15 February, 2007

Who Tempted Jesus in the Wilderness?

Matthew 4:1-11: "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God,command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself 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. Jesus said unto him, It is written again,Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him,and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him".

There are two vital points to consider before looking at the identity of Jesus' tempter.

First, Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb. 4:15), and: "every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14). We are tempted by the "devil" of our own lusts or evil desires, and so was Jesus. We are not tempted by an evil being suddenly standing next to us and prompting us to sin - sin and temptation come "from within, out of the heart of man" (Mark 7:21).

Second, if the devil is a physical person who has no respect for God's Word and is interested in making people sin, then why would Jesus quote Scripture to him to overcome him? Notice that Jesus quoted a Bible passage each time. If the devil was simply the evil desires within Jesus' heart, then it is understandable that by his having the Word in his heart and reminding himself of it, he could overcome those bad desires. Psalm 119:11 is so relevant that perhaps it is specifically prophesying Christ's experiences in the wilderness: "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee".

The Examination
1. Matt. 4:1 says that Jesus was "led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." This was the Spirit of God which had just been bestowed upon him (3:16). It would be an extraordinary thing for the Spirit of God to lead Jesus into the wilderness so that he could be tempted by a supernatural, superhuman evil entity bent on opposing God.

2. When Jesus was baptized in Jordan by John, he received the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16). As soon as he came out of the water, he was driven into the wilderness to be tempted. Knowing that he had the power of the spirit to turn stones into bread, jump off buildings unharmed etc., these temptations must have raged within his mind. If a person was suggesting these things to Jesus and Jesus knew that person to be sinful, then the temptations would have meant much less then if they came from within Jesus' own mind.

The temptation to take the kingdoms to himself would have been far more powerful if it came from within Christ. Jesus' mind would have been full of Scripture, and in his afflicted state of mind, caused by his fasting, it would be tempting to misinterpret passages to enable him to use them to justify taking the easy way out of the situation he was in.

Standing on a high mountain recalls Ezekiel being shown what the Kingdom would be like from a high mountain (Ez. 40:2), and John seeing "the holy Jerusalem" from "a great and high mountain" (Rev. 21:10). Jesus saw the world's kingdoms as they would be in the future (Luke 4:5), i.e. in the Kingdom, when "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15). Maybe he would have thought of Moses at the end of 40 years' wilderness wandering (cp. His 40 days) looking out at the Promised Land (the Kingdom) from Mount Nebo. It is emphasized in Daniel (4:17,25,32; 5:21) that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will"; Jesus would have known that only God, not anyone else, could give him the Kingdom. Therefore it would not have been much of a temptation if an evil monster claimed to be able to give Jesus the Kingdom, when he knew only God had that power. However, Jesus knew that it was His (the Father's) good pleasure to give Jesus the Kingdom, and it must have been suggested by the "devil" within Jesus that he could take that kingdom immediately. After all, he could have reasoned, God has delegated all authority to me in prospect (John 5:26,27), to the extent that he had power to both give his life and take it again (John 10:18), although ultimately all power was given unto him only after his death and resurrection (Matt. 28:18).

3. With his familiarity with Scripture, Christ would have seen the similarities between himself and Elijah, whose morale collapsed after 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:8) and Moses, who forfeited his immediate inheritance of the land at the end of 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus, at the end of 40 days, was in a similar position to them - faced with a real possibility of failure. Moses and Elijah failed because of human weakness - not because of a person called "the devil". It was this same human weakness, the "satan", or adversary, that was tempting Jesus.

4. "And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God..." (Luke 4:3). It must have been a constant temptation within the mind of Christ to prove to the world that he truly was the Son of God, something that would ultimately be rejected by the Jews and eventually lead to his death.

5. The temptations were controlled by God for Christ's spiritual education. The passages quoted by Jesus to strengthen himself against his evil desires ("devil") are all from the same part of Deuteronomy, regarding Israel's experiences in the wilderness. Jesus clearly saw a parallel between his experiences and theirs:

Deut 8:2 "The Lord thy God led thee forty years in the wilderness to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments (word) or no." Matt.4/Luke 4 "Jesus led up of the spirit" "forty days" "in the wilderness." Jesus was proved by the temptations. Jesus overcame by quoting the Scriptures that were in his heart (Ps. 119:11).

Deut 8:3 "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna...that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word...of the Lord..." Matt.4/Luke 4 "He was afterward an hungred." In John 6 manna is interpreted by Jesus as representing the Word of God - which Jesus lived by in the wilderness. Jesus learnt that spiritually he lived by the Word of God. "He answered...it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word...of God."

Deut 8:5 "Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." Matt.4/Luke 4 Jesus no doubt reflected on his experiences. God chastened His Son, Jesus - 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:32.

Thus Jesus showed everyone how to read and study the Word - he thought himself into the position of Israel in the wilderness, and therefore took the lessons that can be learnt from their experiences to himself in his wilderness trials.


Blogger Roopster said...


Are you saying that you don't believe in a real devil? What about demons?

February 25, 2007 11:35 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

That's right. I don't believe in a "real" devil or demons.

February 26, 2007 1:21 AM  

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