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Jesus the Son of Man: His Temptation

This was not a war of modern weaponry, but of moral will. It was not a war between two nations, but between one man and the principalities and powers of darkness. This was a war that happened in history, yet whose consequences transcend history. It was not an event that we can view with that sort of objective detachment with which we study other historical events. This was a war on which our very lives depend, spiritually speaking. Our eternal redemption was at stake, for had Jesus suffered defeat, had he succumbed to the insidious solicitations of Satan, we would all be forever lost in our sins.

 

Although we do not know precisely where the temptation took place, we do know precisely when, and there is great significance in the time of the temptation. All three synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil after his baptism by John in the Jordan. Why is this important?

 

1.            It was at his baptism that the truth of the divine sonship of Jesus was proclaimed and attested by the voice of God from heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mt. 3:17). This explains in part why Satan grounded his temptation of Jesus on the question of his relation to the Father ("if you are the Son of God" in vv. 3,6).

 

2.            The baptism of Jesus marked the inauguration of his official public ministry. It was his enduement with power from on high, symbolized by the descent of the dove, that enabled him to fulfill his messianic role. Thus the temptation should be seen as an attempt by the Enemy to thwart the messianic ministry of Jesus and ultimately the redemptive purpose of God in history.  

3.            Also of interest is the fact that Luke inserts his genealogy of Jesus between the baptism and the temptation. Why? Note Luke's reference to "Adam" in 3:38 and then immediately to "Jesus" in 4:1. It may be that Luke intends to draw attention to the parallel between the action of the first Adam in the Garden of Eden and the last Adam (Jesus) in the wilderness.  

a.            The first Adam was tempted in the congenial, opulent, plush surroundings of Eden, while the last Adam was tempted in the desolate, barren wilderness of Judea.  

b.            The first Adam was well-fed and rested, while the last Adam was tired and hungry, having just concluded a 40-day fast.  

c.            Satan approached Adam and Eve as an inexperienced tempter, whereas he came to Jesus as a seasoned veteran!  

d.            Whereas the first Adam failed the temptation, plunging the race into sin, the last Adam succeeded and emerged the victorious savior of his people.

 

4.            Others have tried to draw parallels between Jesus and Moses, who also fasted 40-days on Sinai (Deut. 9:9). When he finished, Moses descended the mount with the Law for the people of God. Jesus, too, is soon to deliver a new "Law"(?), the Sermon on the Mount, for God's people.

 

5.            The primary parallel (and contrast), however, is not between Jesus and Moses or Jesus and Adam, but between Jesus and the nation Israel 

a.            Note the OT texts Jesus selects to resist Satan's advances (vv. 4,7,10). This is no random choice on his part. All three texts come from a single section of Deuteronomy (6-8) in which Moses is addressing the nation Israel after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and just before their entry into the promised land. The point is this: Jesus saw in the experience of Israel a prophetic preview of his own! As Israel was tested by God for 40 years in the wilderness, so also Jesus was tested for 40 days in the wilderness. He was learning the lessons which God had intended Israel to learn.

 

b.            Both are times of hardship and testing, preparatory to the undertaking of a special task (conquest of the promised land / earthly ministry of Jesus).

 

c.            Both suffer a hunger that was deliberately imposed by God to teach each a lesson.

 

d.            In both cases, it is "the Son of God" who is tested (Ex. 4:22 ["Israel is My son, My first-born"]; cf. Dt. 8:5).

 

e.            As in the parallel with Adam, so too here: whereas Israel, God's national "son", failed, Jesus, God's personal and eternal Son, succeeded.  

R. T. France summarizes the typological significance of the temptation:

 

“The principle involved is in each case one of ‘testing’. In each case the one tested was the ‘son of God’ (Mt. 4:3,6, and Dt. 8:5, cf. Ex. 4:22). In each case God tested his son (the one fresh from the deliverance from Egypt, the other just commissioned for his redeeming work in baptism), to prove his loyalty, and to teach him to trust and obey and worship God alone, in preparation for his special task” (51-52).

