Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Wyckoff, NJ.
Strange! The Messiah, as soon as He presented Himself to John the Baptist and received His glorious gifts at baptism, is immediately driven into the wilderness. Conventional wisdom would have Jesus immediately begin healing the sick, deaf, dumb, lame, raising the dead, and casting out demons. He ought to have begun showing the glory and majesty of His kingdom, gathering multitudes about Himself. There is a great movement to be begun, a movement lasting up to our present day!
Conventional wisdom is, however, not the wisdom of God. According to divine, exalted wisdom—so unlike worldly wisdom—Christ must immediately enter into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God would have it so. This King must be shown to be an obedient King, learning obedience even by the things that He must suffer. For His crown comes to Him only through the way of battle. And the lesson, though it begins here, is not really finished until the last drop of His blood at Calvary is shed.The real glory of Christ, coming out of these temptations, is that both He and we are assured that He is mighty to save. There is something that must have been true of Christ, according to His human nature. Just as He grew in wisdom and knowledge from boyhood to manhood, so He must also be able to rejoice that His integrity stands in spite of the fierce attack of the devil. He counted it all joy!
There is something also for us to know through these temptations. We have presented to us in these Scriptures a Savior who is mighty to save, a Head whose righteousness is perfect beyond all flaw.
The Fierce Temptations
With the first temptation of Christ, Scripture sets before us the infinite superiority of the second and last Adam over the first. The first Adam was surrounded with the fruit of all the trees of the garden. The second and last was famished, having fasted for forty days and nights. The first Adam was created under God, to serve Him. The second was God Himself; but, not considering equality with God a thing to be grasped, emptied Himself into the form of a servant. To the first Adam came the Tempter: “Ye shall be as gods.” A most evident lie. To the second and last came the same Tempter: “If thou be the Son of God.” The truth. The first Adam fell before the lie. The second and last stands.
We see how this works. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” There is reason for Christ to do this thing. As the Son of God He has the power to turn these stones into bread. All he needs to do is say the word. He is famished, his belly crying out in need of food. Yet, there is one thing that stands in the way: the will of God. It was the Spirit who drove Him into the wilderness, the Spirit of God. It was the will of God, the word of God, that He suffer hunger. It was exactly before that word that Christ must bow as a willing, humble servant. It must be His meat to do the will of His Father in heaven. His answer is perfectly appropriate, taught out of the law. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” He has the power, but not the authority, His will being subject to the will of God.
The devil seems to have learned from this temptation. Christ has used the Scriptures to support Himself in this first temptation. Fight fire with fire. In his twisted and perverted ways, the father of lies will now use the Scriptures to tempt Christ again. But, even more than the use of the Scriptures, the use of the very same idea. Christ withstood the first temptation by declaring his utter dependence upon God, rejecting dependence on physical bread to sustain His life. Now the devil sets before Christ the very same idea. Do not proceed according to nature. Do not live in harmony with the truth that, should you throw yourself down from this high place, you will break your neck on the ground. There is a word of God to be depended upon. 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.” If this Scripture applies anywhere, it must certainly apply to the Messiah. Therefore, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down.” If man is to live by the word of God, then certainly the Messiah must live by Psalm 91:11, 12.
In Jesus’ answer, we see marvelous wisdom and discernment. Again, He answers by Scripture. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Fact is, it was the will of God that His Son deny Himself physical bread to the satisfying of His flesh. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. But it was not the will of God that His Son throw Himself down. He was brought by the devil to the pinnacle of the temple. He was commanded by the devil to cast Himself down. Not by God. To do this would be unrighteousness, it would be stepping out of the will of God.
The wisdom of Christ becomes evident from His particular application of the Scriptures to His circumstances. The Scripture brought by the devil in support of his command was no support at all. The key we find in the phrase the devil conveniently omitted from his quotation: “to keep thee in all thy ways.” These “ways” refer to the regular walk of the children of God. God’s angels protect His children in all their walk. It is not their calling to step out of that walk. Such was the temptation of the devil. For Christ to do this would be a temptation of God Himself. Therefore the entirely appropriate response, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” We must remember that it is not only the knowledge of Scripture but also the wisdom to apply them rightly that guards against the wiles of the devil.
In this answer of Christ we also find a strong rebuke of the devil. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Whom is the devil tempting right here? Hear the words out of the devil’s own mouth: “If thou be the Son of God….” The devil knows who this is, as surely as his comrades, Matthew 8:29. To continue in this way surely must seal the devil’s condemnation and punishment in the lake of fire. But continue he does. How foolish and vain!
