THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Temptation is something Christ experienced in common with all of us. Born of Mary, Christ took human nature and lived in a fallen world. He experienced temptations to sin and to self-dependence as other men did. The Gospels show that He knew He was "tempted of the devil" throughout His earthly life.
Jesus was both human and divine, whereas we are all human. This raises a question regarding the nature of His temptations and the possibility of His giving way to Satan's temptations, thus falling into sin. Were His temptations real struggles, with the possibility to do wrong a reality? Or were they only dramatic demonstrations of His sinlessness in which He risked nothing, because He had a divinity that could not sin?
Did Christ overcome temptation in the same way we do? Since He is God, did He need to depend on His Father and the Holy Spirit as we do? Or did He have resources within Himself that made Him self-sufficient and inherently able successfully to resist temptation?
We are tempted in two ways: Temptation comes because of our inner sinful state and bias toward sin. "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1: 14). But Christ had no lust for evil by which He could be enticed into sin. "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). This cannot be said of any other man.
Temptation also comes to us from the outside; from Satan and the evil world. To be real, temptation need not be addressed to a sinful nature.. Adam and Eve were tempted before they fell into sin. Angels and other unfallen beings have been tempted without falling.
Christ was tempted from the outside. "Jesus was led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil" (Matt. 4: 1). The Gospels record Christ's temptations in such words as "the tempter came to him"; "the devil taketh him"; the devil "saith to him" (verses 3-9).
Our Lord was not tempted by the sinful lusts of pride, ambition, envy, malice, hatred, anger, jealousy, avarice, gluttony, voluptuousness, drunkenness; in short by evil desire or "concupiscence" of any kind. He never felt the hankering of pride and vain-glory so common to man, but was always in his inmost spirit meek and lowly. . . . Christ had no sinful lust of any sort. This is taught in Christ's own words: "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." John 14:30.Wm. G. T. SHEDD, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 11, p. 343.
Christ's Temptations Real
In order for temptation to be real it must be addressed to a person constitutionally capable of sinning. It must also be directed to some basic need or desire with the pressure to satisfy this need or desire in a sinful way. If Christ's temptations had been addressed to His deity alone, then they would have been to no purpose at all, since "God cannot be tempted with evil." If we conclude that Christ's divinity made temptation and sinning impossible, then His life struggle was an empty thing. Temptation would have no meaning for Him and no value for us.
We ask the question, then, Were the temptations that Christ experienced addressed to His humanity or to His deity? In answering we note that the center of His consciousness was human, not divine. His nature functioned through the action of His human will, intellect, and emotion. Therefore He had to live by dependence upon His Father, just as the Father wants us to live. Christ could not take advantage of divine powers unavailable to other men when confronted with temptation. Christ voluntarily committed the use of His divine attributes into the Father's hands and refrained from exercising them without His Father's express permission during His earthly life.
Scripture speaks very clearly of the reality of Christ's temptations. His life was one intensive struggle. "The life of Christ was a perpetual warfare against satanic agencies."The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Matt. 4: 1 -11, p. 1080. Temptation confronted Him at every turn. Describing His experience at the close of His wilderness temptation, the Scripture says, "And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season" (Luke 4:13). In the Garden of Gethsemane, at the close of His ministry, Christ said, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations" (chap. 22:28). His temptations were real crossroads, where Christ had to decide whether to do His own will or that of the Father. This was no make-believe.
The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly teaches the reality of Christ's temptations as an essential aspect of His saving and mediatorial work for and in us. Because Christ was a man and faced temptation as a man, He can be our high priest. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:81 9).
Christ's capability for sinning depended on His having a human nature that was free to sin and not controlled or prevented by His deity. The possibility of being tempted is the same for a sinless as for a sinful person. Adam was tempted as a sinless person. He faced temptation in the full strength of a perfect physical and mental system. But Christ did not become flesh in the perfect state in which Adam was created. For Christ, the strength of temptation was vastly increased by virtue of His inheriting a physical constitution weakened by 4,000 years of increasing degeneracy in the race. The possibility of His being overcome was greater than Adam's because of this.