 

In sum,

 

“Jesus then saw himself as God’s son, undergoing prior to his great mission as Messiah the testing which God had given to his ‘son’ Israel before the great mission of the conquest of Canaan. Israel had then failed the test; now, in Jesus, was found that true sonship which could pass the test, and be the instrument of God’s purpose of blessing to the world which Old Testament Israel had failed to accomplish. ‘The history of Israel is taken up by him and carried to its fulfillment.’ The antitype, as always, is greater than the type. Old Testament Israel had failed; Jesus must succeed” (53).

 

There are several additional issues of significance to be noted:

 

First, in what form did Satan appear to Jesus and what was the nature of the temptations? Were they subjective, internal visions in the mind of Jesus, or objective realities that you or I could have seen if we had been present? Standing on a high mountain would not in itself provide a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the world, so some degree of supernatural vision is involved. See Luke 4:5, where it is said that Satan showed him the kingdoms of the world "in a moment of time."

 

Second, each temptation involves a principle or end that is in itself and in its proper context entirely legitimate. (a) Bread is not evil. Neither is the desire to alleviate hunger by eating it. (b) Divine protection is a valid promise in Scripture (Ps. 91). (c) Authority over the kingdoms of the world is something God promised the Son long ago (cf. Ps. 2). The temptation, therefore, was aimed at seducing Jesus into achieving legitimate ends by sinful and illegitimate means.

 

Third, Luke says that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (4:1), Matthew and Luke say he was led by the Spirit (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:1), but Mark says he was impelled or thrust forth by the Spirit into the wilderness (Mk. 1:12). Clearly, this was a divinely initiated appointment. As we shall see in a subsequent lesson, it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan.

 

Fourth, it was in the wilderness that it took place. The wilderness was the abode of wild beasts and demonic spirits (Isa. 13:21; 34:14). In other words, this encounter occurred in an environment and against a background that was hostile to holiness. It was in the "devil's own backyard", so to speak.

 

Fifth, how can it be that the Spirit would lead anyone, much less Jesus, to be tempted? The answer is in the fact that there are different kinds of temptation, depending on one's motive. (a) There is the solicitation to sin, the attempt to lure one into evil (Js. 1:13). (b) There is the tempting or testing of God by his people, in an effort to provoke him through unreasonable and unfaithful demands (as did Israel in the wilderness). (c) There is the testing of one's character, as with Abraham and Job, to determine faithfulness and endurance. Satan envisioned these proposals as temptations to elicit evil in the heart of the Messiah, whereas in his overruling providence God envisioned them as tests to manifest the faithfulness and purity of his Son.

 

Sixth, Mt. 4:2 is somewhat misleading. It gives the impression that it was not until after the 40 days that Jesus hungered. However, his fasting induced the hunger, at precisely which point Satan launched his assault. Satan attacked when Jesus' defenses were down, when he was physically and emotionally most vulnerable.

 

A.        The First Temptation (4:3-4)

 

1.            Satan's Temptation  

There is a question about the proper translation. Should we render it "If you are the Son of God" or "Since you are the Son of God"? Probably the latter. Satan is assuming that Jesus is indeed God's Son. He wasn't tempting him to use his miraculous powers to prove his deity (a moot point, as far as Satan was concerned). Neither was the temptation merely that he utilize unnatural means (stones) to make bread. Rather, Satan's design was to entice Jesus to use powers that were rightfully his but that he had voluntarily suspended to fulfill the Father's will. It was a temptation to use his Sonship and its powers in a way that was inconsistent with his God-ordained mission.  

2.            Jesus' Reply  

Jesus appeals to Deut. 8:3, a text in which Moses reminded the Israelites of God's faithful provision of manna during the 40 years of wandering. The lesson Israel did not learn but that Jesus did is this: physical food is not the most important thing, but rather the reception of and obedience to the Word of God. It is not bread, or any other form of food for that matter, but the creative, energizing, sustaining power of our heavenly Father that is the ultimately indispensable source of life and well-being.  

