The Temptation of Jesus
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil — Mat_4:1
Christ’s Temptation: It Was Real
Whatever view we take of the temptation—whether it was an inward struggle or an actual scene—the one thing to remember is its intense reality. Prayerfully and reverently we must strive to realize that the temptations of Jesus were unutterably severe! It is not difficult to realize Christ’s brotherhood in suffering. It is very difficult to do so in temptation. And one great reason of that is, that in our temptations, we are so conscious of sinful impulses within. But when we remember that our temptations sometimes touch not what is worst, but what is noblest in us; when we think that without the sorest and fiercest trial, the thought of sinlessness has little meaning, then we dimly perceive how intense temptation might be to a spotless and holy Savior. There is nothing more heavenly than a mother’s love, yet sometimes a mother is tempted most severely just because she loves her children so. If men were always tempted at their weakest, we could hardly understand a tempted Jesus. If our temptations only lit where we were worst, Christ (who had no worst) could not have been tempted. But when we see (and time and again we see it) that the sorest onset may be on the saintliest side, then we know that the temptations of Jesus may have been unutterably sore, since Jesus was unutterably good.
Truth Was His Nature, Not His Pursuit
One of the shining features of the life of Jesus is His great and glorious fidelity. In the largest compass of the words He came to bear witness to the truth, He was supremely true to His brethren of mankind—He was as a brother born for adversity. He was supremely true to Himself and to the moving of His heart of love. He was supremely true to His heavenly Father, in whose unbroken fellowship He lived, and in whose will He found His motive and His peace! One never gets the impression from His life that He was passionately— struggling to be true.
Yet Victory Was an Achievement
There is a largeness and a liberty about Him that tell of a heart which has arrived. One feels that the battle has been fought, that the great determination has been made, before He opened the roll in the synagogue of Nazareth. Now that does not mean that this supreme fidelity was an innate equipment of the Savior. Like His sinlessness it was a vast achievement, wrought out in conflict with temptation. (Editor’s note: The Lord Jesus was, however, unlike any other human in that He was born sinless. But His victory over temptation was not an empty one. His practical sinlessness was an achievement. In a similar manner, when we become children of God through our new birth we become positionally sinless in Christ, but practically we are still “sinners saved by grace.” Temptation is real and therefore victory against temptation is a practical achievement. We do not acquire sinlessness by our practical victories against temptation but through the sinless Christ who became our substitute on the cross.) And of that conflict we have the vivid history, before His public ministry began, in the narrative of the temptation in the wilderness. There He was tempted, and very really tempted, to be untrue to His brethren of mankind. There He was tempted to be untrue to God and to all that was deepest in Himself. When we view the temptation in that light we catch a glimpse of the terrific struggle that preceded the perfect fidelity of Jesus.
The Time of Its Occurrence on the Threshold of His Glorious Career
With such thoughts we may approach the scene; and if we would hope to understand it, we must remember the time of its occurrence. The place of its occurrence matters less though to a heart filled with the loveliness of Galilee the grimness of the desert would be awful. But the time of the temptation matters much, for the tempter is a master in his choice of hours. Jesus, then, had been baptized in Jordan. He had been endowed with gifts from heaven for His ministry. All He had dimly seen upon the hills of Nazareth now rose before Him as His mission to mankind. In such tumultuous hours men crave for solitude. In such an hour the Spirit drove Jesus to the desert. It was, then, on the threshold of His ministry, and facing His lifework with its infinite issues, that the tempter came to Him. It is in the light of His service and His sacrifice that we shall reach the inward molding of the scene. These are the dark hours through which Jesus passed on the threshold of His glorious career.
The First Temptation Proved Him Faithful to Humanity
The first temptation seems a simple one. “If thou be the Son of God,” says the tempter, “command that these stones may be made bread.” Jesus had been fasting forty days; now He was in the dire pangs of hunger. What possible harm or danger could there be in satisfying the pangs of hunger so? Had not God rained down manna in the desert? Had not Elijah been miraculously fed by ravens? The real temptation lay in using for Himself the powers that had been given Him to use for man. He was baptized in Jordan that He might show His brotherhood. He did not stand above John on the bank; He went and stood beside John in the river. At His baptism He had gone down into the water—He had stood where sinful man was standing—He had identified Himself with sinful man, as at the end He did upon the Cross. And if here, in the agony of hunger, He had miraculously created bread He would have cut the tie that bound Him to His brethren. When He fed the thousands with the loaves and fishes He was using His divine prerogative for others. That was His God-appointed mission: He was sent to satisfy our need. But had He used these powers for Himself, in an experience common to humanity, He would have broken His brotherhood with man. How could the poor ever have said again that they had a real brother in the Lord? How could the famishing ever had been certain of the perfect understanding of the Savior? Had He miraculously turned these stones to bread, and left His brethren to sweat and toil for bread, no longer would He have been the Son of Man. And when a man is tempted to a selfish life, or to use for himself alone the graces and the means that have been given him in trust for others, then is the tempter whispering to him, as he spake to Jesus in the wilderness. And whenever a man denies himself, and sacrifices something for a brother, he is sharing in the victory of Christ.
The Second Temptation Proved Him Faithful to Himself
As in the first temptation He is true to others, in the second He is true to His own self. That is why He scornfully refused to fling Himself on the astonished populace. It was the common expectation of that populace that the Messiah would appear in sudden splendor. Suddenly He would flash upon their eyes in an epiphany dramatic and divine. But our Lord Jesus, intimate with heaven, knew that epiphanies were not like that, nor were these the signals of His coming. He knew that the Kingdom must grow as does a mustard-seed, nor does it ever come with observation.) He knew that when men say “Lo, here!” it is not the real Christ whom they are hailing. (So, resisting the very real temptation to manifest Himself in splendor to the populace, He was supremely true to His own self) He came by quiet ways, and as the light cometh when the day is breaking. He came as the leaven which does not burst the loaf, but works in secret till the whole be leavened. In the first temptation He fought His lonely way to a perfect fidelity to man. From the second He emerged in triumph perfectly faithful to Himself.
The Third Temptation Proved Him Faithful to His Father
And then the third temptation shows our Savior perfectly faithful to His Father. “All these kingdoms will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” We are tempted along the line of our desires, and our Lord was tempted in all points like as we are. He had been dreaming, in the days at Nazareth, of a worldwide and universal reign. And now the devil comes and whispers to Him, “Renounce God and ally yourself with me, and I shall give you the longing of your heart.” What a magnificent temptation, tribute to a magnificent Redeemer. What a fierce temptation, when we bear in mind that these kingdoms were the yearning of His being. But our Lord in an instant recognized the treachery, and recoiled from it in an infinite abhorrence, and emerged triumphant because true to God, He took the long, long road which is the road of heaven—the road that was wet with sorrows and with tears—the road that led, through loving human service, to the crown of thorns and to the pierced hands. My meat is to do the will of Him who sent Me. I come to do Thy will, O God. Supremely true to His brethren and Himself, here He is supremely true to God.