And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. (Luke 4:4 KJV)
The temptations and the responses of Jesus to them are very basic and even fundamental realities of how we each are tempted and how we should respond. They dig down to the bedrock of what it means to be human and what it means to be a creation of God and a believer in Him. They also reveal to us the nature of evil, the evil one, and temptation as a whole.
By “fundamental” I mean that these were not just three random temptations, followed by three good responses, rather than were tests that we all go through and responses that we all must grasp the import of. Alexander Maclaren categorized the three as:
The first temptation is that of the Son of man tempted to distrust God… The second temptation is that of the Messiah, tempted to grasp His dominion by false means… The third temptation tempts the worshipping Son to tempt God.
We will follow his outline in this study.
The temptation to distrust God
As we mentioned yesterday, the temptation came near the end of the forty day fast, but clearly the fast was not fully over. It is malicious in intent and Satan said, “If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:3). In it Satan made the following suggestions:
- He made the guise of being willing to believe in Christ if He could prove his divine credentials.
- He made the suggestion that it made no sense for Jesus to be hungry since (or if) He was the Son of God.
- He appealed to the common human feeling of being misunderstood and disrespected by others, this temptation he will build on later, and Christ could prove it to Himself right then and there by turning stones to bread.
- He also appealed to His very real physical hunger. (How many of us have cheated on our diets?)
There were stones in the wilderness that had the appearance of bread. They were called “Elijah’s melons” and the temptation came down to one single stone that had been brought to the attention of Christ. “Just this one stone,” is the idea, “you can turn to bread. After all, this is what you need, what you desire, and you have already done so much more than others in this fast of almost forty days.”
All these things were true, of course, and this is the conniving nature of Satan and the deception in his temptations to us — to take the truth and maliciously twist it. But behind these suggestions were the questions of the purpose of life, the nature of mankind, and the nature of their relationship with God. Christ did not argue the point of His hunger, or His divinity, or His power. His response was about the very nature of human life and our relationship to God.
The spiritual side of mankind is much more significant than the physical side. It is a question that philosophers and theologians debate often as to whether it is more correct to say that a human being has a body or is a body, or to say that human being has a soul or is a soul. Of we merely have these things, then they merely accompany our existence and do not necessarily form an essential part of our being.
The biblical answer is found in the creation of mankind, that the body of man was formed out of the dust and “God breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). To what degree the early chapters of Genesis are to be interpreted literally and to what degree figuratively, is another topic of discussion among Bible students. But certainly in the creation of human life the biblical account depicts something much more profound is created than can be represented in the body of mankind alone. The words “living soul” place the greater emphasis on the inner life of conscience and consciousness, and spirit and soul, over the physical body of a human.
The place of the word of God in creation of the world teaches us of God’s power and authority in communication. He spoke the world into existence. And in the imagery of His breathe being breathed into the nostrils of man, is the picture of the Spirit of God that indwells us. Hebrews 4:12 must have these concepts in mind when it says,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 BSB)
The first concern of each of us should not be for the sustenance of our bodies, but for the feeding and nurturing of our souls and spirits by the Word of God. This is our first need. We do not live by bread alone, and though we need food for the sustaining of our bodily life, one day we will all surrender our bodies to grave. Only the soul and spirit of mankind will be sustained beyond the grave. The scripture promises a new and incorruptible body, but it calls this body “a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), one that is fed and nourished by living in the complete obedience to the Word of God.
This addresses our priorities in life. We spend a considerable amount of time and energy, and money, on our physical bodies. The Bible does tell us that we ought to take care of ourselves physically, to eat right (Daniel 1:7-15), to sleep well (Psalm 127:2), and to exercise (see below). But most important is the soul and spirit. Paul wrote:
By pointing out these things to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of faith and sound instruction that you have followed. But reject irreverent and silly myths. Instead, train yourself for godliness. For physical exercise is of limited value, but godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for the present life and for the one to come. (1 Tim. 4:6-8 BSB)
And Jesus echoed in John’s Gospel these same thoughts when He said: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:16-17).
- How much effort have you put into trying to turn stones to bread, or seeking to find your purpose, satisfaction, and identity in the limited things of this world?
- We are in this world, but not of this world. What do these words mean?
- Where does a Christian draw the line between being a responsible person in our physical and material world, and being a spiritual person as a member of God’s forever family?
- How much time and effort do you put into the spiritual development of your life, as compared to the physical and material development?
- What are three things you can do right now to strengthen your spiritual life?