B.        The Second Temptation (4:5-7)

 

1.            Satan's Temptation  

Frederick Bruner offers this perspective:  

"The second temptation is full of holy things. Jesus is taken to the holy city, placed atop the holy temple, and is read the Holy Scriptures. Holy, holy, holy. Where the first temptation smelled like a bakery, the second has the aroma of a Greek Orthodox liturgy at Easter. Where the devil in the first temptation had tried to reach Jesus through his weak spot, his hungry stomach, he now tries to reach Jesus through his strong spot, his faith in God's Word. If the evil one cannot make us carnal perhaps he can make us fanatical; if he cannot make us supersecular by seeking wonder bread, perhaps he can make us superspiritual by suggesting leaps of faith" (108).  

The pinnacle of the Temple does not refer to the high point of the temple itself, but to the point where the southern and eastern walls of the temple complex converge. Josephus said of this place, that "if any one looked down from the top of the battlements . . . he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth."  

Satan quotes the OT accurately! Jesus is being tempted to prove in deed that he really does believe that man shall live by the Word of God! Satan says: "You quoted the Bible to me a moment ago. O.K. Now put your money where your mouth is! God has promised in Ps. 91:11-12 to give special protection to his people. Do you believe this, Jesus? If you do, step out in faith. Better still, leap out in faith! Glorify God by proving that his Word is true. Jump down from the pinnacle and let God display his power."  

2.            Jesus' Reply  

But testing God is not trusting God. To trust God only if he proves himself by some miraculous deed is not true faith. Had Jesus jumped, he would have been demanding of God evidence that provides for his children. There was no purpose in his jumping other than to force God's hand. But the faith of Jesus is not suspended upon God's willingness to perform like a circus animal. Our service must never be dependent on signs.  

If Satan had pushed Jesus from the pinnacle, I have no doubt but that God would have preserved him; but not if Jesus jumped 

I have paraphrased Bruner's explanation:  

"Jesus felt now that to leap into the arms of God without any good reason except to leap into the arms of God, or to get . . . an additional, surer proof of what he had already been given once in baptism, was presumptuous. To 'require' a proof from God is one thing; to expect God's gracious protection is another thing. Jesus believed Psalm 91 no less than he believed Deut. 6 [the OT text from which he quotes]. But he believed Psalm 91 rightly used --- as a text of God's protecting love --- did not teach believers to throw themselves around recklessly, nor did it teach that God is a slave of our leaps. The real question is, 'Do we follow God or must God follow us?' Who works for whom? For Jesus to leap and expect God to come to his rescue is requiring God to follow him" (109-10).  

In his reply, Jesus cites Deut. 6:16 which describes the incident at Massah and Meribah where the Israelites complained for lack of food and water and wanted to return to Egypt. They mumbled, "Is Jehovah among us or not?"

 

C.        The Third Temptation (4:8-10)

 

1.            Satan's Temptation  

Here the parallel with Adam is seen, for the reference is to that dominion over the world given to Adam in Eden. Because of Adam's fall into sin, Satan has become the "god of this age, the prince of this world" (cf. Lk. 4:6). Here Satan offers to return to Jesus, the last Adam, that dominion which the first Adam had forfeited. But on one condition: "Fall down and worship me!"  

To someone who doesn't realize what is at stake, it doesn't look like Jesus is being asked to do anything unreasonable. He isn't being asked to spend his entire life at Satan's feet. It seems like such a bargain: one momentary bow, one bend of the knee, and the whole world would be his! What is one small gesture when the entire planet is in the balance? The price seems so small and the gain so great. And had not the Father already promised to grant the nations to Jesus (Ps. 2:8; Dan. 7:14)? Wasn't the devil merely offering to give what was his by right anyway?  

But Satan is attempting to circumvent the divine order. He offers the crown to Jesus apart from the cross. He does not realize that the only way to glory is service and suffering (cf. Lk. 24:46).  

2.            Jesus' Reply  

Jesus does not believe the end justifies the means. He quotes Deut. 6:13-14 to remind the devil that there is never an excuse for devoting so much as one second of one's time or one ounce of one's spiritual energy to the worship of anyone other than the one true God.    

"For us baptized, for us he bore,

For us he fasted, and hungered sore,

For us temptation sharp he knew,

For us the tempter, he overthrew."