Richard aspires to live and love like Christ. Among his varied other writing interests, he aims to create good Christian stories.
Our Boldness Before God
According to the writer of Hebrews, the possibility of our boldness before God is due to Jesus' empathy for us in our weaknesses, and his victory over those same weaknesses [Hebrews 4:14-16]. The Hebrews author steps back from the death and resurrection of Christ as the cause for our boldness, and focuses instead on his sinlessness in the face of all temptations; without which his death and resurrection would be meaningless.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
— Hebrews 4: 14-16
How Could Jesus Be Tempted?
The concept of Jesus being tempted is challenging. How can God be tempted? Even God in human form?
The gospel accounts of Christ's testing were passages I had often glossed over, giving less time to them than they warranted, and for several reasons. Firstly, I found it hard to imagine Jesus being tempted. After all, he was God in the flesh. Therefore, I'd subconsciously assumed, Satan was attempting to do the impossible. He knew it, Christ knew it, the Father knew it. So, Satan, get your feeble attempt at corrupting Christ over with and we can move on. The relatively short narrative in the gospels regarding Christ's temptation didn't help either. The rapid-fire way the gospels present the temptations lends the impression of unimportance, a mere blimp and minor annoyance to Christ, rather than a any serious part of preparing him for his life's ministry. And, lastly, I just didn't relate to the temptations. Jesus may have learnt empathy for me through his temptations, but I couldn't empathize with him in his, because I didn't comprehend the depth of his trial.
So let's begin by looking at the how it all started because, surprisingly, it wasn't Satan who initiated the ordeal but the Holy Spirit.
God's Part In Temptation
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordon River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. ~ Luke 4:1
Jesus was about to start his ministry (Luke 3:23). He had just been baptized, and now filled with the Holy Spirit, he is led (Mark says driven) by that same Spirit into the wilderness... to be what?
To be tempted by Satan
Note: the Greek eispher: 'lead', means literally to bring in to. Comparative to the Greek anago, 'led' (Matt 4:1) meaning, to lead up. Mark (1:12) uses a stronger term, ekballo: drove; to cast forth, suggesting by force.
I find it intriguing ―and immensely important to understand― that it is the Spirit leading him to a place where the tempter is waiting.
The idea that God may actively lead us to a place for the purpose of temptation is a sobering thought.
Now we know God tempts no man (James 1:13). However, scripture reveals that God plays an authoritative role in regulating temptation; allowing it, stipulating its limits; at times actually leading His children to the place of tempting.
Such is Gods role over temptation, that Jesus even instructs us to beseech God in prayer. To pray that God 'lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:13)
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Pray that God not lead you into temptation.
Such an important truth to comprehend. Sometimes we like to excuse our weakness under temptation by blaming Satan. Yet the place of temptation where we find ourselves is ultimately a place that God not only allows us to be but, perhaps, deliberately drove us to so as to test us.
Again, though, it must be emphasized that God never does the tempting. He might drive us into the tempter's presence but does not himself tempt. It might be better said this way: That if Satan drove you into God’s presence, God would never tempt you to do wrong; and for that reason, Satan never would deliver us into God's presence; it serves no useful purpose for him. However, if God drove you into Satan’s presence, well, the purpose is clear.
Testing at the hands of Satan can serve Gods purposes for us and through us. And biblical examples abound in scripture, including;
- The garden. God allows Satan to tempt Adam & Eve, to test them, to initiate his plan.
- Job. God allows Job to be tested for the purpose of teaching heavenly beings a lesson, and to teach Job and those who hear of his experience that God is sovereign, even over temptation and suffering.
- 1 Cor 5: 4-5. Regarding the immoral Christian man, Paul says, 'So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Here Satan is used for the purpose of discipline, that we might be cleansed of carnality. If we would submit to Satan's will, then God can use Satan's will to reap its discipline in our lives. You see, temptation will either strengthen us or discipline us.
- Luke 22:31. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan desires to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you [not that he won't be tempted, but...], that your faith does not fail: and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren.
- The Prodigal, another example of God using temptation to test and discipline.
The Temptation Of Jesus
Getting back to Jesus' temptations, I find his situation comparable to Job's experience, in that a blameless man finds himself at the mercy of a deal struck between God and Satan, in which every temptation experienced by Job was at the express allowance of God (though not directly from God).
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Which makes me wonder as to the conversation that may have occurred between God the Father and the Devil prior to Jesus' tempting. Of course, such a dialogue is not found in scripture, it is but speculation (though, I think, more than probable.
Would such dialogue have been similar to what we read of in the book of Job?
Did Satan come before God, from spying out Jesus' activities? After all, he knew who Jesus was. Satan knew something was up. Jesus had just been baptized and Satan had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon him as a dove. He would have also heard the words clearly, 'this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Which would have rung in Satan's ears of that same affectionate tone with which God spoke of Job.
God loves to praise the devotions of his children. Of Job, he'd asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
Yet Satan knew this was no mere Job, no mere man. That here was one far more unique than Job. One who walked blameless and upright in a way completely eclipsing any mere human; even a man of Job’s quality. More than a man. Here was the God-man, God's son.
