meaning this evil spirit opposes God. In Revelation 12:9 we read that the devil leads the whole world astray. He also speaks to Christians on a daily basis and urges them to do evil. But here we read that the Holy Spirit took the initiative to lead the Messiah into the wilderness to be tempted by the personal agency of this devil.
What Is Temptation?
The word tempt means to be solicited by the devil to do evil, but it also means to be tested by God so that we may prove faithful to him. Temptation is always testing and testing is always temptation, just as God tested Abraham in the matter of the sacrificing of his son (Gen. 22).
When a person is tempted, we know that the devil is present, either personally or through his delegated authority of demons. Because the devil is a creature, he is not omnipresent and must work through other agents, whether demons or people. When a person is tempted, either the devil or one of his representatives is there. But thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit also is there, and this Holy Spirit is infinite God who is for us.
The devil is a fallen creature who is against us. But if we trust God in the temptation, we shall be given grace to resist the devil successfully. Why? God is for us. Not only does he want us to win, he will cause us to win, as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide you a way out so that you can stand up under it." What an encouragement!
The Temptation of Jesus
Although Jesus was the sinless Son of God, he was not beyond temptation. In Hebrews 2:18 we read, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.
However, the temptation of Jesus was unique. Satan tempted Jesus in terms of the mission which God gave him. Satan tempted Christ to act independently of and contrary to the will of his Father. Satan tempted Jesus to avoid the path of the cross--the path of suffering and humiliation.
Of course, there is mystery in the idea of the temptation of Jesus. How could the sinless Jesus could ever be tempted? We can talk about whether Jesus was able not to sin--posse non peccare --or whether he was unable to sin--non posse peccare . But there is mystery here just like there is mystery in all of Scripture. Haven't you ever wondered how sin originated from the heart of sinless Adam and how Adam's guilt was imputed to every son of Adam? Or how our guilt was imputed to Christ and how Christ's righteousness is imputed to us? Have you ever questioned how Jesus could be both God and perfect man--how in his divine person he could take on a perfect human nature? We can ask all these questions but there is a certain mystery which we cannot know on this side of heaven. Now we see through a glass darkly but then we shall see face to face. But we know that Jesus was temptable and that he was tempted. He suffered and learned obedience through temptation.
The Temptation of Two Men
The history of humanity revolves around two representative men--the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus. The first Adam was tempted when he was in paradise. Satan came to him, not when he was famished, but in the midst of the beautiful garden of the Lord where he had plenty to eat. Yet we are told that Adam yielded to Satan's temptation and sinned against God. And through the actions of this first Adam all human beings became sinners subject to death.
In the fullness of time Jesus, who is called the second or last Adam, came. After Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert, into Jeshimon, which means devastation, where he ate nothing for forty days and forty nights. At the end of that time Jesus was famished, but there was nothing to eat--only stones. The devil came to Jesus at this vulnerable point in his life, and what was he trying to do? He wanted to turn Jesus away from the path of submission and obedience to God the Father that he was walking on.
Unlike Adam, Jesus was successful in this temptation and defeated Satan, conquering him through his obedience to the Father. In Jesus, therefore, all his people have succeeded. We read this theology in Romans 5:19, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners . . ." meaning we received shame, misery, guilt, condemnation and death from the actions of the first Adam. But praise be to God! That is not the end of the sentence. ". . . so also through the obedience of the one man many will be made righteous."
Obedience Triumphs over Temptation
In the power of the Spirit Jesus defeated the devil and remained loyal as a Son to his Father. As Jesus resisted the devil by the Spirit and word of God, he drove the devil away and defeated his kingdom. Soon afterwards Jesus returned to Galilee and in the power of the Holy Spirit he began to cast out demons, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and preach the good news to the poor. What was happening? The kingdom of God had come.
Jesus had power through his submission and obedience to God the Father. Now we know that the war with Satan continued throughout his earthly ministry until Jesus went to the cross. As we read in Colossians 2:15, "having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them by triumphing over them on the cross." But the kingdom of God, which was announced by John to be near, now manifested in the ministry of Jesus after the temptation in the desert. The strong man, the devil, was bound.
