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The Temptation of Jesus Christ


(Matthew 4:1-11 NRSV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.{2} He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. {3} The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." {4} But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" {5} Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, {6} saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" {7} Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" {8} Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; {9} and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." {10} Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" {11} Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

John Milton, the English poet, set his epic poem "Paradise Regained" during the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Milton saw that the temptation was in many ways a recapitulation of the disaster in the Garden of Eden, but in reverse. This time Satan was three times defeated and the Messiah burst forth to bring hope to the world. This titanic struggle for world dominion took place out of the sight of men. Hidden away in the Judean wilderness the fasting Messiah battled the Prince of Darkness over the plan of redemption and the ultimate fate of the human race. The battle will not be finally won until the Lord returns but the first great defeat was one here. This was D-day, this is the repulse, this is the forces of darkness pitched headlong against the forces of good - and suffering a crushing defeat. The beachhead could now be made, the inroads gained, victory after victory won in the power of God.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss doctor, counselor and Christian writer sees the temptation of Jesus as a temptation to magic. Magic is using the power of God separated from relationship with God. Magic is the independent use of God's supernatural gifts and promises. The magician is one who uses impersonal formulas and incantations, the only will the magician obeys is his own will, the only desires her own desires. The prophet of God sees the future - but in the light of the will of God and involving a call to repentance and right living. The prophet is ethically motivated and in union with the will of god. The fortune-teller on the other hand makes no ethical demands, their future is a self-serving one. They are divorced from the Truth. Magic and supernatural power can seem only a whisker apart. Yet they are worlds apart.

Lets look at a case study where a servant of God was tempted to use his powers for his own purposes and selfish gain. That's right - Balaam! His story is long and involved and well known to most Christians - there are three whole chapters of the Bible devoted to it - Numbers 22,23 and 14. Its starts off with King Balak treating Balaam like a magician whose powers were for hire to the highest bidder... "

(Numbers 22:5-12 NRSV) He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, "A people has come out of Egypt; they have spread over the face of the earth, and they have settled next to me. {6} Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed." {7} So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and gave him Balak's message. {8} He said to them, "Stay here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, just as the LORD speaks to me"; so the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam. {9". God then appears to Balaam to tell him that His power and His will cannot be separated " God came to Balaam and said, "Who are these men with you?" {10} Balaam said to God, "King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, has sent me this message: {11} 'A people has come out of Egypt and has spread over the face of the earth; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.'" {12} God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed."" .

Balaam understands this and replies in kind to his distinguished visitors (Numbers 22:13-18 NRSV) So Balaam rose in the morning, and said to the officials of Balak,
"Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you." {......."Although Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God, to do less or more. {19} You remain here, as the others did, so that I may learn what more the LORD may say to me."

A great deal of Middle Eastern flattery and bargaining ensues and eventually Balaam leaves to serve Balak and oppose God. God send an angel to kill him and his donkey saves him from death . Eventually he blesses Israel instead of cursing them and leaves without honor or reward, a compromised and disgraced servant of God.

Balaam was a genuine prophet, who God appeared to and who had such a reputation for wielding considerable spiritual power "whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed."". Unfortunately Balaam also had a weakness for money and for status so that he was eventually bribed to attempt to curse Israel and to lead them into immorality and idolatry at Peor. The New Testament comments on his his career twice."

(2 Peter 2:15-16 NRSV) They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong, {16} but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

(Revelation 2:14 NRSV) But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.

Satan's temptations of Jesus are very similar to Balak's temptations to Balaam. The first temptation is the temptation to use a powerful spiritual anointing for self-gratification apart from the will and purposes of God - "Change these stones into bread...." . Jesus was hungry - He had been fasting for 40 days the body was desperate for fuel and raging hunger had returned. Later He fed the five thousand here He was not permitted to feed Himself. The explanation for this can be found later in two statements that Jesus made about the nature of His ministry.

(John 5:19 NRSV) Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.

(John 8:28 NRSV) and... So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me."

Jesus said and did ONLY what He saw His Father doing and saying. Even "innocent" acts such as eating were under the Father's command. Jesus had a higher will than His won self-gratification and that was the pleasing of His Father in Heaven.

{2} He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. {3} The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." {4} But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Later in His ministry He commented...

(John 4:34 NRSV) Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."

And He expects us to have similar priorities:

(John 6:27 NRSV) Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

and in Matthew

(Matthew 6:25 NRSV) "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?... But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. {34} "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

The second temptation has a number of hidden traps..

(Matthew 4:5-7 NRSV) Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, {6} saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" {7} Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

The traps are:

1)The temptation to magical showmanship and self-display.

2) The temptation to use the Scriptures as supremely reliable magic formulae that operate outside of personal relationship with God "...they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone."

3) The temptation to pride.

4) The temptation to "test God" in a matter of foolishness leading to death. God will not be manipulated by headstrong foolishness and self-aggrandisement - no matter how "scripturally based". And the Devil knows it and he is a murderer from the beginning...

(John 8:44 NRSV) "You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

He kills the servants of God in many ways - through persecution, illness, suicide and sometimes by their own hand in acts of foolishness. The young man who stepped into the lions den at a famous zoo was clutching his Bible. He was eaten. Friends said he was trying to prove the story of Daniel true. I believe Satan had deluded, tempted, and murdered this young man. How did Jesus respond to this Scripture-quoting demon ? Not with reason, but with Scripture, from the book of Deuteronomy. 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" The answer was simplicity itself, by seeing one of the temptations and responding to that He avoided all of the temptations that went with it. This is instructive for us.

