March 2009 - Vol. 28

Christ’s Humility 
and Victory

Christ “tasted death” so that no one 
else would have to die eternally

by Steve Clark

The Temptations in the Desert
by Michael O'Brien.

As Adam confronted Satan, so did Christ. At the very beginning of his public ministry, right after being anointed with the Spirit as the messianic King and proclaimed as God's Son, Christ encountered Satan himself. We read about that encounter in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written,
    'Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 
    'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 
    'On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “And these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then
Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written,
    'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. 
    – Matthew 4:1-11
Christ’s temptation and testing
To be tempted is to be tested by an inducement to do evil, to sin. For a righteous, godly person, then, a temptation is also an attack on what he values most, living in a way pleasing to God and so attaining the purpose for which he is made. Christ began his public ministry by undergoing such an attack. The first Adam had to face Satan in combat and in so doing brought the human race down in a great defeat. The New Adam also had to face Satan. Upon the outcome of that encounter hung the promise of a new future for the human race.

“The testing” or “the trial” is recounted at the beginning of the Gospel for a reason. It was a prelude to the rest of Christ's earthly ministry, which in turn was the prelude to his heavenly ministry of redeeming the human race. He did not come for a peaceful ministry of teaching winning truths,  speaking gracious words, blessing children, and being commended by all –  however much these things formed part of what he did. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Christ came for a kind of war, and the initial campaign was to fight on earth to reach an assured position of heavenly power and authority. That war was first manifested in the event we call the temptation.

Battlefield of the heart
The encounter in Matthew 4 was a fight, but one that did not involve physical force. The temptation was an ethical or moral fight where the battlefield is the will or heart, the inner place where human beings make decisions. In this case, the battlefield was the heart of Christ.

The issue Christ faced was his role as the human Son of God. How would he conduct himself in the position he held? His identity had been manifested to the world by the heavenly voice at his baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Like Adam, the New Adam had to maintain the position that was his by the grace and choice of God.

The issue of his position as the Son of God was clearly stated by the tempter: "if you are the Son of God." Christ was tempted to prove himself. He was first tempted to prove himself as the specially favored one of God by an act of power as great as Moses performed when he provided bread in the wilderness. He was then tempted to prove himself by an act of "faith" in God that would prove God's special protection.

At the end, he was presented all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and tempted to receive them, not from God but from "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31): "All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me."

The temptations were subtle in a certain way. Like the temptation faced by Adam and Eve, Satan tempted Christ with something God in fact wanted him to have. By God's intention Christ would do great acts of power, including making bread in the wilderness. He would receive striking protection from God. He would become the ruler of the whole world.

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Steve Clark is President of the Sword of the Spirit. This article is excerpted from the book Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, copyright © 1992 by Stephen B. Clark, published by Servant Books. It can be purchased at Tabor House Books
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