Temptation and the Gospel, 201
God is gracious in providing a practical manual for dealing with temptation early in the first Gospel. Every believer can benefit from seeing how our Lord dealt with temptation.
In this second temptation Satan leads Jesus to Jerusalem, and in some manner sets the Lord up at the pinnacle of the Temple. Below Jesus in vast array is a sweeping panorama of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple—with all the nostalgia associated with those sacred precincts. Jesus could recount hundreds of important events, seen from this temple. Again Satan tempts Jesus with that unbelieving preface, “If you are the son of God . . .” It is how he often tempts us, saying, “If you are a child of God. . .” This time Satan appeals to the ability of Jesus Christ. He tempts, “If you are the Son of God,” throw yourself down. At this point Satan is trying to goad the Lord Jesus into a contest, in which Jesus would showcase his stunning miracle-working ability. Or else Satan is tempting the Lord to presumption—the kind of foolish presumption that we often see in an immature Christian – the kind of person who says rather blithely, “Well God will take care of me, even if I do enter the snakepit at the zoo.” One aspect of this second temptation was to try to lull Jesus into doing something foolish, like jumping off the peak of the Temple to the ground 450 feet below.
But to do so, to agree to Satan’s rules, would be to forfeit the contest at its outset. Christ does not vainly rely on his own independent human power to defeat Satan. Nor does Christ need to provide the spectacular, the stupendous, to prove his association with God.
But observe how crafty Satan is in this temptation. He even goes so far as to quote Scripture to Jesus. Now this would throw most of us for a loop. We assume that whenever Scripture is quoted, then the interpretation is automatically correct. Let’s not be so unwise. Learn from this that even Satan may invoke scriptural words. But he does so only with a diabolical twistedness. 2 Corinthians 11:14 warns that Satan may even masquerade as an angel of light, and Paul warns us in Galatians that it is possible that some angel (or demon) may seek to knock us off track by issuing another gospel or another teaching. Christians should not be so childish as to think that every Bible-quoter is necessarily interpreting the Bible correctly. “Try the spirits,” we’re told in Scripture.
And here Satan quotes from Psalm 91, verses 11-12. Interestingly, Satan did not wrench these verses from their setting. Those are indeed great verses of assurance.
Isn’t that amazing? That Satan would even use God’s own Word! And quote it correctly! The Christian must learn to be a good interpreter of God’s Word. For even Satan is capable of quoting the Word of God. The only trouble is that Satan misinterprets God’s infallible word. It is not the case that these scriptures are wrong, it is only the fact that Satan may quite competently skew the scriptures. Christian be on your guard against Satan and others who “distort the scriptures to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).
Now recognize this: Satan’s temptation is to dare Christ and to challenge his miracle-working ability: “C’mon Jesus, let’s see that 2 1/2 back flip, with a full gainer. C’mon you’re so powerful and swift. Just jump off the Temple peak and show me how great you are.” That would be hard to resist. If you’d been God, you’d have been tempted to show off and put that evil one to shame. But that’s because you’re sinful and boastful and eager to prove your power. The true God-in-the-flesh does not do it this way.
He resists the temptation. And once again responds by quoting the OT. This time, Jesus in Matthew 4:7 answers, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus does not tire of reiterating the scriptures. He does not have a paltry view of their authority. Instead, he recognizes the Old Testament as the Word of God which was alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Thus he repels Temptation #2. Perhaps we would all do well to read the Old Testament more and benefit from it as we’re tempted. On your next major temptation, remember to call on the Lord to remind you of the Biblical passages which will help you fend off this evil one. And look out for his cunning attempt to distort the Bible and misrepresent it.
An exceedingly effective stratagem of Satan is to misrepresent or misinterpret the Bible. Be on your guard!
Now quickly turn to round three of this epic temptation. Thus far, Christ as a man was no less susceptible to these temptations than Adam, who was also created sinless. Yet, it is at this point that Satan unleashes all the best of his armory of seduction. He pulls out all the stops and has no holds barred. He empties his furious quiver, which for thousands of years was prepared just to conspire against God. Satan gives it now in this third temptation, his very best shot. He will rise or fall with the effectiveness of this final temptation.
