The last words of the foregoing chapter, that Jesus was the Son of Adam, bespeak him to be the seed of the woman; being so, we have here, according to the promise, breaking the serpent’s head, baffling and foiling the devil in all his temptations, who by one temptation had baffled and foiled our first parents. Thus, in the beginning of the war, he made reprisals upon him, and conquered the conqueror.
In this story of Christ’s temptation, observe,
I. How he was prepared and fitted for it. He that designed him the trial furnished him accordingly; for though we know not what exercises may be before us, nor what encounters we may be reserved for, Christ did, and was provided accordingly; and God doth for us, and we hope will provide accordingly.
1. He was full of the Holy Ghost, who had descended on him like a dove. He had now greater measures of the gifts, graces, and comforts, of the Holy Ghost than ever before. Note, Those are well armed against the strongest temptations that are full of the Holy Ghost.
2. He was newly returned from Jordan, where he was baptized, and owned by a voice from heaven to be the beloved Son of God; and thus he was prepared for this combat. Note, When we have had the most comfortable communion with God, and the clearest discoveries of his favour to us, we may expect that Satan will set upon us (the richest ship is the pirate’s prize), and that God will suffer him to do so, that the power of his grace may be manifested and magnified.
3. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, by the good Spirit, who led him as a champion into the field, to fight the enemy that he was sure to conquer. His being led into the wilderness, (1.) Gave some advantage to the tempter; for there he had him alone, no friend with him, by whose prayers and advice he might be assisted in the hour of temptation. Woe to him that is alone! He might give Satan advantage, who knew his own strength; we may not, who know our own weakness. (2.) He gained some advantage to himself, during his forty days’ fasting in the wilderness. We may suppose that he was wholly taken up in proper meditation, and in consideration of his own undertaking, and the work he had before him; that he spent all his time in immediate, intimate, converse with his Father, as Moses in the mount, without any diversion, distraction, or interruption. Of all the days of Christ’s life in the flesh, these seem to come nearest to the angelic perfection and the heavenly life, and this prepared him for Satan’s assaults, and hereby he was fortified against them.
4. He continued fasting (Luke 4:2): In those days he did eat nothing. This fast was altogether miraculous, like those of Moses and Elijah, and shows him to be, like them, a prophet sent of God. It is probable that it was in the wilderness of Horeb, the same wilderness in which Moses and Elijah fasted. As by retiring into the wilderness he showed himself perfectly indifferent to the world, so by his fasting he showed himself perfectly indifferent to the body; and Satan cannot easily take hold of those who are thus loosened from, and dead to, the world and the flesh. The more we keep under the body, and bring it into subjection, the less advantage Satan has against us.
II. How he was assaulted by one temptation after another, and how he defeated the design of the tempter in every assault, and became more than a conqueror. During the forty days, he was tempted of the devil (Luke 4:2), not by an inward suggestion, for the prince of this world had nothing in Christ by which to inject any such, but by outward solicitations, perhaps in the likeness of a serpent, as he tempted our first parents. But at the end of the forty days he came nearer to him, and did as it were close with him, when he perceived that he was hungry, Luke 4:2. Probably, our Lord Jesus then began to look about among the trees, to see if he could find any thing that was eatable, whence the devil took occasion to make the following proposal to him.
1. He tempted him to distrust his Father’s care of him, and to set up for himself, and shift for provision for himself in such a way as his Father had not appointed for him (Luke 4:3): If thou be the Son of God, as the voice from heaven declared, command this stone to be made bread. (1.) “I counsel thee to do it; for God, if he be thy Father, has forgotten thee, and it will be long enough ere he sends either ravens or angels to feed thee.” If we begin to think of being our own carvers, and of living by our own forecast, without depending upon divine providence, of getting wealth by our might and the power of our hands, we must look upon it as a temptation of Satan’s, and reject it accordingly; it is Satan’s counsel to think of an independence upon God. (2.) “I challenge thee to do it, if thou canst; if thou dost not do it, I will say thou art not the Son of God; for John Baptist said lately, God is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham, which is the greater; thou therefore hast not the power of the Son of God, if thou dost not of stones make bread for thyself, when thou needest it, which is the less.” Thus was God himself tempted in the wilderness: Can he furnish a table? Can he give bread? Ps. 78:19, 20.