The third temptation carries with it an awful weight, even a weight of glory. The devil holds before Christ “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” All these the devil promises to Christ. Christ need only do one thing. “If thou wilt fall down and worship me.” The devil set before Christ an easy way. Here there is no cross to hang upon. Here there is no suffering and dying. One simple act. All Christ need do is prostrate himself before the devil. Then he would be King of kings, and Lord of lords. All the glory of these earthly kingdoms would be His.
Set aside for a moment the question of whether or not this temptation is grounded in reality. Whether or not Satan had the authority to give Christ these things as He had promised. Whether or not Christ would be able to obtain them, though it would be extreme unrighteousness to bow before Satan. Consider the attractiveness of the offer. More people by far. For while God would give to Christ only the elect, the devil offers Him the world, all men head for head. A glory that is great without the shame and contempt of the cross. Wealth, fame, military and political might. Consider how things stand in the present day. The church is a little and despised flock of sheep, at the mercy of the world at large. Is there not more glory offered by the devil than by God the Father?
Here we see the devil at his boldest. The temptation is great, but the disobedience asked is wholly blatant. To obtain this thing, Christ would have to switch parties, as it were. He would have to declare Himself a rebel against God, and make Himself an ally of Satan. This was the very thing Satan held out as the condition. No more to fall down before God and worship Him. Rather, to give to Satan the glory that belonged to God. Obviously, Satan’s last-ditch effort.
Christ will not have the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, as offered by Satan. Take notice, though, of the way He refutes the temptation. He does not hold before Satan the truth that by Him and for Him were all these things created. He does not make mention of the far greater glory that will be His as crowned by God the Father. He does not speak of His coming session at God’s right hand. None of that. He will be simply a servant. “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Note the sheer power Christ expresses in the first part of His answer. “Get thee hence, Satan.” Not a thought of falling down or worshiping. Never may Satan be left with the impression that he is greater than Christ. Christ will order Satan: “Get thee hence!” He is the Son of God. Therefore, Satan must obey. Therefore, “the devil leaveth him.”
The battle is over. What a beautiful thing we read in verse 11. “Behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” These are faithful and elect angels, who stood when and where Satan fell. God grants to them the privilege now to come and minister to Christ. How this must have affirmed to Jesus His integrity in the face of such temptation. This is also for us the seal of God’s approval on this victory of Christ.
The Glory Revealed
Though Christ refused the glory offered him by the devil, His glory is clearly revealed. He came out of these temptations unscathed. His righteousness shines with greater luster and brilliance, having been purified by fire. It is a righteousness most worthy of our trust, a righteousness which is mighty to bring us to God. The glory is also that of pure holiness. Through these temptations we see that our Savior is wholly consecrated to God. So unswerving is His dedication to God’s glory, that the devil cannot turn it away in the least respect. How we stand in need of this righteousness and holiness.
We also see the glory of Christ as our faithful High Priest. Tempted in all points like as we are, He is a sympathetic High Priest. He knows the feeling of our infirmities. He has wholly identified Himself with us. In our greatest temptations we must know that our Lord is with us, to lead us through them.
Tempted but without sin, He is both faithful Priest and perfect sacrifice. His human nature, free from every taint of sin, is the perfect sacrifice to take away our sin. Offered to God in humble service, this Priest obtains for us a perfect righteousness. By that righteousness stands our salvation.
That salvation God is pleased to realize in the crucible of temptations. Like our Lord, we must face the machinations of the devil. Knowing that we have a faithful High Priest gives us the assurance that we shall be preserved through them all. We see from this passage that God has also given to us a proven means of resisting this temptation: His Word.
Questions for Further Study and Meditation
1. How can we maintain the infallibility of Christ as the Son of God, and understand the reality and force of these temptations? What particular aspects of Jesus’ human nature are in the foreground of this passage?
2. Some commentators hold that the latter two temptations are of an illusory character. Can that be true or not? How might that character be in conflict with the weight and significance of these temptations? Did Satan have the authority to give to Christ as he said? How does the substance of his request betray the fact that he was not about to do as he promised?
3. What comfort must be yours in seeing Christ tempted in this way, and in seeing His victory over these temptations? Which Scriptures give definite significance to these temptations of Christ for your salvation?
4. What are some of the similarities between Christ’s temptations and yours? Think along these lines: “If you are a Christian….” “I will give you earthly and material….” What is the way of rejecting these temptations, as Christ has shown us? Does your knowledge of Scripture show you are prepared for these attacks?