In Matthew 12:28 Jesus said, "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Soon he would say, "Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:31-32). By the cross Jesus drove out the devil and his demons. The prince of this world came but he had no hold on Jesus. The prince of this world was judged and condemned by Jesus.
Through temptation Satan tried to turn Jesus away from the cross. Later on even his own disciple Peter counseled him to avoid the cross, but Jesus refused again. He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matt. 16:23). Praise God for the obedience of our Lord in the face of temptation!
The First Temptation
As we read in Matthew 4:1-3, Jesus was approached by Satan with three temptations at the end of a forty-day fast. Notice how crafty Satan is! He always tempts us when we are most vulnerable. He comes when we are physically weak or when our child is sick and dies. He comes when we are promoted and successful. He comes when we are downcast and depressed. Satan knows when to come.
The first temptation was based on the personal need of Jesus. The Holy Spirit had led Jesus into the desert where there were wild animals but no food. After forty days and nights of fasting, Jesus was famished, and it was then that Satan came to tempt him. We do not know if the temptation took place in the form of a vision or literally, but it reminds us of the time when God led the people of Israel into the wilderness and humbled them by causing them to hunger. Why did he do this? He wanted to see what was in their hearts and to see whether they would be loyal to him or not (Deut. 8:2-3). At that time the Israelites chose to murmur against Jehovah.
Now we see the true Israelite, Jesus Christ, in the wilderness, and like he did with the people of Israel, God was humbling Jesus and causing him to suffer hunger. (PGM) The question is, would Jesus murmur against the Father, who had just declared, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased"?
It was at this moment that Satan came to Jesus with the first temptation. He began "If you are the Son of God. . . ." Now, Satan did not mean that Jesus's sonhood was doubtful. What Satan was saying was, "Jesus, because you are the Son of God, as you heard your Father say at the time of your baptism, then you know that you have the power and authority of God himself. Aren't you hungry? And isn't eating a legitimate activity? We both know this is a wilderness and there is no food here. But don't you think it would be all right to make stones into bread? After all, you are the Son of God and have power to command the stones to become bread. It would be so simple, and then you could eat. So, Jesus, why don't you go ahead and prove yourself as Son? Make some bread. It would be ridiculous for the Son of God to go hungry when he could do something about it, wouldn't it?"
"It Is Written"
How did Jesus reply to Satan? He began, "It is written. . ." What does that mean? "It is written" means that God's word is the unchanging authority at all times. It means that God's word is the unchanging rule for us to live by. It means that Jesus believed in the absolute authority of the Scriptures.
I have met people who do not believe in the Bible. Some of those people consider themselves to be very educated. But I would say that they have not understood the Bible according to Jesus. What did Jesus say? "It is written. . ."
To Jesus the Bible was the unchanging authority for all times. It was the absolute authority for all of his life. His delight was in the law of the Lord while he was growing up in Nazareth. He studied the word of God, internalized it, and loved it. He grew up in wisdom, we are told in Luke 2:52. Wisdom is the fear of the Lord and submission to God's authoritative word. Wisdom is obedience to God's word.
Jesus was in the wilderness when Satan came, and I do not think he had a copy of the Bible with him. But for thirty years he had listened to the word of God and stored it up in his mind and heart. It was a lamp and a light to him. It was alive within him.
As Satan tempted Jesus, the Spirit of God reminded him of the Holy Scriptures. In his mind Jesus remembered Deuteronomy 8 which speaks about how God tested his people and humbled them, causing them to hunger to see what was in their hearts. He remembered that their hearts became disloyal to God and they murmured against him. And so Jesus thought of Deuteronomy 8:3, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
Jesus knew that man needs bread to sustain his life, but the word of God alone guarantees life. The word of God is superior to physical bread. God's creative and omnipotent word--the word that created the universe out of nothing, the word that sustains the universe, the word that is better than life itself-- is better than bread.
Jesus probably also remembered how Moses was with God forty days and forty nights without eating and drinking. He was sustained, and we are not even told anywhere that he hungered. God can sustain us with his supernatural, creative, and powerful word.
