Images of the Savior (5 â€“ His Temptation in the Wilderness)
When God created our first father, Adam, he placed him at once in the heart of paradise, to enjoy a sweet and pleasant fellowship with his Creator. This fellowship was freely offered for as long as Adam was still innocent; but his innocence had not yet been confirmed, and so God designed a test of obedience to see whether Adam would continue in his state of holy blessedness, or reject the Lord's commandment and bring upon himself misery and banishment from paradise. During this time of probation, God allowed Satan to enter into paradise for the purpose of tempting the man. In this first great struggle between man and Satan, man was utterly defeated and driven out from the presence of the Lord. Adam had failed to abide by the terms of his first covenant with God, and so plunged himself and his entire race into death and corruption. At this time, all might have been lost; but in his mercy, God instead established a new and gracious covenant with our father Adam, promising that he would send a Seed of the woman who would again enter into conflict with Satan. This promised Seed would be triumphant, and would crush the old Tempter, bruising his own heel in the conflict. Thousands of years passed, and all God's people hopefully awaited this coming Messiah who would again take up the struggle with Satan, and who would this time utterly conquer him by rendering a perfect obedience to the word of the Father in the face of his fiercest temptations. When the Spirit led our Savior into the desert, the time had finally arrived for the mighty conflict to be taken up again between the Seed of the woman and the Tempter of mankind. But this time, the outcome would be much different.
How mighty a victory our Savior accomplished! At the beginning of this trial, the stage appeared to be set for utter failure, just as it had been set for victory in the first temptation with Adam. When the Devil set the forbidden fruit before Adam, he had not fasted at all: our Savior had fasted for forty days, and was both hungry and weak. If Adam had been hungry, he had a beautiful garden full of the most delicious and varied fruits at his immediate disposal; he might have availed himself of any of these with divine pleasure and approval: our Savior was surrounded by nothing but the scorching sands and sun-blackened stones. Adam was being tempted while surrounded by the vast delights of the garden of God, knowing full well that to fail would be to lose everything he held so dear: our Savior was surrounded by the bleak and desperate wilderness, and was being offered the immediate and painless gain of those things that ought by right to have been his all along. And yet our first father, set up for a resounding victory, suffered a stunning defeat; while the second Adam, set up in every way for failure from the outset, accomplished for us an irreversible victory. How beautiful is this image of our suffering and weary Champion, in the throes of a great struggle in the desert, as he grapples with our ancient enemy in our behalf. Let us never tire of feasting our eyes on this suffering yet triumphant Seed of the woman!
As we look to this account of our Savior's probation, we must be struck with how well-adapted our enemy's strategies were in his attempt to snare our conquering Head. The Devil did not outright deny Christ's Messianic role and authority. He confessed openly that he was indeed the Son of God. Moreover, he offered him only those things that were truly good and pleasing, and that by all rights should have belonged to him anyway. He did not deny that Christ ought to have sustenance and protection from his Father in heaven, or that he should reign as King over the nations of the world. Instead, he simply suggested that Christ should enter into those things without undergoing any initial suffering or privation. He did not question Christ's Messianic legitimacy, but he questioned the necessity of the Messianic suffering. He suggested that Christ should forthwith seize all his Messianic glory by an immediate and arbitrary display of his power; but all the scriptures demonstrated that the Messiah would win his glorious reward by following the path of obedience to his Father's will. Satan thus waged a mighty assault against our Savior, offering to him those blessings which he already knew that, as the Messiah, he was entitled to. But Christ was well-prepared to withstand those ferocious assaults, first, by reason of the Spirit to whom he submitted his ministry on earth; and second, by reason of the scriptures which testified to what sort of path the Christ should follow to gain his final glory. We may learn much from this: if even Christ was dependent upon the empowerment of the Spirit and his ready familiarity with scriptures, while he walked on earth, how much more necessary is it for us to avail ourselves of the same means as we wage our spiritual warfare!
What may we learn of Christ from each of the three temptations in specific? From the first, we learn that the path to final glory is, for a time, hard and fraught with much suffering and privation. The Devil acknowledged that Christ was truly the Son of God; and that he was therefore possessed of the power to turn very stones into bread; and furthermore, that he was entitled to necessary nourishment from the Father. Christ did not deny any of these truths; instead, he recalled in the scriptures that physical bread was not the sole substance by which the Father was pleased to provide for his children. In fact, his very words were true bread from heaven, and the observance of them brought true life and fellowship with him. How might Christ have been tempted to doubt His Father's loving care and provision in his present state of hunger. But instead, he remembered from the scriptures what was necessary for him to follow the will of his Father and thus to become in himself the true food and drink of all those whom the Father should call (John 6:48-51). How grateful ought we to be that Christ recognized that true life is greater than physical subsistence, and that, if God can be trusted to sustain our spirit, the lesser needs of physical food will not be denied us when we wait on his good provision in his perfect timing. We must also recognize that Christ refused to perform this miracle because his authority to perform miracles on the earth was entirely subordinated to his task of signifying his authority as the Messiah. If he had worked any miracle arbitrarily, simply to satisfy his own physical needs, his divine power would not have been in submission to the Messianic task his Father had placed upon him. And it was only through a perfect submission and obedience to the will of the Father that Satan would finally be defeated. When we are tempted to doubt our Father's kind provision of our necessary wants, let us remember the example of our Savior.