What might Satan's reply to God have been regarding God's praise for Jesus?
Maybe he said similar to what he said of Job, “Does Jesus please God for nothing? Have you not rescued him from every harm? (e.g. Herod) Have you not blessed everything he does? Has he not grown in favor with both God and man (Luke 2:52). Do you not send your angels to protect and minister to him? Hmm? But now, remove your hand, lead him to me. Allow me near him when he is weakest, and then we shall see just how pleasing he remains to you.”
Following this line of speculation, what might God have replied? We know that in Job’s case it was to accept Satan’s challenge. It would appear that it was the same in Jesus' case.
He could have replied, “Behold, my son I will bring before you, I will step back, he will be alone, and yours to tempt as you will... only, do not take his life” (ref: Job 1:12)
We don't know, but what we do know is that Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to encounter Satan in person. From a spiritual high (his baptism and subsequent praise from God), he is now going to undergo a terrible hardship. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and ultimately spiritually, he is to be tempted personally by the father of lies, the great accuser of man; the Devil. For forty days!
- All alone, bar Satan ...and wild beasts
- In the wild wilderness; a place devoid of sustenance to man
- Gradually brought to extreme weakness, subject to the torments of starvation (all alone ...except the wild beasts, to whom such a man would have seemed as easy prey)
- Tempted continuously for almost six weeks
I get the impression that the location (wilderness) and hunger are not Jesus' idea, nor his fathers. Rather they are part of Satan's strategy to tempt the son into displeasing the father. A strategy, we must remember, the father himself permits (else it would not be happening at all).
Note: The Greek verb nesteuo (fast) does imply that Jesus went without food voluntarily. But this may simple mean he was willing to follow the Spirit into a place of no food, for the purpose of being tempted.
When you read the gospel accounts of the temptation of Christ, Matthews description can leave the reader thinking the temptations occurred after the forty days of fasting (Matt 4:2-3). However Luke's description clearly says that Christ was tempted for the whole forty days.
And if Jesus was tempted for the whole 40 days, I get the impression that those temptations listed in the gospels represent possibly only a part of Jesus' entire ordeal at Satan’s hand.
Again, it's important to realize that Christ was driven into the desert. I used to think that he chose to go there to get close to God through the spiritual discipline of pray and fasting. But no where in scripture do we read it either required or spiritually beneficial to fast for such a lengthy period (Though Moses on the mountain went without food for 40 days, it was under very different circumstances, not in the presence of Satan, but God himself).
Having said that, I have never fasted for longer than a three days that I can recall, and that very rarely. So I cannot claim to speak from experience. I may well be wrong. Maybe there is a spiritual strength that comes from physical starvation. But I cannot find biblical justification for believing such.
Rather, I believe that Jesus' fast is an imposed hunger. Not himself choosing to go without food, but being being driven to a place where there is none. All part of Satan's scheme to weaken him. A scheme that God concedes to, in that it is the Spirit that leads Jesus there.
The Starving Jesus
From Satan's perspective, however, what advantage would a starving Jesus present?
- In the first four days, there is an intense hunger. Not surprisingly, the first temptation of Satan revolves around satisfying Jesus' hunger.
- Shortly after the fourth day (day 7-10), hunger dissipates as the body turns to using its internal resources. Surprisingly, during this period (which can last for several weeks) there can even occur a heightened state of excitement, a desire to move around and work, feelings of lightness and desire to be active. Maybe it was during this period that Satan, 'took him up a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time', then said, 'all this authority I will give to you, and their glory...'
- In the latter stages of starvation (day 10-20+) emancipation (loss of muscle mass) reaches a critical point. Terrible weakness, fatigue and lethargy follows. The capacity to move diminishes, as too the ability to think clearly. The body is now entering the period where body organs will begin to break down. It is possibly the period where the starving person feels the most desperate need for help. And unsurprisingly, maybe this was the period in which Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of his fathers earthly home (the temple) and says, 'if you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you [safe]...'
Note: see 'hunger strike effects on the human body'. (www.ria.ru)
The First Temptation Of Christ
Now when the tempter came to him, he said, “If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But he answered and said, “It is written, 'man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
— Matthew 4:3-4
Could Jesus have actually done what Satan suggested?
- Jesus would've known whether he could do what Satan suggested or not.
- And if Jesus couldn't do what Satan suggested, this would cease to be a temptation.
Why do you think it would have been wrong for Jesus to do what Satan suggested?
What is the significance of the passage that Jesus quotes from (Dt 8:3)?
Jesus quote from a passage that deals with Ancient Israel's own wilderness temptations. In verse 2 of the same passage, Moses gives the reason for Israel's wilderness experience.
- “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”
- v3 “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord...”
Do you see any similarities here?
- Both the Israelite's and Jesus were led into the wilderness by God; both for a forty numbered period; both to be tested; both to be made hungry...
Jesus, as with the Israelite's, could have left the wilderness and found food in the towns roundabout. But they could not do so and still be where God wanted them to be, not be where He could teach them to rely on Him.
