MATTHEW 4:1-11, THE TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS,
Evil. We must recognize that evil is a personal issue as well as a sociological one. It wells up, not only in our neighborhoods but also in our hearts.
Is this true temptation or a rite of passage that Jesus cannot fail? If failure is possible, does God set the bar so low that there is no danger to Jesus?
The author of Hebrews says, “For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
The Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7) is subject to every human experience, from birth to death. He experiences hunger, pain, grief, and anger. Otherwise, the Incarnation is incomplete, and his ministry is defective. If Jesus cannot fail, his temptation is less than our everyday experience.
A savior who cannot endure our everyday temptation cannot save us.
An issue for Christians today is the existence of the devil (diabolos). Does such a being exist or is it simply a primitive myth?
Is Evil Real?
Today we are tempted to see evil as the product of flawed social systems––poverty, racism, ignorance, etc.––and to discount the existence of the devil.
However, “the church teaches the existence of the devil because the biblical writers…taught such an existence and instructed us that Jesus reckoned with such an existence, too – by calling the devil a HE.
The idea of temptation is in short, is a Conflict with Satan… is the underlying aspect of the temptation conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, which is the plot of the whole Gospel of Matthew, and Jesus was no stranger to temptation…
- Peter tempted Jesus to avoid the cross (Matthew 16:23).
- Jesus also commends the disciples for standing by him in his trials (Luke 22:28).
- At Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with temptation once again (Luke 22:42-44).
Jesus in all aspects fulfilled the Old convent with the new. In fact, Jesus’ temptations were the very temptations––and in the same order––experienced by the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus. Israel was led to its testing by God, just as Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness.
Jesus Identifies with Israel
Jesus experienced baptism & temptation which paralleled the experience of Israel, whose baptism in the Red Sea was followed by their temptation in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
Israel failed the many tests, going after other gods and reaping bitter fruit. God punished them but did not abandon them. Punishment was intended to redeem instead of to destroy.
Let’s briefly look at this parallel.
• The Israelite’s first temptation had to do with hunger––about which they complained bitterly––and which need was satisfied by God’s provision of manna (Exodus 16).
• Their second temptation had to do with testing God at Massah with complaints about water (Exodus 17:2).
• Their third temptation was to fall down and worship a golden calf at the base of a high mountain (Exodus 32)––a high mountain also being the site of Jesus’ third temptation.
But there is Another Parallel—
There is certainly a parallel between Jesus’ baptism and his temptation:
“It is no coincidence that Jesus’ temptation immediately follows his baptism. Many of God’s people have had similar experiences.
Right after conversion or some other significant spiritual event, precisely when a certain level of victory or maturity seems to have been attained, temptations resume more strongly than ever -Elijah in 1 Kgs 19:1-18 and Paul in Rom 7:14-25.
• And we see In all three Synoptic Gospels, the temptation immediately follows Jesus’ baptism.
• Both baptism and temptation take place in the wilderness.
• The Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism now leads him into the wilderness.
• At baptism, God announced Jesus’ sonship, a relationship that the tempter uses in the temptation––”If you are the Son of God….”
• At his baptism, Jesus was faithful despite John’s protest of not being worthy to baptize him.
- At his temptation, he is faithful despite the tempter’s best (or worst) efforts.
Let’s Now Look at the Temptations Themselves
- Idenity & hunger –If you are the Son of God” (v. 3a). Following the baptism, a voice from heaven announced, “This is my Son.” Now the devil says, “If you are the Son of God”––introducing doubt––challenging Jesus to prove the authenticity of his identity.
“command that these stones become bread“ (v. 3b). The devil attacks Jesus at his weakest point––his compelling physical hunger. Such hunger drains us, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
2. Temptation of Proving who he is-“Then the devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle (pterygion) of the temple” (v. 5). We are not certain where this pterygion is located, but the temple is 100 cubits (150 feet or 46 meters) high––the height of a modern 15-story building. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down
“Again it is written, ‘Do not test the Lord your God“ (v. 7).
