Vol. 1 - No. 10
Temptations In The Wilderness
by Robert L. McDonald
There is probably no event in the life of Christ more widely known than when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. This temptation is recorded in de-tail in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. Mark very briefly mentions the episode (Mark 1:12-13).
The word tempt in the English is almost always used in association with a bad meaning. The idea is to entice to do wrong; persuade one to take a wrong way. But the word found in our English text is from a word which has a different meaning. Sometime it refers to an enticement of the Devil. Other times, it refers to obstacles which test and try our faith. When the word is used regarding the action of the Devil, its meaning is to entice to do evil. When the Bible speaks of a temptation from God, it is used with regard to a testing of one's faith and trust in him.
To illustrate, Abraham was tempted. God had commanded him to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Genesis 22:1-2). Surely, here was a command of God which tested Abraham's trust. Surely, the thoughts passed through the mind of this godly soul how God would fulfill His promise through Isaac that all nations would be blessed. He thought that God would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Regardless of what we think of Abraham, his faith was tested and found approved. God does not tempt man to do evil, but rather that he may conquer sin.
In the temptation, Jesus was alone. No one was with him as he was led into the wilderness. Being human, our Lord agonized as he experienced the ordeal. The enticements were as great to Jesus as it would be to us. He had to overcome them. And his victory was without the help of others. As Jesus was alone as he experienced these enticements, so we must in our loneliness prove our faith by determining to stand for the truth.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had fasted forty days. Modernists say that Jesus ate no meat but sustained his life by eating berries and roots which he found in the wilderness. But Luke informs us that "in those days he did eat nothing" (Luke 4:2). We can try to imagine the pangs he must have suffered from the want of physical nourishment. But this would be so hard for us because we have not been without food for so long a time. As a dying man in the desert hallucinates the pool of water, so very likely Jesus could look about with thoughts of food entering his mind. It has been suggested that the limestone rock, which characterized that land, could have the appearance of bread and this was the visual which led to the first of the temptations.
Satan said, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" (verse 3). At a time when Jesus was poor, starved and cast out, Satan enticed him by an attack upon His deity. It could have been so easy to establish His person. Had he used his power to his own selfish use he would have yielded to the very thing that Satan wanted. The force of temptation is seen when the wrong act is cunningly disguised and there is a degree of desire of the subject.
We are tempted through fleshly desire which seeks a selfish satisfaction of our carnal appetite. Many times the act is so disguised that we may overlook where the wrong course will ultimately take us. Through the desire of the flesh we some-time yield to temptation. The apostle Paul wrote, "But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Jesus replied, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (verse 4).
The next setting, as recorded by Matthew, is somewhat different from Luke's account. Jesus was taken to the pinnacle of the temple. As we try to visualize that portion of the temple which overlooked the Valley of the Kidron, there is a de-scent of more than a hundred feet below the base of the wall of the city. As Jesus and Satan stood on the pinnacle, the deity of our Lord again was challenged. "If thou be the Son of God, cast thy-self down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone" (verse 6).
Satan tempts man through the avenue of pride of life. Witness man's climb to heights of power and influence. As he seeks to attain exalted places in human eyes, he will often yield to the temptation to sin. I have known gospel preachers to be influenced with pride, becoming their downfall. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Again, "When pride cometh, then cometh shame" (Proverbs 11:2). One of the most vulnerable points in temptation is with man's pride.
To this overture of Satan, Jesus appealed to an eternal truth, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (verse 7). What Satan was doing was to entice our Lord to do evil to the satisfaction of worldly pride. "God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13). Jesus, being God in the flesh, could not be tempted!
Jesus was then removed to an exceeding high mountain to be shown all of the kingdoms of the world. It has been suggested that a panoramic view of all of the kingdoms of the earth was unfolded so that at one time all power, beauty, wealth and grandeur of all kingdoms was shown. I am inclined to believe that at the high point of view that regions of Samaria, Judea and parts of Arabia could be seen. Such a temptation to believe that the father of lies, for a moment ofhomage, could bestow the kingdoms of the world with all of their power, glory and riches! Of course, in order for our Lord to become such an earthly monarch, he would have to compromise His exalted throne in the kingdom of heaven. To the evil one, Jesus replied, "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (verse 10).
At this point, "the devil leaveth him." But his departure is only for a season. Some may think that Jesus was never again enticed to do evil, but they are mistaken. Luke tells us that after Jesus was tempted "the devil departed from him for a season" (Luke 4:13). The writer of the Hebrews informs us that Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Peter observed "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin " (1 Peter 2:21-22).
Reader friend, each of us will be tempted over and again throughout our life. As Jesus was persuaded to do wrong, so we will be lured to depart from the faith in God. To maintain our fellowship with God, we must have the same mind of our Lord to be able to turn away from the temptations by abiding in the truth. Ours should be, "it is written," and make the application of the truth to our lives.