more conventional treatment of this passage can be found in our series on the
Life of Christ). It is sometimes interesting to go over to the enemy camp and
ask, “Why did Satan do that?” That’s how we shall treat this passage of
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from
the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days,
being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they
had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, "If You are the
Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD
ALONE.'" And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the
world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all
this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to
whomever I wish. "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be
Yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written,
'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" And he
led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said
to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it
is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,' and, 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU
WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" And Jesus answered and said
to him, "It is said, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD
YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" When the devil had finished every temptation,
he left Him until an opportune time.
(Luke 4:1-13 NASB)
first logical question is, “Why now?” Why did Satan pick this particular time
to bring out his great temptations?
often brings his temptations when we are on a spiritual “high”, as just
after baptism. He hopes for false confidence and a sense of
self-reliance. If we are quick to take credit for the spiritual uplift,
he will be quick to try this.
he is successful, the spiritual “low” produced is very deep indeed, for we
will think, “Wow – I was so high and still fell to temptation. I’m
days of fasting will indeed produce a spiritual high – but a physical
low. Satan hopes the body overrides the spirit.
this translation makes clear, Satan has been tempting Jesus in little ways for
those forty days. He’s been chipping away with the little stuff, hoping to
bring in the big temptations when Jesus was prepared for the little ones.
Jesus, after all, is human like the rest of us.
might also ask, “Why out in the wilderness? Wouldn’t it be more effective in
front of people?” Perhaps. But things that happen in the wilderness are out
of sight, and that has its advantages for Satan as well.
one will ever know.” The smile of the temptress is seldom seen while
you’re holding your wife’s hand. We are good at trusting in concealment.
successful, this produces the burden of a guilty secret – one of the
finest handles Satan can have on a person.
if no further external sin comes from it, we are then tempted to self-
justification (purely in private, of course). By this we defile the
conscience, and open many doors for Satan.
First Temptation – the Flesh
temptations of the flesh, while open to all ages, are most powerful in the young.
(Jesus is about thirty, at the end of his youth.) They are therefore used to
open the combat. Why the young?
for one thing. Sexual urges are strong in youth, and there seems also to
be the ability to eat and not get fat.
is also the question of wisdom. We do not teach our children, by and
large, to be wise. We teach them to be cool. Wisdom often arrives when
it’s too late to be of use.
it’s simply the case that the other temptations have yet to ripen in
we do not deny the body, we are always open to this temptation.
you are the son of God”
did Satan phrase this as a question? Shouldn’t he have said, “Since you
are…”? The attack of pride will come later. Listen to the same attack on us:
“If you are a child of God…”
“if” is there to stir doubt. How do you know you are really saved? Are
you sure you’re not just imagining this?
is also the temptation to go beyond the bounds – to blur the lines of
right and wrong. After all, one shouldn’t be legalistic about these
Satan cannot create. He can only twist. And he will twist a child of God into
a child of hell if he can.
this stone to become bread”
word “tell” is also translated “command.” Note that he did not use “create” or
“make” – but command.
seems so easy, but it is a misuse of the authority of the Son. Stones do
not become bread. The Son has authority to do the Father’s will.
is also a temptation to show off. There is the challenge of, “If you’re
really who you say you are, then …”
it succeeds. The self-justification is pretty obvious; “I needed to do
something bold and dramatic.” Bold, dramatic and wrong. There is always
a temptation to “do something, anything, even if it’s wrong.” Whatever
you do somehow becomes the courageous course and the only option you had.
We tend to vindicate the results after the fact.
Second Temptation – The World
about this. The world is Satan’s domain; all these kingdoms are his to give.
Always, he seeks after prideful men who can be pitted against one another.
Why, in this supreme test, would he offer so much power to Jesus?
corruption of power
corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton had it right;
Gandalf does not dare take the one ring. Power can be a blessing when you know
what needs to be done; power for the sake of personal pomp and ego
gratification is well known to be power corrupting. Power, especially
political power, is inherently dangerous to the soul. This may be why God has
given so little of it to his children.
you wish to know true authority as against tyranny, there is one simple
question: who benefits? True authority benefits those in subjection to it (we
call them public servants). Satan’s model is that of the tyrant who
manipulates his people to his will; Christ’s model is that of the servant
leader, who washes his disciples feet. When Satan gives power, it is only to
those who will be corrupted by it, for he gives it in his own way.
is interesting that our founding fathers understood this so well, and we
understand it so poorly. They took a dim view of human nature, especially when
exposed to the temptations of power. I would bring to your mind three of the
principles which they espoused frequently:
first is that of checks and balances. This is needed to prevent
temptation from getting a foothold. We may not fear the corruption of
power, we may welcome it – but we might just fear the other fellow enough
to restrain ourselves.
also assumed that only those of noble, virtuous spirit were fit to serve –
and that we would not elect anyone else, knowingly. (Do you know who was
the first divorced man to occupy the White House?)
also implies as its corollary that the population must be one motivated by
Christian morality – a statement frequently found in the writings of our
founding fathers. “When America ceases to be good, she will cease to be
great.” (De Tocqueville).
results of this – or of its lack, rather – are plain to all.
Temptation – Pride
is no secret that pride is Satan’s most powerful weapon. To understand how it
works in this instance, we must first understand our relationship with God.
relationship, usually called faith, is a trust relationship. Trust
relationships are not invulnerable; they can be destroyed:
can be killed by a suspicious desire for proof. If you hire a detective
to check on your wife’s fidelity, there are only two possible outcomes.
Both of them are bad.
can be killed by presumption. Literate readers will recall James Hunt’s
poem, The glove and the lions. Her lover jumps into the lion’s den
to retrieve her glove – and flings it in her face to rebuke her vanity.
can be killed by manipulation. Men of my generation will recall how
commonly we tested the girls with “prove your love.” (Why women did not
reply asking us to prove our love by waiting until marriage I do not
know. I am told the problem is now history, so we will not waste time on
of these are caused by pride.
is the attack of Satan on the true Christian. Note, please, that only in this
instance does Satan quote Scripture. The passage quoted is darkly prophetic
(Psalm 91) and not at all clearly applicable. But as we said, Satan cannot
create, he can only twist.
you think this does not apply to us? Have you ever heard anyone justify his
conduct by quoting (usually out of context) some particular verse of Scripture?
aim, of course, is to produce a Pharisee. It is no accident that Jesus had
harsh words for them, and practically no one else. A double dealer in matters
financial might be shamed; one who is a hypocrite in the things of God is the
most difficult of all people to be moved to repentance. The evil produced is
of a horrible kind.
fails, and withdraws until a “more opportune time.” As far as we can infer,
that time came in the garden at Gethsemane. Here he warned the disciples about
temptation; here they failed. Here he triumphed.
the fruits of that triumph!
shows us that even in the greatest of temptations man can resist. We are
encouraged to resist – and Satan will flee.
also know that he was tempted like we are – and therefore knows our agony.
of all, we know there can be no alliance between Christ and Satan – nor is
great divide between good and evil has been shown; there is no fence to sit
on. It is good to be on the winning side.