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by Al Maxey

Issue #754 ------- August 27, 2018
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

T. S. Eliot [1888-1965]

Satan's Solicitations of the Savior
Reflective Study of the Temptations of Jesus

The great Welsh theologian, author, and Nonconformist minister Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who spent most of his life serving the Lord in England, and who authored a massive six volume commentary on the Bible, made this rather insightful declaration, "Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colors that are but skin-deep." Henry's observation is quite astute, as it reflects the deceptive nature of Satan's enticements to sin that far too frequently cause us to stumble in our walk with the Lord. These lurid lures have the appearance of something wonderful and marvelous. Such positive appearances are shallow, however, for just beneath the attractive surface are multiple layers of wretchedness and misery just waiting to burst forth upon and overwhelm the unsuspecting victim. Little wonder, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). Jesus knows by personal experience the power of temptation and the inherent weakness of our human nature, for just prior to His arrest He told His disciples, "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Not a single person, except for Jesus, was ever (or ever will be) completely/consistently victorious over the many temptations faced daily in their lives. These enticements are powerful. This truth led Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) to observe, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it" [The Picture of Dorian Gray, chapter 2]. Although yielding to temptation is most certainly not biblical advice, it nevertheless is the tragic reality in each of our lives far more often than we would likely care to admit.

Temptation itself is not a sin; rather, it is an enticement to commit sin. Sin only occurs when we give in to such temptations and act upon them. "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, in His humanity, was enticed just as we are, but He refused to give in to those enticements. Even though the Holy Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1), it was neither the Father nor the Spirit that did the tempting of the Son. Our God does not tempt us: i.e., He does not entice anyone to commit sin. However, He does allow us to be tempted, which allowance is for the purpose of testing and affirming our faith and trust in Him, as well as strengthening us spiritually as we win victory after victory over the tempter (Satan). "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (James 1:13-15). Yes, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, yet He would later instruct His disciples to pray, "Father, ... lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13).

Although we may appeal to the Father in our prayers to "lead us not into" such times of trials, testings and temptations, the difficult reality is that such times will occur in our lives. It is just part of the human experience; none of us are exempt. We can only pray that such times be kept mercifully at a minimum. Because each of us must face these seasons of satanic solicitation, and since Jesus is our "great example and pattern" (as the old hymn "Where He Leads I'll Follow" correctly observes), it was essential that He, in His humanity, experience the fullness of what we ourselves would be called upon to face, thus giving us the perfect example of how to deal with such times in our own journey through life. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (1 Peter 2:21 -- The Message reads: "He suffered everything that came His way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step by step"). The Lord knew only too well that when we declare our allegiance to Him, the enemy will waste little time coming after us. We are now a part of the opposition, and the devil doesn't take kindly to that. Thus, immediately after His baptism and the declaration by God that this Jesus was indeed "My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Matthew 3:17), our Lord was led forth by the Spirit to face the foe. Dr. Herbert Lockyer made an interesting observation about this: "After the heavens opened, hell was opened. After the dove, there came the devil, and the two are never far apart." Jesus could hardly call for us to face such times of satanic enticement if He was unwilling to do so! Therefore, during His earthly walk (of which the wilderness experience was just a small part), Jesus was "tempted in all things just as we are," yet even though He knew the realities of human weakness, He faced those enticements "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), thereby displaying for each of us the truth that God will not allow us to be tempted or tested beyond what we are capable of enduring, but with every such encounter will provide the way of escape also.

We are all undoubtedly familiar with the account of the temptation of Christ Jesus, yet "the narrative of the Temptation is confessedly one of the most mysterious in the Gospel records" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 13]. The three Synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all relate the details of the event somewhat differently, and John doesn't mention it at all. The tempter is called "the devil" in one account, "Satan" in another. There has also been a lot of speculation as to the exact nature of the fast Jesus experienced for 40 days and nights (a fast which Mark, by the way, does not even mention). Did He really eat nothing at all, as Luke reports?! Matthew does not include this tidbit; he simply says Jesus "fasted" (which, depending on the nature of the fast, might have included small portions of food and drink). Whatever the true nature of the fast, both Matthew and Luke agree that at the end of the 40 days, Jesus was very hungry! This, in fact, became part of the basis of the first temptation (to turn the stones in the wilderness into bread to satisfy His hunger). As a point of interest, it should be noted that both Moses and Elijah fasted for the same length of time: 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:18, 1 Kings 19:8), and these same two men also appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3), perhaps signifying that those individuals of faith who share in His suffering will also share in His glorification.