Now, [1.] Christ yielded not to the temptation; he would not turn that stone into bread; no, though he was hungry; First, Because he would not do what Satan bade him do, for that would have looked as if there had been indeed a compact between him and the prince of the devils. Note, We must not do any thing that looks like giving place to the devil. Miracles were wrought for the confirming of faith, and the devil had no faith to be confirmed, and therefore he would not do it for him. He did his signs in the presence of his disciples (John 20:30), and particularly the beginning of his miracles, turning water into wine, which he did, that his disciples might believe on him (John 2:11); but here in the wilderness he had no disciples with him. Secondly, He wrought miracles for the ratification of his doctrine, and therefore till he began to preach he would not begin to work miracles. Thirdly, He would not work miracles for himself and his own supply, lest he should seem impatient of hunger, whereas he came not to please himself, but to suffer grief, and that grief among others; and because he would show that he pleased not himself, he would rather turn water into wine, for the credit and convenience of his friends, than stones into bread, for his own necessary supply. Fourthly, He would reserve the proof of his being the Son of God for hereafter, and would rather be upbraided by Satan with being weak, and not able to do it, than be persuaded by Satan to do that which it was fit for him to do; thus he was upbraided by his enemies as if he could not save himself, and come down from the cross, when he could have come down, but would not, because it was not fit that he should. Fifthly, He would not do any thing that looked like distrust of his Father, or acting separately from him, or any thing disagreeable to his present state. Being in all things made like unto his brethren, he would, like the other children of God, live in a dependence upon the divine Providence and promise, and trust him either to send him a supply into the wilderness or to lead him to a city of habitation where there was a supply, as he used to do (Ps. 107:5-7), and in the mean time would support him, though he was hungry, as he had done these forty days past.
[2.] He returned a scripture-answer to it (Luke 4:4): It is written. This is the first word recorded as spoken by Christ after his instalment in his prophetical office; and it is a quotation out of the Old Testament, to show that he came to assert and maintain the authority of the scripture as uncontrollable, even by Satan himself. And though he had the Spirit without measure, and had a doctrine of his own to preach and a religion to found, yet it agreed with Moses and the prophets, whose writings he therefore lays down as a rule to himself, and recommends to us as a reply to Satan and his temptations. The word of God is our sword, and faith in that word is our shield; we should therefore be mighty in the scriptures, and go in that might, go forth, and go on, in our spiritual warfare, know what is written, for it is for our learning, for our use. The text of scripture he makes use of is quoted from Deut. 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone. I need not turn the stone into bread, for God can send manna for my nourishment, as he did for Israel; man can live by every word of God, by whatever God will appoint that he shall live by.” How had Christ lived, lived comfortably, these last forty days? Not by bread, but by the word of God, by meditation upon that word, and communion with it, and with God in and by it; and in like manner he could live yet, though now he began to be hungry. God has many ways of providing for his people, without the ordinary means of subsistence; and therefore he is not at any time to be distrusted, but at all times to be depended upon, in the way of duty. If meat be wanting, God can take away the appetite, or give such degrees of patience as will enable a man even to laugh at destruction and famine (Job 5:22), or make pulse and water more nourishing than all the portion of the king’s meat (Dan. 1:12, 13), and enable his people to rejoice in the Lord, when the fig-tree doth not blossom, Hab. 3:17. She was an active believer who said that she had made many a meal’s meat of the promises when she wanted bread.
2. He tempted him to accept from him the kingdom, which, as the Son of God, he expected to receive from his Father, and to do him homage for, Luke 4:5-7. This evangelist puts this temptation second, which Matthew had put last, and which, it should seem, was really the last; but Luke was full of it, as the blackest and most violent, and therefore hastened to it. In the devil’s tempting of our first parents, he presented to them the forbidden fruit, first as good for food, and then as pleasant to the eyes; and they were overpowered by both these charms. Satan here first tempted Christ to turn the stones into bread, which would be good for food, and then showed him the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, which were pleasant to the eyes; but in both these he overpowered Satan, and perhaps with an eye to that, Luke changes the order. Now observe,
(1.) How Satan managed this temptation, to prevail with Christ to become a tributary to him, and to receive his kingdom by delegation from him.
