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The Aftermath of Temptation

February 21st, 2017

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:11 ESV)

Today’s typical portrayal of Jesus facing the temptations presents Him as a good man dragged along by the questionings of his soul to face an awesome tempter. The good man emerges shaken, humbled by the dark thoughts of his soul, but victorious - and not always because he had resisted temptation but that he learned something about himself.

This is the type of unbiblical nonsense that too often passes for modern religious thought. It is humanistic in its origins, debasing Christ and, by so doing, attempting to make us look better to ourselves. Certainly our own experiences with temptations, which are marked by so much failure, should leave us humbled, shaken, and more aware of our inner weaknesses. But with Christ it is different, for He is the One who came to destroy the works of the devil. Christ was fully human, and so He was tempted as a human, but He had no evil in His heart to which the devil could appeal.

The biblical account is quite different. Christ met Satan in the wilderness and the showdown between the two revealed that Christ was more than a match for him. It was Satan that left the meeting defeated and aware of his soon coming end. The best tricks that Satan could devise to tempt and derail Christ’s mission were powerless against Him.

1 John 2:15-17 says:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Christ’s character was directed entirely toward pure love for the Father, pure devotion to His cause, and pure commitment to fulfill His mission. He loved the world as its Redeemer, but not as its worshiper. The desires of the flesh did not corrupt Him, did not give Him confusing thoughts that might lead Him astray, off-course from God’s will or from the pure worship and love of God.

Pride also did not trip Him up, as it does to us so often. Even when we resist giving into the lust of the flesh, the devil needs merely to send us a compliment or two and immediately our ego swells - “You are such a good Christian,” he says, and then on his way out of the door of temptation he trips us up with pride. “Yes, I am such a good Christian, much better than others…” and the trap snaps around us. While rejecting lust’s lures, pride has trapped us. This is typical with us, but this is not what happened to Jesus.

Christ’s sympathy with us is not the sympathy of failure, it is the sympathy of one who was also tried and tempted without failure - it is the sympathy of power and compassion and love.

Neither did Christ give into the lust of the eyes. Satan in particular appealed to Jesus through His eyes - showing Him the stones He could turn to bread, the crowds gathered in the temple grounds, and the nations of the world. The eyes are the sense that we humans are most dependent on, yet Christ revealed the inner eye of the spirit that communed with God.

Many have analyzed the three temptations in these three categories: (1) the lust of the flesh - the stone to bread, (2) the lust of the eyes - the leap from the temple, and (3) the pride of life - the wealth of the nations. But, as it is with us, it is best not to over-analyze the temptations, but rather to simply be aware that all three elements were in each of them to some degree.

The end result was complete defeat of the devil, total resistance. No crack in His character or thoughts that Satan could return later to use against Him. The defense was total and the defeat complete. Satan was routed by Christ and he left Him as a defeated foe.

But afterwards, it says, Jesus was ministered to by angels. The word in the original is diakoneo, the common word for ministering or serving, the word from which we get our word “deacon” or “diakonie” in German. Whatever else this means - and there appears to be a depth to this experience that we are not able to fathom - it means that the Father supplied by the angels what was lacking for Christ among human contacts.

We are social creatures and need friendship. We often face loneliness even when among Christian fellowship. We need others, and we should not fall into the pride of believing that we are too good for others. We ought to be open to the gifts and experiences that Christian fellowship brings. Yet we can also expect that there will be times and places where the Christian fellowship we need is lacking. Here is an example of the divine supply of devoted friendship.

The last words that we have from the pen of Paul are the closing verses of 2 Timothy. In them he wrote of the loneliness he had experienced toward the end of his life, toward the end of his mission for Christ. One by one he mentioned where his companion had gone - Demas had deserted the cause for Christ, Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus had gone to serve elsewhere, only Luke had remained with him. His words tell us how precious Christian fellowship is. Then he spoke of his first trial, where he was released:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:16-18)

We should take these words to heart, that though we need one another as Christian to Christian, the case may be in each of our lives that for different reasons we may feel alone - some will desert Christ, and some will be led elsewhere by Christ to serve Him there - but the Lord will stand by us and strengthen us.

If you are facing loneliness today, this verse is a wonderful promise to you. The Lord will strengthen us all who call on the name of Christ, even if we are left alone by others.

