Was the Temptation of Christ Real?
The synoptic writers each make mention of the temptation of our Lord, though Mark does not provide the details afforded by Luke and Matthew. There are two significant facts stated in Mark’s Gospel, first —“The Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The second is found in the following verse “He was with the wild beasts.” The first man Adam was among the beasts when he was still in innocence. What a transformation sin wrought! “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). The Lord was with the wild beasts without fear: the Creator had around Him some of His creatures and all were subordinate to His good pleasure. He had power over an unbroken colt (Luke 19:30). The perfect Servant of Jehovah was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, such a statement would prove the fact that He was willing to execute the desires of the One who sent Him into this scene. The wilderness is a place of ‘no supply’: it is a comfortless scene, yet to this place did the submissive Servant move in keeping with the mind of God, His Father. It was in such a scene as this that Satan commenced his attack on the Lord. If we take the temptation as recorded by Luke, we shall find that the threefold principle defined in 1 John 2:16 is clearly envisaged. John states, by the Holy Spirit, “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 first temptation relates to the “lust of the flesh”: the second to “the lust of the eyes”; and the third to “the pride of life.” It is important to notice that the Lord when tempted brought God between Himself and the adversary and defeated him on each count. There was no sin in making bread from stone. Did not John Baptist say “God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Luke 3:8). There is nothing sinful in being the possessor of all the kingdoms of this world, and the glory of them, for when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, voices in Heaven declare, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). God had predicted such a time as this in the prophecy of Daniel (Dan. 2:44). There is nothing sinful in committing oneself to a beneficient God!
The question might be asked “Wherein lay the temptation?” The temptation was presented by the devil in a subtle manner in an endeavour to get the Lord to do some things which, under certain conditions, were perfectly lawful, at a wrong time, and in a wrong way. In the first temptation the devil made a bid to induce the Lord to desert the pathway of dependence and obedience, and so to use His own initiative and exercise His own discretion. This is what we might designate “self-assertion,” or “self-expression.” It is worthy of note that the Father had just opened Heaven to testify to His profound delight in Jesus, the Son of God. The Father had taken into His wide compass the secret life lived at Nazareth, and which was divinely approved by the Father, The Father gave witness to the fact that Jesus was the beloved Son of the Father. Satan grasped at this and in a challenging fashion said If thou be the Son of God then give us the evidence; assert Yourself and manifest Your power: You are hungry, meet Your personal need by converting stones into bread, This was a test along the line of “the lust of the flesh,” but the Lord overcame the devil by the Word of God making a citation from the fifth book of the Bible — Deuteronomy 8 verse 3.
The second temptation was a suggestion from the devil that Christ should ignore divine purpose when God shall give Him the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Psalm 2:8): then the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord, and His Christ, as has already been observed from the Prophecy of Daniel and from the Book of Revelation. This would appear to be a testing along the line of self-gratification. The kingdoms of this world and the glory of them was not given as a lesson in geography, but one of history, for kingdoms are not geographical but historical. A review in a moment of time of all the blaze of glory that had been diffused from the mighty potentates of time and their kingdoms had no appeal to One whose desire was ever to do the will of His Father. This temptation was presented with a specific appeal to the “lust of the eyes.” We know that through the medium of divine revelation the sorrows of Gethsemane and the tragedy of Golgotha lay in the pathway of obedience to the Christ of God, and the devil would seek to offer Him what would be legitimately His at a future date. In our study it is wise to remember that Luke records the fact that Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil (Luke 4:1-2). How often do we expose ourselves to temptation being “drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14). Here is that blessed One — the Lord Jesus Christ — full of the Holy Ghost, and led by the Spirit to endure temptation of a very severe character. One full of the Holy Spirit will meet temptation in whole hearted dependence upon God. How the wisdom of the Lord sparkles in the three citations which He made from the Book of Deuteronomy! He did not quote from Leviticus, for that is the book for the priests, and “if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all” (Heb. 8:4. R.V.). He did not quote from Numbers, for that is the book for the Levites, and “it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah” (Heb. 7:14). In quoting from Deuteronomy He revealed that He was conversant with the contents of the fifth book of the Bible, viz., Deuteronomy, which is the book for the common people. The second quotation Christ made was from Deuteronomy 6:13, and He again defeated the devil.
