The temptation of Christ began after Jesus had been in the desert forty days and forty nights without food. After that prolonged period of time “He was hungry.” Quickly the Devil moved to make a suggestion. By food, the First Adam sinned, perhaps by food, the Last Adam would also sin. By casting doubt on the integrity of God, the First Adam was made to fall. Satan would try the tactic on Christ. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matt. 4:3).
If God could of stones raise up children unto Abraham, surely the Son of God could make a little bread to eat. After all, what is more normal, and more natural, than finding food to nourish the body? The answer is, “Nothing.” But in context, there was sin in the Satanic suggestion. For Jesus, at this time, to make provisions for Himself there would be sin, for the Lord would be taking Himself out of the providential care of God the Father. That, Jesus would not do.
In response to Satan, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). With these words Jesus tells Satan in effect, “You are suggesting that for a man to survive, and appease hunger, it is absolutely necessary for him to eat bread. That is not true. I declare that it is not bread, but the sustaining power of God by which man lives.” It is instructive that Satan did not challenge what Jesus taught, for there was truth in the way Christ used Scripture. And that leads to another observation.
It is commonly taught that quoting Scripture in the moment of temptation will somehow make the temptation go away. In some situations a simple word from the Bible may be sufficient, but it has been my observation, and personal experience, that citing Scripture alone does not stop the power of temptation from being manifested.
When the Word of God is memorized, it must then be used in faith, with a clear understanding of the truth behind the words. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”(John 8:32). Some people, like Pilate, never find the truth, and are never made free from sin.
Observe from the text that temptation takes place in the heart. The Battle for Sin is waged in the mind, and it is won, or lost, in the mind. Before Adam ate of the forbidden fruit his heart was already in a state of rebellion. Adam sinned because his heart left God. Jesus did not sin, because His heart was towards God. Jesus won the victory in the soul, which guided His outward actions. The Bible tells us to guard the heart, for out of it issues forth life.
Unfortunately, victory over one temptation does not discourage Satan. When the Devil found that Jesus could not be tempted by the lust of the flesh, he did not go away. Satan tempted Jesus with the pride of life. Taking Jesus to the holy city Jerusalem, the Devil placed the Lord on a pinnacle of the temple. While the exact location is not given, it may have been the roof edge of Herod’s royal portico, overhanging the Kidron valley, and looking down some 450 feet. Josephus called it a “dizzying height.”
“Since you are the Son of God,” said the Tempter, “throw yourself down.” The implication was clear. By casting Himself over the edge, Jesus would be able to prove His confidence in the Father’s protection. Besides, because of the prophetic promise, if Jesus really is the Son of God no harm could possibly come to Him for holy angels would swoop down to stop His fall, and gently lift Him up.
Once again Satan quoted Scripture in order to misapply what was written (Psa. 9:11-12). And once again the Saviour quoted Scripture in order to correctly apply what the text meant. That is still the challenge today. But it is not easy to apply to understand, or to apply the Scriptures correctly, because there are so many different interpretations. Whose interpretation is correct? That is not an easy question to answer. All we can do is to appeal to certain general principles to embrace.
First, God has spoken to the world through prophets, and poets, and finally through His Son. The Bible is the written record of what God has to say to man. Second, there is a body of truth, once and for all, delivered unto the saints. Third, no matter what outward form a person worships in, God looks at the heart. And God still speaks to the heart that is beating after Him. Therefore, ultimate truth can be known. By prayer, by meditation, and by study, the truth which binds all people strongly to Christ will be revealed, and Scripture will harmonize.
Though Satan misapplies Scripture, though self is prone to misunderstand Scripture, the Bible is still the Word of God. Jesus used it to avoid sin, and so can we. Simply enough Jesus said, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7).
This quotation comes from Deuteronomy 6:16. In context, Israel was rebelling against Moses at a place called Meribah. The people wanted Moses to produce water, and accused him of being cruel. Many wanted to kill him. The people were emotional and unreasonable. They were tempting the Lord God by threatening to kill His leadership in Moses.
With this historical event in His mind, Jesus made a decision to resist the temptation of Satan. The Lord knew that if He acted in an unreasonable, and emotional manner, He would be tempting God. He would not do it.
By way of personal application, there is such a thing as having false confidence in God, which really tempts Him. Daily life offers many illustrations. For example, a person will pray for health, and then violate the rules of health. A person will ask God to save his soul in a short prayer of faith, only to neglect the means of grace, such as the study of Scripture, church attendance, taking communion, and living for the glory of God. All of this is tempting God.
A church member was once admonished because at a circus he had eagerly entered into a corrupt side show. The church member defended himself by saying, “I cannot deny that I went there but while I was there I was constantly praying ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity’” (Psa. 119:37). He tempted God.
A young woman once asked me if she should marry a non-believer. The Bible is quite plain on this matter, and my counsel was not to marry the unbeliever. A Christian woman should not be unequally yoked with a non-believer. The woman decided to marry the young man, and pray for his salvation. She tempted God.
Christians must be careful not to tempt God. When the Devil realized that Jesus was not going to tempt the Father, he took the Lord into a high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. These kingdoms Satan promised to Jesus upon one condition. The Lord must bow down and worship him. By offering the kingdoms of this world, Satan was suggesting to Jesus that there could be a crown, without the Cross of Calvary.
Many Bible teachers believe that the Devil’s ability to deliver on his promise was real. In the ultimate sense, Satan is not the owner and ruler of the nations. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. However, there is no doubt that Satan can, and does, assert a tremendous influence on nations.
Still, the Lord rises to the occasion. He was able not to sin, and because of His absolute holiness, He was not able to sin. Commanding the serpent as a Sovereign to His subject, the Lord said, “Get thee hence Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
Satan had no choice. He had to leave, and he did. In his place holy angels came and ministered unto the Lord. Like Christ, we too shall be tempted. And like Christ, if we are prepared by prayer and fasting, by Scripture and by truth, we shall be able to be holy and victorious after our time of temptation.