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AND Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit
into the wilderness." The words of Mark are still more significant. He says,
"Immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the
wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts." "And in
those days He did eat nothing."
When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, He was led by the Spirit of God. He
did not invite temptation. He went to the wilderness to be alone, to contemplate His
mission and work. By fasting and prayer He was to brace Himself for the bloodstained path
He must travel. But Satan knew that the Saviour had gone into the wilderness, and he
thought this the best time to approach Him.
Mighty issues for the world were at stake in the conflict between the Prince of light and
the leader of the kingdom of darkness. After tempting man to sin, Satan claimed the earth
as his, and styled himself the prince of this world. Having conformed to his own nature
the father and mother of our race, he thought to establish here his empire. He declared
that men had chosen him as their sovereign. Through his
control of men, he held dominion over the world. Christ had come to disprove Satan's
claim. As the Son of man, Christ would stand loyal to God. Thus it would be shown that
Satan had not gained complete control of the human race, and that his claim to the world
was false. All who desired deliverance from his power would be set free. The dominion that
Adam had lost through sin would be recovered.
Since the announcement to the serpent in Eden, "I will put enmity between thee and
the woman, and between thy seed and her seed" (Gen. 3:15), Satan had known that he
did not hold absolute sway over the world. There was seen in men the working of a power
that withstood his dominion. With intense interest he watched the sacrifices offered by
Adam and his sons. In these ceremonies he discerned a symbol of communion between earth
and heaven. He set himself to intercept this communion. He misrepresented God, and
misinterpreted the rites that pointed to the Saviour. Men were led to fear God as one who
delighted in their destruction. The sacrifices that should have revealed His love were
offered only to appease His wrath. Satan excited the evil passions of men, in order to
fasten his rule upon them. When God's written word was given, Satan studied the prophecies
of the Saviour's advent. From generation to generation he worked to blind the people to
these prophecies, that they might reject Christ at His coming.
At the birth of Jesus, Satan knew that One had come with a divine commission to dispute
his dominion. He trembled at the angel's message attesting the authority of the newborn
King. Satan well knew the position that Christ had held in heaven as the Beloved of the
Father. That the Son of God should come to this earth as a man filled him with amazement
and with apprehension. He could not fathom the mystery of this great sacrifice. His
selfish soul could not understand such love for the deceived race. The glory and peace of
heaven, and the joy of communion with God, were but dimly comprehended by men; but they
were well known to Lucifer, the covering cherub. Since he had lost heaven, he was
determined to find revenge by causing others to share his fall. This he would do by
causing them to undervalue heavenly things, and to set the heart upon things of earth.
Not without hindrance was the Commander of heaven to win the souls of men to His kingdom.
From the time when He was a babe in Bethlehem, He was continually assailed by the evil
one. The image of God was manifest in Christ, and in the councils of Satan it was
determined that He should be overcome. No human being had come into the world and escaped
the power of the deceiver. The forces of the confederacy of evil were set upon His track
to engage in warfare against Him, and if possible to prevail over Him.
At the Saviour's baptism, Satan was among the witnesses. He saw the Father's glory
overshadowing His Son. He heard the voice of Jehovah testifying to the divinity of Jesus.
Ever since Adam's sin, the human race had been cut off from direct communion with God; the
intercourse between heaven and earth had been through Christ; but now that Jesus had come
"in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), the Father Himself spoke. He had
before communicated with humanity through Christ; now He communicated with humanity in
Christ. Satan had hoped that God's abhorrence of evil would bring an eternal separation
between heaven and earth. But now it was manifest that the connection between God and man
had been restored.
Satan saw that he must either conquer or be conquered. The issues of the conflict involved
too much to be entrusted to his confederate angels. He must personally conduct the
warfare. All the energies of apostasy were rallied against the Son of God. Christ was made
the mark of every weapon of hell.
Many look on this conflict between Christ and Satan as having no special bearing on their
own life; and for them it has little interest. But within the domain of every human heart
this controversy is repeated. Never does one leave the ranks of evil for the service of
God without encountering the assaults of Satan. The enticements which Christ resisted were
those that we find it so difficult to withstand. They were urged upon Him in as much
greater degree as His character is superior to ours. With the terrible weight of the sins
of the world upon Him, Christ withstood the test upon appetite, upon the love of the
world, and upon that love of display which leads to presumption. These were the
temptations that overcame Adam and Eve, and that so readily overcome us.