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, giving one scripture precedence over another. No one, not even Jesus, has the right to put God to the test. Such testing is evidence, not of faith, but of doubt. To test God is to put us in the driver’s seat and to require God to follow our lead.
3. Temptation of pride & greed “Again, the devil took him to an exceedingly high mountain” (v. 8a). Again, we are reminded of Moses, who met God on a high mountain.
On this high mountain, Jesus confronts the devil. Jesus has come to save the world, and the devil offers him the world. “and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” “for it is written, ‘He will put his angels in charge of you.’ and, ‘On their hands, they will bear you up, so that you don’t dash your foot against a stone” (v. 6b).
The devil quotes from Psalm 91:11-12, verses that reassure the person “who dwells in the secret place of the Highest” (Psalm 91:1) of God’s help in adversity.
4. Temptation of false worship for reward “I will give you all of these things if you will fall down and worship me“(v. 9). The devil names an attractive price. “Jesus is not asked to spend his whole life at the devil’s feet. He is given a real bargain: one momentary bow––the verb is aorist, suggesting one single act”.
But “the devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world is a parody in that God has already promised the messianic king, the Son of God, ‘Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession‘ (Ps 2:8; cf. Ps 73:8; Rev 11:15).
The devil’s offer would seem to be an attractive proposition, because even the New Testament acknowledges the devil’s power, calling him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and “world’s rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12).
So, What has Temptation got to do With us Today?
Temptation has not lost its power but is still an active force today. “If God is calling and empowering you to do something for him (John 3:16-17), you can expect to be tested…, and you can expect testing proportionate with the seriousness of your call…. Nevertheless, testing is for our good; when biblical heroes had matured through the time of testing, they knew the depth of God’s grace that had sustained them”.
How to Resist Temptation
Jesus resists temptation with the use of scripture, as Jesus does here, Satan uses scripture but twists it out of context- so to protect ourselves, we must know the Bible and basic Christian doctrine.
We must have our answer ready because the tempter will not give us time to look it up or to seek advice. The tempter is a master of timing and insists that we make our decision now. As the Scouts say, “Be Prepared!”
Good or Evil, You Choose!
God allows the beloved to choose good or evil and hopes to bless the right choice– To tempt is to hope for failure; to test is to hope for success.
IMPORTANT, however, that the Spirit does not tempt Jesus, but only leads him into the wilderness––goes with him into the wilderness––reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm, where God goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death. The Spirit leads Jesus––accompanies Jesus. The tempting is the devil’s business.
Very shortly, Jesus will teach us to pray, “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). “To be tempted (peirasthenai––from peirazo) by the devil“ (v. 1b). so here in the Lord’s Prayer The word peirazo can mean tempt or test.
So, as we enter into Lent, let us be aware of what we are dealing with & deal with it in the way Jesus did…
- To tempt is to entice a person to do what is wrong.
- To test, is to give a person the opportunity to choose what is right.
Let us choose what is right.
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Paula Rose has a Bachelor of Pastoral Counselling and Theology, Vision Christian University, USA
Master of Arts In Counselling & Professional Development, specializing in Spiritual Abuse The University of Derby, UK.
BACP Life Coaching Course, Bristol, UK
A life member of (ISFP) The International Society of Female Professionals.
Paula Rose Parish is an author, and the founder, of Hope. Faith. Love. She studied at the University of Derby and received a Master of Arts in Counselling in Professional Development. Over the years Paula Rose has served as a pastor, chaplain, counselor, coach and taught at Christian university, led workshops and retreats, and spoken worldwide on Christian spirituality. Author of over 100 articles and two books, Paula Rose continues to write on the spiritual life. Paula Rose is adding a string to her bow and is presently reading Health and Wellness. She has four grown children, five grandchildren, and lives in South Wales, UK.
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