In His temptation Jesus was demonstrating His sinlessness, His righteousness, and it matters because His righteousness is that very righteousness that is going to be imputed to sinners when they put their faith in Him
Testing Comes by God’s Design (v12)
At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert.
This Temptation is God’s Design. God the Spirit was leading God the Son into a situation where He would be tempted. Actually, the Greek word for “sent” is a very strong word meaning to drive to push to thrust. The same word is used to describe Jesus “driving out” demons from people. The picture is one of the Spirit putting tremendous force on Jesus mind to go out into the wilderness. I’m not sure what to make of that other than this: it was obviously important that Jesus go through this experience. The intensity of the Spirit’s pressure on Jesus augments the significance of this episode occurring.
So remember, it wasn’t the devil leading Jesus. It wasn’t even Jesus looking for the devil. It was the Spirit. It was God’s design for Jesus to be brought into this moment. What can we draw from this?
First, God was proving Jesus. The word tempting means “to try someone to see what good or evil, strength or weakness, is in them.” Whenever God allows testing to occur, it is to allow the reality of a person’s true quality to be manifest. God already knows – He’s not trying to discover. Instead, He is “actualizing” the reality of someone’s condition. In other words, the true quality of who someone is, is what God wants to be interacting with the environment around. God wanted the true quality of who Jesus was to be brought out and seen in action – righteous action. He wanted the true quality of Jesus to be demonstrated.
An example might be helpful. Suppose I said to you that I’m really strong. One of my qualities is that I have great physical strength. I am so strong that I can lift the front-end of my minivan off the ground. Now, looking at me you might laugh and think I couldn’t lift a book. But how will you know my “ability” unless I put it into “action”? The ability and the action, while related are not the same. Do you see the difference between someone’s quality and that quality in action? Quality is the potential for action. I am strong is one thing, but, to demonstrate that strength, to prove it, to put it on display, is a different thing.
The point of Jesus’ temptation and testing was not to “discover” who Jesus was. It wasn’t that God was hoping Jesus would come through, as though He’d been working with Jesus to prepare Him for this moment of temptation His whole life, and now everything was riding on this one moment. No, God knew who Jesus was. Jesus knew who Jesus was. Now it was time to put the reality of who Jesus was on display by allowing Him to interact with the Devil. But Jesus was alone in the wilderness. No one else was there? John the Baptist and all the crowds were miles away. Who was God demonstrating this to? Everyone else of course! The angels, who note came rushing to His service after His trial was over, they watched that whole time. The host of demons no doubt watched their Captain of Malice go head-to-head with the Son of God. You might say that during that 40 day period no one on earth was being tempted by any demon and no one was possessed by any demons since they all went to see their leader in this titanic battle.
The Father just declared Jesus to be His Son, and, He just declared that He is pleased with His Son. He is pleased with His Son precisely because of His Son’s obedience. His Son is His Servant, and, as the Servant of the Lord, Jesus’ service and obedience to God were perfect.
Now understanding this helps us put into perspective the testing of Jesus in the wilderness because Jesus was going to prove – or demonstrate – His perfect obedience by refusing to give in to the devil. There is no better, or tougher, context than a head-to-head contest with Satan to prove your faithfulness to God. Jesus was going to prove His obedience to His Father by His disobedience to the devil. Jesus had one Master – His Father. He would prove that He thought of Himself as having one master by obeying just one voice – the voice that said, “You are my Son, whom I love. In you I am well pleased.” No other voice would have sway.
Notice the focus on Jesus as God’s Son: God said “You are My Son”. In the very next episode the devil launches his attack on that very point: “If you are the Son of God then do this trick to prove yourself – change stones into bread, throw yourself off a building, ….”
That was his formula for tempting Jesus. It was brilliant. First, the devil tries to get someone to doubt God’s word. He did it with Eve (“Did God really say?”). He’s doing it with Jesus here. God told Jesus He was His Son. Satan attacked that: “So, IF you are the Son of God.”
The significance of this as a “first move” by Satan with Jesus cannot be overstated. Satan’s success in leading people into sin starts with that person’s uncertainty of who they are to God. If you are not absolutely sure of who you are to God you will live with uncertainty. And if you live with uncertainty you will constantly be looking for certainty – or better stated: validation. And if you are lost looking for validation you will be vulnerable to the devils tricks. He will offer you what you need and are looking for by proposing you follow his words. “Jesus if you really are the Son of God you would be able to turn these stones into bread. C’mon, if you really think you’re the Son of God then prove it by doing this little trick”. Seems harmless, but, Satan starts out small, seemingly harmless. But, Jesus is no Adam in the garden. Jesus is the Son of God and had no flicker of doubt about that. Therefore He had no impulse to prove Himself by playing Satan’s game. He wasn’t going to let Satan lead Him through a bunch of hoops.
Application: The temptation seemed so insignificant. But Jesus took it seriously. We need to be just as demanding of ourselves of obedience in the small things, not justifying “small” indulgences becasue we think they’re small and therefore unimportant, or not a big deal.
Jesus has just been anointed by the Spirit and the first thing the Spirit does is lead Him into the desert for this time of testing. Jesus was demonstrating that His life was fully surrendered to His Father in Heaven and Filled with the Holy Spirit by refusing to yield one inch in Satan’s direction. This was the first, but not the last encounter with Satan of this sort. This was not the first time Jesus was essentially declaring “Get behind Me Satan! Get out of my way. You stand as an obstacle to the purpose and plan God has for my life!”
