On the Mount of Temptation: “If You’re Really…?”

Your greatest enemies are not Muslims, Hindus or atheists, but false teachers in the churches. They are the ones being used by Satan in deceiving you.

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 6:10-19; Matthew 4:1-11; Text: Matthew 4:8-10

"The Temptation in the Wilderness" by John St John Long  (1824)

"The Temptation in the Wilderness" by John St John Long (1824)

The temptation of Jesus is a good example of how a Christian is able to avoid sin. Firstly, the Holy Spirit led him up to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God never tempts anyone to sin (Jas 1:13), but he tested his Son so he would fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets prophesied about him, and to be able to be “like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). He was fully qualified to be our Savior because in his full humanity, he experienced all the weaknesses, sufferings and temptations that we also experience in this life. His testing also strengthened him in his mission as the Suffering Servant of God, just as his people are strengthened by testing (Heb 11:17).

The Spirit guided and empowered Jesus throughout his earthly life, especially in his testing in the wilderness. The Gospel of Mark does not use the word “led,” but the more forceful “drove out”–driven out to the desert to be tested. Because he was led by the Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit are evident in all of his life (Gal 5:16-18).

Secondly, because he was well-acquainted with the Scriptures, he used them to overcome the devil’s lies. He answered each of the three temptations with these opening words, “It is written…” The word of God is the Truth that exposes Satan’s lies, deceptions, and twisting of God’s word.

Why did Satan try to tempt Jesus into committing sin? If we go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, we could also ask why the serpent tempt Adam and Eve to disobey God’s covenant of works. The devil reasoned that if our first parents sinned, God would destroy them and all of creation. But he did not know that God would be able to save his people and his creation even after he succeeded in plunging the whole creation into sin through his wicked schemes.

All throughout Biblical history, the devil attempted to destroy God’s people–from Adam, to Abraham, to Moses, to Israel—through violence, lies and deceptions. Finally, when Jesus arrived, he tried to kill Jesus soon after his birth. And here in the wilderness, he tried to destroy him and his mission to save his people from sin by tempting him to sin. If Jesus succumbed, even in his mind, to the devil’s temptations, then Jesus would be disqualified from being the spotless, blameless sacrificial Lamb of God. God’s redemptive plan for his chosen people would have been thwarted.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the life of our Lord Jesus Christ can be seen as the fulfillment of the history of Israel’s beginning:

  • “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
  • Pharaoh and Herod tried to kill the mediator of God’s people.
  • Israel was baptized in the Red Sea; Jesus in the river Jordan.
  • The Spirit-Cloud hovered over Israel in the wilderness; the Spirit hovered over Jesus at his baptism.
  • Israel was tested in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus was tested in the wilderness for 40 days.
  • When they reached Mount Sinai, Moses read God’s covenant before the people; Jesus went to a mountain and taught the people how to live under God’s new covenant.
  • Isa 53:4: Isaiah’s “Servant” “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Matt 8:17: Jesus “took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

So the temptation of Jesus is important not only as an example for us to follow when we confront sin, but more significantly, it shows us both his person and mission. The devil then challenged both these aspects of the life of Jesus.

Satan’s lies were almost identical to the lies he told Adam and Eve, “Did God really say…”? In three ways, the devil tempted Jesus, “Show me what you got, if you’re really…”

  1. “… the Almighty Creator?”
  2. “… the Christ, the Son of God?”
  3. … the King of the Universe?”

“Are You Really the Almighty Creator?”

As he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was also “being tempted” by the devil the entire period. These three temptations may have been done by Satan towards the end of this 40-day period.

Forty days correspond to Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wanderings. Moses also fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights on two occasions: once when he received the covenant laws from God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18; 34:28), and another time after he came down from the mountain and found the people worshiping the golden calf (Deut. 9:9, 11, 18, 25; 10:10), pleading to God not to destroy the idolatrous people.

