The Temptation in the Wilderness

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written he shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

— Matthew 4:1-11

How arises the question crucial to the elucidation of the story: How could the Son of God be tempted? If anyone says that he was not moved by those temptations, that he was not tempted, then for human need, struggle, and hope, it bears no meaning. But asserting that these were real temptations, then how could the Son of God be tempted with evil? In the answer to this lies the center of the whole interpretation: he was not tempted with Evil, but with Good; with inferior forms of good, while the higher forms of good held were biding their time, God’s time. The Son of God could not be tempted with evil, but I believe that he could be tempted with good—to yield to which temptation would have been evil in him, and ruin to the universe.

One may ask, Does not all evil come from good? Yes; but it has come from it. A good corrupted is no longer a good. Such could not tempt our Lord. Revenge may originate in a sense of justice, but it is revenge, not justice; an evil thing, fearfully unjust. The Lord could not have felt tempted to take vengeance upon his enemies, but he might have felt tempted to destroy the wicked from the face of the earth—to destroy them from the face of the earth, I say, not to destroy them forever. To that I do not think he could have felt tempted.

We shall see how the devil tempted him to evil, but not with evil.

Commentary

by Jess Lederman

How often in our lives--in every day!--we are tempted with small evils! "If I can't resist this," I tell myself, "how will I resist the greater temptations when they come?" Which, of course, does not mean I resist every time. But how much more subtle are the times when we rationalize a choice that seems decent enough, but only because we do not have the courage to choose the very best!

In our lives, these are the choices that may be the most haunting of all. Think of Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken, and imagine if the path spurned was one set before you by God! Oswald Chambers was eloquent in pointing out to his Bible College students that God might not want them to head out to the far-off land of cannibal kings; their calling might be humbler, closer to home, not at all the romantic path of their dreams.

Not our will, but Thine be done!

Provision

Above my head the great pine-branches tower;
Backwards and forwards each to the other bends,
Beckoning the tempest-cloud which hither wends
Like a slow-laboured thought, heavy with power:
Hark to the patter of the coming shower!
Let me be silent while the Almighty sends
His thunder-word along-but when it ends
I will arise and fashion from the hour
Words of stupendous import, fit to guard
High thoughts and purposes, which I may wave,
When the temptation cometh close and hard,
Like fiery brands betwixt me and the grave
Of meaner things-to which I am a slave,
If evermore I keep not watch and ward.      

George MacDonald