Matthew says Jesus was "led by the Spirit into the wilderness," while Luke says that He was "led about by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days." The latter seems to suggest the Spirit was active throughout the 40 days in leading Jesus about, and that the temptations may have been continuous throughout that time, with the three recorded ones merely being representative; the account of Matthew seems to suggest Jesus was simply led into the wilderness, and then He was on His own for the 40 days (perhaps communing with the Father), with the three recorded temptations occurring at the very end. Mark makes no list of any specific temptations; he only says that Jesus was tempted. Mark does indicate, however, a more forceful "leading" by the Spirit. In fact, Mark writes that the Spirit "drove Him out into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12), which some feel may suggest Jesus was somewhat reluctant to go! This wilderness area, by the way, is believed by most scholars to be the vast Judean desert which extended along the whole western shore of the Dead Sea; the northern part of this wilderness was visible from the Jordan River, where Jesus had been baptized. Perhaps one of the biggest differences among the gospel writers, however, is that Matthew and Luke do not give the same order of occurrence for the last two temptations. They agree on the first one (turning stones into bread), but Matthew puts the temple experience second and the mountain experience third, while Luke reverses that order and places the temple experience last. As one might imagine, this has led to a host of differing speculations over the centuries from scholars as to what this might signify, most of which we will avoid in this present study due to time and space constraints.

Mark also adds the insight that Jesus was "with the wild beasts" in the wilderness, a bit of information not mentioned elsewhere. A good many scholars regard this as a significant addition to the narrative, as it tends to make the whole wilderness experience just that much more intense for the Lord. This statement by Mark "suggests that their presence, their yells of hunger, their ravening fierceness, their wild glaring eyes, left, as it were, an ineffable and ineffaceable impression of horror, in addition to the terrors and loneliness of the wilderness as such" [Ellicott, vol. 6, p. 14]. "Only Mark mentions the wild beasts: a touch that heightens the fierceness of Jesus' entire temptation experience" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 623]. "This seems to intimate that He was in the most remote, unfrequented, and savage part of the desert; which, together with the diabolic influence, tended to render the whole scene the more horrid" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 290]. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) wrote that this information was added by Mark "to show the desolation and danger of His dwelling there. In this place, surrounded by such dangers, the temptations offered by Satan were the stronger. Amid want and perils, Satan might suppose that He would be more easily seduced from God. But He trusted in His Father, and was alike delivered from dangers, from the wild beasts, and from the power of temptation, thus teaching us what to do in the day of danger and trial" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. The following source takes this even farther: "This shows the extreme solitude of the place. It also shows the innocence of our Lord, that there, in that wild and desolate district, amongst lions, and wolves, and leopards, and serpents, He neither feared them nor was injured by them. He dwelt amongst them as Adam lived with them in his state of innocence in Paradise. These wild beasts recognized and revered their Creator and their Lord" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16 - Mark, part 1, p. 3].

As for how to understand or interpret these three recorded temptations, there have been a great many approaches, assumptions and conclusions proffered over the centuries. John Calvin (1509-1564), the French theologian and reformer, who promoted his reforms primarily from the city of Geneva, Switzerland, strongly believed that the temptation of Christ should be "regarded as a vision or allegory" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1680]. "Modern scholars have speculated on whether the temptation of Jesus was real or whether it was only allegorical" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 95]. These speculations have most certainly increased in modern times, but they definitely predate modern scholarship. Although there are many, the three primary categories of scholarly approach and interpretation may be listed as:

  1. Salvation-Historical -- "An interpretation in which Jesus' testing recalls that of Israel in the wilderness" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 137]. It is a view "in which Jesus obeys the commands of God that Israel had disobeyed in its wilderness wanderings, thus proving Himself to be the true representative of Israel" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 785].