Once again on the third temptation, the devil seems to be in control. Verse 8 states that he took Jesus to a very high mountain. The Deceiver then showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. The word ‘splendor’ connotes super-abundance and plenty. These various kingdoms shimmered with beauty and potential. The temptation now offered to Jesus was not unlike that one which hooked Adam and Eve. Possibly Satan offered it as the shortcut to avoid the destined cross. It held the promise of universal domination. Satan blasphemed in v. 9 (as if he really had the authority): “All this will I give you if you will bow down and worship me.” That seems harmless enough. After all, all Satan wanted was symbol and not substance. What could it hurt to just “go through the motions,” with Jesus acting like he was worshipping Satan? Many of us would reel at this temptation. We wouldn’t reject the offer to rule this universe. Have you ever stopped to analyze that each individual sin, in its own way, is but this same temptation: the opportunity to rule our own destiny in a particular area or way.
Jesus again is too wise to play Satan’s own game. He recognizes that worship is a very important matter. Our worship reveals our heart’s true desires. And Jesus would not and could not worship Satan. Satan would be the victor. Perhaps we might say that Satan only wanted a little recognition. But no! Satan wanted ultimate recognition. He wanted Jesus to violate the first and greatest commandment, the one from which all the other ones flow.
His promise sounded wondrous—just as all the other empty promises of Satan that have sounded too good to be true – throughout the centuries and throughout your own daily existence. Satan’s whispers to you are indeed too good to be true, because they are not true. Satan promises something here that is not his to deliver and which he cannot produce. The kingdoms of this world, according to Satan’s blindness, are thought to be his own. But he is not the ruler. Yet, he who was the liar from the beginning brings a real temptation to the God-Man. And which of us would not sell our soul for this option? Only the saint of God who knows that God’s riches are far better than entire earthly kingdoms will not succumb. The Lord Jesus certainly knew better. So once again he refused with God’s word. But you should remember that whenever you are tempted next, by Satan’s idle promise. . . when that lust looks so good, when that pride is so promising. . . . when that theft is so available. . . and when that evil is so potentially great, remember that Satan never can deliver. He never has and never will. He lies. The disciple of Christ should learn from his Master’s temptation that Satan’s promises are vain. Don’t fall for them.
Jesus’ response, using the Word of God in v. 10, is for the third time in a row, a citation of Dt. 6-8. This time it is prefaced with a final command which signifies the conclusion of the ordeal. Jesus says, with vehemence, “Away from me Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” This quotation from Dt. 6 is at the heart of all obedience and is what is at stake in all temptation. What Satan really wants to do is to re-rail our worship. What Satan wants to do is to distract and pervert our worship for God. That is where he plies his strength. But Jesus repels that.
The Christian should take note at this point how very important our worship is to God. It is never something trivial or small. If that bears the brunt of Satan’s frontal assault, then shouldn’t we sit up and take notice how tactically important worship is for the ongoing battle?
This third temptation is the climax of this temptation, and Satan would rise or fall with the effectiveness of this last temptation. After this is completed, the battle is won. The war is over. Satan is effectively defeated at this point early in the year 27 AD—a full three years prior to Christ’s Ascension. Christ had handled this—and all temptations. This is further signified by v. 11, which tells us that the devil left him and the angels came and attended him. There is a recognizable resolution to this episode. It is over. The temptations subside. And the wounded Victor—he whose heel was bruised, but who crushed the head of the serpent—was attended to by the angels of God. Christ had won. And the blessed angels sweetly ministered to him.
If you remember nothing else from this passage never forget that it is over worship that Jesus and Satan are ultimately and irreconcilably separated. Never the twain shall meet. That is the heart of every theatre of temptation. Each warzone is ultimately over worship. God made us to be worshipping creatures; he wants us to serve and worship him – not ourselves, our desire, and certainly not Satan. Maybe this is why Satan is often nearest when we try to worship God—corporately or in private.
And also remember that the phrase “It is written” is the crucial determining factor in this battle. The Bible is the key to rejecting temptation. If our Lord was tempted in this severe manner, so will be his disciples. You need to learn to speak scripture to Satan, to counteract his destructive whispers and loud lies. Learn with Martin Luther that “One little word shall fell him.” And say, “Satan begone.” And go on in a life of obedience to God.
You’ll be tempted in the week to come. Satan will not leave you alone. He didn’t leave Jesus totally alone until Easter; and in fact, that ignorant stubborn, old doubter is still unaware that Jesus is Victor. One last thing to remember when you’re tempted, and this is very comforting, is to remember that, as you go through that temptation, Jesus knows exactly what that temptation is like. Elsewhere Hebrews 2:14-17 and 4:14ff speak of Jesus knowing our temptations (and learning temptation). Take comfort that he knows all your temptations . . . and all the Tempter’s snares. And he wills to provide a way out (1 Cor. 10:13).