“TELL OF THE DAYS THAT ARE PAST, HOW FOR OUR SINS HE WAS TEMPTED”: THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST
By Wayne S. Walker
The whimsical story is told of a storekeeper who said to a boy who had been lingering too long near a tempting display of fruit, “What are you doing? Trying to steal one of those apples?” The boy replied, “No, sir, I’m trying not to.” In a very simple way, this illustrates the power of temptation in our lives. In one form or another, temptation keeps multitudes who are in sin from coming to Christ for salvation and draws many who are Christians away from Christ. Thus, every one of us has to face and deal with temptation in our lives.
However, God has not left us on our own to figure out how to do it all by ourselves. He sent someone to live as we do and overcome temptation so that we might have an example. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3). In 1880, Fanny J. Crosby wrote, “Fasting alone in the desert, Tell of the days that are past; How for our sins He was tempted, Yet was triumphant at last.” Please consider some important lessons that we can learn from the temptations of Christ.
What is temptation? In general, the word “temptation” means a testing, trying, or proving. In Genesis 22:1, the familiar King James Version reads, “God did tempt Abraham,” whereas the newer versions say, “God tested Abraham.” When James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation,” the idea of temptation in this context must include what James has already mentioned in verses 2 and 3, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” In a specific sense, the term is often used to mean an enticement or inducement to do evil. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus, we see that the basis for temptation, the reason why we can be tempted, is the fact that we have certain lusts or desires, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16). In fulfilling these lusts or desires, we can choose either a means that is sinful or a way that is acceptable before God. That choice is the temptation.
Who is being tempted here? It is Jesus, the divine Son of God, the Word who was with God but became flesh and dwelt among us as the Lamb of God who came to take away our sins (John 1:1, 14, 29; cf. Philippians 2:5-8). Thus, Jesus was in essence God or divine, but He came to this earth and was born as a man or human being. Now, how could He be tempted? “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Since God cannot be tempted, Jesus was not tempted as God but as a man. He met and overcame temptation not by use of divine power but by use of the same means that God expects of any other human being and so became an example to us of how to resist temptation. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18). The very reason why the temptations of Jesus are recorded is so that we can learn from His experience how to react when we are tempted.
Who is doing the tempting? It is the devil or Satan. The tempter of verse 3 is called the devil in verse 5, and Jesus identifies Him as Satan in verse 10. “For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). God cannot be tempted nor does He Himself tempt anyone. He allows us to be tempted as a test because He created us as free moral agents and we must have the choice to do good or evil. However, the source of every temptation is the devil. He, through the serpent, tempted Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). He is the one who brought all the calamities to test Job (Job 1:6-12ff). “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Yet, while the devil tempts us just as he did Jesus, like Jesus we do not have to yield to his temptations. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). How? “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). If we follow the example of Jesus and use God’s word as our sword of the Spirit, then we CAN resist the devil and his temptations.
Why was Jesus tempted? The actual accounts of Christ’s temptations do not say, but other Scriptures give us some reasons. One reason was to let us know that He has experienced what we go through in our lives and is sympathetic to our needs. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Another reason is that by undergoing the same kinds of temptations that we do but resisting them completely, He became our perfect example of how to resist temptation. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth;’ who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23). A final reason is to give us hope that we, too, can overcome. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Thus, we have the promise, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).
Notice the result of Jesus’ temptation. “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11). The great Scottish reformer John Knox said, “In this answer of Christ we may perceive what weapons are to be used against our adversary the devil, and how we may confute his arguments, which craftily and of malice, he makes against God’s elect….Thus are we taught, I say, by Christ to repulse Satan and his assaults by the word of God.” The temptations of Christ teach us that if we will “Be sober, be vigilant,” even though our “adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” we can “Resist him, steadfast in the faith.”
—in Search for Truth; Sept. 27, 2015; Vol. VII, No. 9