So too, for Jesus, being led into the wilderness was evidence that God was taking him to a place where he had to rely on his Father. Too leave the wilderness so as to provide for himself, or to rely on his inherent powers as Gods son, would have shown he lacked the humility God called for.
Satan seeks to tempt man to think and act independently of where God wills us to be.
Jesus countered Satan's temptation by reminding himself, Satan, and us, that life -true life- transcends merely the physical (Where I am and how I how feel). That there is more going on in the trials of life than physical discomfort and hardship. There is a God, watching to see in whom we will put our trust. Jesus said:
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life...
The Second Temptation Of Christ
Then the devil, taking him up high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, “All this authority I will give to you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you worship before me, all will be yours.” 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 shall you serve.'”
— Luke 4:5-8
Again, I think it important to remember that the gospels give us a summarized rendition of what Jesus experienced. Simply reading the text can impart the impression Satan's temptations occurred at almost the same pace as we read them, when in fact they were over a 40 day period. The time between verse 4 & 5, between Jesus' reply and Satan's next temptation, may have been days or even weeks. There may have been other temptations in between, or Satan may have simply made Jesus' life as miserable as possible in the interval. However, at some point after the first recorded temptation, Satan decides the time is ripe to try again.
Maybe this was during that period, between 7-10 days without food, where intense hunger pains dissipate, to be replaced by a heightened state of excitement, a desire to be active, productive, busy. (ketogenic state)
There is an odd sense of lightness and well-being. Yet with all this energy and need to move, where does Jesus find himself?
Alone. In the middle of nowhere, able to do nothing with -or for- anyone. A place God willed him to be ...with Satan.
So what does Satan do?
Satan plays on Jesus' desire to be busy in the world, doing God's will.
James 1:14 tells us that, 'every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.' Indicating that Satan can only tempt us with what he already finds in our hearts. He then seeks to cause us to act upon those desires in a way that displeases God.
What did he find residing in Jesus' heart?
A fierce desire to restore mankind into relationship with His Father. That was Gods desire for him. That was his mission.
Therefore Satan tries to trick Jesus into believing that God has given Satan the means to get Jesus where God wants him to be; to get his mission moving.
Luke 4:5-6 puts it:
Then the devil, taking him up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
Maybe the devil hoped Jesus would be thankful, taken from the wilderness, transported to a lofty mountain view, there to view all those kingdoms of men in a moment of time; men he'd come to save.
Note: here is a fallen angel (Rev 12:7-9) of yet immense supernatural power. To transport himself and others wherever he wants, and, it seems, bend even time to his purposes.
Then Satan makes some claims:
- All this is mine (your father gave it to me)
- Being mine, I can give it to whomever I wish
- And I want to give it to you.
Which raises questions.
Was the world (or the kingdoms of men) Satan's?
- John 12:31 and 14:30 tell us that Satan was, at least at the time Christ walked the earth, the Prince of this world.
- If it wasn't, this would hardly have been a temptation.
Could Satan simply give it to Jesus?
- If not, then, again, how would this have been a temptation?
In short, Satan was offering to help Jesus to win the world for him.
I am reminded of the Lord of the Rings (by J.R.R.Tolken). The dark lord Sauron makes rings of power which he gifts to the rulers of the elf's, dwarfs and human kingdoms. Yet, unbeknownst to them, he possesses the one ring that can control all the others.
So too, Satan's offer of this gift had a hidden motive.
- Satan was appealing to Jesus' sense of purpose, his mission (likely feeling a great need to be active)
- Satan was offering to Jesus, mankind. The very ones Jesus had come to redeem from Satan's power, Satan offered as a gift. Satan would step down as their ruler, and allow Jesus to reign. Surely that was a massive step toward to what Jesus sought to accomplish (from a very human perspective)... to instantly get what you need ...without having to die on a cross to achieve it.
- And, of course, Jesus knows Satan can only do what God allows, so raising the question, “Maybe my father would want me to accept this offer.”
All Jesus had to do was bow down to Satan, acknowledge him worthy of praise and gratitude.
Note: Worship (proskuneo – 4352) means to do reverence to (from pros 'towards', and kuneo 'to kiss'). An act of homage.
Christ's temptations were tailored by Satan himself, a being well acquainted with both God and men. In Christ, Satan finds the God-man, but one who had emptied himself [Philippians 2:4f], placing himself instead completely under the care of his Father. Living out his human life with no divine assistance beyond what is offered to all men. He felt as acutely as you or I the alluring sense of Satan's temptations. But in the midst of his internal struggles he lent fully upon that pillar he'd chosen to make central to his earthly existence: to trust no one, not even himself, more than he trusted his God; every moment of every minute of every day He lived. A truth only the God-man can claim.
I will end this article with a quote from C.S Lewis, reflecting on the fact that to truly appreciate temptations power requires we must resist it. As Lewis says,
“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.”
And this is why Christ, and Christ alone, experienced life with the fullest understanding of temptations power. For he always resisted, always seeing every temptation through to its exhaustion. None other can claim the same.
“We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
— C.S. Lewis
© 2020 Richard Parr