From the second temptation, we are again reminded that Christ's messianic authority was not in any event to be used arbitrarily, and that his messianic task would largely be accomplished through difficult and inglorious means, and not through the spectacular display to which Satan tempted him. Notice how subtly Satan twists scriptures to his own advantage! He here quotes Psalm 91:11, "He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you," and yet he omits the following clause, "in all your ways." Satan knew that the ways of the Messiah were ways of passive dependence and obedience to his Father, and not presumptuous displays of special protection by God. In leaving out this clause, he strips the promise of God's protection of all its Messianic context, and makes it a cause for presumption. This was a difficult temptation indeed: how the Devil must have been whispering in our Savior's ear, "I know that you are the Son of God, but who else could possibly know? Has not all Israel seen you as a mere carpenter's son, undergoing the baptism of repentance with all the sinners in Judah? Come now, prove yourself before them: display for all the world to see, before the very pinnacle of the temple, that God will specially protect and guard you. Then they will know your are truly His Son and the promised Messiah." How subtle was this temptation, but how mightily did Christ overcome it with the scriptures. He recognized that, at its heart, this action would be a mere putting of God to the test, a doubting of the ways that he had chosen to accomplish his promised protection. Hence he quotes to the Tempter Deuteronomy 6:16, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." Well may we remember this admonition, and refuse to use the guise of exceptional faith to put our Father to the test and to despise the means that he has ordained for us to employ in our pursuit of final victory.
Finally, from Christ's third temptation, we are reminded that Christ could only enter his glorious kingdom after accomplishing a victory obtained through suffering and humiliation. Christ was promised a kingdom that would embrace all the nations of the earth: and here, Satan offers it to him without struggle, if he will just acknowledge that the Messianic Kingdom comes ultimately from the Devil, and not from the Father. It was due to that first treacherous act of Adam in forsaking the Father to follow the Devil that all the nations of the world came under Satan's authority. Satan's kingdom came about by man's disobedience, and Christ knew that it would ultimately only be conquered by a man's perfect obedience to God. It was only by obedience that Christ was to validate his ultimate power over Satan, to crush his kingdom of rebels and sinners, and to win for himself a far more glorious and lasting kingdom to the praise of the Father. How well it is for us that Christ kept these things in his remembrance, and summarily banished Satan from his presence, reminding him of the great and all-inclusive commandment from Deuteronomy 6:13, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve." Christ looked ahead to that time when, having won his own resurrection and the resurrection of all who were his, he would deliver over the kingdom to the Father and reign in peace with all his enemies put under his feet (I Corinthians 15:22-25). Christ understood that by obediently suffering in our place, because of our disobedience, he would win for himself a host of redeemed sinners, saved by his blood, and by his blood conquering the deceits of Satan (Revelation 12:11). How glorious a kingdom Christ won for himself, when he here rejected the Devil's lying offer of a kingdom and looked obediently to the Father to give him all authority in heaven and upon earth, after the fulfillment of his Messianic mission.
And thus, when Christ had rejected Satan's final offer, he fled from his presence in utter shame and defeat. From this time onward, while Christ walked upon the earth, all the devils and legions of Satan fled trembling from his presence whenever he arrived to perform his Messianic wonders of healing and raising the dead and casting out demons. Christ had victoriously passed his time of probation in the wilderness, and had reversed the devastating failure of Adam in the garden so many years before. He had by his unquestioning obedience to the Father caused that first great stroke to fall against Satan. Thereafter, the days were hastening when Christ would decisively accomplish the final victory that he had here begun, putting all the hosts of Satan to open shame by the blood of his cross (Colossians 2:14-15).
How mighty a victory Christ won for us here in the desert! Whenever we are tempted to despair, being hard beset by the trials of the devil, let us remember Christ's great victory and look to him. He now intercedes in our behalf as our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16); and his intercession must be effective, because he has already won the victory. When we struggle with the burdens and difficulties inherent in following Christ on this earth, let us remember that, for us, as for him, the path to the kingdom passes first through much persecution (Acts 14:22); but of the final outcome we can have no doubt, for Christ has already entered his kingdom and now reigns triumphantly from the throne of David. Let us take heart, follow Christ's example, and wield the scriptures against that old Liar and Tempter of souls. Satan has already fled from our great Champion, Christ the Savior. If we are Christ's, he can no more overcome us than he could overcome our glorious Head. The battle has been won for us! Let us look unceasingly to Christ, for in him alone is our final victory.