the ministry of messiah (6)
The Temptation in the Wilderness
As we said in our last study, when we considered the early years of the Master, these first early years would have prepared him for his ministry. Jesus’s traumatic first years as a babe, his stay in despised Galilee, his study of the law, his visits to Jerusalem each year and his discussions with the doctors of the law, would have prepared him for his temptation in the wilderness and his 31/2 years ministry.
The word tempted in the accounts of the temptation is the Greek peirazo, which means to test. In Luke 4:13 the word temptation is from peirasmos which means putting to the proof (by experiment [of good], experience [of evil]).
Why was Christ tempted? The answer is given Hebrews 2:10, 14 and 16-18:
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. . . . Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil … Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted”.
Note, “it became him”. It means to tower up (be conspicuous). The same word is used in 7:26:
“For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens”.
It was uppermost in the mind of our heavenly Father that “the captain of our salvation” should be made perfect through suffering. Christ had to destroy the devil, i.e. sin in the flesh. For this reason he partook of flesh and blood, i.e. the seed of Abraham. It was the Almighty who caused his beloved Son to “take hold” of the seed of Abraham. But the Master submitted to his Father’s will; “it behoved him”, he was under obligation to be “made like unto his brethren”. The reason is given in Hebrews 2:18. This verse links the word tempted with his sufferings. Because Christ has suffered he is able to succour us or come to our help.
Through his mother, Mary, Christ partook of flesh and blood. Thereby he inherited from Adam, as all his brethren inherit, a mind which has been defiled by the reasoning of the serpent. But Jesus was also the Son of God and thereby inherited the mind of his Father. So we read in Hebrews 4:15, 5:1-2 and 5-8:
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. . . For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. . . .Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered”.
Adam’s faith was tried in the Garden of Eden; Isael was tried in the wilderness, so it was necessary for the Lord Jesus Christ, the son of man, to be tried in the wilderness. To show the importance of the trial of our faith, we can do no better than quote the words of brother Thomas in “Elpis Israel”:
“Man in the first estate is “a little lower than the angels”; but, in the second or higher, he is to be “crowned with glory and honour”, and to take his stand in the universe upon an equality with them in nature and renown. . . To be exalted from the present to the future state and inheritance, he must be subjected to trial. From the examples recorded in the Scriptures, it is evident, that God has established it as a rule of His grace; that is, the principle upon which He bestows His honours and rewards- to prove men before he exalts them. Probation, then, is the indispensable ordeal, to which every man is subjected in the providence of God, before he is accepted as “fit for the Master’s use”.
By these examples, also, it appears, that man’s probation is made to bear upon the trial of his faith by testing his obedience. . . No, this ‘precious faith’ can only be educed by trial; for trial elaborates the works. This is the use of persecution or tribulation, to believers; which in the divine economy is appointed for their refinement. Peter styles the ‘manifold persecutions’ to which his brethren were subjected, ‘the trial of their faith’; and Paul testifies to others of them, that ‘it is through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom. Probation is a refining process. It purges out a man’s dross, and brings out the image of Christ in his character; and prepares him for exaltation to his throne. We can only enter the kingdom through fire; but, if a man be courageous, and ‘hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end,’ he will emerge from it unscorched; and be presented holy, unblameable, and unrebukeable before the king. . . Probation before exaltation, then, is upon the principle of a faith in the promises of God, made precious by trial well sustained. There is no exception from this ordeal. Even Christ himself was subjected to it.” (“Elpis Israel”, 14th Ed. Rev. P.74-76).
Therefore, after Jesus’s baptism, when he had been filled with the Holy Spirit, we read in Luke 4:1-2:
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered”
Who was the devil? I believe that the devil was a group of men, possibly the Chief priests and Pharisees or a delegation from them. I base this conclusion on Zechariah 3:1-2:
“And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Yahweh, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And Yahweh said unto Satan; Yahweh rebuke thee, O Satan; even Yahweh that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
We believe that in this prophecy Joshua is a type of Christ, the greater than Joshua. This is shown in verse 8:
“Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at (men of sign- marg.) for behold I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH”.
The men wondered at are men of sign. The explanation of the men resisting Joshua is found in Ezra 4:1-6:
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity built the temple unto Yahweh God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubabel and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build an house unto Yahweh God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem”.
The adversaries were the Samaritans and Zerubabel would not let them join with them for he rightly said, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God”. They therefore frustrated the Jews and wrote this accusation against them. Now the word accusation is the word sitnah and derives from Satan. So the Samaritans were the Satan. Going back to Zechariah 3:1-2, the word resist in verse 1 is also derived from Satan. These words are quoted in Jude 9:
“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee”.
Michael is the archangel before whom Joshua stood. The body of Moses is the remnant who had returned to the land in the time of Joshua. The Satan of Zechariah, namely the Samaritans are now described as the devil. In Jude’s time the body was the ecclesia, the body of Christ, and the devil was those apostates, who practiced a mixed from of worship and who resisted the building up of the ecclesia. So in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the devil was those who resisted the Master in his work of building the house of God, namely the chief priests, Pharisees and Sadducees. Let us turn to John 13:2:
“And supper being ended, the devil now having put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him”.