Satan had pointed to Adam's sin as proof that God's law was unjust, and could not be
obeyed. In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam's failure. But when Adam was assailed
by the tempter, none of the effects of sin were upon him. He stood in the strength of
perfect manhood, possessing the full vigor of mind and body. He was surrounded with the
glories of Eden, and was in daily communion with heavenly beings. It was not thus with
Jesus when He entered the wilderness to cope with Satan. For four thousand years the race
had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ
took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from
the lowest depths of his degradation.
Many claim that it was impossible for Christ to be overcome by temptation. Then He could
not have been placed in Adam's position; He could not have gained the victory that Adam
failed to gain. If we have in any sense a more trying conflict than had Christ, then He
would not be able to succor us. But our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities.
He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing
to bear which He has not endured.
With Christ, as with the holy pair in Eden, appetite was the ground of the first great
temptation. Just where the ruin began, the work of our redemption must begin. As by the
indulgence of appetite Adam fell, so by the denial of appetite Christ must overcome.
"And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. 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."
From the time of Adam to that of Christ, self-indulgence had increased the power of the
appetites and passions, until they had almost unlimited control. Thus men had become
debased and diseased, and of themselves it was impossible for them to overcome. In man's
behalf, Christ conquered by enduring the severest test. For our sake He exercised a
self-control stronger than hunger or death. And in this first victory were involved other
issues that enter into all our conflicts with the powers of darkness.
When Jesus entered the wilderness, He was shut in by the Father's glory. Absorbed in
communion with God, He was lifted above human weakness. But the glory departed, and He was
left to battle with temptation. It was pressing upon Him every moment. His human nature
shrank from the conflict that awaited Him. For forty days He fasted and prayed. Weak and
emaciated from hunger, worn and haggard with mental agony, "His visage was so marred
more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." Isa. 52:14. Now was
Satan's opportunity. Now he supposed that he could overcome Christ.
There came to the Saviour, as if in answer to His prayers, one in the guise of an angel
from heaven. He claimed to have a commission from God to declare that Christ's fast was at
an end. As God had sent an angel to stay the hand of Abraham from offering Isaac, so,
satisfied with Christ's willingness to enter the bloodstained path, the Father had sent an
angel to deliver Him; this was the message brought to Jesus. The Saviour was faint from
hunger, He was craving for food, when Satan came suddenly upon Him. Pointing to the stones
which strewed the desert, and which had the appearance of loaves, the tempter said,
"If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."
Though he appears as an angel of light, these first words betray his character. "If
Thou be the Son of God." Here is the insinuation of distrust. Should Jesus do what
Satan suggests, it would be an acceptance of the doubt. The tempter plans to overthrow
Christ by the same means that were so successful with the human race in the beginning. How
artfully had Satan approached Eve in Eden! "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of
every tree of the garden?" Gen 3:1. Thus far the tempter's words were truth; but in
his manner of speaking them there was a disguised contempt for the words of God. There was
a covert negative, a doubt of the divine truthfulness. Satan sought to instill into the
mind of Eve the thought that God would not do as He had said; that the withholding of such
beautiful fruit was a contradiction of His love and compassion for man. So now the tempter
seeks to inspire Christ with his own sentiments. "If Thou be the Son of God."
The words rankle with bitterness in his mind. In the tones of his voice is an expression
of utter incredulity. Would God treat His own Son thus? Would He leave Him in the desert
with wild beasts, without food, without companions, without comfort? He insinuates that
God never meant His Son to be in such a state as this. "If Thou be the Son of
God," show Thy power by
relieving Thyself of this pressing hunger. Command that this stone be made bread.
The words from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"
(Matt. 3:17), were still sounding in the ears of Satan. But he was determined to make
Christ disbelieve this testimony. The word of God was Christ's assurance of His divine
mission. He had come to live as a man among men, and it was the word that declared His
connection with heaven. It was Satan's purpose to cause Him to doubt that word. If
Christ's confidence in God could be shaken, Satan knew that the victory in the whole
controversy would be his. He could overcome Jesus. He hoped that under the force of
despondency and extreme hunger, Christ would lose faith in His Father, and work a miracle
in His own behalf. Had He done this, the plan of salvation would have been broken.
