Thoughts on the Temptation of Christ

September 2009

Picture in your mind two men in an arid plain. One is tall, well-groomed, well-dressed, looking as if he were out for a stroll from his hotel room. The other is bent double, his face is sunburned, lips cracked, his hair matted and from the odor arising from his tattered clothes, it is clear he has not had a bath in many days. The beautiful man and the humbled man. But who is who? Which is the Son of God and which the Adversary? One would think that the Son of God would be standing there in his glory and the Adversary would be bowed down and vile. But, no, the truth is that it is the other way around: the Usurper has clothed himself in splendor and honor, while the True King has humbled Himself to fasting and self-denial in an inhospitable wasteland.

So Johnny V. Miller set the scene for his series of talks on Christ’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11) at our annual conference. What is the importance of the temptation of Christ? It is an account of how the perfect Man deals with temptation. Thus it is the primary passage on teaching as to how the sons of God ought to deal with temptation. Temptation is both an external seduction and an internal response. “Temptation is the ‘proving ground’ where faith succeeds or fails. Our Lord was tested in every way as we are so that He can be our Helper and Priest” (compare 1Jn 2:16 with Ge 3:6).

These temptations of Christ are a battle of wits between the two most intelligent beings in the universe. If Satan is bold and brash with us, he is subtle and seductive with Jesus, but Jesus responds to each of these as only the Perfect Man could. Satan will never be as subtle with us as he would with Christ. He is a pragmatist. He does whatever works to draw a person into sin; and so he tries what he thinks will cause the Second Adam to sin and so to fail.

In all of this the Adversary’s goal is for us to misinterpret the suffering that he brings into our lives. Because Satan wants to stop us with the least effort necessary, he will attempt to do so at the beginning of our walk. It is precisely when I am closest to God that I am most vulnerable to temptation and am whom the Devil decides to stop the most. A wishy-washy Christian is of no interest to him. He’s already got someone like that in the bag.