Adam succumbed to Satan’s temptation in the lush garden of Eden, but Jesus withstood the devil’s assaults in the arid wilderness of Judea. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul helps us understand how Christ’s temptation played a crucial role in our redemption.
This morning, we will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke by beginning a new chapter. I will be reading from Luke 4:1–13, which is Luke’s version of the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness.
Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.
And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’”
Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written:
“He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,”
“In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.
Beloved, you have just heard the record of one of the most intense battles that has ever taken place, not only on this planet, but in the entire cosmos. You have just heard God’s inspired record of the victory won by our Savior in that battle. May the Spirit of God take this word to your hearts for your remembrance all your days. Let us pray.
Again, our Father, we need Your help. We cannot begin to grasp the weight and the significance of the words we have just heard unless, by Your grace, You are pleased to illumine them by Your Holy Spirit. So, stoop, please, to our weakness. Give us ears to hear and hearts that are open to embrace the truth of these words. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Deliver Us from Evil?
When His disciples came to our Lord, they asked Him this: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” In response to that request, Jesus gave to them a model prayer that has since been called “The Lord’s Prayer,” in which He gave them matters of priority for which they should entreat the Almighty in their prayers.
Among those petitions is one that can be confusing to us. Jesus said to them, “When you pray say, ‘Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” The English translation of that text has the potential to cause some misunderstandings.
In the first place, there is nothing more repugnant to the Christian mind than the idea that the holy, perfect, and righteous God would ever lead anybody to temptation. God never entices us to disobey Him. As James tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’” (James 1:13). Rather, our temptations arise from within. Those temptations may be excited and flamed by outward voices, but God Himself never inclines us to sin.
The second part of that petition is translated, “but deliver us from evil,” referring to evil in the abstract. Evil in general would be found in the Greek word ponēron. In this case, however, it is the Greek word ponēros, which literally means not “evil” in general but “the evil one.” The word ponēros is a title ascribed by sacred Scripture to the prince of lies, Satan himself. So, Jesus is saying, “Pray that you are not put to the test, that you may be protected from the hands of Satan.”
The Blitzkrieg of Hell
Throughout biblical history, we see occasions where people are put to the test. We think of the patriarch Abraham being called by God to go to Mount Moriah and offer his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, as a sacrifice. That was a test of Abraham’s faith, but he passed the test with flying colors.
The same Satan from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness came to God at the beginning of the book of Job and said: “I’ve been walking to and fro among the earth, and they are all mine. They are all in my pocket. They do not honor You. They do not worship You. They do not follow You. They do not obey You; they obey me.” God responded to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” Satan said back to God: “You have put a hedge around him. I can’t touch him, but let me at him. Tear down that wall, and You will see how quickly Job will obey me.” In the abject misery that followed, Job passed the test.
In various times and sundry places, we see God putting people to the test. There are two places in Scripture, however, that we see more significant tests than anywhere else. The first is that which was given to our earthly parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. The second is at the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus when He was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.
We have already seen the link between the first Adam and this new Adam in Luke’s gospel. We read in our text that after Jesus was baptized and filled with the Spirit, He returned from the Jordan. He was then driven into the wilderness by the same Spirit that descended upon Him like a dove at the Jordan River. It was the Holy Spirit sent by the Father to drive the Son into this place of testing in the Judean wilderness.
You might remember how embattled Martin Luther was during the sixteenth-century Reformation. He was besieged by the assaults of Satan. Luther felt the presence of Satan so keenly at times that on one occasion, he picked up an inkwell from his desk and threw it at Satan, and he lamented that he suffered the Anfechtung of the devil, or the unbridled assault of Satan. The Anfechtung that besieged Martin Luther, however, was not worthy to be compared with the assault waged against Jesus. The devil tormented Martin Luther, assaulted him, and attacked him, but in the Judean wilderness it was all-out war. It was the blitzkrieg of hell against our Savior.
Differences between the Temptations of Adam and Jesus
There are strong contrasts between the Adam and Eve’s temptation and the temptation of Jesus. Consider the settings. The setting for the test of Adam and Eve was a glorious garden of paradise. A gourmet feast was set before our first parents.
Of all the trees of the garden, they could eat freely in this beautiful place that showed no evidence of the fall of nature. There were no briars, no thorns, no pain, and no death. Adam experienced his temptation in the presence of his helpmate, with whom he had companionship. He was not exposed to the wiles of the serpent while alone. His belly was full, his partner was there, and he had encouragement and support.
Jesus, on the other hand, was driven into the Judean wilderness. If you have ever seen the Judean wilderness, you know that it is one of the most God-forsaken pieces of real estate on the face of the earth. I have only seen it from the window of a bus traveling by it, and I was glad the bus didn’t stop, or I would have had to walk out into this desolate place inhabited only by scorpions, snakes, and a few species of birds. It is a place deserted by normal wildlife. It is certainly not the Garden of Eden. Jesus was sent there, not with a helpmate, not with a companion, but being solitary while He was exposed to Satan.