  2. Parenetic-Psychologizing -- In this understanding of the narrative we see Jesus providing for His disciples, both then and throughout the ages, an example of how to confront and defeat devilish enticements. "Jesus provides a model for tested believers" [Keener, p. 137]. Psychologically, it is felt that temptation falls into three general areas, and that Scripture affirms this: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (1 John 2:16, NASB). The temptation of Eve, with respect to the tree from which it was forbidden to eat, is also said to be three-fold: "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate" (Genesis 3:6). In similar manner, "Jesus' temptations represent the three main categories of all human temptations" [ISBE, vol. 4, p. 785].

  3. Christological-Messianic -- This view "affirms a correct understanding of Jesus' messiahship as against contemporary political or militaristic interpretations" [Keener]. In this interpretation, "Jesus is tempted to reject the way of the cross in favor of following the more political, nationalistic hopes of His countrymen" [ISBE].

Dr. Keener suggests, and most scholars tend to agree, "Clues within the narrative, and in the rest of Matthew, indicate that for Matthew, as well as for the traditioning community that preceded him, the narrative functions in all three ways" [Keener, p. 137]. Perhaps a more significant part of the interpretative dilemma is this: was it actually possible for Jesus Christ to have committed sin?! If so, then was Jesus really and truly God (who cannot sin, or even be tempted to sin), and if not, then wasn't the whole temptation event a sham?! "If Christ could not have sinned, did He then ever really face a genuine temptation? If, on the other hand, in order to make the temptation real, He could have sinned, is this not blasphemy? How could Christ sin since He is God?" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1681]. The solution of this particular source is terribly confusing and unsatisfying: "In the human nature Christ could have sinned, but because of His divine person He could not. Therefore we do not say either that Christ was able to sin, or that Christ was able not to sin, but that Christ could not sin" [ibid]. The following also reflects our struggle to comprehend this: "The NT documents affirm both Jesus' deity and His humanity, and neither of these affirmations may be permitted to deny the complementary truth. One might argue that Christ's impeccability is a function of His deity but must not be taken to mitigate His humanity, and Christ's temptability is a function of His humanity but must not be taken to mitigate His deity" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 115]. It is easy to say, "He was fully human and fully divine," but explaining that in a way that makes sense to our fellow humans is a tall order, and, frankly, I'm not sure any of us are fully up to the task. There are aspects of the incarnation that are hard for us to grasp; perhaps it is not even necessary that we do so. Maybe this is where faith comes in! I may never fully grasp how deity and humanity can come together in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but I have faith that it did. I may never grasp how Father, Son and Spirit can be "three in one," but I believe they are. Was Jesus actually tempted to sin, just as we are? Scripture says He was, and I accept that. It puzzles me, but it doesn't perturb me. I guess I'll leave it there!

The First Temptation

Although many overlook this subtle aspect of the temptations of Jesus, the devil begins this first assault with the little word "if." The tempter says, "If You are the Son of God..." (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3). There are two possible ways to translate this phrase in the Greek, and both are based upon the prior statement of God about the Son right after the baptism of Jesus: "This is My beloved Son..." (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). First, some scholars contend, "The conditional construction does not imply doubt, but is a logical assumption in the dialogue" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 863]. Thus, it would be translated, "Since You are the Son of God..." In other words, the devil is issuing a challenge: "Since You are the Son of God, as God declared a few weeks back, prove it ... show me. I won't accept what God said, I want proof. Perform a miracle for me!" Phrased this way, it is easy to see how complying would be playing into the hands of Satan; an act that, in effect, admitted the word of God could not be trusted, but must be verified by a separate act. "The use of a first-class condition in the Greek language would suggest that it be translated, 'Since You are God's Son...' This means that the temptation was not primarily to focus doubt on the question of His Sonship, but rather, in view of the voice from heaven affirming Him as God's Son," to independently validate that statement by a confirming sign [Dr. Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator's Commentary: Matthew, p. 49]. Satan's goal, in light of this view, was more subtle than just getting Jesus to make bread to ease His hunger; the devil was calling into question the very words of God Himself; questioning God's truthfulness. If he could trick Jesus essentially into confirming that statement by a miracle, no matter how harmless or justified that miracle might seem on the surface, this act would be forever perceived as tantamount to an admission that God's words and pronouncements alone could not be trusted as constituting Truth. Oh, how subtle Satan's solicitations can be!! He's a master at seduction!