[1.] He gave him a prospect of all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, an airy representation of them, such as he thought most likely to strike the fancy, and seem a real prospect. To succeed the better, he took him up for this purpose into a high mountain; and, because we next after the temptation find Christ on the other side Jordan, some think it probable that it was to the top of Pisgah that the devil took him, whence Moses has a sight of Canaan. That it was but a phantasm that the devil here presented our Saviour with, as the prince of the power of the air, is confirmed by that circumstance which Luke here takes notice of, that it was done in a moment of time; whereas, if a man take a prospect of but one country, he must do it successively, must turn himself round, and take a view first of one part and then of another. Thus the devil thought to impose upon our Saviour with a fallacy—a deceptio visus; and, by making him believe that he could show him all the kingdoms of the world, would draw him into an opinion that he could give him all those kingdoms.
[2.] He boldly alleged that these kingdoms were all delivered to him that he had power to dispose of them and all their glory, and to give them to whomsoever he would, Luke 4:6. Some think that herein he pretended to be an angel of light, and that, as one of the angels that was set over the kingdoms, he had out-bought, or out-fought, all the rest, and so was entrusted with the disposal of them all, and, in God’s name, would give them to him, knowing they were designed for him; but clogged with this condition, that he should fall down and worship him, which a good angel would have been so far from demanding that he would not have admitted it, no, not upon showing much greater things than these, as appears, Rev. 19:10; 22:9. But I rather take it that he claimed this power as Satan, and as delivered to him not by the Lord, but by the kings and people of these kingdoms, who gave their power and honour to the devil, Eph. 2:2. Hence he is called the god of this world, and the prince of this world. It was promised to the Son of God that he should have the heathen for his inheritance, Ps. 2:8. “Why,” saith the devil, “the heathen are mine, are my subjects and votaries; but, however, they shall be thine, I will give them thee, upon condition that thou worship me for them, and say that they are the rewards which I have given thee, as others have done before thee (Hos. 2:12), and consent to have and hold them by, from, and under, me.”
[3.] He demanded of him homage and adoration: If thou wilt worship me, all shall be thine, Luke 4:7. First, He would have him worship him himself. Perhaps he does not mean so as never to worship God, but let him worship him in conjunction with God; for the devil knows, if he can but once come in a partner, he shall soon be sole proprietor. Secondly, He would indent with him, that when, according to the promise made to him, he had got possession of the kingdoms of this world, he should make no alteration of religions in them, but permit and suffer the nations, as they had done hitherto, to sacrifice to devils (1 Cor. 10:20); that he should still keep up demon-worship in the world, and then let him take all the power and glory of the kingdoms if he pleased. Let who will take the wealth and grandeur of this earth, Satan has all he would have if he can but have men’s hearts, and affections, and adorations, can but work in the children of disobedience; for then he effectually devours them.
(2.) How our Lord Jesus triumphed over this temptation. He gave it a peremptory repulse, rejected it with abhorrence (Luke 4:8): “Get thee behind me, Satan, I cannot bear the mention of it. What! worship the enemy of God whom I came to serve? and of man whom I came to save? No, I will never do it.” Such a temptation as this was not to be reasoned with, but immediately refused; it was presently knocked on the head with one word, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; and not only so, but him only, him and no other. And therefore Christ will not worship Satan, nor, when he has the kingdoms of the world delivered to him by his Father, as he expects shortly to have, will he suffer any remains of the worship of the devil to continue in them. No, it shall be perfectly rooted out and abolished, wherever his gospel comes. He will make no composition with him. Polytheism and idolatry must go down, as Christ’s kingdom gets up. Men must be turned from the power of Satan unto God, from the worship of devils to the worship of the only living and true God. This is the great divine law that Christ will re-establish among men, and by his holy religion reduce men to the obedience of, That God only is to be served and worshipped; and therefore whoever set up any creature as the object of religious worship, though it were a saint or an angel, or the virgin Mary herself, they directly thwart Christ’s design, and relapse into heathenism.
