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The Temptation of Jesus

I love discovering amazing books, but even more discovering great authors. There is no doubt that Adolphe Monod has crept into one of my top five loved authors. To my shame, I did not know anything about Adolphe Monod until I started reading his classic Farewell, which I picked up this book at a book sale at the Evangelical Library (London). I only picked up the book because it was published by Banner of Trust, I thought it must be okay. And it proved to be more than okay! 

I discovered later that Monod is regarded as the foremost preacher France has produced in the last two hundred years. He was the pastor of the prominent Reformed Church or Paris an taught at the Reformed Seminary in Mantauban. You can read more on Wikipedia and Banner of Trust. I have not yet located a good biography of Adolphe Monod to read. But I am working my way through his books. The second book I have read is Jesus Tempted In The Wilderness.  As the name suggests this an exposition of the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4:1-13. 

This is a "critical summary". So though most of what I have written below is found in the book, I often express things in the way I understand them rather than how Monod expresses them in the book (or the excellent translator Contance Walker). Indeed, in one or two places, I address a question or issue that Monod does not touch on. The structure of my review is also very different from the book itself. The reason for all of this is that I do these critical reviews as part of my learning rathe than simply information accumulation. So the questions on my mind may be a little different from yours. So I hope this post will encourage you to read the book itself. And may be you can write your own summary to help you with your own spiritual walk. Okay, let’s dive in with the key questions on my mind.   

What does it mean that Jesus was tempted?

The temptation of Jesus is a mystery upon mystery. The first mystery is who was tempted. Prior to the temptation, Jesus had just been affirmed by God the Father and God the Spirit as God the Son. Jesus is God and the Bible plainly tells us that God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). So how can Satan tempt Jesus? 

The obvious answer is that that Jesus is a complex person. He is one person with two natures. He is fully God and fully human. These two natures make one-person Jesus! Jesus was not tempted as God, he was tempted as a man. How is that possible if He is both God and man? It is possible because though Jesus was fully God from his conception and remains so forever, he did not live his life on earth relying on his divine privileges and benefits. He willingly lived His life dependent on God the Spirit and the Word of God to sustain him. He did this so that He could live the life we could not live, and exchange that perfect record of His human life on the Cross for our sinful lives. So that God can look on His life and punish Him in exchanging for setting us free from His wrath and judgement. 

The second mystery is how Jesus was tempted. Jesus as a perfect human being had no inner inclination to sin. He had no temptations generated from within himself. No evil desires or longings. No natural bent attraction to sin.  So, how then could Jesus be tempted in the first place to sin? Indeed, in what sense can we say he was really tempted? In some way, this  mystery is similar to the mystery of how Adam and Eve became tempted. When God created them, they were perfect with no evil inclination within them to sin. And yet, they were really tempted from without and fail, despite having no original inner attraction to sin. 

When it comes to Jesus, this mystery is compounded by the truth that Jesus could not sin in any case. Why is that? Because even though Jesus has two natures, the human and the divine, Jesus as a whole complete person is very God of very God. And of course, God can never sin! An iron wire by itself can be bent by anyone, but if that same iron is welded into an iron bar cannot break it! A brick made of mud is easily broken, but if we mix it with cement, it changes the whole game. In the same way, not only not is the human nature of Jesus perfect, with no inherent inclination to sin, his divine nature acts as a super insurance that renders sinning impossible. The perfect human nature of Jesus cannot behave contrary to the divine nature of Jesus because Jesus is a whole person!

This of course raises a new question. If Jesus could not sin on account of His divine nature, in what way was he truly tempted as Adam was? Is it possible to be tested without a possibility of failure? Monod does not discuss this question. Bruce Ware in his book, ‘The Man Christ Jesus’ does discuss this important question. He rightly notes that the key is to differentiate between why something could not happen to Jesus and why it did not happen to Jesus! Imagine a very bright student who is good at mathematics. The teacher then hands out a sheet with all the answers. You can use it. But the student for some reason decides to keep the answer sheet in his pocket and not look at. And yet after the exam, he gets a 100% score!  Here is the question: why did the student pass? Because he worked hard for the exam and got all the answers right by hard work!  But here is another question: Could the student have failed the exam? No, because he was given answer in the pocket and allowed to use it!  Jesus is the hard-working student, albeit a perfect one. His test in the desert is real because he is willingly choosing to face the test as our second Adam. He is facing it as Adam faced it before the fall!  Could Jesus have sinned in his perfect human condition? No because unlike the first Adam, Jesus has a divine nature that acted as a fail-safe mechanism that prevents sin if needs it! But that is not the reason that Jesus did not sin. He did not sin because he relied obediently on the Spirit of God and the Word of God. 

