“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. 13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.” (Mark 1:12-13)
The Bible says that it was by Satan that Jesus was to be tested. In the days of His humiliation, Jesus was moved “from the Father’s approving smile, to Satan’s contemptuous wiles” (W. Hendricksen). Here is a great mystery but the Bible says that Christ was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin.
Now, this does not mean that Jesus faced every situation that we do. There are many special temptations that we have that Jesus did not. However, what can be said is that Jesus was exposed to every type of temptation that you and I face. In the final analysis there are only three ways to be tempted. Every provocation to do wrong may be listed under one of three categories which are set forth in 1 John 2:16. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. By these three avenues you and I are tempted. By these three avenues Jesus was tempted, if we put them in a slightly different order. Briefly the scene may be reconstructed. As Jesus was alone in the desert, fasting and praying, the Bible says that the Devil came to him on three separate occasions with three specific offers.
The Pride of Life
First, Satan wanted Jesus to prove Himself. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Here was the temptation to brag. Here was the temptation for Christ to exalt Himself in an inappropriate manner. Was there any doubt that Jesus was the Son of God?
Had not the angels sang at His birth? Did not the Wise Men of the East seek Him out and worshipped Him? Had not John already told others to, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world?” Of course Jesus was the Son of God. But as an obedient Son, Jesus would not exalt Himself. He would not brag and He would not do anything independently of the Father. And so Jesus answered Satan with Scripture 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; Deut. 8:3)
The Lust of the Flesh
Frustrated by that effort, the Devil took Jesus up into the Holy City of Jerusalem. Together they stood on a pinnacle of the Temple. Looking down into the valley below, Satan taunted the Lord.
“If thou the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands thy shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Matt. 4:6; Psa. 91:11) Here was a temptation to the lust of the flesh. It might be fun to leap from the side of a cliff knowing that the angels would come and save the body from any ultimate harm. It would also be wrong. And so Jesus answered and said unto Satan, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matt. 4:7 cp. Deut. 6:16)
The Lust of the Eyes
Still determined to find some way to cause the Saviour to sin, the Bible says that Satan took Jesus into an exceeding high mountain, and shewed Him all the kingdoms of the world. “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall and worship me.” (Matt. 4:9) Here was a temptation according to the lust of the eyes and Jesus said unto the Devil, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10; Deut. 6:13) It was enough to say. The Devil was forced to depart. The victory was won by Jesus, through the Word, and by the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. That is the way to victory for every Christian as well.
Now, as Jesus was tempted, so shall every Christian be tempted. No one is above the Master. As Christ had to endure satanic suggestions, so shall the saints. Someone has asked, “Why is it that opportunity knocks only once, yet temptation bangs on the door?” There is no real sin in temptation; there is only sin in succumbing to temptation. Martin Luther used to say that you cannot keep the black crows from flying around the head, but you can keep them from landing. Billy Graham has often said that temptation is the first look; sin is the second, or lingering look. There are several purposes for the times of testing.
First, God allows temptation to separate the true from the false. Judas looked like all the other disciples, but he was different, and the difference was manifested when he was tempted to trade his faith for thirty pieces of silver in exchange for the Saviour.
Second, individuals are tempted to keep the heart humble. The Pharisees and the Scribes were proud of their religious inclinations because they felt they had no sin. That spirit is alive today, for there is a dangerous doctrine being taught by many Protestant groups called Perfectionism. Times of testing are often simple reminders of how deceitful the heart is, and desperately wicked. Even Paul cried out “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24)
Third, individuals are tempted in order to promote holiness. When the moment of temptation comes, and is passed without shame, the soul is stronger, and the Father is pleased.
Fourth, temptation comes in order to receive a blessing. The Bible says, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12)
How to Have Victory
To enhance victory over sin in the time of testing the proper application of Scripture remembered is essential. It is significant that Jesus responded to every temptation with a scriptural quotation (and they all came from Deuteronomy). The Psalmist said, “Thy Word will I hide in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11)
However, care must be taken. Knowing Scripture, and being able to quote it, is not enough to keep the soul from sinning. David knew the Word of God and fell into grievous sin, as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Peter. The world is filled with former ministers, Sunday school teachers, and religious leaders who have fallen into sin, despite knowing full well what the Bible teaches. Still, quoting Scripture is effective.
If reflected upon, temptation can be anticipated and prepared for. We have already discovered that there are only three categories of temptation, so that is the first line of defense against sin: be aware of the broad assaults.
A second line of defense, is to consider how others have been specifically tempted to sin. Adam and Eve were encouraged to become like God. Beware of the intellectual seductions to sin, as is found in Self-esteem theology, the New Age Movement, and the cults, such as Mormonism. Abraham was tempted to love his family more than he loved the Lord. (Gen. 22:1) Isaac was tempted to lie. David was tempted to lust, deceive, and murder. Paul was tempted to unjustified anger. Peter was tempted to compromise his doctrinal convictions. (Gal. 2:11-14) All the disciples were tempted to forsake Christ. Consider how others have been tempted, and take heed.
A third line of defense against sin is to remember that God is always watching. “The father of a small boy would occasionally sneak into a neighbor’s orchard and pick some of the best fruit. He always made sure, however, that the coast was clear by looking around. One day, with his son tagging along, after carefully looking in every direction and seeing no one, the father crept through the fence. He was just about ready to help himself when the young boy startled him by whispering loudly, “Daddy, You didn’t look up! You forgot to see if God was watching.”
When temptation comes, and we are inclined to yield because it is dark, or no one is around, if we are a Christian, we remember that God is always watching. For those who have been tempted, and succumbed to it, take hope in the promise of 1 John 1:9. And then, go and sin no more.