For instance when God says not to be "unequally yoked with unbelievers" it is not just so we don't marry non-Christians but so we preserve ourselves from the dozens of other temptations to moral and religious compromise that go with it. When God says not to judge others it is because along with the temptation to judge come the temptations to pride, criticism, envy, boasting and factionalism. Thugs gang up on you -and so do sins and temptations because they have the nature of their Father the Devil. If you give in to one sin, ten more will pounce on you. Rebuke one and they all tremble

The third temptation is the most blatant - the temptation to capitulate to evil for the sake of "quick success".

Matthew 4:8-11 "{8} Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; {9} and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." {10} Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" {11} Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him."

To worship Satan is repellent. I can sense the anger in Jesus' command "Away with you Satan!" It cracks like a whiplash sending Belial packing to his sulphur-fed domain. It is an outrageous temptation and few except the very great would be tempted by it. Few except kings and emperors want to rule the whole world. Most of us are content with our own little corner. This would only be a temptation to Jesus if His plan was to rule the whole world - and it is !

"(Revelation 12:5 NKJV) She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. (Revelation 19:15 NKJV) Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."

The theology behind this is given in a couple of brief verses in 1 Corinthians:
"(1 Corinthians 15:24-25 NKJV) Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. {25} For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.".
Jesus will destroy all earthly authority - which seeks to have an independent authority of its own separated from God. Autonomous authority and independent living is rebellion against God and His plan and order for mankind. Those who submit to God's rule shall participate with Christ in His victory.

"(Revelation 2:25-27 NKJV) "But hold fast what you have till I come. {26} "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations; {27} 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels'; as I also have received from My Father;". Then indeed "the meek shall inherit the earth". (Matthew 5:5).

For Jesus coming into this absolute victory was going to mean the humiliation of the cross before the exaltation of the resurrection and ascension. Satan offered a short-cut. He could have the lot now, 2000 years early, without the pain, without the separation from God, without the sin-bearing. Just one little catch - He would have to worship the Prince of Darkness.

How often we are offered similar bargains - sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly. As a young teenager in love I was tossing on my bed at night when a spiritual presence entered the room, stood at the foot of my bed and said "I will give you the girl if you give me your soul". Fortunately I said "This must be either God or the Devil, show me who you are..". A frightening, tall creature of darkness appeared. It had a face that was like a mask and very black and fierce. I was filled with fear and terror. I scratched around inside me for something to say and blurted out "Go to Hell!". The creature vanished. I was not a Christian then but I stayed up all night with my light on and found a Gideon's Bible I had been given and started reading it. I believe many others have had similar experiences.

Satan will trade the desirable things of this world for our eternal souls to come under his power. If Satan is bold and arrogant enough to try this with Jesus - he will probably also try it with you. In Luke's account of this temptation we get a slightly fuller version (Luke 4:5-8 NKJV) Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. {6} And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. {7} "Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours." {8} And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"

Satan boasts that the kingdoms of this world and their glory " has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish." The Bible does not deny this in fact if anything it reinforces it:

"(1 John 5:19 NKJV) We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."

However an invulnerable beachhead has been established and Satan is beginning to lose his authority:

"(1 John 5:18 NKJV) We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him."
"(1 John 5:4 NKJV) For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world; our faith.".

Satan may be the ruler of this present evil world but there is a fifth column in the world - the Church and it is on the side of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Satan's rule is a limited rule with a tragic end for in the justice and power of God the Devil shall be destroyed (and not before time for he has shed the blood of the saints).

(Revelation 20:10 NKJV) The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

There are a couple of additional aspects to the temptation of Jesus that are mentioned in the book of Hebrews and which give us some understanding of why - why God allowed Jesus to be tempted and why we are tempted also.

"(Hebrews 2:17-18 NKJV) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. {18} For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."

"(Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV) {14} Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. {15} For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. {16} Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.".

Jesus was tempted so that He could help those who are tempted. He did not just do this to be a "good example" but so that He could be a source of mercy and grace in time of need. This is not "bootstrap Christianity" where you have to pull yourself up! Rather it is God's personal, merciful and gracious supply to struggling Christians. God will give us the power and authority we need to rebuke Satan and the wisdom and encouragement to be discerning, godly Christians. Jesus is our merciful High Priest.

The other aspect is that Jesus "learned obedience" through temptation - and that is the path for us also!

"(Hebrews 2:10 NKJV) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."

" (Hebrews 5:7-9 NKJV) who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, {8} though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. {9} And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,".

Now temptation is not "from God" - that much is clear from Scripture (James 1:12-15) but the pressures of life that tempt us to disobedience are the proving grounds of our obedience. In fact James calls those who endure under temptation "blessed" - but it surely a very strange blessing!

"(James 1:12 NKJV) Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.".

At first I found these concepts daunting and even a little bit offensive. How can Jesus be "perfected"? Surely He was perfect all along? What good is there in suffering and temptation and why does God do things in such strange ways? And many similar questions that have doubtless occurred to you also. Well here is a very condensed answer to this problem.

Jesus was perfect in his nature from day one. However the fullest measure of perfection is when that nature proves itself in the arena of life. When the potential becomes actual and bears fruit then it reaches its fullest perfection. On the cross enduring scorn, humiliation and rejection Jesus proved what He was made of. The full potential of His divine nature was displayed there. And in the temptation in the wilderness we see Jesus proving His worth, His perfection, His glory - and soon with proved character he would go out to do the mighty works of God. Prepared and tested character is the prerequisite to powerful service in the name and nature of God. Sure, some seem to have powerful ministries without much in the way of character but these will be exposed as false on the day of judgment. (Matthew 7:21-23). Obedience under testing perfects our faith and makes us worthy for serving our Lord.

What better conclusion can I have to this study on the temptation of Jesus than to quote the words of the apostle John:

"(1 John 4:4 NKJV) You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.".
Praise God!

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.