When Satan and the Son of God first met in conflict, Christ was the commander of the
heavenly hosts; and Satan, the leader of revolt in heaven, was cast out. Now their
condition is apparently reversed, and Satan makes the most of his supposed advantage. One
of the most powerful of the angels, he says, has been banished from heaven. The appearance
of Jesus indicates that He is that fallen angel, forsaken by God, and deserted by man. A
divine being would be able to sustain his claim by working a miracle; "if Thou be the
Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread." Such an act of creative power,
urges the tempter, would be conclusive evidence of divinity. It would bring the
controversy to an end.
Not without a struggle could Jesus listen in silence to the arch-deceiver. But the Son of
God was not to prove His divinity to Satan, or to explain the reason of His humiliation.
By conceding to the demands of the rebel, nothing for the good of man or the glory of God
would be gained. Had Christ complied with the suggestion of the enemy, Satan would still
have said, Show me a sign that I may believe you to be the Son of God. Evidence would have
been worthless to break the power of rebellion in his heart. And Christ was not to
exercise divine power for His own benefit. He had come to bear trial as we must do,
leaving us an example of faith and submission. Neither here nor at any subsequent time in
His earthly life did He work a miracle in His own behalf. His wonderful works were all for
the good of others. Though Jesus recognized Satan from the beginning, He was not provoked
to enter into controversy with him. Strengthened with the memory of the voice
from heaven, He rested in His Father's love. He would not parley with temptation.
Jesus met Satan with the words of Scripture. "It is written," He said. In every
temptation the weapon of His warfare was the word of God. Satan demanded of Christ a
miracle as a sign of His divinity. But that which is greater than all miracles, a firm
reliance upon a "Thus saith the Lord," was a sign that could not be
controverted. So long as Christ held to this position, the tempter could gain no
It was in the time of greatest weakness that Christ was assailed by the fiercest
temptations. Thus Satan thought to prevail. By this policy he had gained the victory over
men. When strength failed, and the will power weakened, and faith ceased to repose in God,
then those who had stood long and valiantly for the right were overcome. Moses was wearied
with the forty years' wandering of Israel, when for the moment his faith let go its hold
upon infinite power. He failed just upon the borders of the Promised Land. So with Elijah,
who had stood undaunted before King Ahab, who had faced the whole nation of Israel, with
the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at their head. After that terrible day upon
Carmel, when the false prophets had been slain, and the people had declared their
allegiance to God, Elijah fled for his life before the threats of the idolatrous Jezebel.
Thus Satan has taken advantage of the weakness of humanity. And he will still work in the
same way. Whenever one is encompassed with clouds, perplexed by circumstances, or
afflicted by poverty or distress, Satan is at hand to tempt and annoy. He attacks our weak
points of character. He seeks to shake our confidence in God, who suffers such a condition
of things to exist. We are tempted to distrust God, to question His love. Often the
tempter comes to us as he came to Christ, arraying before us our
weakness and infirmities. He hopes to discourage the soul, and to break our hold on God.
Then he is sure of his prey. If we would meet him as Jesus did, we should escape many a
defeat. By parleying with the enemy, we give him an advantage.
When Christ said to the tempter, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every
word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," He repeated the words that, more than
fourteen hundred years before, He had spoken to Israel: "The Lord thy God led thee
these forty years in the wilderness. . . . And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to
hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know;
that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that
proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." Deut. 8:2, 3. In the
wilderness, when all means of sustenance failed, God sent His people manna from heaven;
and a sufficient and constant supply was given. This provision was to teach them that
while they trusted in God and walked in His ways He would not forsake them. The Saviour
now practiced the lesson He had taught to Israel. By the word of God succor had been given
to the Hebrew host, and by the same word it would be given to Jesus. He awaited God's time
to bring relief. He was in the wilderness in obedience to God, and He would not obtain
food by following the suggestions of Satan. In the presence of the witnessing universe, He
testified that it is a less calamity to suffer whatever may befall than to depart in any
manner from the will of God.