So the upshot is that the temptation of Jesus was real. It was a temptation of a perfect human being who had no inbuilt attraction to sin. It was not a temptation of God because though Jesus was fully God whilst on earth, he lived his life as a man dependent on God the Spirit. The temptations of Jesus prove his humanity. God the Son put on our human flesh and thereby entered our war zone and came under the artillery fire of our shared enemy.  

Why was Jesus tempted?

We have already hinted on this. Jesus was tempted because he “had to be”. It was part of his saving work. It is important that Jesus was in the wilderness. The account of Mark notes that he was with the “wild animals” to remind us that Jesus is not being tempted in the same setting as Adam. Adam was tempted in a beautiful garden filled with comfort and amazing food, and with a lovely wife! Jesus is being tempted in the wilderness deprived of earthly comforts and cut off  fromany human fellowship. He is the last Adam who is tempted in a fallen and hostile world. He endured those 40 days of consult assault on His relationship with God to recover for us what Adam lost in Eden. Adam fell and therefore all humanity fell in him. Our Lord came as our last and better Adam. Jesus had to stay sinless to be tested a one of us and stay sinless to save us on the Cross! His victory over Satan officially started in the wilderness and culminated on the cross where he finally triumphed over the powers to deliver His people from the domain of darkness and into his Kingdom of light. 

Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness for us. If you are like me, you know that you are often tempted to rest on your power in face of temptation. And you always fail to keep sin away from you!  Sometimes in our attempt to defeat one test we end up failing in another area. We win war against Satan only to lose another!  We do these things because the pressure of temptation and the fear of failure often makes us rely on our own resources to resist the devil! The victory of Jesus over temptation, says to us that if we are trusting in Jesus, He has already been tested for us. And He has overcome all tests the way to the Cross. Jesus has already won for us. We have already passed the examination of life. So we can now breath a huge sigh of relief. The Saviour has triumphed for me! I do not have to lean on my own effort to defeat Satan anymore. Jesus has done it for us. 

Knowing this truth floods our hearts with torrents of peace. It also makes us tremendously grateful to Jesus for all that He has done. We serve him out of gratitude rather than mere compulsion. This truth also enables us to grow every day to resist temptation successful. We grow in persevering through tests. Why is that? Because how can we tolerate sin in our life, when Jesus our precious love and friend has fought tooth and nail to deliver me from sin?  Would you befriend someone who kills your wife or children?  Of course not! So why would we tolerate and befriend that which pierced by best friend? That which Jesus our great champion and victor not only stood valiantly against but also abolished on the cross for us? Knowing that Jesus has been tempted and triumphed for us should make us hate sin in us. It should energize us to resist Satan out of our gratitude to the Lord who was faithful against the evil in the desert and on Calvary!

We need to remember that Jesus did not just defeat temptation to save us, he defeated it to be our example. Monod notes that we can learn from Jesus that our own temptations are designed to perfect us as the saints of God. It is during victories and defeats that we are trained in our faith. God allows temptations in our lives to complete the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Whatever trials and whatever trials and whatever trials I am facing, it is because that is exactly what I need. It is what the Spirit of God has determined. Trials are used by God to drive out our unbelief. To make us increasing reliant on the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must face these trials not in our strength but as our Lord Jesus did it - by continuous dependence on God the Spirit, the Word of God, prayer and fasting!  We know that in Jesus we have someone who has not only endure temptation for us, but He is right now sitting as our Merciful High Priest. We know that Jesus is more than equipped to thelp us as our Faithful High Priest because He too has been tempted but without sin!  Are you facing tests and temptations in your life? Then come to Jesus your great champion! Bring your temptations to Him. May be you are feeling ashamed to share them with anyone.  Go to Jesus and pour out your heart direct o Him. He is saying: Look to me not to other things. Come to me and find the help and strength you need. I am have been tested as one of you, and I have been test for you. I am your true Help. 

In what ways was the temptation of Jesus unique?

We have already touch on what makes this temptation of Jesus unique. In particular, the uniqueness of Jesus as a complex person (fully God and fully man), and the reasons why He was tempted (for our benefit not for Himself). That said, there are two additional things we can say about the uniqueness of the temptation of Jesus. 

First, Jesus endured direct attack from Satan for forty days and nights. The Lord Jesus faced Satan alone and deprived of all human nourishment. As followers of Jesus, we face many and all kinds of temptations in our lives, but we never face them alone like He did. Jesus is always there with us when we face temptation, and restricts what we endure.  

Secondly, Jesus suffered temptation as one who was completely sinless. This meant that the temptation was a revulsion to everything he knew. He must have felt sickened at the very sight of the plate of temptation that Satan was serving up. We are rare sickened by temptations because we are natural born sinners.  

What lessons can we learn from how Jesus was tempted?