As deity, in His pre-existence in heaven, the Son of God was not able to sin. But the same condition did not exist when He took human nature. His deity was quiescent.
Satan continually tried to break Jesus' faith and will. From childhood to His death on the cross, the enemy assailed Him as no other man has ever been assailed.
Victory by Faith
Christ said, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30). Only by faith in His Father and through the presence of the Holy Spirit was He victorious over temptation and sin. By faith He always did the will of His Father.
Christ's human self-consciousness set before Him the choice of whether to be a self-centered, self-willed man or to live and depend entirely upon His Father. It would involve a conscious choice to go contrary to the will of God. For Him to fall into sin He would have to look to, and depend on, Himself rather than on His Father.
The voice of the Holy Spirit sought continually to lead Him to make the right choices, to say in every situation, "Thy will be done." He, like us, had to live according to His human nature as God originally made it. His deity did not supersede His human faculties. It did not infringe on His human choices. It did not compel Him to obey God's will even though His human nature could have chosen not to do so.
As a man Christ learned, as we must, that the power and the presence of God through the Holy Spirit is the only way that we can have victory.
Christ was on trial to live the life of faith, to live by His Father alone, as we are. He was kept by the power of the Holy Spirit as we are to be. Addressing His disciples, He said, "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). He said the same thing of Himself in relation to His Father.
Temptation in the Wilderness
These scriptures describe the climax that took place in Christ's life when He was to enter upon His mission in the world. His baptism and prayer were acknowledged by the descent of the Holy Spirit in His fullness. The heart of the prayer was for oneness with His Father, absolute trust and dependence upon God. His Father answered His Son from heaven. Christ went forth to minister, now consecrated for His mission.
One thing remained. He must meet His arch enemy, the devil, and defeat him. The Spirit led Him into the wilderness specifically for this decisive encounter. Satan intended to overwhelm Christ before He could begin His public work. Christ must prove Himself victorious.
The first temptation came with the words "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" (verse 3). Satan's implication was that the Father should provide bread and not let Him go hungry for forty days. No earthly parent, able to provide, would do this to his children. So how can You trust God?
Satan was not tempting Christ to satisfy a normal physical appetite of hunger so much as to do it, contrary to His Father's will, and in a way that would take Himself out of His Father's hands. The forty-day fast in the wilderness was by the express purpose of God. Christ was led into this fasting experience that He might live in His Father by faith alone. To have accepted Satan's suggestion would have meant taking things into His own hands contrary to His Father's will, direction, and control. Satan sought to alienate the Son from the Father by undermining Christ's trust in God.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve faced the same temptation Christ faced, the temptation to assert their independence from God and exercise their self-will by eating the forbidden fruit. Eating involved choosing to satisfy their own desires contrary to God's will. Christ resisted that temptation over which Adam and Eve fell. They accepted the devil's suggestion to free themselves from dependence on, and trust in, God, and from obedience to His will.
Satan's continual purpose is to break our oneness with God, to bring about a separation by loss of faith and trust. God provides man with the test either to trust and obey Him completely or go it on his own.
Trial and adversity for the Christian may be actual proof that God is leading. The apostle Paul met grievous tests, but he wrote, "For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). Suffering, tribulation, deprivationit is by these our faith is tested. "We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). just how far are we willing to maintain our faith? job stood the test. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
Christ responded to the first temptation with the word of God from Deuteronomy. The issue was not to be decided by an appeal to Himself, but to the voice of God in His Word. Trust in God's Word and obedience to it takes priority. The context of the verse He used is significant in light of Israel's sufferings and tribulations:
Christ came to do the will of His Father, to prove that God's promises could be trusted. Had He manifested His independence at any time, He would have committed the sin of Adam and Eve. Dependence on His own divine power would have been tantamount to declaring His independence from God. Victory over the temptation to independence required complete trust in God, regardless of the cost in terms of hunger or anything else.
The second temptation came when "the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Matt. 4:5, 6).