On the other hand, there is a second, and equally valid, way of understanding the manner in which Satan begins his first recorded temptation of Jesus. The use of "if" here may very well serve to create doubt in the mind of the exhausted and famished Jesus. "Are you really God's Son, Jesus? Are you sure?", the devil may have asked in a mocking tone. "So he tempts us now with his evil whispers, breathing doubts into our souls - doubts of the truth of God's revelation, doubts of His power and love, doubts of our own conversion. He suggests again and again that terrible 'if,' harassing our souls with miserable fears and awful perplexities" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 113]. "The word 'if' suggests a doubt, and perhaps a taunt" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 30]. Satan tried the same tactic of doubt with Eve: "Did God really say you can't eat from every tree in the garden? Are you sure? Maybe you didn't hear His word right?" (cf. Genesis 3:1). "Satan starts the temptation by raising a cloud of doubt" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 142]. Frankly, I believe we find all of these elements, and perhaps even more, in the wording chosen by Satan. He doesn't miss a trick, and his traps are quite varied. [NOTE: The devil also begins his second recorded temptation (Matthew 4:6) with this same wording (although it is the third temptation according to the order given by the other gospel writer: Luke 4:9). The analysis given above will largely apply in this additional usage as well.]

As we look at the specific solicitation of Satan itself, we find that he is taking advantage of the Lord's hunger, saying, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:3; or "Tell this stone to become bread" - Luke 4:3). Can we trust God to care for our material and physical needs, or must we fend for ourselves? Jesus dealt with this trust issue with regard to our daily needs in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34), making it clear that this is one of the primary areas of life where Satan will try to seduce us away from a practical trust in the Father's loving care. "This primal mistrust in the goodness of God is behind every problem that you and I experience. Our basic sin against God is mistrust" [Dr. Bruce Larson, The Communicator's Commentary: Luke, p. 84]. We lack trust; we lack faith; we feel left to our own devices. God has forsaken us; abandoned us ... thus, we must find a way to meet our own needs. We must develop a different perspective: "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or, 'What shall we drink?' or, 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:31-33). "The first assault had been made through the door of appetite: 'the lust of the flesh'" [Dr. B.W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 30].

So, how did Jesus respond to this first enticement by the devil? Jesus responded with an appeal to the Scriptures, something we would all do well to keep in mind in our own encounters with the enticements of the world. "Jesus answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God."'" (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4 - the second half of this statement is omitted by Luke). "These words, 'It is written,' are the first on record that were spoken by our Lord after His entrance into His public ministry; it is significant that the first words spoken by Jesus are a declaration of the authority of the Scriptures" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 99]. His quote was from Deuteronomy 8:3, the context of which is God's gracious dealings with His people during their 40 years in the wilderness (I would encourage you to read that entire chapter, for it speaks to the very issue of trust in the goodness and care of our God, which was the very basis of Jesus' rejection of this temptation by the devil). In our own wilderness sojourn we too frequently become overly anxious for the things of this world, even those things which we may perceive to be "necessities." We forget that God is well aware of our needs, and that He has promised to provide for us. Satan plays on these doubts and entices us to distrust the providence of our God. Thus, "the sum and substance of this reply by Jesus is trust: the trust of any true son of God" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 144].

The Second Temptation

"Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, "He will give His angels charge concerning You" and "On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone".'" (Matthew 4:5-6; Luke 4:9-11). Again, note that Satan begins with the statement, "If You are the Son of God" (see the previous discussion). Also, as has already been pointed out, this is the second temptation according to Matthew's account, but it is listed as the third temptation in Luke's account. Although much has been written over the centuries about this, and the possible reasons for the difference between these two authors, most scholars believe the order given by Matthew to be the one that most likely reflects the actual order of events. Thus, we shall follow that order here.