I think there are atleast seven lessons Monod wants us to take away from the temptation of Jesus in terms of the nature of our tempations.  

First, there is no time or place where we cannot be tempted. Jesus was tempted from the moment of his ministry until the very end. The temptations of Jesus also had no boundary, He was tempted in the solitude of the wilderness, in the world as he stood on that mountain, and in the church, as he was taken to the top of the Holy Temple. There is no time or place where we are safe from the power of the tempter. We need to let that important truth sink in deeply and allow it drive us to seek refuge in God at all times through prayer, the Word and fellowship with other believers. 

Secondly, nothing in this world is safe from being used by Satan to tempt us. Satan tempted Jesus with the flesh (food), with the eyes (mountain), and with pride (temple). But more than that, Satan used the very holy identity of Jesus as the Messiah to tempt Him. He sought to turn it against Him: “If you are the Christ….” We must learn from this that Satan will use our identity as children of God and turn it into an excuse for sin. He will even twist it, by giving us unholy expectations of what it means to be a child of God. We should not be surprised when everything is conspiring against us. Our precautions, talents, gifts, and even the holy means of grace, can be used by Satan to turn against us. Everything is a potential weapon to Satan against us. 

Thirdly, temptations do not come because God has abandoned. It is often because He is blessing us. Jesus suffered temptation after being anointed by the Spirit of God and publicly identified as the Beloved of God the Father. By this we learn that when we are most close to God, it arouses the jealousy and anger of Satan. So he strikes out against us. Therefore in one way temptation signals that we have been or are enjoying the blessings of God. If we are being tempted, it is not because God has abandoned us but because he has blessed us. 

Fourthly, temptations are likely come at the time of our greatest strength. God does not allow us to be tempted without His support. He is there to shield us. So in the moment of our temptation we must remember help is available. God is caring for us as His very own. We need to remember that we are not only part of His family,  He cares for us, individually and personally. I think this aspect of having our own walk with Jesus is something we often miss or forget. The emphasis on God’s relationship to the church can sometimes have the unintended effect of losing that deep awareness that God does primarily deal with us as individuals. Yes, God loves His church. And he also loves me, the individual. This is something we need to remember. 

Fifthly, Satan wants us to distrust God’s provision for our lives. In the first temptation, Satan tried to get Jesus to provide for Himself rather than rely on God. Our Lord’s response quoted Deuteronomy which indicates that without God’s Word, bread itself cannot nourish. Indeed, God’s word can sustain us without bread or any visible means. Jesus’ answer shows that he trusts in the provision of God, leaving the means to God. As Followers of Jesus are tempted to distrust God’s provision in two areas. First, we distrust God for material needs in times when we suffer loss of means (e.g. Job). Satan tells us to take matters in our own hands. And secondly, Satan tempts us to distrust God for our own spiritual needs in moments when our worship of God is restricted. He tells us to take short cut.. We must be alert to these temptations to provide ourselves. 

Sixthly, Satan wants us to be unfaithful before God. In the second temptation, Satan mixed truth and error. He claimed ownership of the fallen world. There is some truth in that, but he forgot reveal that he is limited in his being the “god of this world”. It is the person he is tempting, who holds this world together. Therefore the power of the seocnd temptation of was that Satan wanted Jesus to impatient. Not to wait and conquer Satan through the Cross, but to do it right away but at the expense of a unfaithful alliance with Satan. There are many ways this temptation of unfaithfulness is offered to us today. The most common is through the desire for riches and relationships. Satan offers believers to get to Heaven in a painless and compromising way.  This is true for those who are in public ministry.

Finally, Satan tempts us with presumption. In the first temptation, Satan sought to make Jesus doubt God. In the third temptation, he sought to use the unwavering confidence of Jesus as the means to make Jesus tempt God. We tempt God by testing his faithfulness. By taking on unwarranted risk because we know God will care for us. It is a form of “antimonianism” in the area providence. It unnecessarily presumes on God.  It is a distorted confidence that leads to a situation in which God is not honoured because if he does not deliver us, the world pours scorn on God for not caring for us, when in fact it was our foolishness and deviation from His purposes that are responsible for the situation we are in.  
Monod identifies several areas we often tempt God. First, in resources for ministry. The devil may invite us to take on projects for our glory rather than projects led by God. We may be tempted to overspend on things or to do things too quickly and when problems come God is blamed. Unwarranted risk compromises the Gospel. We need to do things with a clear reading of the Holy Spirit rather than just our ego. Most of things tend to be about us rather than God. The other area we tempt God is in education. We send children to secular institutions because we are after worldly success. And then presume that God will keep them safe there. Monod powerfully argues that God keeping us should not be a license for sin or reckless decisions.  There are other areas we do. For example, the friends we have, books we read, films we watch, people we listen to. God will certain keep us but exposing ourselves to certain things is nothing more than tempting God. 