Christ had just defeated the devil by a declaration of absolute trust in His Father. The Word of God is to develop trust in God. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Satan used it to do the opposite. He took the same sword of the Word with which Christ had defeated him: "Since You trust God so completely, why not demonstrate it by a spectacular leap from the pinnacle of the Temple before the gazing crowds below? Prove Your Messianic claim to be the Son of God."
Again Christ was tempted to take things into His own hands and test God. But God is not so to be tested. To do so is to change faith to presumption, which is not trust, but insubordination. A life of trust waits upon God in grateful reliance. We do not need to resort to contrived situations to prove Him.
Christ rejected the temptation. He would not cast Himself down and expect His Father to protect Him. His Father had given Him ample evidence that He could be trusted. Nothing further was necessary.
Israel, in the wilderness, was tempted in the same way. When there was no water to drink they complained against God:
God was testing their faith in Him. Yet they failed even after the most remarkable deliverance from the Egyptian army by the power of God. They should have trusted God and said, "He who brought us out of slavery by a mighty hand will provide us with water. We can wait."
Replying to Satan, Jesus again declared His perfect trust in His Father. He did not need to put His Father to the test. There was no occasion for distrust.
In the third temptation Satan offered Christ the whole world if He would grant him a place in His life.
Satan made one last move to destroy Christ's faith in His Father. He asked Christ for what appears to be a slight concession in order for Him to gain the world, to seek world good by a small compromise to himself. Satan wanted to be included with God as the basis of trust. "Just include me in. Acknowledge me also as worthy of Your loyalty." The aorist tense in this verse refers to one single actionjust one act of worship, that is all.
But the worship of anyone or anything other than God means not to worship God at all. For Jesus to follow Satan's request would have meant a shift in His allegiance from God to Satan. The result would actually have meant submission to the rule of Satan.
Again Christ repulsed His tempter with a quotation from Scripture: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him" (verses 10, 11).
Satan left Christ, but Luke emphasizes that he came back throughout Christ's life and ministry and continued to tempt Him with temptations of the same type (Luke 22:28).
After Jesus fed the 5,000 the people pressed Him to accept a worldly kingship (John 6:1-15). At the cross He was challenged to come down and save Himself (Luke 23:35-37). Both tests required Him to perform a miracle on His own behalf rather than trust His Father.
The power Christ exercised to cast out demons was not derived from His own divinity, but from His Father and the Holy Spirit. "But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you" (chap. 11:20).
Christ lived His entire earthly life by faith. Satan tried always to bring such pressure to bear that He would take Himself out of His Father's hands.
When Christ was the most fiercely beset by temptation, he ate nothing. He committed Himself to God and, through earnest prayer and perfect submission to the will of His Father, came off conqueror.Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 202.
Christ gained the victory over temptations because no combination of circumstances, no trials, tribulations, sufferings, evil men, or Satan could persuade Him to lose faith in His Father and depend on Himself. In this He is our perfect pattern. Our union with God is by faith, and not by our own efforts. Christ had chosen to live as a human being in total dependence upon God. Nothing could change that. He walked with God by faith as we are to do. Never for a moment did Christ's faith fail.
The three temptations we have been considering cover every possible point. When the Christian's faith and dependence on God have been tested in every point what else is there remaining? To trust and walk with God by faith in every circumstance and every trial, to refuse to bow the knee to Satan's principles and methods, to stand resolute against every effort of Satan to pry us loose from Godwhat else is there?
In a way Christ's temptations were unique; they were addressed to Him as one possessing both a human and divine nature. He was assailed as one having access to powers beyond those of ordinary men. Because of this, His wilderness temptations were greater than anything we can ever know.
Satan tried to get Christ to exercise His divine prerogatives, to depend on Himself by the use of His divine power. We are never tempted like this. It would be quite futile for Satan to tempt us to turn stones into bread, were we to spend forty days in the wilderness without anything to eat. We could not do it. We do not have that power within ourselves. Christ did have the power.
It would be equally futile to call us to come down from a cross and destroy our enemies. Christ could. When all the power of His own divinity was available to Him, the temptation to live by that power was quite beyond anything we can ever experience. Satan can only tempt us at the point of our human nature. Christ could not depend on Himself in either of His natures. He had to live by faith alone as Son of man and Son of God.