It should come as no surprise that Satan quotes Scripture here! The devil knows the Bible; he also knows how to twist and turn it to his own advantage. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12 which deals with the security of the one who trusts completely in the Lord God. As we have already noticed, lack of trust in the Father is not a good thing, but neither is a presumptive trust in His goodness and care! It is this enticement to sin the devil now uses against Jesus. "Okay, You say You trust Him! But, how much do You trust Him? Enough to place Your safety and life in His hands?" Whether in a vision, or in actual fact, Satan and Jesus are standing on "the pinnacle of the temple" in the city of Jerusalem. This was an extremely high point, with a very long drop to the valley below. The pinnacle was about 150 feet above the base of the temple, and the drop to the floor of the Kidron Valley was said to be about 700 feet. According to tradition, it was from this pinnacle, "years afterwards, that James, the Lord's brother, was cast down to meet the martyr's death" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 114]. Josephus said it was so high that one could not look down from it without becoming dizzy or giddy. In short, anyone jumping off of it would most certainly die. "So, Jesus, if You really are the Son of God, and if God has really promised to send angels to protect You, then JUMP!!"

Matthew Henry correctly observes, "Satan tempted Jesus to presume upon His Father's power and protection" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "The devil wants Jesus to presume upon His relationship with God, to act as if God is there to serve His Son, rather than the reverse" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 141]. "The essence of this temptation is that of presuming on God and displaying before others one's special favor with Him" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 864]. In response to the devil's use of Scripture, Jesus also quotes from the Word of God: "On the other hand, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). This is a quote of Deuteronomy 6:16. "Jesus and the devil argue Scripture, and both are adept at it, though the devil quotes Scripture out of context and so values its wording over its meaning. ... In this passage Jesus, like a good Jewish teacher, refutes Satan's proof-text with a more appropriate text" [Keener, p. 143]. "Jesus' hesitation came, not from wondering whether He or His Father could command the normal forces of nature, but because Scripture forbids putting God to the test. ... We see then, something of Jesus' handling of Scripture: He would not allow any interpretation that generates what He knew would contradict some other passage" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 114].

Yes, "the tempter used Scripture, but he took it out of context and bent it to his own advantage. Unless one is honest with the Bible, interpreting it in its context and historic meaning, an application can be a perversion of the Scripture. Christians sometimes fall prey to seeking proof-texts to back up an idea of their own rather than being honest with the Holy Scripture" [Dr. Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator's Commentary: Matthew, p. 50]. "The devil's art of quoting Scripture has been spread far and wide in the devil's school, and some of his pupils and graduates are doctors that are quite as expert as he is" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 150]. It is somewhat humorous, I suppose, that Satan quoted the Psalm 91 passage out of context, for if he had bothered to quote the very next verse in that passage, he would have been quoting a prediction of his own defeat at the hands of the very Son of God he was seeking to entice!! "You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent You will trample underfoot" (Psalm 91:13, ESV).

The Third Temptation

"Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, 'All these I will give to You, if You will fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:8-9, ESV). I need to also give Luke's version here, for it has some interesting additions: "And the devil took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, 'To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours'" (Luke 4:5-7, ESV). Satan has made some rather bold claims here: claims of great power and authority in this present world. This is not altogether false, but it is extremely deceptive, for any power and authority he has is completely at the discretion of and under the control of our sovereign God, who has, for His own reasons, allowed the devil this "little season." Paul refers to Satan as "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), and even Jesus Himself, in three different passages in John's gospel account, characterized him "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Hebrews 2:14 also informs us that it was necessary for the Son of God to come in a "flesh and blood" form, so "that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." It is imperative that we today take up the "full armor of God," so that we might "be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12). Thus, "Jesus does not challenge the claim; neither does He acknowledge it" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 864].

