I had a discussion recently about the temptations of Christ. Not the movie. But the temptations we actually have recorded in scripture.
Christ is the example. He’s shown us the way in all things. It’s a nice principle to think of, but it’s also one we need to study for it to be of any worth. It is one thing to say He leads us; it’s another entirely to understand enough to use it.
Christ spent forty days in the desert fasting (Matthew 4:1-2). At the close of this spiritual preparation, Satan appeared and tempted him three times. The first temptation used his mortal frailties against him – he told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning the rocks to bread (v. 3). Christ responded by quoting scripture (v. 4). Then Satan told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple (v. 6). Again Jesus quoted scripture (v. 7). Finally, Satan told Jesus he would give all the kingdoms and riches of the world if he, Jesus, would worship him (v. 9). Jesus told him to go away, and backed it up with scripture (v. 10).
The first, rather obvious, example that comes to us here is to read the scriptures. In all three instances He quotes scripture as part of his rebuttal. That alone is a way to counteract the temptations of the devil. When we read scripture we can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit’s presence can go a long way to removing the feelings of temptation and replacing them with better feelings.
But He doesn’t just quote random scriptures. He quoted scriptures that were relevant to the situation and the deeper situation. When tempted to turn stones to bread, he quoted what is now Deuteronomy 8:3 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This is, at the very least, a witty response, to quote a scripture about bread when tempted to abuse his godly power to create bread. It shows a deep familiarity with the scriptures. But even more so, the passage in Deuteronomy is talking about when God created manna for the Israelites ─ when bread was miraculously created for them in the desert. Christ knew, this of course. He was showing that he understood why this would be an abuse of his power. He was aware of the context and the similarities, and He knew when it was appropriate and when it wouldn’t be to use his power. Clearly, He was able of surviving without having bread right at the moment. Yet after forty days without food, can we really argue that He didn’t have a need? At the very least, a compelling want.
Throughout these temptations, the challenge is very explicitly to the faith Jesus had in his calling. Was He truly the Son of God, Savior of the world? If so, prove it! Satan is casting doubt, much in the way a child would on the playground. When they are at the pinnacle of the temple, he says “If you’re the Son of God, then God won’t let you get hurt. Jump off and angels will catch you.” He even quotes scripture to back it up ─ a passage from the ninety-first Psalm, which is a prophecy about Christ.
Christ is equally sly in his response, however. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God (6:16). The passage refers to when the people made a golden idol to worship while Moses was receiving the ten commandments. They “tempted” the Lord in that they were testing the boundaries. How far could they go before there was some sort of punishment. In Deuteronomy the Lord tells them not to do that sort of thing. Don’t test where the line is, just stay well within it. Would angels have caught Him? Well, sure. But Christ didn’t need to prove his divinity, least of all to Satan. Not even to Himself. He knew who He was and didn’t need a miracle to prove it. Some say that faith precedes the miracle, but in some cases, faith might preclude the need for a miracle.
Last is the temptation that I, personally, understand least. Satan offers Christ, literally, the world. Now, I have no doubt that Satan was capable of delivering. At least in the immediate sense. If he couldn’t, that would have been the most incredible bluff ─ which hardly disqualifies the possibility. Satan is, after all, the father of lies. But it was a question of patience. Christ framed the world. It was all his anyway. All the rulers in the world reigned at his sufferance. I think that this temptation was more than just a test of patience. It centered on the Atonement itself.
In his mortal life, Christ descended below them all, and as a result, He was crowned with glory, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But in order to return to His Father and receive His reward, He had to fulfill His mission. He had to suffer more than any mortal man could bear. Satan was hoping that by offering Jesus the kingdoms and riches of the world, he could make Jesus think he would bypass that suffering and receive the reward.
Christ is better than that. And this time, he doesn’t just quote scripture. And when he does it’s more abrupt ─ no clever explanations, simply “Thou shalt worship the Lord they God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Straight up, one of the ten commandments. A simple “That would be wrong.” But He preludes the scripture with “Get thee hence.” No more indulging the temptation. “Go away!”
I confess that I think a little of Smeagol when I think of this. “Go away, and never come back.” But it’s a useful comparison. Too often do we indulge the temptations that beset us, and then bemoan the fact that we succumbed. And then we often even have the gall to wonder why we succumb to temptation. We succumb because we let it stay on our mind!
Well could we learn from the example of the Savior and say to our temptation “Get thee hence!”