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." Often the
follower of Christ is brought where he cannot serve God and carry forward his worldly
enterprises. Perhaps it appears that obedience to some plain requirement of God will cut
off his means of support. Satan would make him believe that he must sacrifice his
conscientious convictions. But the only thing in our world upon which we can rely is the
word of God. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these
things shall be added unto you." Matt. 6:33. Even in this life it is not for our good
to depart from the will of our Father in heaven. When we learn the power of His word, we
shall not follow the suggestions of Satan in order to obtain food or to save our lives.
Our only questions will be, What is God's command? and what His promise? Knowing these, we
shall obey the one, and trust the other.
In the last great conflict of the controversy with Satan those who are loyal to God will
see every earthly support cut off. Because they refuse
to break His law in obedience to earthly powers, they will be forbidden to buy or sell. It
will finally be decreed that they shall be put to death. See Rev. 13:11-17. But to the
obedient is given the promise, "He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be
the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure." Isa.
33:16. By this promise the children of God will live. When the earth shall be wasted with
famine, they shall be fed. "They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the
days of famine they shall be satisfied." Ps. 37:19. To that time of distress the
prophet Habakkuk looked forward, and his words express the faith of the church:
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the
labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut
off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the
Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Hab. 3:17,18.
Of all the lessons to be learned from our Lord's first great temptation none is more
important than that bearing upon the control of the appetites and passions. In all ages,
temptations appealing to the physical nature have been most effectual in corrupting and
degrading mankind. Through intemperance, Satan works to destroy the mental and moral
powers that God gave to man as a priceless endowment. Thus it becomes impossible for men
to appreciate things of eternal worth. Through sensual indulgence, Satan seeks to blot
from the soul every trace of likeness to God.
The uncontrolled indulgence and consequent disease and degradation that existed at
Christ's first advent will again exist, with intensity of evil, before His second coming.
Christ declares that the condition of the world will be as in the days before the Flood,
and as in Sodom and Gomorrah. Every imagination of the thoughts of the heart will be evil
continually. Upon the very verge of that fearful time we are now living, and to us should
come home the lesson of the Saviour's fast. Only by the inexpressible anguish which Christ
endured can we estimate the evil of unrestrained indulgence. His example declares that our
only hope of eternal life is through bringing the appetites and passions into subjection
to the will of God.
In our own strength it is impossible for us to deny the clamors of our fallen nature.
Through this channel Satan will bring temptation upon us. Christ knew that the enemy would
come to every human being, to take advantage of hereditary weakness, and by his false
insinuations to ensnare all whose trust is not in God. And by passing over the ground
man must travel, our Lord has prepared the way for us to overcome. It is not His will that
we should be placed at a disadvantage in the conflict with Satan. He would not have us
intimidated and discouraged by the assaults of the serpent. "Be of good cheer,"
He says; "I have overcome the world." John 16:33.
Let him who is struggling against the power of appetite look to the Saviour in the
wilderness of temptation. See Him in His agony upon the cross, as He exclaimed, "I
thirst." He has endured all that it is possible for us to bear. His victory is ours.
Jesus rested upon the wisdom and strength of His heavenly Father. He declares, "The
Lord God will help Me; therefore shall I not be confounded: . . . and I know that I shall
not be ashamed. . . . Behold, the Lord God will help Me." Pointing to His own
example, He says to us, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, . . . that walketh
in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his
God." Isa. 50:7-10.
"The prince of this world cometh," said Jesus, "and hath nothing in
Me." John 14:30. There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan's sophistry. He did
not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with
us. Christ's humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the
indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So
long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for
the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we
may attain to perfection of character.
And how this is accomplished, Christ has shown us. By what means did He overcome in the
conflict with Satan? By the word of God. Only by the word could He resist temptation.
"It is written," He said. And unto us are given "exceeding great and
precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having
escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." 2 Peter 1:4. Every promise
in God's word is ours. "By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God"
are we to live. When assailed by temptation, look not to circumstances or to the weakness
of self, but to the power of the word. All its strength is yours. "Thy word,"
says the psalmist, "have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against
Thee." "By the world of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the
destroyer." Ps. 119:11; 17:4.
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