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The Limits of Satan’s Power

February 17th, 2017

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” (Luke 4:5-7 NLT)

One of the main benefits to our souls of the story of Christ’s victory over temptations is that the historical event gives us hope and confidence. We are so weak in the face of temptation that we wonder if anyone could ever face temptation victoriously. Christ resisted the temptations in splendid style - using the Word of God, living in instant obedience and continuous fellowship with God.

We limit the meaning of the temptations if we see them only as something Christ endured just so that He could be sympathetic to us in our struggles. The scripture says:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:14-15,18 NIV)

There is much more than mere sympathy for us. He is able to “help” us, “to break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil.” He gave us an example of how to resist temptation - filled with the Spirit, in constant communion with God, in knowledge of the Word of God - but without His substitutionary death for our sins, and without His transforming power in our hearts by His Spirit, we still carry the blame for our sins and have no power available for us to follow His example. It is forgiveness and power we need and not just sympathy or even example. But this is exactly what Christ came to bring, and He accomplished for us in His mission.

G. Campbell Morgan in his classic, The Crises of the Christ, suggested that the devil was also compelled to this showdown between him and Christ, and he was an unwilling participant - the serpent met the Lion in the wilderness only to be completely vanquished. Morgan points out that from this point on in the ministry of Christ Christ is the victor and Satan is the vanquished. Satan was on the defensive, that his attempts to derail Christ’s mission of redemption failed utterly.

To think of the tempting of Jesus as beginning and being exhausted in that special season in the wilderness… is to misunderstand utterly the years at Nazareth, and the full meaning of the wilderness experience. During those thirty years He had been unceasingly victorious … The Master had met and triumphed over all the temptations incidental to private life.

He is now entering upon the three years of public ministry, and He meets the foe of the race in the supreme conflict of His testing - supreme, that is, in the fact that now evil appears before Him in all its tremendous strength and naked horror in the personality of the devil. In all likelihood never had there been such an attack before, and certain it is that it never occurred again. After this experience His attitude towards Satan an all his emissaries is that of the Victor towards the vanquished. Never again is He seen in the place of temptation in the same specific way.*

Christ is now the one raiding the lair of Satan - it is done in a real but also in a representative way, for as we will see the completion of the work of God for our full redemption still awaits the consummation of the Age. The reality is that the victory we have in Christ has this “already/not yet” reality to it. Our victory is experienced in this age as we trust in Him and in His power, but the conflict is unceasing. But the day shall come, and even now is approaching, that the second coming of Christ shall establish the New Heavens and the New Earth, and Satan and his dominion shall be no more.

The order of the temptations: Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record the temptations of Christ. Though there are a few differences in how they recount them, there is no conflict in the different accounts, rather they are complimentary to one another and give us greater insight into the entire situation.

They each gave their different perspectives, for example, Matthew began his section with “then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1), emphasizing the order of events. But Mark used the word “immediately” or “straightway the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). This word was used repetitively in Mark’s gospel and he presented Christ as the immediately obedient Servant of God, that throughout His earthly ministry Christ was instantly obedient to the leading of the Spirit. Luke used the simple word “and” - “and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1), emphasizing that this was the way Christ lived each day - mentioning the events but not stressing the precise order of them, as Matthew did.

Inspired by the Spirit they each gave us a new insight into Christ - like looking at a sculpture from different angles reveals new insight without contradiction.

One difference that is noticeable is that Matthew’s and Luke’s orders of the temptations differ from one another. Matthew has them (1) the stones to bread, (2) leaping from the temple, and (3) the glory of the nations. Luke has them (1) the stones to bread, (2) the glory of the nations, and (3) leaping from the temple. Is this a contradiction? No, not at all, because of this little word “then” that Matthew used in telling the story, “then” (4:1), “then” (4:5), “again” (4:8), giving the order of the different temptations, and the little word “and” that Luke used that did not stress the precise order, but rather the fact that they happened about the same time.