There has been much speculation among scholars as to how Jesus could literally have been shown ALL the kingdoms of the world, and what mountain would have provided that particular all-encompassing view. Deuteronomy 34:1-4 indicates that the Lord took Moses to "Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, ... and the Lord showed him all the land" that He intended to give the people of Israel. Deuteronomy 3:27 indicates this was quite a spectacular view in every direction. The ancient Jewish rabbis understood these statements as indicating Moses was given the ability to "view the whole earth" [Dr. Keener, p. 141]. Some speculate, therefore, that the devil took Jesus to this same spot so that he could show Him that same view. Other scholars believe this whole temptation may be more spiritual vision than a literal view. Either way, the temptation was the same: to achieve great political, earthly power; to rule. It is true that our Lord came to set up a kingdom, to rule over the world; that a day was coming when every knee would bow. Satan's solicitation is simple: "Take a shortcut; bypass all that Cross nonsense and take the throne NOW. All You have to do is bow down and worship ME!!" This temptation wasn't even subtle. It was grossly outrageous. Yet it appealed to human nature's too frequent desire to take the easy way out and to avoid pain and suffering. "Satan was offering a shortcut to fullest Messianic authority ... an interpretation of the theocratic ideal that side-stepped the Cross and introduced idolatry" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 114]. It was a temptation to easy power at the cost of "the most black and horrid idolatry" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. The temptation was to avoid the Cross ... but, where would that leave mankind?! "It was a temptation to take a shortcut to His rightful Kingship" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1680], but at a price way too high. As T. S. Eliot said in the quote at the top of this article: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

Even the Lord's apostle Peter unthinkingly echoed this same devilish thought (the Kingdom without the Cross) some time later, to which Jesus responded, "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:22-23). The Cross of Christ was absolutely necessary to the establishment of the kingdom, something even many today still find difficult to grasp. In utter disgust, Jesus tells Satan after this temptation, "Begone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only'" (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8 - although the phrase "Begone, Satan" is not used by Luke in his account). "Satan offers to make Jesus the Messiah-King, just as God wants Him to be this King. It can all be done by means of one little act of prostration before Satan. Instead of a long, bitter road to the throne, one short step will reach the crown. There is no need to face shame, agony, and ignominious death. Instead of the bitter cup, only a single obeisance" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 155]. What an abomination! Little wonder that Jesus, in complete disgust, orders the devil to get out of His sight, at which time "angels came and began to minister to Him." What a blessed relief for our Savior!

Concluding Thought

"We can see in these temptations a progressive attack on Jesus by the devil; the tempter appealed to His bodily appetite, to His feeling of security, and to His ambition; these belong entirely to the mind. Next, he proposed a useful miracle, turning stones into bread, and then a useless miracle, that of casting Himself down from the pinnacle, and last a gross sin in Jesus' worshipping and serving him. He sought to excite distrust in God, a presumptuous reliance on God, and finally an abandonment of God" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 105]. Jesus was having none of it! He wasn't fooled by any of these antics for even a second. He saw through them all, and left the devil in defeat. And yet, "when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). He is determined, and all through the three years of our Lord's public ministry, Satan followed Him seeking an opportunity to undermine His efforts in any way he could. Satan failed, but it wasn't through a lack of determination. And the devil still prowls about like a roaring lion even to this day, seeking unsuspecting souls that he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)! Therefore, be alert! The tempter daily seeks to entice the followers of Jesus (and indeed the whole world) to sin against God. Let us give thanks that we have a source of help, "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted!" (Hebrews 2:18).