What lessons can we learn from how Jesus responded to temptation?

I think there are atleast four lessons Monod wants us to take away from the temptation of Jesus in terms how we respond to tempations in our lives.   

First, we overcome temptation by complete reliance on God. Jesus overcame temptation by finding strength in His Father. The God of Jesus is our God. Our God is not less strong. It is not a question of strength. It is a question of faith. Monodo observes, “My own strength cannot deliver me, if I do not believe. Nor can my own weakness hurt me if I do believe”. In short, we need faith in God. As we hold fast to God, we  need to remember that God’s grace is available in time of need. Strength is promised to us in Jesus when I need it. The problem is that we want it ahead of time. we want to know what our finances will look like next year. But that is not God’s way. God does not give today, the things of tomorrow. but he will certainly give today the thing for today, and tomorrow for tomorrow. 

As we look to God’s strength, we  need to be confident that God will never allow the devil to tempt us without His permission, nor does he allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure. This means that, as long as God is God, and the Bible is His Word, it is impossible for us to be subject to a temptation that we cannot overcome. The Scripture throughout attest that to yield to temptation is a never a necessity.  The believer shares in the victory of the Messiah over sin. This is not to say we can reach a state of perfection. This Bible clearly tell us that no one man can reach that state. So we must maintain that we are free not to sin, but none of us are able to exercise that freedom perfectly, which means no one can live a sinless or perfect life on earth. If anyone can do that, they clearly do not need Jesus as their High Priest. At the same time, we must be clear that each time we give into temptation, it is our own fault. We have not been faithful to God as we should be in using His resources.

Secondly, we must learn from Jesus the value of a single victory. His victory over Satan in the wilderness set the stage of future victories. It shattered Satan’s confidence and weakened him further. We too must not give ground when temptation comes. We must see each temptation as laying the foundation for future glorious victories over Satan. Our goal should be  to make sure that Satan recognises the Jesus in us. When Satan tempts us, he must see in me, my Master who defeated him in the wilderness. When he does, he will flee from me. 

Thirdly, we must be preparing against temptation spiritually. Jesus was prepared for temptation spiritually by being filled with Spirit. We also must prepare against temptation by continuous prayer to be filled with Spirit. The infilling of the Holy Spirit arouses opposition from Satan. But the Spirit of God also enables us to be better prepared to resist Satan. It is a double effect. Most importantly, the infilling of the Spirit means that we enter temptations at His choosing. And where God guides, he guards. The infilling is not an excuse for us to seek danger. A child of God must never seek temptation in whatever form. It should be thrust upon us. The spiritual preparation of Jesus was accompanied by physical preparation. This takes the form of fasting whilst praying.

Finally, we must learn to wield the Sword of God. The only offensive weapon in the hands of Jesus was the Word of God. Adam forfeited the Word of God. Jesus our second Adam picked it up and wielded it to great effect. This shows us that the only thing that worries Satan is the Word of God. Therefore our response to Satan must always be with the Word of God. We must avoid the temptation of responding to Satan with human reason. We won’t get far. The problem is that we think we need more than the Word of God. But Jesus shows us that the Word of God is a reliable weapon. If it weren’t, Jesus would not have used it. And Satan would have claimed as much. But the Bible is reliable and sufficient. If the Bible was good for Jesus it must be good for us! 

As we wield the Sword of God, we must remember that Satan arms himself against us with our resources, seeking to weakness us through strength. Just as God strengths us through our weakness. The key resource Satan uses is the Bible. Satan misquotes and misapplies the Bible at us. He misapplies scripture in the areas of sanctification to promotes sin. In the area of ministry he promotes either self-effort or laziness. In these and other areas, we must know our Bible to ensure we do not fall in the trap of the devil. The way to combat him is to know the Word for ourselves and ensure we quote a balancing scripture at him.

To wield the sword of Scripture effectively, we need to know the Bible as Jesus does. Jesus knew the Bible like we know the places we grew up or have lived in for a long time. And we need to have the same knowledge. The more precise and comprehensive our knowledge is, the stronger, we are against Satan’s temptations and traps. We cannot always have our Bible in front of us, even if we have it on our mobiles, so we need to carry it in my heart as Jesus did. But memorisation and knowledge is not all Jesus had. He had a deep awareness of the Bible as Heaven spoken within it. He was able to see the heart of it. He rightly divided it. He was able to clearly see the eternity of the Kingdom of Heaven that as wrapped in earthly form. As a result, He was able to extract timeless spiritual principles from what he read. To do the same we need the Spirit of God to leads us in our reading of the Bible. We need His empowerment. This requires us to seek His face daily in prayer.  

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2021


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