I think an important question arises out of this episode. If Jesus was tempted, does it mean that Jesus could sin? Does the fact that Satan tried to get Jesus to sin mean that Jesus in fact could sin? I think the question is thoughtful. Is this how Jesus can relate to us in our own temptations and testings? Jesus can relate, but, not on the level that says He could sin. Jesus could not sin.
Jesus’ temptation is not first and foremost about us – not about Him being an example to us in how to resist temptation. Jesus’ temptation is first and foremost about Him – about God demonstrating the reality of who Jesus was. He was the perfect Son of God, the Holy One in the flesh, the righteous One who never sinned because He could not sin. That was His reality. The proof of that, the demonstration of that, was given when He was tempted by the Devil. Satan tried to tempt Him, but God cannot be tempted. He cannot be tempted in the way that we can: internally. There is nothing evil inside of Jesus that Satan could appeal to and exploit to manipulate Jesus into sinning. The key to understanding this is understanding that Jesus did not have sin within Himself. Every other human being is polluted by the sin nature, that bent towards rebelling against God, that compulsion by something within to do bad, evil and wrong. We often hear people say “The Devil made me do it.” No he didn’t. The devil put a carrot in front of you, but, something inside of you wanted the carrot. That force in us that wants the carrot is what drives and pushes us away from what is right, away from righteousness.
Jesus did not have that within Himself. Satan dangled carrots, but, nothing in Jesus wanted the carrots. There was nothing in Jesus that desired sin or rebellion against His Heavenly Father. His only desire was righteousness, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). There was no inner-conflict within Jesus, meaning that He didn’t desire righteousness on the one hand and yet on the other something in Him desired evil. He wasn’t sweating and straining to resist the powerful urges and desires for sin. He didn’t have that within Him like we do. There was nothing in His Deity like that – obviously – nor was there anything in His humanity. He was the perfect man.
Is it true that in order for Jesus to become a human being (John 1:1, 14; Php 2:7; Col. 1:19; 2:9) He had to become a human being with the sin nature. No. When it says in Romans 8:3 He came in the likeness of sinful man, it doesn’t mean He came sinful like man? No. It means He came as a man – mannish, human, just like sinful man is mannish, human.
Illustration: All of humanity is like a forest, and every tree in that forest is a tree, but, it is a diseased tree. Each tree in this forest is decaying and dying because of the disease that infects every single tree. But God planted one tree in that forest that was healthy and disease free. It was part of the forest in that it was a tree, but, it was unlike every other tree in that it was untouched by the disease that infected all other trees. Jesus is that tree. He is not infected with the disease of sin like every other human is.
Satan could not get Jesus to sin by appealing to some sinful desire within Him, like He does with us. Nor, could Satan get Jesus to sin by deceiving Him, like Satan did with Eve in the Garden. Jesus is God in the flesh – don’t forget that God part. He was God – which meant that as God He is all-knowing, perfect in knowledge and wisdom; possessing a perfect understanding of what is true and righteous. Therefore Satan’s pathetic attempts at deceiving Jesus were always going to fail. So, Jesus could not sin because of desire within, and He could not sin by deceit from without.
Why does this matter? Because He was the perfect One, the Holy One, and He must be perfectly righteous in every single way to be the unblemished Lamb of God who would take away the sins of everyone else in the world. The Substitute for sinners could not Himself be a sinner.
Furthermore, the proving of Jesus matters because of Imputation. Imputation is the doctrine that says the righteousness of Jesus is “credited” to our account. We are not actually righteous, we did not merit or exemplify righteousness in our lives. Instead, that perfectness of Jesus gets put into our account so that God regards us as righteous – as righteous as Jesus. That is “imputation”. The sinlessness of Jesus, on display in His temptation, was being proven because His righteousness is that very righteousness that is going to be credited/imputed to sinners when they put their faith in Him. Our sin was imputed to Him on the cross, even though He had no sin Himself. His righteousness gets imputed to us, even though we have none of our own.
Second, God allows testing. He allowed Job to be tested. He allowed the Apostle Peter to be tested. God will test His own. This leads to our 3rd point.
Third, God does not tempt anyone. God lets us be tempted, but, God does not tempt. He gives permission for our tempting and testing, but, He does not do it Himself. To understand the difference you have to understand what tempting means. The word for tempting is also translated as testing, and, it is used to describe what God does with someone and what the devil does as well. But the context each time shows there’s a significant difference. When Satan tempts someone his goal is to effectively get someone to sin against God. He’s energetically strategizing to maximize sin against God in the lives of humans. Satan is working to increase the amount of sin and evil in humanity by tempting, luring and enticing people.
This is the antithesis of what God does. God is Holy and therefore never proposes sin to someone. He never lures, entices, encourages, or leads anyone to go into sin. He will, however, lead someone into temptation – that is, a situation where another party, such as the devil, will definitely tempt. God will lead us as Christians into those situations not because He’s wanting us to sin, but, because He’s going to allow our true commitment and spiritual condition to materialize in a moment of temptation. He’s going to expose the actual state of our faith in a circumstance that will bring it out. He does this not because God delights in our sin, or hopes for our sin, like Satan does, but, precisely the opposite. By showing us the area of defect in our faith we then know where God seeks to grow us. Satan doesn’t want growth, he wants corruption. The area we may be weak, the area we may be giving in repeatedly to sin, whether we see it or we’re blind to it, God is surfacing it precisely because its an area He wants to sanctify. Its an area where Satan has been gaining victory in our lives, and, God wants to take that victory from Satan for His own glory. So quite the contrary: God tests to increase righteousness, whereas Satan tests to increase sin.