3. He tempted him to be his own murderer, in a presumptuous confidence of his Father’s protection, such as he had no warrant for. Observe,
(1.) What he designed in this temptation: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, Luke 4:9. [1.] He would have him seek for a new proof of his being the Son of God, as if that which his Father had given him by the voice from heaven, and the descent of the Spirit upon him, were not sufficient, which would have been a dishonour to God, as if he had not chosen the most proper way of giving him the assurance of it; and it would have argued a distrust of the Spirit’s dwelling in him, which was the great and most convincing proof to himself of his being the Son of God, Heb. 1:8, 9. [2.] He would have him seek a new method of proclaiming and publishing this to the world. The devil, in effect, suggests that it was in an obscure corner that he was attested to be the Son of God, among a company of ordinary people, who attended John’s baptism, that his honours were proclaimed; but if he would now declare from the pinnacle of the temple, among all the great people who attend the temple-service, that he was the Son of God, and then, for proof of it, throw himself down unhurt, he would presently be received by every body as a messenger sent from heaven. Thus Satan would have him seek honours of his devising (in contempt of those which God had put on him), and manifest himself in the temple at Jerusalem; whereas God designed he should be more manifest among John’s penitents, to whom his doctrine would be more welcome than to the priests. [3.] It is probable he had some hopes that, though he could not throw him down, to do him the least mischief, yet, if he would but throw himself down, the fall might be his death, and then he should have got him finely out of the way.
(2.) How he backed and enforced this temptation. He suggested, It is written, Luke 4:10. Christ had quoted scripture against him; and he thought he would be quits with him, and would show that he could quote scripture as well as he. It has been usual with heretics and seducers to pervert scripture, and to press the sacred writings into the service of the worst of wickednesses. He shall give his angels charge over thee, if thou be his Son, and in their hands they shall bear thee up. And now that he was upon the pinnacle of the temple he might especially expect this ministration of angels; for, if he was the Son of God, the temple was the proper place for him to be in (Luke 2:46); and, if any place under the sun had a guard of angels constantly, it must needs be that, Ps. 68:17. It is true, God has promised the protection of angels, to encourage us to trust him, not to tempt him; as far as the promise of God’s presence with us, so far the promise of the angels’ ministration goes, but no further: “They shall keep thee when thou goest on the ground, where thy way lies, but not if thou wilt presume to fly in the air.”
(3.) How he was baffled and defeated in the temptation, Luke 4:12. Christ quoted Deut. 6:16; where it is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, by desiring a sign for the proof of divine revelation, when he has already given that which is sufficient; for so Israel did, when they tempted God in the wilderness, saying, He gave us water out of the rock; but can he give flesh also? This Christ would be guilty of if he should say, “He did indeed prove me to be the Son of God, by sending the Spirit upon me, which is the greater; but can he also give his angels a charge concerning me, which is the less?”
III. What was the result and issue of this combat, Luke 4:13. Our victorious Redeemer kept his ground, and came off a conqueror, not for himself only, but for us also.
1. The devil emptied his quiver: He ended all the temptation. Christ gave him opportunity to say and do all he could against him; he let him try all his force, and yet defeated him. Did Christ suffer, being tempted, till all the temptation was ended? And must not we expect also to pass all our trials, to go through the hour of temptation assigned us?
2. He then quitted the field: He departed from him. He saw it was to no purpose to attack him; he had nothing in him for his fiery darts to fasten upon; he had no blind side, no weak or unguarded part in his wall, and therefore Satan gave up the cause. Note, If we resist the devil, he will flee from us.
3. Yet he continued his malice against him, and departed with a resolution to attack him again; he departed but for a season, achri kairou—till a season, or till the season when he was again to be let loose upon him, not as a tempter, to draw him to sin, and so to strike at his head, which was what he now aimed at and was wholly defeated in; but as a persecutor, to bring him to suffer by Judas and the other wicked instruments whom he employed, and so to bruise his heel, which it was told him (Gen. 3:15) he should have to do, and would do, though it would be the breaking of his own head. He departed now till that season came which Christ calls the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and when the prince of this world would again come, John 14:30.