Therefore, when Satan tempted Jesus, I am sure that Jesus reasoned in this manner: "God led me into the wilderness as he led the Israelites into the wilderness. There is no food here, but he knows that I need food, so I know that he will sustain me in his own way. Thus, I will not murmur as the Israelites did. I will trust God and wait for him to direct me by his word. Just as Elijah was once fed by the angels, God will feed me in his own time. I will not act independently of my Father. I came to obey him fully and my food is to do the will of God and finish it. Therefore, Satan, you cannot deflect me from my purpose to fulfill my divine commission." And we notice that at the end of the three temptations God sent angels to minister to Jesus.
The Second Temptation
The second temptation had to do with a public spectacle. In a vision or literally Jesus was led to the highest place in the temple complex--the pinnacle of the outer wall, probably the southeast corner of the wall which overlooked the Kidron Valley more than one hundred feet below.
What was Satan's temptation? "Now, Jesus," Satan was probably saying, "aren't you the Son of God who can do all things? Now I understand that you believe in the Bible and its authority and you will not do anything contrary to Scripture. But let me ask you about a scripture." You see, the devil knows Scripture, isn't that true? "You see, I also believe in God's word and tremble. But Jesus, I want to ask you about Psalm 91:11-12. Doesn't it say, 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'? My question is, why don't you cast yourself down, Jesus? Won't God command angels to bear you up and prevent any harm from coming to you?
We can imagine how the devil would continue to taunt Jesus. "This would be such a great feat, Jesus. It would give you instant popularity among the people. Then you would certainly be known as the Messiah. Besides, isn't there a rabbinical tradition that says that when the King Messiah reveals himself, he will come and stand on the roof of the Holy Place? And Jesus, you really have nothing to worry about. Isn't this the holy city where God dwells? His presence is so thick in this place. I know he would never forget you."
Finally, the devil would conclude, "So, Jesus, I urge you: Jump! Be popular! Receive the acclamation from people. Be the popular Messiah rather than the suffering Messiah. Say goodbye to this path of humiliation, this suffering servant idea. Forget about everything and jump!"
Using Scripture to Provoke God
Let me assure you, the devil may believe in the Scripture but he interprets it falsely. And many Christian people interpret Scripture the same way the devil interprets it. They pick and choose verses to prove their particular interests.
The devil uses scriptures to oppose Scripture. The devil uses scriptures in the same manner that liberal theologians and cult leaders use them. He refuses to believe in the unity of Scripture and that scriptura ex scriptura explicanda est --scripture is explained by Scripture.
How should we understand this passage of Scripture that the devil was using to tempt Jesus? Psalm 91 speaks about God's protection for those who are godly, who trust in him implicitly and dwell in his presence. It does not speak of God's protection of those who act rashly, of those who manipulate God, of those who provoke God, of those who challenge God, and of those who demand that God act in a certain way.
Like the devil, many Christians use scriptures to provoke God. Suppose you are a student and you come to church and say, "I am not going to study or anything. God will take care of me." That is provoking God. That is the devil's way of interpreting Scripture. Suppose you are a person who refuses to take care of your body but you want perfect health. What would you say? "God will take care of me as I indulge in every vice." Suppose you want to be wealthy but you refuse to work. What do you say? "God, you are supposed to provide for me. Now do it!" That is provoking God. Suppose you want to be saved and yet refuse to make use of the means of grace. Suppose you want your children to grow up as obedient children, submissive to God's word, and yet you refuse to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. All that is provoking God. All that represents demonic use of Scripture.
Let Scripture Explain Scripture
Jesus exegeted that particular passage in Psalm 91 in the light of the totality of Scripture, particularly Deuteronomy 6:16. From his vast knowledge of Scripture, he cited a passage that prohibits us from putting the Lord our God to the test. He knew that when Satan said, "Jump from the pinnacle of the wall into the bottom of the Kidron Valley, and an angel will bear you up," to do so would be provoking God. So Jesus was saying, "Don't you understand, devil, that there is a word that says 'Thou shalt not test the Lord your God'?" From the Scriptures Jesus knew that God tests us but we are not allowed to test him. We are to trust God, pray to God, and wait for God, but provoking God is strictly prohibited.