After fasting for 40 days, Jesus was hungry, thirsty and tired, just as he was weary and thirsty when he arrived at Jacob’s well where he encountered the Samaritan woman (John 4:6,7). Though the full attributes of his divine nature remained in him, here, the full human experience of Jesus is evidenced by his physical limitations.

So the devil, being the “slanderer” and the “accuser” of God’s people, knew at that time what the most effective weapon against Jesus would be: food. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan knew that Jesus is really the Son of God. He must have heard the Father’s voice at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” So this is better translated as, “Since you are the Son of God…” Since you are God’s Son, by whose word the world was created, prove it! You haven’t eaten a morsel for the last 40 days, why don’t you just create bread? “Just do it!” as Nike tells us, “so you don’t have to wait for your Father’s help.

Jesus refused to be deceived by the devil into using his divine power of creation. With one word, he created the heavens and the earth. What is a few pieces of bread for him? We know that as Creator, he multiplied five loaves of bread into thousands to feed 5,000 people.

Jesus trusted his Father that he would provide for his physical needs. He obeyed as a man, knowing that as the representative of all people who would believe, he had to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) and the whole law on behalf of his chosen people. To save his people from sin and death, he had to be perfectly righteous so he could give this righteousness to the unrighteous sinner.

His response to this first temptation, just as he responded to the next two, was God’s word from Deutenomy hidden in his heart, each quotation related to Israel’s wilderness experience. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3). Moses told the Israelites that their survival does not depend on mere provision of manna and quails, but more so on their faith and trust in God.

Such was Jesus’ response to the devil: he trusted that God would supply all his needs. If he doubted God’s providential promises in his word, he would have fallen victim to Satan’s lies. After this temptation, Jesus taught his disciples on the mountain, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:25, 33).

Life is much more than food, clothing and a roof over your head. Life is about trusting and obeying the word of God, even in times of testing. Jesus was ready for the second test.

“Are You Really the Christ, the Son of God?”

Failing the first time, the devil has a Plan B. He takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem, “the holy city,” probably the southeastern corner of the temple 300 feet above the Kidron Valley floor. He then tries to corner Jesus into jumping off the temple and quoting Psalm 91:11–12, “’He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Like many deceivers and false teachers today, Jesus knew the devil was blatant twisting Scripture for his own wicked motive. The psalmist was not saying that a person should try to force God to protect him by jumping off a cliff. Satan was provoking Jesus to think that if God really loved him as his only-begotten Son, then his Father would surely save him from certain death on the valley floor.

So Jesus replies with his own true interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” If Jesus surrendered to the devil’s manipulations, he would have violated God’s word. He would have in effect doubted God’s love for him.

Remember Israel in the wilderness? Time and again, they put God to the test. When they were hungry, the grumbled and complained that God is going to let them die of hunger. Then when they had manna, the complained that they were sick of it. When they were thirsty, they grumbled and complained against Moses, so God did not allow them to enter the Promised Land of rest, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (Psalm 95:7-9).

Another temptation for Jesus was that with such a spectacular display as jumping from a 30-story building and floating down to the ground unharmed would have been seen by a large number of temple worshipers. Thousands would have instantly believed and followed him as their Messiah, and his fame would have spread throughout the whole country.

But in so doing, he would have disobeyed his Father’s commission to him. A glorious enthronement as King of Israel was not part of his Father’s will for him. Rather, preaching the kingdom of God and suffering a cruel death on the cross, where he was mocked as “King of the Jews,” was the plan to save his chosen ones from the bondage to Satan, sin and death.

Many false teachers today put God to the test. They say, “Test God. Give all your money, because the Bible says that God will give you twofold or threefold.” What blatant manipulation of God! What blasphemy!

Many people today put their trust in signs and wonders. They want to see spectacular healings, speaking in tongues, slaying in the spirit, and such other things to believe. But faith is about knowing, believing and trusting God and in his promises in his word, not about signs and wonders.