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Readers' Reflections

A Note of Thanks -- Buff Scott, Jr. is a good friend from Arizona, and also a supporter of my "Reflections" ministry. Buff is also a writer, and his online column "Reformation Rumblings" has been around for many years. In his column dated August 5, which he mails out to a great many subscribers around the world, Buff focused his thoughts on my recent article "Convicted by the Holy Spirit" (Reflections #753), which he characterized as being "splendid." He shared with his readers, and also with his followers at "Grace Centered Magazine" (an online publication for which Buff and I both have served off-and-on as writers for many years), my following quote: "There is nothing in my life, or within me as a person, that could ever cause me to stand confidently before the Righteous One. Yet, His righteousness may become mine by virtue of His grace and my faith. I can be counted as righteous, and in that state I do not come under either judgment or condemnation." After sharing this quote from my article, Buff then wrote: "Perhaps some of you receive Al Maxey's weekly 'Reflections.' If you do not, I encourage you to contact him at and request to be added to his mailing list. A portion of his most recent column, quoted above, addressed whether or not believers have a righteousness of their own. His remarks above compose the 'jewel' of his viewpoint." Buff then continued in his article to further endorse the teaching I had shared in my own study. As a result of his comments in his column "Reformation Rumblings," I received a flood of requests from his readers to be added to my own mailing list. So, I just want to thank Buff for his endorsement, and to return the favor: to be added to his mailing list for his publication, just send him a request at You won't be disappointed. His insights are fascinating and will challenge you to further study and reflection ... and that's a good thing!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Thank you, Al, for honoring my request and adding me to your mailing list for your "Reflections." I try to accumulate some of the finest material on the Internet, and then add these web sites to my list. I will be adding your site to my list of the "Best of the Best Web Sites." You can find all this at my web site: Simple Life Truths. My web site targets the six major areas of life. My personal favorite area is the spiritual, although all posts are designed for the general public. You may recognize some of the web sites listed. I'm looking forward to studying your material.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Al, you wrote an article almost 8 years ago titled "An Ark of Gopher Wood: Reflecting on an Ancient Mystery" (Reflections #457), and, shame on me, this is the first time I've read it. It is a very well-documented and well-thought out article, I must say! I have a rather moot question for you, although it doesn't really apply to your article, other than this: you mentioned that Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, in their Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, stated that gopher wood was "probably cypress, remarkable for its durability, and abounding on the Armenian mountains." Now, beside the fact that they did say "probably," I'm totally unimpressed by their comment that cypress was "abounding on the Armenian mountains." Genesis 8:4 says that "the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat" (not on Mt. Ararat, as so many believe). The ark ended up on "the mountains of Ararat," but I have a great deal of difficulty believing that the ark was built in Armenia. When their commentary appeared in 1871, why do you think no one called them out on this?! Anyway, this is probably moot, but thank you, sir, for being my sounding board on this. May our Father continue to richly bless you.

From a Reader in Unknown:

Help! I am trying to put a sermon together on 2nd Corinthians chapter 5. My focus is on verse 10. I don't understand why we will seemingly be judged on bad things we have done, when our sins are forgiven (Romans 4:7). I hear Christians talk a lot about how they believe they will have to answer for certain things they have done in their lives that were bad. Yet, doesn't the blood of Jesus cover us and cleanse us?! I hope my question doesn't sound too "dumb" to you. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I would like to better understand this myself so that I could hopefully help some others do so as well. I realize you are very busy, and if you don't have time, I understand. God bless you, my friend.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Maxey, One of the most inspiring things to me is understanding the thought processes of those who are of great influence upon others, as well as those who were of influence to them. While reading again "The Twisted Scriptures" by W. Carl Ketcherside, I happened upon his reference in his preface (p. 13) to a book he found while in Belfast, Ireland. That book is "Union, Or, The Divided Church Made One." If you have not read it, then I highly recommend it. In fact, I would recommend it to every Christian desiring unity among believers. For those who think Ketcherside's words of "unity in diversity" were originated with him, they need to read this book. It contains numerous ideas and even expressions that are exactly what Ketcherside contended for in his ministry.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I thought I would send these personal thoughts to you, since you mailed out your study on June 21st titled "Confused Churchianity: Deadly Delusions about the Church" (Reflections #750). We in the Churches of Christ say we want unity, but we want it based on OUR perception of unity. Yes, we will invite a Baptist to worship with US, but we wouldn't want to be caught worshipping in a Baptist church with all those Baptists there, even though the same topic might be preached in both places. It appears the building and the name on the sign make the difference. So sad that we feel we have to lift ourselves up by lowering those around us!

From a New Reader in Unknown:

I was browsing the Internet, came across your web site, and saw that we have some things in common. I've written some books myself, and am now working on a book titled "The Church is Not the Church." I also grew up in the Churches of Christ from the time I was two weeks old. I was a full-time paid preaching minister in the Church of Christ for over 20 years. In fact, my dad was an elder for over 20 years. Now that I'm at the ripe age of 68, I've allowed my mind and heart to be more open to God's truths. God has changed my mind on many things, including the institutional church. In reading some of your articles on your web site, we seem to have a lot of shared views. I would love to talk to you sometime. May the Lord continue to enrich and bless your ministry.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I meet with a group of guys for breakfast every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. More often than not we use one of your Reflections articles to start our discussion that day. Most of these guys are Vietnam era vets, and so between the Bible and the war our discussions usually get pretty lively. In light of the above, I would like to order your Reflections CD: the complete collection of all your Reflections articles from December, 2002 until the present. My check is enclosed. Thanks for everything you do, Al. Love you, brother!

