R1688-253 Bible Study: The Temptation Of Jesus

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III. QUAR., LESSON VII., AUG. 12, MATT. 4:1-11

Golden Text—”In all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”—Heb. 4:15

Our Lord’s temptation immediately followed his consecration and baptism, and as a logical consequence. The temptation came from Satan, “the prince of this world” (John 14:30; Luke 4:5,6), who came to our Lord just as he comes to his followers—as an angel of light, and with his real character and purposes cloaked.

VERSE 1. Immediately after his consecration, being full of the holy spirit, of zeal to accomplish his appointed mission, our Lord’s most natural and reasonable impulse (which was truly the leading or prompting of the holy spirit within him) was to withdraw in solitude for meditation upon the sure word of divine law and prophecy, and for prayer, that thus he might fully comprehend the purpose of God in sending him into the world, and gain strength to accomplish it. For although as a perfect being our Lord, even as a child of twelve, surprised

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the Doctors of the Law by his wisdom and perception, yet he could not grasp the full import of the prophecies and of his own share in them until after he had been baptized or anointed with the holy spirit of God, following his presentation of himself to God’s service.

With the intellectual endowments of a perfect man it was not necessary that he should take with him the scroll of the law and the prophets, when he turned aside into the wilderness for meditation; for, having been a student of them from his youth up, they were all doubtless stored in his perfect memory. As there he meditated in solitude upon the law and the prophecies touching the work before him, carefully comparing Scripture with Scripture and reasoning on them, with increasing clearness and under the influence of the holy spirit, the divine plan opened up before him, showing a pathway of humiliation and sacrifice culminating in death, and accomplishing almost nothing for the present amelioration of suffering humanity. Though times and seasons for the full accomplishment of the restitution of all things were wisely hidden from his view (Mark 13:32), as they were also wisely hidden from the Church’s view until the realization of it was near at hand, he doubtless foresaw that considerable time must elapse and that the pathway to that glorious culmination must necessarily be a narrow, difficult, and to the eyes of men, an inglorious one.

Such a realization, when first dawning on the mind, would naturally bring with it some measure of disappointment to one whose sympathetic love and zeal so longed to lift the load of sin and misery from fallen humanity. God’s appointed time for blessing was evidently at quite a distance in the future: his grand designs mature slowly; and only in the light of their full accomplishment can the necessity for all the painful steps thereto be appreciated. Consequently, until such time the loyal and obedient sons of God must walk by faith, and not by sight. This his only begotten Son did, thus setting us an example that we should follow in his steps.

The natural craving of the loving, benevolent, perfect heart of Jesus to lift up and bless humanity opened a way for Satan to present a temptation to him which would verily be a trying one; and he improved the opportunity, his object being to thwart, if possible, the divine purpose by turning our Lord aside from it and absorbing his time and energies in other pursuits. Accordingly, his first temptation was that recorded in

VERSES 5,6. A Scripture was brought to his attention which seemed to imply that it was God’s plan that he should attract attention to himself, and introduce himself to the people by leaping from the pinnacle of the Temple into the valley below, and, by being preserved from harm, attract the attention of the people to himself and to the providence of God over his physical life, and thus to his acceptance as Israel’s King and Messiah. The suggestion was plausible, but our Lord saw that such a transgression of the laws of nature was not probably God’s will; and then he recalled a Scripture which settled the question as to his duty,—”Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Thus this temptation was ended. He must serve and trust God—not prove or test providence by disregarding his clearly understood laws of nature. It doubtless was Deut. 6:16 that decided the Lord’s course in this temptation. Although filled with the spirit, he relied upon what was “written” for his replies to temptations. And our Lord’s spirit or disposition was far from that of tempting God with unreasonable and unnecessary requests: he claimed no temporal favors—no protection against the legitimate, natural results of any presumptuous experiment. Thus, discerning the real spirit of God’s Word by the spirit of God which was in him, our Lord refused any misapplication of it, made manifest by its lack of harmony with its true spirit, intent or purpose.

Similar temptations have come to thousands of God’s people in the claims of Spiritualism, Christian Science, etc.; and those who succumb to them have their reward in the deceptions of the Adversary who leads them boldly on from one presumptuous claim to another, until they are hopelessly entangled in his ensnaring net. Those who would escape this snare should meet it as the Lord met the temptation; for it is written, “Seek not unto them that peep and mutter and have familiar spirits,”—i.e., are spirit mediums.—Lev. 19:31; Isa. 8:19.

Other common forms of this temptation are: (1) Eating what you know does not agree with your system and asking God to bless it and keep you from experiencing its legitimate effects; (2) otherwise sowing to

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the flesh and asking God to give a crop of spiritual blessings; (3) from curiosity or other motives tampering with things known to be evils, and expecting blessings to result,—as, for instance, the reading of literature which you have proved to be off the true foundation (the ransom), and praying God to keep you in the truth. These are temptings of God’s providence, and as such should be put far away from every real child of God. “Hearken, and eat ye that which is good,” instead of tempting God by eating that which is bad and praying and hoping for blessings from it.

(In reference to the above Scripture—Psa. 91:11,12—we remark that its proper application is to the Church, of which Christ Jesus is the Head and of which his living saints are the feet. These are the “feet” now being borne up by God’s messengers of truth lest they stumble in this evil day in which all others will surely stumble.)

Failing in this attempt to ensnare our Lord, Satan’s next effort was a still more subtle one—

VERSES 8,9. The power of the kings and potentates of this present world or order of things was brought before his mind with the suggestion that with some maneuvering and wire-pulling, he, as a perfect man, and therefore so far superior to all other men, could soon win his way to a chief place of power and dominion over the whole world, which place of power he could at once begin to utilize for the blessing of mankind. In this view of the situation he mentally saw himself in the top of a very high mountain (kingdom)—an autocratic emperor having dominion over the whole world and using his power for the betterment of the entire race.

