The Great Contest that Wasn’t

11 Aug
Temptation - 1

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Folks will often read about Jesus’ temptations in either Matthew 4:1-11 or Luke 4:1-13 and come to the conclusion that Jesus was tempted by a spirit-being called Satan (the Devil). However, if you and I could have happened by, would we have come to the conclusion that a spirit being was tempting a person by the name of Jesus? I doubt that it would have been that simple. I think, if we happened on the scene, we wouldn’t have noticed anyone called Satan, nor would we have noticed anyone taking Jesus to a high mountain or even to a pinnacle of the Temple. I believe these things are metaphors for topics or directions taken in real discussions, challenges (more like intimidations) and debates that took place between Jesus and others, whom Satan used to act in his place. Think about it; would Satan, a powerful spiritual enemy, have announced his presence by simply manifesting himself to Jesus there in the wilderness? All Jesus would have had to do was refuse anything he said—a no brainer! Whatever Satan would say must be wrong. What is wrong with this picture?

One of the most surprising things I see, concerning how the traditional story of Jesus’ temptations is normally understood, is that Jesus doesn’t seem to be unsettled by anything Satan says. On the contrary, no matter how Satan seeks to intimidate Jesus or cause him to act according to Satan’s demands, Jesus simply and calmly quotes the Scriptures and says in essence: “No, I won’t do that!” Where are the unsettling moments, if these are supposed to be real challenges to Jesus? Why doesn’t Jesus seem to be moved by anything Satan says or does? Jesus was certainly moved and unsettled in Gethsemane,[1] but not here. Jesus simply and calmly replies to all of Satan’s challenges: “No, I won’t do that!” This, at least to me, is very telling.

Certainly, from Satan’s vantage point these temptations were calculated for Jesus’ destruction. Satan is not seeking to strengthen Jesus’ position. However, Satan does seem to be absolutely impotent when facing Jesus (cf. John 14:30). There doesn’t seem to be even the slightest hint of a contest. Rather, Jesus seems to be simply brushing off the Great One like one would an annoying gnat! So, why would the Gospel writers think it important to record such an event? I believe it has to do with how powerful our Savior really is. Jesus isn’t being tested in the sense that he could ever fail (cf. James 1:13). Rather, Jesus is tested in order to show mankind that he is able to defeat the tempter, whomsoever he might be, when we are tempted.

I recall an event in my own life when faced with the sin that so easily defeated me on other occasions (cf. Hebrews 12:1). In fact, I don’t remember ever being victorious over this seemingly powerful temptation. Nevertheless, for a reason I don’t recall, I began praising and praying to God. Immediately, I felt the power of the temptation dissipate. I found my victory in the presence of Jesus—overcoming what I could never before overcome. Certain defeat morphed into instant victory!

On the other hand, from heaven’s vantage point I believe that Jesus’ temptations are more properly termed tests. They are tests in the same vein that an engineer might test a bridge he had just built. If the bridge is calculated to be able to withstand – x –  number of tons, he might place that amount of weight in each of the lanes of the bridge at its center. The engineer doesn’t do this hoping the bridge won’t collapse, but to prove to those who might be in doubt that the bridge is safe and able to withstand the test. Similarly, I don’t believe Jesus’ temptations were ever meant to be fair contests between him and Satan. That is, Satan’s work could never have caused God to fail. Rather, these temptations are meant to prove to us that Jesus is able—a very powerful Savior in time of need. He is able to save us from sinning, because he cannot sin. If we look to him, we shall not sin, because we cannot look to Jesus and look to sin at the same time (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).


[1] Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane was not a temptation from Satan. Satan isn’t mentioned in any of the accounts of that event. Rather it comes as a test from the Father, as I intend to show in its place in this series of studies.

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Posted by on August 11, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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