TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where for forty days He was exposed to the tempting of Satan (Mark 1:12, 13). Since the baptism was the inception of His public ministry, it is not surprising that the culmination of the days of temptation involved profoundly the meaning and method of that ministry.
Mt. Quarantania, the traditional place of the temptation, is a desolate area seven m. NW of Jericho. If Jesus was baptized at Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28), however, it may be that the place was the barren, rocky shore of the Dead Sea not far from Qumran. Only the conclusion of the days of testing is revealed, although the whole period during which He fasted must have involved a constant battle. Whether Satan appeared visibly or not, the gospels speak of an actual spiritual conflict. “...it was not inward in the sense of being merely subjective; but it was all real...a real assault by a real Satan, really under these three forms, and it constituted a real temptation to Christ” (Edersheim, p. 297).
Many people, confusing temptation with sin, are troubled at the thought that Jesus could be tempted. It must be recognized that temptations are appeals to legitimate needs and desires. The error is in suggesting that these desires should be fulfilled in a way contrary to God’s will. It is when men place the fulfillment of their own wills before the will of God and give way to the temptation that there is sin (James 1:14, 15). Jesus steadfastly refused to satisfy His needs or fulfill His purpose in any way that would for one moment take Him outside the will of His Father.
The first temptation was on the level of His physical nature, an appeal to turn stones to bread in view of His obvious hunger after forty days of fasting (Matt 4:1-4). This was a basic test not only of the reality of the incarnation but also of the nature of His kingdom. Did He only appear to be a man, using the prerogatives of deity to overcome all difficulties? And was His kingdom to be primarily a satisfaction to the flesh? Jesus answered both temptations. He had become man fully and completely. Led by the Spirit, He had fasted in the wilderness and the continued fulfillment of God’s will was more important than the satisfaction of His hunger. Furthermore, His kingdom was to be of the Spirit and not of this world (cf. John 18:36).
Following Matthew’s order, the second temptation also has a double significance. It was an appeal on the level of His spiritual nature to prove His faith in God. At the same time it was an appeal to manifest Himself spectacularly to Israel by throwing Himself from the Temple parapet. Jesus was no more willing to depart from the will of God in the spiritual realm than in the physical. To throw oneself into danger unnecessarily is not to trust but to question the faithfulness of God: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matt 4:7). Neither would Jesus convince Israel by astonishing them but by the working of the Spirit.
The third temptation involved the very purpose of His coming into the world, that the kingdoms of the earth might be restored to the kingdom of the Father. To obtain this goal in Satan’s way, by using his powers, would be to gain a world still sinful and lost. Jesus had come to redeem men, not simply to rule them. Satan’s way, still followed by many, required no suffering and death, but Jesus chose God’s way, the way of the cross. See Jesus Christ.
Bibliography G. C. Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (1903), 150-210; J. Denney, “Holy Spirit” HDCG (1908); A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1953), vol. 1, 291-307; W. Barclay, The Mind of Jesus (1961), 31-39.
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