The final temptation was most seductive, and characterized by marked severity. Already it has been noticed that our Lord defeated the devil by quoting from the Holy Scriptures. In this third temptation the devil makes use of the Word of God to suit his final endeavour to overthrow the Christ of God. The third temptation was more public than the others, and has within its range the thought of self-exaltation. None need have observed Christ turn a stone into bread, none need have had a glimpse at the glory of the world kingdoms or known how Christ came to possess them: while the first two temptations are of a secretive character, this final one is more public. To see the Lord fall from the pinnacle of the temple and be delivered in a miraculous manner would have a tremendous effect upon the man in the street. The first temptation had a particular application to the body — a meal for One who had hungered over a lengthy period. The second had to do specifically with the soul, for it has to do with man’s higher power even to taking control of world empires. The third temptation had to do with the spirit. Man, as man, cannot force God to act contrary to His own divine purpose. Israel complained about the provision provided during their sojourn in the wilderness, saying “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” There was a marked disgust on the part of Israel against the divine provision which God designates “angels food” and “the corn of Heaven” (Psalm 78:24-25). They presumed that through their complaints God would accommodate His people by giving them some other type of food: see Numbers 11. This final temptation presented by the devil was in respect of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. To this temptation Christ again answered from the pages of Holy Writ (Deut. 6:16). The tempter in this final testing of the Son of God, brought God and Christ together. Can any creature force the God of the universe to act by a bold attack on God’s Son? Nay, verily! Now that the devil has miserably failed in his threefold attack, he beats a hasty retreat crestfallen — “he departed from Him for a season.” Would he return? He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross of Calvary, and at the sepulchre. Christ has finally vanquished that inexorable foe: and only through death did the Mighty Deliverer destroy him that had the power of death.
The wilderness testing confirmed the word of our Lord — “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me” (Jno. 14:30), though these words quoted were spoken in view of His exodus from this scene and the final attack which the devil would make. We learn, in conclusion, that “angels came and ministered unto Him.” The night of the betrayal of our Lord provided an opportunity for Christ to affirm “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” These heavenly messengers could have been despatched at the bidding of the Lord, but then how would Scripture be fulfilled, and how could ruined humanity have been retrieved from eternal doom? Forty days testing—then the angels! All this reveals the perfection of His manhood. In Gethsemane as the shadow of the cross lay across His pathway, and being in an agony He sweat as it were great drops of blood — an angel strengthened Him.
We would answer the enquiry which forms the title of this article —
The testing was that which Satan used against our first parents successfully — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Satan said to our first maternal parent “It is good for food”: “It is pleasant to the eyes”: “to be desired to make one wise.” Our first parents succumbed to the satanic attack. Similar tactics as were used in Eden’s garden were used against the second Man, the last Adam in the wilderness, and we rejoice He triumphed gloriously. The testing was real in every way, and the Holy One was the mighty Victor. If the testing was only supposed, wherein lay the necessity of angels being despatched to minister to our Lord? Was the Christ of God sinless as He trod the pathway of God’s will here below? We reply — “absolutely sinless”! The Second Man, the Last Adam stands in contrast to the first man Adam. The Lord learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and this equipped Him for the activities in which He now engages on our behalf at the right hand of God as Great High Priest, and as Advocate with the Father. While the sinless Man sinned not: we aver that the temptation was real as we have sought to prove: and I conclude by restating an opening comment in this paper — “We sin because we cannot help it; He sinned not because He is holy. We sin because we can sin.” Our Lord could not be what He is if He could sin: nor could He accomplish the will of Him that sent Him had He been able to sin.