On this point Ellen White has made some significant observations:
The point of all the temptations the devil brought to Christ was to destroy His trust in His Father, leading Him to depend on Himself.
This self-dependence was Satan's basic sin in heaven. This was the temptation and the sin into which he led Adam and Eve. He sought to bring about the downfall of the Son of God in the same area.
Self-dependence is the deep, hidden root from which all sin and unrighteousness springs. By trust alone we hold communion with God. Victory for Christ came in this area as it must come to us, by faith in and commitment to God.
The reason for obedience, and the right of the Creator to command, are founded on the dependence of the created being upon the Creator. The greater the dependence, the greater the right of command and authority God has over His subjects. Entire dependence implies entire right of authority.
This divine authority that is God's by virtue of our full dependence on Him, as well as the entire obedience required, excludes all other authorities because accepting them would be opposed to, and inconsistent with, the duty and responsibility we owe to our Creator. God is our supreme and rightful Lord. We owe Him allegiance through a life of faith and loving obedience.
To Live by Faith
"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:2 3). And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin . . . because they believe not on me" (John 16:8, 9). Lack of faith in God is the master sin of mankind. However, few think of it this way. Conscience does not usually convict us that unbelief is sin. It convicts us of willful transgressions of the law of God. According to Christ's words, in our text, the Holy Spirit has a higher mission than to enumerate our obvious transgressions. He comes to convict us of the deep, hidden root from which all sin and spiritual independence from God spring. We may go on from year to year living in unbelief with no particular qualms of conscience. So Christ sent the Holy Spirit to convict men of the great sin of living without real faith in Him.
The seriousness of this sin is seen when we realize that true obedience follows faith in God . We begin with faith, and obedience follows. The devil tempted Eve first to disbelieve God. Disobedience followed. The consequence was alienation from God, not only for our first parents but for the whole human race.
One of the reasons for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to convict men of the great sin of unbelief. Lack of faith is serious because it cuts us off from God. There is no true godliness where there is no faith. To reject Jesus Christ, to move away from oneness with Him, is to move away from the only Power that can save men.
"Without faith it is impossible to please him" (Heb. 11:6). Yet Christ indicated that real faith would be hard to find at the time of His return: "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
The great sin of the Jews was their failure of faith more than their willful transgression of the law. Of all the sins that they committed, the book of Hebrews focuses attention on their failure of faith.
A living faith in God means that Christ's life and Spirit will Christianize everything about us. The Scripture does not say that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to convict men of the sinfulness of the transgression of the law, although He no doubt does that. But for the most part this hardly seems necessary.
Most people feel guilty when they commit the more flagrant sins, such as stealing, killing, lying, committing adultery. The message to the Laodiceans is significant at this point. No positive transgression of any of the commandments is named. The emphasis is on the peril of independence from God because of self-sufficiency.
We may claim to believe the doctrines of the Bible but not have a living faith in God. A vital faith does not necessarily follow because one is an accurate expositor of divine truth. One may be a teacher of truth, or a seller of Bibles, and not be a Christian of great faith. An English teacher may be a good teacher of grammar and rhetoric and at the same time be a poor speaker. A man may be an expert in music theory without being able to sing a note.
Sound theoretical instruction on the Word of God may come from a man of little faith. But the work of the Holy Spirit is to make faith vital and real so that the truth does not merely fall from our lips, but emanates from our lives. Men will be little disposed to listen to brilliant arguments about God that have not been powerful enough to change our lives and make us like Christ.
Faith means victory through, and life by, Another, Jesus Christ. He lives in us. So long as the trolley is on the electric wire the streetcar keeps going. But when there is a disconnection, the car stops.
Faith links us up with God. We "are kept by the power of God through faith" (I Peter 1:5). Apart from Christ we can do nothing.
"In All Points Tempted Like as We Are"
" 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" (Heb. 4:15). This cannot mean that Christ was tempted with every variety of temptation that comes to man. All men are different. They live in different places at different times and face different circumstances and conditions. Jesus was only one individual, who lived in a very small area of the world and never went beyond its borders. He lived a very simple life as contrasted with the sophisticated civilization of our times.
