Perhaps one of the most overlooked problems of life is the presence of sinister forces that continually oppose everything that human beings can do to make life happy and sacred. So –beyond the disturbances that come to us from the environment and the tendencies towards evil that we are born with –we have to struggle with seductions to evil coming from Satan. Outside our physical reality, there are intelligent and evil entities all around us.
In Ephesians 5:12 Paul lifts the curtain of human reality, and he gives us a quick glimpse of this evil domain, which seems to be organised as a kingdom of “rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world”. They are inhabitants of the heavenly realms that want to subjugate the human race to their influence. If we believe Scripture, we need to face the fact that these evil superhuman beings exist in other realms of life –and that this realm is beyond the possibility of explaining it through human observations.
Now –Jesus came to show God to the human race. He also came to reveal what human beings are without God. I want to take this further, and say that Jesus also came to reveal the existence of these spiritual forces that oppose humanity. And it’s only when we study the conflict of Jesus with these evil forces, that we can understand their power and how we can conquer them. In Matthew 4 Satan comes to Jesus with three temptations –to make the stones into bread, to throw himself from the top of the temple, and to secure the kingdoms of the world.
The story of Satan confronting Jesus in the desert, not only describes three different episodes of temptation, but the text also helps us to see that this hostile spirit follows certain methods for tempting people. Let me show you what I mean. In Matthew chapter 3, Jesus has come out from the isolation of Galilee, and he came to the Jordan to be baptised. There, he heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Then, the devil begins to tempt Jesus. This immediately tells me that Christians are more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, when they experience a new vision or a new understanding of God. Having a new understanding God is more than thinking in a different way. When we have a new vision of God we experience practical understanding –and this understanding becomes the basis for the motivation of new actions of love and service and worship. No wonder the devil chooses this moment to tempt us. But the devil doesn’t stop there. He often comes to us with the suggestion that what he has to offer is a good thing. Look what verse 2 says:
After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
A hungry person must satisfy the need for food. So- Satan says to Jesus in verse 3:
If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
That’s the first temptation. Notice carefully. Satan doesn’t tempt Jesus to do evil with some repulsive suggestion, but he comes to him with the proposition that he’s going to give him something that’s good in itself.
The devil says to Jesus, ‘Common, tell these stone to become bread, you need it! The tempter wants Jesus to use his powers for his self-interest. But Jesus refused to do it. But there’s another side to this temptation. Jesus is the Son of God. He knew that. And the devil wants Jesus to misuse that relationship. Look what he said to him in the first part of verse 3:
If you are the Son of God
The devil didn’t say, “give up your relationship with your Father for a moment”, he’s actually telling him Jesus –use it and use for your advantage –use it for a perfectly natural human need –make bread. In verse 8, the devil is also using a temptation, which is coming from good logic. Look again what the devil says:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. All this I will give you, he said, if you will bow down and worship me.
That makes sense, right? Jesus came to get the kingdoms of the world, and to rule over them. And Satan is only offering to him precisely what Jesus came for. This is a very cunning temptation. There’s nothing vulgar –offensive in the words. They are logical and seem to suggest something good and right. That’s also the case with verses 5 and 6. Look what it says:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.
For it is written:“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
What can be more beautiful and inspiring than for the Son of God to surrender himself completely to the strength and tenderness of the Father? The devil is saying to the Lord; “Look here’s a great opportunity for you to prove the love and responsibility of your Father”. Go out to him! throw yourself down!. If God is your Father you’ll only find the tenderness of his love and the strength of his protective arms.
So- the passage shows that the devil is very subtle and a good logician. The text also underlines another method that the devil uses in his attacks –persistence. After the temptations, verse 11 says this:
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
When you read this, it’s important to remember that the conflict between Jesus and the devil didn’t stop in the desert. The devil only left him for a while. Do you know when the devil finally left him? He left him on the morning of the resurrection. The devil never left Jesus alone until that time. The devil is very persistent. He followed Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane –he followed him to the cross – the presence of the devil is relentless and uncompromising (see Luke 22:28 -44). Only when Jesus came back triumphantly from the realm of death –these forces of evil left him and gave up their attempts to conquer and destroy the life of the Son of God. Remember the methods of the devil (1) he attacks when we are vulnerable, (2) he attacks when you have experienced a new vision of God, (3) and his temptations are based on the suggestions that seem to be good and right.
So –how can we overcome the devil? First, be aware of the methods of the devil. To be aware is to be prepared. If you are aware of his method you are half –way to being victorious over him. Second, we need to protect ourselves against the devil by understanding the will of God written in the Bible. If we remain within the boundaries of the will of God we have a fortress that no demonic force can penetrate. The devil said: “Tell these stone to become bread”, Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus is saying here: My life is not the life you think it is. You think I only live for physical needs. You're wrong. My life is to live every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The secret of our victory is summarised by James 4:7:
Submit yourself to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
What was the purpose of the temptations of Jesus?
Hebrews 2:14 -18 say that Jesus can help those who are being tempted. So- how can Jesus help?
First, he purifies our nature by making atonement for the sins of his people.
Second, Jesus knows what is like to be tempted. From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus had to fight the devil. The conflict between him and Satan didn’t start in the desert. The Lord Jesus faced temptations during his entire life. That’s why he can help us fight our battles.