Once again Jesus used Scripture in the power of the Spirit and defeated Satan. Jesus understood that there is no greater authority than the Scripture. He refused to act independently of his Father to gain instant publicity as a popular, wonder-working Messiah. Instead, he chose the path of humiliation for our salvation.
The Third Temptation
The third temptation represented the goal of all temptation--demon worship, Satan worship, idolatry. It was the mother of all temptations.
We are told the devil took Jesus, either in a vision or literally, to a very high mountain. And Luke tells us that the devil showed Jesus, in an instant, all the kingdoms of the world in all of their glory and splendor. Notice, Satan carefully hid the corruption of these kingdoms and showed only the external splendor--the art, the architecture, the armies, the wealth, the power, the thrones, the banquets, the beautiful women. "All sovereignty, all glory, all splendor, all authority, all power," Satan was telling Jesus, "is mine." Now please do not believe Satan when he says that. He is not known for truth. "And I have the privilege to give all of these kingdoms to whomever I want."
What was the price? "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me," Satan told Jesus. The price was Satan worship, in other words. Why? Satan craves for worship. Only God is to be worshiped, but Satan, in his opposition to God, wants to be God and seeks to be worshiped. And let me tell you, billions of people in the world worship Satan on a daily basis. Most religions are teaching this one thing: to worship Satan.
Now we must ask a question: Can Satan give us anything? No. Why? He owns nothing. If Satan owned anything, then God would not be sovereign. But God is sovereign and he owns all. Whatever power Satan exercises over his demons and wicked people is given to him by divine permission. We are told in the Bible that when believers walk wickedly, God even hands them over to Satan for him to deal with them. Satan is simply a tool of God.
Satan Offers a Shortcut
Satan offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Did Jesus believe Satan? No. Why? He knew who Satan was.
In John 8:44 we read what Jesus said about Satan. He told some people, "You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." That ought to tell us not to believe in Satan! Whenever we lie, we do so under the inspiration of Satan. He is a murderer and a liar and there is no truth in him.
What was Satan tempting Jesus to do? Fall down and worship him. What Satan was saying is this: "Jesus, I will keep you from this messianic mission of having to go to the cross. I will keep you from having to suffer and die for the sins of the world. I will give you a shortcut to glory."
We think that everyone has a price for compromise with the devil. Judas had a price: thirty pieces of silver. The devil said, " Jesus, you are the Son of God, aren't you? You are the Messiah. I know you are worth more than thirty pieces of silver, so I'll give you the whole world. Just fall down and kiss my feet and say, 'Satan is Lord.'"
Worship and Serve God Alone
Once again Jesus used the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, to answer Satan. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 as his reason for not obeying Satan: "For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" Then Jesus commanded Satan to leave and he left.
Satan offered Jesus everything in the world if only he would worship him. This temptation was not unique to Jesus. We are all tempted in this way. Remember how Jesus later asked his disciples, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26; see also Mark 8:36 and Luke 9:25). Let me ask you the same question: What does it profit, young man, young woman? That pleasure, that independence, that so-called freedom that you desire--you may think these are the greatest things in the world. But if you are allured to the world through them, all they will do is prove you to be a devil worshiper. You may gain the world but you will lose your soul and experience eternal damnation. Think about what Jesus said: "What does it profit?"
Besides, Jesus was also thinking about Psalm 2, which is written of the Messiah. At his baptism he heard God the Father say, "This is my Son," which we read in Psalm 2. If he is Son, then he is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the heir of all things. In Psalm 2:8 we also see the Father saying, "Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession." In other words, if Jesus wanted to ask for kingdoms, he should ask God. "Ask of me and I will make nations your inheritance. . .You will rule them with an iron scepter." As Satan tempted him, Jesus remembered the voice of his Father telling him he was his Son in whom he was well pleased, and remembered that he was the King to whom God gave the kingdoms of the world.
Yes, Jesus was both King and Suffering Servant. But God's order is to bear the cross first and wear the crown later. Jesus had to suffer before he entered into his glory, which he did in obedience to God his Father. Thus, as he was being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" to rescue him. But he refused to spare himself. He set his face like flint to walk the path of humiliation, the path of God's will for him. His delight was to do the will of God and finish it, and from the cross he cried triumphantly, "It is finished!"
