Enduring the temptations (Matthew 4)

Clearly there is a contrast here between the circumstances in which the first Adam met the devil and his temptations and in which the last Adam met him. The first Adam was tempted in beautiful surroundings, in the Garden of Eden, in a place of great beauty. He was surrounded by fruit to eat. Jesus, the last Adam, was in the desert, in a place that depicted the effects of the curse made after Adam and Eve fell, with nothing to eat. 

There may also be a contrast between Jesus and the children of Israel. The latter experienced God’s powerful intervention at the Exodus and then went into the desert and fell into temptations laid by the devil. In contrast, Jesus after his experience of blessing at his baptism went into the desert and resisted all temptations that came his way.

As we look at what the devil did at this time, we see that he is audacious. He dares to tempt the Son of God and in the process dares to misquote the Word of God. In addition, the devil has alternative temptations if the first does not achieve his desires – for all we know, he may have had more than three ready to use, but if he did he was prevented from using them by the authoritative word of the Saviour. His aim was to bring down the Son of God by getting him to sin against his Father. And we must note that the devil was allowed to tempt the Son of God. 

The devil devised three powerful temptations. Probably he used the forty days to come up with them. We can see his craftiness in each of them, and each of them was designed to lead Jesus into specific sins. This is a reminder that the battle being fought was not so much about physical things, but about the state of the Saviour’s heart and the priorities that marked his life. The devil was attempting to change the devotion of Jesus to his Father’s business. 

The nature of the temptations may surprise us because each of the things with which Jesus was tempted can be classified as good to some extent. It is good to eat food, it is good to have angelic protection in times of danger, and it was right that Jesus should receive universal power. Of course, the devil twisted each of them for a wrong purpose. Yet we should notice that good things can be used by the devil in temptation. Jesus was tempted with regard to his appetite, to the promise of receiving the kingdom, and to anticipation of divine help.

Looking at the experience of these temptations, we can see three important truths. First, they show us the reality of his humanity. As God, he could not be tempted, but as the One who was also man he could. Second, they reveal that temptation can be resisted perfectly by Jesus without the slightest interest in considering what was offered, even if they were a path to promotion. Third, they point to the representative nature of what he was doing when he endured them – he was doing what we failed to do in Adam, and he was doing so on our behalf. The desert is a good place for us, because there we triumphed with Christ.

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