One of the temptations we must not give into in interpreting the scripture is to insist that the writers meet our own expectations of this century and society. They did not write like people do today, and that is to be expected. We in this technological age are today consumed with times, dates, and even the hours of the day. We have wristwatches, unified calendars, and our computerized day planners, whereas when the gospels were written none of these things existed, so they wrote of the quarters of the day, and the general passing of events according to their own worldview. But in so doing they gave credibility to their writings - otherwise it would have been anachronistic, and clearly revealed to be fraudulently written - like Shakespeare describing a modern invention that did not exist in his day.

Luke’s account of the temptation about the glory of the nations is also worded slightly differently. Here are the differences:

The devil showed Him the nations of the world in “a moment in time”: This wording alone has led many to believe that it was a visionary display of the nations, and not an actual physical one. Matthew wrote that the devil “took Him to a very high mountain” (Matt. 4:8), so there was an actual mountain and some physical display of the nations - it was not only in Christ’s mind. But since no mountain in all the world could be a vantage point from which we could see all the nations, the display of the nations involved not only a physical display but an imaginary display as well.

Tradition has been that was Mount Pisgah on the eastern side of the Jordan where Moses saw the promised land before he died. But this is just conjecture. The scripture does not state precisely where this was, nor was that the most important factor - not at all. What was important was that the devil had tempted Christ with the vision.

The devil said: “Because they are mine to give to anyone I please” (Luke 4:6). This is a remarkable statement, and it was not refuted by Christ. Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2 NKJV). Jesus repeatedly called Satan “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).

There is a mysterious arrangement of some nature between God and the devil that we are never fully informed of in all its details. The details that we need to know are plainly given in scripture, and clearly this is something quite far beyond our capacity to understand in full, and all we may do is to accept the information we are given, trust God in the midst of this spiritual conflict, and leave the mystery that He has not given us into His hands to be explained at the end of time.

But we need to trust God in His redemptive plan. We often wonder why things are not put right immediately, but God has His reasons, and He promises to do it in good time. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)

Here are the pertinent issues that we should grasp. Even though they may appear to be somewhat contradictory, they are in fact simple revelations of the fact proclaimed in scripture that Christ came to destroy the work of the devil, and to do it in the most gracious, judicious, and redemptive way (1 John 3:8).

  1. Satan is a created spirit and was made for a distinct purpose of God - as all of the angels - to serve His purposes without question: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14 NKJV).
  2. Satan was originally an angel of light, “Lucifer” (Isaiah 14:12), and was a beautiful work of God’s creation (Ezekiel 28:12-13).
  3. Satan lusted for the power of God (Isaiah 14:12-14), however, and led a rebellion in heaven that resulted in one third of the angels losing their positions along with him (Rev. 12:7-12).
  4. Satan was cast to this Earth and it is now his domain:  “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:9).
  5. Satan as he is here on this earth works to undermine the work of God: to deceive, to accuse the righteous, to corrupt human morals, to fight against the work of God, and against the best benefits of the human race. (John 10:10; Revelation 12:12; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Cor. 4:3-4)
  6. Yet God mysteriously still keeps Satan and his demons in check and does not give them full rein to do whatever they may want to do: Job 1:6-12; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 13:1-3; John 19:11.
  7. Christ came into the world to claim what was rightfully His: “the obedience of the nations” (Psalm 2:7-8). From the beginning of His ministry he overcame the evil of the kingdom of Satan. The gospels and the epistles present Satan as an organized evil force with powers, lieutenants, organization, structures, authorities, etc, with Satan, however, clearly in control (Matthew 12:24-30; Eph. 6:10-20).
  8. The final end of Satan is clearly presented in scripture: to be bound for a thousand years and then to ultimately be destroyed in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:1-15).
  9. God provides a witness to the world of His truth and of our salvation, not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure (1 Cor. 10:13), having the capacity to open the eyes of sinners that they might repent and believe in Christ (John 16:8-11), to loose the chains of Satan’s hold on us and to tear down the evil strongholds erected in our lives (2 Cor. 10:3-6).

We fight against sin, the flesh, and the devil in this life, but we can find victory in Christ over all of these things, day by day as we yield to Him. We may resist the devil and are promised that if we do he will flee from us (James 4:7). We do not need to fall as helpless victims before Satan for we can stand in the strength of Christ - not in our own strength but in His:

    The scripture says:

    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:16-24 ESV)

    _______________________________

    * G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (Westwood, New Jersey, Flemming Revell, 1936), pp. 154-55.

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