The Result of Obedience
Jesus' obedience to his Father was complete. The destiny of the elect was sealed when he completely obeyed, and by the obedience of this one man, Christ Jesus, many were made righteous.
Jesus was tempted and he suffered due to temptation. He learned obedience through suffering, yet he did not sin. And we are here to celebrate the triumph of Jesus. He stood fast in his temptation. He condemned Satan, drove him out, and ushered in the kingdom of God with power. He delivered us from the captivity of Satan. And through his successful temptation, Jesus delivered us from the captivity of Satan. He set us free and we are free indeed.
Read on in Matthew's gospel. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus told his disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." Remember what the third temptation was? Satan said he would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. I say to you: Hold fast to that path of obedience, and in due time God will exalt you. In due time all authority in heaven and on earth was given to Jesus. Who gave it to him? His Father.
In Philippians 2:9-11 Paul wrote of Jesus, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." But have you ever wondered why we are not seeing everything yet subject to Jesus? That very question is dealt with in Hebrews 2:8-9: "In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." Jesus is now crowned with glory and honor and soon he will come again. Then we will see clearly that everything is subject to him.
Think about these things. Whom do you want to worship? People can be divided into two groups: worshipers of Jesus Christ and worshipers of Satan. If you have not done so already, I urge you to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved to worship Christ alone.
Every temptation is designed to turn us away from Christ and cause us to worship Satan. You and I go through temptation on a daily basis, don't we? Why do you think that happens? It is because Satan and his demons are against God, his Christ, and his holy church. Therefore we need to know a few things to help us when we are tempted.
Know that all are subject to temptation. Even Jesus was temptable; thus, none of us will be exempt from temptation. The evil force, whether the personal devil or personal demons, will come. Paul says we are not ignorant of his schemes. This devil loves to speak to us, to tempt us. Have you heard his voice? I hear it it every day.
Jesus, of course, was sinless and therefore he did not have the desires inside that we have. But Satan understands who we are and so he speaks to us, saying, "Your parents are nasty. You have to get out of the house because they are too close," or, "Get out of the church. There is too much light there," or, "Get rid of the Bible. It is not really the word of God." We must realize that Satan is always at work. Young people, you must realize that he is speaking to you and soliciting you to do evil on a daily basis.
Know that temptation is not sin. We must resist temptation, but we must not be discouraged when we realize we are being tempted. Temptation is not the same as sin. What is sin? Sin is yielding to the temptation and actually doing the will of Satan.
- Know that the Spirit and the gifts are ours. If you are a true Christian, then what was true for Martin Luther is also true for us: the vast resources of the Holy Spirit and his gifts are ours to battle the temptation.
- Know that the sword of the Spirit is also ours. What is the sword of the Spirit? It is the Holy Scriptures. We must study it and delight in it, just as Jesus did for thirty years before he began his public ministry.
- Know that the shield of faith is also ours. We must trust in God and his word. Never doubt the authority of the Holy Scripture. God is for us, God is with us, and God will help us. He will grant us grace to resist the devil so that he may flee from us.
- Know that Christ will help us. Jesus Christ was tempted, and he is now in the heavenly place to help us who are being tempted, as we read in Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15. We must look to him, especially in the midst of temptation.
- Know the enemy. Know that Satan is crafty and cunning. Know that he will be sure to come when we are the most vulnerable.
- Know what to do. Knowing all these things, what should we do? Pray always.
- Know that we shall be triumphant. First Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." God will enable us to stand under temptation. We shall overcome! Why? The reputation of God is at stake. In Revelation 12:11 we read that God's people overcame Satan. First, they did so "by the blood of the Lamb," meaning the cross. We must look to the cross and believe in it. The cross defeated, destroyed, and disarmed the principalities and powers forever. And second, they overcame him "by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11). And in James 4:7 we are told, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
Therefore, let us be filled with Spirit and be obedient to the Scriptures. When we are tempted, let us wait on God, and while we are waiting, let us praise God and rejoice in him. Let us always choose God's way, even when we experience pain, persecution, and troubles. And let us rejoice always, knowing that in due time, in God's time, he will send his angels to strengthen and sustain us. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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