That was a suggestion worthy of the consideration of such a benevolent heart; but again he stopped to consider how it was written. “To the law and to the testimony!” said the prophet; and to the law and to the testimony he went, impelled by the same spirit of meekness and obedience that led to his consecration and baptism, to see if this suggestion was in harmony with the plan of God.

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As he carefully considered it, he found it was not so—that he was not then to be exalted among men to power and influence, but that, on the contrary, he was to be despised among men, and that they would turn their faces from him, and not toward him; that he was to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Thus the suggestion was seen to be out of harmony with the divine plan, and it was promptly recognized as a temptation of Satan, who was again repelled by the “sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God;” for, said he: “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

He had come to serve the Lord’s plan, and therefore not to accept any suggestions out of harmony with that plan. He foresaw that the suggested course would involve many compromises of truth and righteousness with evil men then in power in order to gain the coveted place of power and influence, just as all office-seekers under the present order of things have always found it. They must bow down and do homage to the “prince of this world” by the sacrifice of many of the principles of truth and righteousness in order to be installed in power. This the Lord would not do; nor will any of his followers; for, like him, they will discern the temptation and say, “Get thee hence, Satan.”

This same temptation has been presented to the Church, the body of Christ, throughout the entire age; and the result of this test of her fidelity has been that only a very small minority of those who nominally constituted the Church proved to have the spirit of the Head, which rejected the temptation and faithfully pursued the narrow way of the divine appointment. Early in the Church’s history the spirit of the “prince of this world” offered power and influence in consideration of the sacrifice of Christian principles and doctrine; and the masses of professed Christians accepted the offer, in consequence of which the great antichristian systems of nominal Christianity have been exalted, while the true saints, whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23), have, like their Lord, been despised and rejected of men—men of sorrows and acquainted with grief; because of their unflinching determination to worship God and serve him (his plan) only.

VERSES 3,4. One more temptation awaited our Lord. During the forty days and nights of profound meditation and study and of brave resistance and conquest of temptation, he seemed to forget the demands of nature for food; or perhaps the spirit of sacrifice impelled him to ignore them

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in the interest of his mental and spiritual work, his perfect physical constitution permitting him to endure the privation longer than other men could. But, not until afterward—after forty days of fasting—did he seem to realize the cravings of hunger. And then there was nothing in the wilderness to satisfy it. Then came the suggestion to call in the aid of divine power to support by miraculous manner the life which he had consecrated to sacrifice,—by commanding that the stones be made bread. This temptation was equivalent to that which comes also to many of the consecrated Church—viz., to request of God the healing of the body and the protection of the natural life which is consecrated to death.

Our Lord’s reply was, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” That is, our meat and drink should be to do the will of our God and to finish his work (John 4:34) at any cost to ourselves; and to ask to be relieved from the legitimate effects of such a course would be out of harmony with the very spirit of sacrifice, which in the present time is the way to eternal life.

Our Lord had the power to turn the stones to bread; and later he did turn water into wine, and, to feed the multitudes, he twice made food out of nothing—increasing two fishes and three small loaves into an abundance for thousands. But these miracles were an unselfish use of his power. He never used that power selfishly: to have done so would have been an avoidance of his covenant of sacrifice; and such a suggestion was this temptation.

The same principle attaches to our prayers and efforts for the sick: they should be unselfish. We, the consecrated, are not authorized to call upon divine power for the healing of our own infirmities. Our Lord healed the multitudes, but when weary himself simply sat down and rested. On the same principle, the Apostle Paul healed the multitudes, but did not cure himself. He sent napkins and handkerchiefs to the diseased, but when the consecrated were sick he sent none to them. Compare Acts 19:12; 28:7-9; 2 Tim. 4:20; 1 Tim. 5:23 on this subject. Also see TOWER for July ’88. We have only a few of this number, but we will lend a copy to anyone requesting it who will promise to return it after reading.

In consideration of these temptations of our Lord, we realize how true is the statement of our Golden Text—that our High Priest “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He was not tempted like the world—to godlessness, vice and criminality; but like the Church—(1) To a deceitful handling of the Word of God for the purpose of gaining its apparent support for human theories, instead of patiently waiting until the long time and painful processes of God’s plan mature; (2) To ambitious efforts to gain present power and advantage, even for the apparently good purpose of blessing others now instead of waiting God’s time and conforming all our present efforts to the present direction of his plan; (3) To take the sacrifice off the altar when we begin to realize what fortitude and zeal are necessary to fully render it.

These, in general terms, are the great temptations which assail the Church, as they assailed her Head; and their source and channels are—the world, the flesh and the devil. The devil is the instigator, and the environments of the present world and the natural and often legitimate desires of the flesh (surely legitimate in our Lord’s case) are the mediums through which his temptations are presented.

The fact that these temptations occur to us does not constitute sin. They came also to our Lord, who was without sin. The sin is not in being tempted, but in yielding to temptation.

VERSE 11. “Then the devil leaveth him.” The spirit of the Lord in Jesus was more than a match for the tempter, and the sword of the spirit did its work, as it always does. With this weapon “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas. 4:7.) No power of art or spurious logic can stand against it; for it is mighty and shall prevail.

“And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” But they came uninvited. As on a similar occasion subsequently (Matt. 26:53,54), he declined to ask any temporal favors; but the Father graciously granted on this occasion even the temporal favors; though on the later occasion it was withheld that the divine purpose might be accomplished in the sacrificial death of his beloved Son.

What a beautiful example the Lord thus furnishes of Christian fortitude which never flinches nor hesitates, but with fixedness of purpose steadily pursues the appointed course of sacrifice!


— August 1, 1894 —