Chapter 8.2 Triune Spirit
Temptation of Jesus, composite digital image, March 2007
Temptation of Jesus, composite digital image, March 2007 (CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

The Son of God quietly walked along the road and crossed the Jordan at the fords into Judea. At the beginning of his ministry, he knew it was necessary that as King, representative, and founder of the Kingdom of God he should encounter and defeat the representative, founder, and holder of the opposite power, the “prince of this world.” It began with his own temptation and victory over the ruler of the world he came to save. To him, there was no question as to the reality of such a kingdom, both physical and spiritual, opposed to God and of which the devil is king. Jesus was to cast out demons constantly during his ministry and first of all he must defeat their prince. His temptation was real, outwardly and inwardly. The fact that Jesus the Christ, the perfectly sinless Man, could be tempted is confirmed throughout his ministry.

The Savior’s human nature was morally like Adam before his fall—both sinless and capable of sin. Jesus voluntarily took upon himself human nature with all its infirmities and weaknesses, but without moral taint of the fall—without sin. It was human nature, in itself capable of sinning, but not having sinned. This explains the possibility of temptation or assault upon him, just as Adam could be tempted.

Christ turned northwest and reached a great spring at the edge of Jericho where he took a long drink of pure water. Above him rose a rugged arid height, and he began the laborious climb up the precipitous slope into the desolate mountains of Judea. The wilderness of underbrush, crags, and steep-sided gullies was a world apart from the valley of the Jordan below. Here, sheltered in one of the many caves that pocked the surface near the summit, he drew away from the world for a period of fasting and self-discipline to test his righteousness.

Jesus was no stranger to fasting; pious Jewish families such as that of Mary and Joseph often fasted, so it was natural for him to think of abstention from food as a means of putting aside the appetites of the flesh in self-discipline. Thus had the prophets of old sought divine revelation and received it.

As the days passed and Christ continued to fast upon the mountaintop, the insistent demands of his body, which was entirely human, tempted him more and more to succumb. Buffeted by storms and the heat of the sun, torn by hunger and thirst for forty days, the Lord was at his weakest point. Satan made his move, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

The Son of God could easily have turned stones to bread, but the act would have meant nothing, except that he could use divine power for his own satisfaction—in itself an admission of weakness. Jesus answered the voice sternly: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the Holy City. Jesus came down to the western plain and continued southward to Jerusalem. Entering the city like any other visitor, he went to the Temple and climbed to its highest level, from which he could look down upon the priests as they performed the sacrifices and the Levites as they marched in the morning ritual.

This time the voice of evil demanded that he perform a miracle which would announce his identity to the chief priests and to the people thronging the Temple. “If you are the Son of God,” the voice said, “cast yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will put his angels in charge of you, and they will support you in their arms, for fear you should strike your foot against a stone.’” It was a passage Christ himself had read many times before the congregation at Nazareth, but something deep inside him, part of the communion he had experienced during his baptism, now told him it was his Father’s will that the kingdom of God should be established first in the hearts of humankind.

He answered this new temptation, “Scripture also says, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Not having found in Jerusalem the purpose he sought, the devil took him to a very high mountain. Jesus left the city and set out again for the Judean wilderness and climbed an even taller mountain from which he could see many of the cities of Israel and, visualized in the blue haze beyond his range of vision, the great centers of the world.

The climax came when the devil spoke once more, daring him to seize for himself all that was in view, “I will give you all these—if you will only fall down and do me homage.”

He was saying Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross to obtain the world. All he had to do was worship the “prince of this world” and it would be given to him, since it was not the Father’s kingdom, but Satan’s to have and to give. What the devil thought was, “my kingdom come,” a Satanic Messiah and final realization of a permanent kingdom that was only temporary due to the alienation of people from God. But the very object of the Redeemer’s mission was to destroy the works of the devil, to set the world free from his dominion, and establish the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.

For the third time, Jesus answered the mocking, deriding, ever-tempting voice of evil inside his human thoughts. There could be only one answer; the words spoken long ago by God himself to Moses. With the Holy Spirit’s power and authority, he commanded, “Out of my sight, Satan! Scripture says, ‘You shall do homage to the Lord your God, and worship him alone.’”

Immediately the tempting voice within him vanished. Foiled and defeated, the enemy spread his dark pinions toward his far off world and covered it with their shadow.

The sun no longer glowed with melting heat. In the cool shade and evening mists that followed, the angels came and ministered to his needs, both bodily and mental. He had refused to do miracles in his weakness; he had not yielded to despair; he had used every ounce of energy in his body and soul to the point of exhaustion—and yet emerged victorious. He remained in complete obedience to the Father.

All three temptations had been overcome. The enemy departed him for only a season, and all his life long there would be echoes of them. But this first contest and victory for Jesus decided all others to the last, when in the garden of Gethsemane he cried out, “Not my will, but yours be done!”

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