Satan did not tempt Christ with all the innumerable occasions and ways in which sin manifests itself. Christ was tempted to do what was contrary to God's will. But He willed to have no self-will; He made the will of God His own. He lived by faith in God alone. He ordered His life in accordance with the revelation given to Him.
Though He knew Himself to be the Son of God, with equality with the Father, He never insisted on having His own way, independent of His Father. The ground of His Messianic authority was the Word of God. When He purged the Temple of its ungodly traffic He did not drive out the traffickers by claiming to be God, but by reference to God's Word: "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" (Matt. 21:13).
When His disciples were charged with breaking the Sabbath law Jesus defended them on scriptural grounds: "Have ye not read what David did?" (chap. 12:3). Whenever a question of moral conduct arose He directed the minds of men to the Word: "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" (Luke 10:26). In the Scriptures He found the mind and will of God, as we may.
Jesus never exercised His authority as God to demonstrate His own importance. In every temptation He refused to have the question referred to Himself. In no case did He place Himself above the authority of His Father or the Scriptures. He invariably yielded to them.
Christ denied Himself the use of His own divine power in fulfilling His mission; rather He surrendered Himself to be led by the Spirit. Daily communion with God in prayer was the key to His power. His access to God was marked by an attitude of total dependence. The power to perform the greatest miracle, the raising of Lazarus, was given in answer to prayer.
Christ was the Son of God, the second member of the Godhead. Yet He lived His life on earth as a man, ruled from heaven by the Father. Here at last was the Son of man, living in His human nature with total trust in the Father. For the first time here was a Man who uninterruptedly refused to center life in Himself. He faced every temptation and every situation by faith alone.
Thus Christ was tempted "in all points ... like as we are."
The call to live by faith alone is what we are to proclaim to the world. This is how the kingdom of God will come to the world. Nothing is attained in the Christian life until God works in and through us in response to our faith. The making available of a divine power greater than man's effort and righteousness is God's way of salvation and victory. The highest type of spiritual life is daily to walk with God by faith. Only then is our Father's purpose and will fulfilled in us as it was in Christ.
When we are confronted with the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil the Christlike way is to live in total dependence on God, to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. The more we walk and live by faith, the more God is able to live His life in us.
The question How is one to live by faith in our materialistic and competitive society? is a pertinent one. A life so lived is the most complete commitment man can make toward God.
Faith is personal. It is the entire reliance of one upon another. True faith toward God is the crowning act of man. To try to go it alone is unnatural. It is as if a steam engine tried to run without steam, or the chisel tried to carve without the sculptor.
We are to rest satisfied with nothing less than God Himself in our lives. This was how God intended Adam and Eve to live.
The coming of Jesus Christ into our world means that God Himself has come into the midst of our humanity, of our alienation from Him. In Christ God has reconciled the world unto Himself. On the cross He has put away our sins. Therefore God calls man to respond in faith and return to oneness with Him. Faith surrenders ourselves to the control and guidance of God. It comes to this: our personal relationship to the living God.
We are continually being tempted in many ways to abandon trust in God. All the difficulties within us and in our relation to life have their cause in this one thing: a defective knowledge of, and a lack of faith in and dependence upon, our Lord Jesus Christ. Available to us by faith is the only power and Presence that can make us victorious Christians. Every day we must partake of life from Christ. We hinder God every time we seek life apart from Him.
The spirit of independence from God is the spirit of Satan, who sought to exalt himself above the stars and throne of God. As God's children we must learn to say in every hour of need, in the face of every temptation, "My soul, wait thou only upon God." Christ must be our life. Let no day be lived apart from Him. Through our faith in Him He can make Himself known to us. He communicates His spiritual life to His children in no other way.
Self is the center with Satan, and when we retain self as our center we are open to him and his temptations. All our efforts are of no avail if we depend on ourselves. All our study of the Word, all our religious exercises, provide us with no power if done apart from surrender to Jesus, for we get no farther than ourselves. We cannot build character without Him in our lives. Failure is inevitable where we simply try harder in our own strength. Trust in Christ means we have put ourselves in His hands.