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Study 6: God and Evil
God and Evil | The Devil and Satan | Demons | Digressions (Witchcraft, What Happened In Eden?, Lucifer, The Temptation of Jesus, "War in Heaven") | Questions
Digression 20: The Temptations Of Jesus
This passage is read as meaning that a being called the "devil" tempted Jesus to sin by suggesting certain things to him and leading him into tempting situations.
1. 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).
2. The temptations evidently cannot be taken literally:-
- Matthew 4:8 implies that Jesus was led up into a high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world in their future glory "in a moment of time" (Mk.4:5). There is no mountain high enough to see all the world. And why would the height of the mountain enable Jesus to see what the world would be like in the future? The earth being a sphere, there is no point on its surface from which one can see all the parts of the world at any one time.
- A comparison of Matt. 4 and Luke 4 shows that the temptations are described in a different order. Mark 1:13 says that Jesus was "in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan", whilst Matt. 4:2-3 says that "when he had fasted forty days...the tempter (Satan) came to Him...". Because Scripture cannot contradict itself, we can conclude that these same temptations kept repeating themselves. The temptation to turn stones into bread is an obvious example. This would fit nicely if these temptations occurred within the mind of Jesus. Being of our nature, the lack of food would have affected him mentally as well as physically, and thus his mind would have easily begun to imagine things. Just going a few days without food can lead to delirium for some (cp. 1 Sam.30:12). The similarity between rolls of bread and stones is mentioned by Jesus in Mt.7:9, and doubtless those images often merged in his tortured mind - although always to be brought under swift control by his recollection of the Word.
- Jesus probably told the Gospel writers the record of his temptations, and to bring home in words the intensity of what he underwent, he could have used the figurative approach seen in Matt. 4 and Luke 4.
- It seems unlikely that the devil led Jesus through the wilderness and streets of Jerusalem and then they scaled a pinnacle of the temple together, all in view of the inquisitive Jews. Josephus makes no record of anything like this happening - presumably it would have caused a major stir. Similarly, if these temptations occurred several times within the forty days as well as at the end of that period (which they did at least twice, seeing that Matthew and Luke have them in different order), how would Jesus have had time to walk (n.b. the devil "led" Jesus there) to the nearest high mountain (which would have been Hermon in the far north of Israel), climb to the top and back down again, return to the wilderness and then repeat the exercise? His temptations all occurred in the wilderness - he was there for forty days, tempted all the time by the devil (who only departed at the end - Matt. 4:11). If Jesus was tempted by the devil each day, and the temptations occurred only in the wilderness, then it follows that Jesus could not have left the wilderness to go to Jerusalem or travel to a high mountain. These things therefore could not have happened literally.
- 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? According to the popular view, this would not send the devil away. Notice that Jesus quoted a Bible passage each time. If the devil was 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".
- 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 (ch. 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 superhuman being existing in opposition to God.
1. 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 were a lot less subtle than if they came from within Jesus' own mind.
2. 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 question whether he really was the Son of God, seeing that everyone else thought he was the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23; John 6:42) or illegitimate (so John 9:29 implies), and that the official temple records described him as the son of Joseph (Mt.1:1,16; Lk.3:23, where "supposed" means 'reckoned by law'). He was the only human being not to have a human father. Phil. 2:8 implies that Jesus came to appreciate that he really was a man like us, inferring it was tempting for him to disbelieve he was the Son of God, or to misunderstand his own nature.
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:-
Thus Jesus showed us 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.