Jesus would have none of the devil’s lies and twisting of Scripture. He would have none of today’s miraculous deceptions by false teachers.

Satan failed to seduce Jesus into proving that he is the Almighty Creator. Again, he failed to manipulate Jesus into testing God’s love for him as the Son of God. But the devil did not give up. He had to try to deceive Jesus one last time.

“Are You Really the King of the Universe?”

In this last temptation, the devil challenged Jesus’ kingship.

Satan took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, possibly a vision of the whole world “in a moment of time.” Then he claimed ownership of all these kingdoms, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will” (Luke 4:6). As before, in the Garden of Eden, the devil was saying half-truths.

In some sense, Satan was right that he had authority over the kingdoms of the world. He is described as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:3; 14:30), “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). The devil is described as having power, a throne and “great authority” (Rev 13:2), and that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). His kingdom is said to consist of “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).

But his claim is a half-truth, because his power and authority are not over the whole world, but only over the unbelieving, rebellious world. The citizens of his kingdom are only the ungodly and unrighteous. He has no authority over the citizens of God’s kingdom. He can only act according to what God allows him to do.

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. At his resurrection, all authority in heaven and on earth had been delivered to him. The Father installed him as the King of Zion and as his Son, and promised to “make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” He will break all of Satan’s kingdoms into pieces and rule them with an iron rod (Psa 2:6-9). And all the rebellious kings and nations who will not pay homage to him will be destroyed by the fire of his wrath and by the sword coming from his mouth.

At his ascension into heaven, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph 1:20-22).

Because Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), what he was offering to Jesus was not his to offer; he was offering the kingdoms of this world to the King of the Universe. He was again enticing Jesus to make a shortcut to establishing the future Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will not be founded on the worship of the devil, but on the suffering and death of Christ as our sacrificial Lamb of God.

But the most perilous temptation the devil was offering to Jesus was a violation of the first and second commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex. 20:3, 5). Only the God of heaven is to be worshiped. All others are idol-gods, and all idolaters and their idols will be destroyed.

Again, Jesus replies with God’s word from Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Jesus knew that in the end, everyone–righteous and unrighteous–will pay obeisance to him, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11).

At this last rebuke from Jesus, the devil left. Although defeated and conquered, he still prowls among believers, lying and deceiving as he goes, trying to tempt us into disobedience, ungodliness, and unrighteousness.

Conclusion

Beloved in Christ:

Remember those in the past who failed miserably when the devil tempted them, compared with Christ who vigorously resisted him. Adam was tempted to sin, in spite of his advantages over Jesus: (1) he had plenty of food, while Jesus fasted for 40 days; (2) he had God as his companion in the Garden, while Jesus had wild beasts around him; and (3) he was surrounded by a beautiful, perfect creation, while Jesus was in a barren desert.

The Israelites in the wilderness also failed miserably on all three counts. Although God provided them with all their needs, manna and water, they did not trust him and continually disobeyed God’s commands. When they were thirsty, they complained and tested God to prove his word. And many times in their 40 years in the wilderness, Israel worshiped pagan idols.

Unlike Adam and Israel, do not let the devil tempt you into sin. Jesus has set an example for you in defeating Satan’s lies and deceptions. He uses many false teachers in the churches today to deceive you. The gods of this world today are the lies of pluralism, relativism, universalism, prosperity gospel, and Gnosticism, which are also in many evangelical churches.

Do not be deceived! Your greatest enemies are not Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists. The greatest enemies are in the churches, appearing as angels of light, but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the ones being used by Satan in deceiving the churches.

How do you resist the devil’s lies and deceptions? By reading, studying and meditating the word of God with prayer. By attentively listening to the preaching of the true gospel every Lord’s Day. God’s word, “the sword of the Spirit,” is our weapon.

When you are spiritually weak, you are prone to the lies of Satan. So your souls must be nourished by the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The table is ready. Let us come to receive God’s grace and mercy.

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