From a Reader in Washington:

Al, thank you for the exceptional work that you do in researching and reflecting upon the truths of the Scriptures. Your work is truly exceptional. I'm wondering if you have ever looked into the word "maturity" from a biblical perspective, especially as it relates to such passages as Matthew 5:48 and Hebrews 5:11 - 6:3? I would really be interested to read your thoughts on this. Thanks!

From an Elder in Alabama:

Brother Al, I wanted to share an idea with you! Recently, while my wife and I were listening to "YouVersion" (an audio Bible), I noticed that I am an "audible responder." My wife prefers seeing and reading (a "visual responder"). Since I have slight eyesight impairment, I wondered if you could add a button to your Reflections articles that would provide an audible version of your article for people who would like to hear it, but who may have difficulties seeing/reading it. This is something that many of your readers might possibly desire and/or even benefit from. I simply bog-down with all my squinting while trying to read it for myself. I don't know how difficult this would be technically, however. Either way, I still really enjoy each of your Reflections.

From a Minister in North Carolina:

Al, thank you for your thoughts in your response, in the most recent issue of Reflections (Issue #753) in the "Readers' Reflections" section, to the question from the reader in Arkansas who was wondering about the fate of legalists. I've often wondered about this, as well. Blessings to you from North Carolina!

From a Reader in the Netherlands:

Beloved Brother Al, greetings from the Netherlands. Recently I have been reading material written by Keith Giles that has been guiding me even more and more toward a Christocentric perspective of the Scriptures and away from a Bibliocentric perspective. Tell me: am I correct in assuming that the typical Church of Christ perspective on the Scriptures is a Bibliocentric one? I'm asking because I have not been in fellowship with the Church of Christ denomination since 2008. Not because I was disfellowshipped or that I left because of some disagreement. Rather, I have simply not lived near any affiliated congregation since that time. There are just none of them in this area of the Netherlands. Also, I was wondering if you've ever challenged other Church of Christ leaders on their approach to reading, understanding and applying the Scriptures.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, I have really enjoyed your Reflections. My own story is that in my mid-fifties I left the Churches of Christ, in which I had been raised (never missed a service), and sought out another group that emphasized relationship with Jesus over religiosity. I did some healing and grew. That was ten years ago. I only go to a Church of Christ now when family flies in to visit from out of state. But now I'm in my mid-sixties and still confused. It seems that obedience has to play a role, otherwise one would be adopting the "once saved, always saved" philosophy. Yet, we are told just to believe, and that we will then receive His grace by that faith. It is good to move away from legalism, but we also shouldn't ignore the Scriptures. This is so confusing. Maybe it's just me. Can you help?!

From a Reader in Unknown:

Hello Bro. Maxey, My name is ------- and I grew up in the Churches of Christ. I went to a CofC school of preaching, graduated from a CofC college, and even served as a missionary in Central America for several years. With all of my experiences I have lately come to a theological conclusion that would scare or enrage most CofC members, if not most Christians in general. Now, this may not be an original idea, but in the past 8 years I have yet to find anyone who has dealt with the thoughts I have. I have come to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect interpretation in any area of life (personal, professional, political, theological, etc.). The reason being this: God created us as imperfect human beings, thus nothing we do is done with absolute perfection. We are, therefore, humanly incapable of perfect interpretation: our views will always be tainted by a level of imperfection, a truth we humans have a natural tendency to overlook. I believe that we Christians have fallen victim to this same natural tendency, viewing our various personal and party interpretations of Scripture as though they were perfect, when in fact they are not, even though Christians frequently bend and break the laws of reason in order to justify these interpretations. You yourself have dealt with these flawed interpretations in your blog. This is why I am writing to you today. I've read your material and appreciate the balanced and in-depth thinking that you put into your writings, and I hope that you can spare a few minutes of your time to help me clarify my thoughts one way or the other.

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