Who was the devil? Let us go back to John 11:57:
“Now both the chief priests and Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him”.
They were the devil who had put this wicked idea into the heart of Judas. It is for this reason that I believe that the devil who tempted Christ in the wilderness was a delegation from the chief priests and Pharisees.
Let us now look at Matthew 4:1-3:
“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 afterward an hungered. 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”.
Note, “the tempter came to him”. Every instance where this word came is used in the New Testament, it is a person coming. We can check this ourselves with a concordance. Let us now go to Luke 4 where the account is in chronological order. Jesus was tempted in the three principal ways in which the flesh manifests itself. See 1 John 2:16:
“For 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”.
This was the case with Adam and Eve and so it was the case with the second Adam. Let us note that Jesus was in the wilderness and had eaten nothing for forty days. God had just proclaimed Jesus to be his Son. It is possible that the Pharisees and Sadducees had heard these words. Whether this was so or not they assumed the hypothesis to be a fact in asking Christ in verse 3:
“If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it may be made bread”.
The temptation of Christ is following the pattern in the wilderness. After Israel had passed through the waters of the Red Sea and gone into the wilderness, they hungered. Jesus had been baptised, had been led of the Spirit into the wilderness and now he hungered. But although he had the Spirit without measure, he would not use this for the lust of the flesh. Hence his words to the tempter in verse 4:
“And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God”.
These words came from Deuteronomy 8. Let us look at verses 2-3:
“And thou shalt remember all the way which Yahweh thy God led the these forty years in the, to humble, and to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man foes not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Yahweh doth man live”.
This is going back to the trial or proving of Israel in the wilderness which was a type of the temptation of Christ. How important the word of God should be to us! It should be more important than our necessary food. Let us look at 1 Corinthians 12:7:
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal”
The Spirit gifts were to be used for the benefit of the ecclesia. They were not to be used for the gratification of the flesh. Let us then exalt the word of God at all times and use that word for the edification of our brethren and sisters.
Let us return to Luke 4:5-7:
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine”.
We recall how in his earlier life Jesus “grew in favour with God and man”, possibly with the Scribes and Pharisees and chief priests and it is possible that they saw he was the Messiah and conceived the idea that Jesus could deliver them from the Roman yoke, an idea that the apostles also later held. Whether they actually saw all the kingdoms of the world is not of prime importance. With their knowledge of the Roman world, they could see them with their mind’s eye as it were. Now they conceived that if Jesus would only submit to them with his mighty powers, then jointly they could conquer the Roman world and give all power to Christ. Had not Yahweh said through the Psalmist:
“Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2: 8).
But Jesus refused to bow down to the will of man to achieve this end. Hence his words in verse 8:
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve”.
Jesus addressed the devil as he later addressed Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan”. His eyes looked straight before him and only Yahweh and his word was before him. The words of the Master that follow seem to be a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:13:
“Thou shalt worship Yahweh thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name”.
The only way the land could be possessed was to keep the commandments as we see from Deuteronomy 6:17-19:
“Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of Yahweh your god, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee. And thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of Yahweh: that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which Yahweh sware unto thy fathers, to cast out all thine enemies from before thee, as Yahweh hath spoken”.
Jesus knew this from his ancestor David who refused to take the throne from Saul, until it was rightfully his, even though he had been anointed king. Jesus knew from Psalm 2 that he had to be opposed by the nations of the earth before he could rightfully possess them. He knew that his death on the tree had to come before the crown as we see from Philippians 2:6-8:
“Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the stake”.
Verse 6 is better rendered:
“Who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (RSV).
The Master overcame where Adam and Eve failed. Not only did he refuse to possess the land then, but whereas the serpent tempted them with the words, ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil, the Master refused to grasp at equality with God.
Let us return to Luke 4: 9-12:
“And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him., If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said¸ Thou salt not tempt the Lord thy God”.
The Psalm the devil quotes is Psalm 91:11-12, but misses out the words to keep thee “in all thy ways”. The Psalm speaks of one who trusts in Yahweh, who acknowledges Yahweh in all his ways, therefore Yahweh’s care for his beloved Son would be dependent on Christ acknowledging him in all his ways. Moreover we should not be foolhardy. Our heavenly Father expects us to care for ourselves at the same time trusting in him. In tempting Jesus they were like Israel in the wilderness who did not believe that Yahweh was among them.
In all these temptations we should remember that Jesus had not eaten for forty days, and was in a weak physical state, yet he answered the tempter with such strength and purpose. So with us, if we are tempted, even by our brethren and sisters, we should also believe that Yahweh has revealed to us the answer in his word.
So we read in verse 13 that the devil left Christ, but only for a season, for Jesus was continually tempted by the priests and Scribes and Pharisees right up to the time he hung on the stake. At the end they uttered the same words as they used at the beginning of the temptations of the Master:
“If thou be the Son of God¸ come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40).
What a great comfort it is that we have a High Priest who was tempted in all points like as we are and is able to sympathise with the feeling of our infirmities.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).