Adam was tempted on a full stomach. Jesus was subjected to a fast that lasted forty days. Of course, Jesus had water, or He would not even have survived. People tend to skate lightly over this and say: “This is the Son of God. This is God incarnate. The forty-day fast wasn’t going to hurt Him. A forty-day fast or a four-thousand-day fast would never touch the divine nature.” But how long can the human nature live without food? Touching His humanity, Jesus went on a hunger strike that lasted almost six weeks in duration without a single morsel of food. Scripture is sometimes the master of understatement. In this text, it tells us that after this time, “He was hungry.” Of course He was hungry—any human being would be hungry after starving for forty days.
So, we see the radical differences between the circumstances of the tests that were given to the first Adam and to the second Adam. At the same time, we also need to see the similarities in the tests. Specifically, Satan’s point of attack on Adam and Eve and on Jesus was exactly the same.
Satan’s Point of Attack
When Satan came into the garden with his craftiness and his guile, he approached the woman with a question: “Hath God said? Did God say that you can’t eat of any of the trees of the garden?” Of course, God didn’t say that. Satan knew God didn’t say that, but he made the implicit suggestion that if God put one restriction on Eve, He may as well have put them all. Like Jean-Paul Sartre said, if you’re not autonomous, you’re not truly free.
Eve’s first response was to fight for the angels and the integrity of her Creator and say: “No, no, Mr. Serpent. God didn’t say that. He said that of all the trees of the garden we may freely eat, but He put one restriction. He said if we touch that one tree over there, we will surely die.”
Then the subtle implication became an explicit contradiction. Satan said, “No, you will not die.” God says A; Satan says non-A. God speaks the truth; Satan utters the lie, the lie that boldly and clearly contradicts the veracity of what God said. Do you see what is at issue in the original temptation? “Eve, who will you believe? Who do you trust? Who speaks the word of truth? Is it God or is it Satan? Who do you trust?”
Eve weighed the options. She looked at the serpent. She heard what he said. She recalled what her Creator had said, then she looked at the trees and read the menu. She thought: “That tree over there is gorgeous. The fruits look so appetizing. Maybe the serpent is right. What harm will there be in one little taste of disobedience? After all, he said that if I taste it, I won’t die. I will be like God, and I will have knowledge like God.” So, she tasted it and gave it to her husband, who tasted it, and together they plunged the whole world into ruin as God’s Word stood firm.
When the Son of God heard the words of the devil in the wilderness of Judea, Satan used the same point of attack and said: “If You are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. If You are the Son of God, what are You doing here starving to death? If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t have to put up with this humiliation and self-denial. If You are the Son of God, You should be able to look at these stones and change them into bread and break the fast. Have breakfast from these stones if You really are the Son of God.”
It Is Written
Do you remember the last words Jesus heard at His baptism before the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness? The heavens opened and the voice of God said audibly, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God’s Word came to Jesus at His baptism, at His anointing to be the Messiah, and that pronouncement from God was this: “You, Jesus are My Son, My beloved Son, who fills Me with pleasure.”
In the wilderness, Satan suggested that God’s Word is not true, that God’s Word cannot be trusted. At what other time do you lodge that temptation than in a time of pain, in a time of suffering, in a time of want? Jesus is hungry in His humanity, and touching on His humanity, He must have been wondering, “If I am the Son of God, what am I doing in this God-forsaken place?”
Then Jesus said, “That is a wonderful suggestion, Satan, I just have one small problem with it: ‘It is written,’” which among the Jews was code language for, “The Bible says.” It wasn’t just written in the Midrash in the Talmud. It was written in sacred Scripture. Jesus countered Satan’s temptation by quoting the Bible: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ Satan, bread would taste so good right now, but I don’t live just by bread, but by every word that comes from the mouth of My Father, and right now My Father will not allow Me to eat that bread. So, you can forget about that.”
An Offer of Worldly Authority
Satan was undaunted. He took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a second of time. The devil said to Him: “All of the authority that goes with the monarchies of every kingdom on this planet is mine to give, and I will give it to You. I am the prince of this world, and I can give authority to kings, to politicians, to whomever I please. I will give You all the authority over every nation that You see. All I ask, Jesus, is that You worship me just for a second. Nobody is looking. Bow just one knee. A slight genuflection is all it takes. You don’t have to go to a cross. You don’t have to suffer and die to be king. You don’t have to walk the Via Dolorosa to receive authority. Just a bended knee right here and right now, and it’s all Yours.”
Jesus said, “Fabulous offer, but get behind me Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” Satan got tired of hearing, “The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says…” That is all He could say under this temptation: “The Bible says I can’t do this because the only one I am allowed to worship and to serve is God.” Satan got it. He thought: “Wow, this guy is really connected to the Bible. If I am going to trip Him up, I’ll have to fight fire with fire.” So, Satan decided to quote some verses of his own.
Satan’s Poor Hermeneutics
Satan has Scripture memorized. He knows the Bible better than you do. He knows the Bible far better than I do. It’s at his fingertips. His problem is the first principle of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is that law or rule of interpreting sacred Scripture. The first rule is that Scripture interprets Scripture, which means the Holy Ghost is His own interpreter. You do not set one portion of Scripture against another.
Satan ignored that rule as he said to Jesus: “The Bible says that God will give His angels charge over You to keep You in their hands. They will bear You up lest You dash Your foot against a stone.” This was on the pinnacle of the temple, and Satan was saying: “Let’s see if You can really trust the Word of God. You keep quoting to me, ‘The Bible says it, I believe it, that should settle it.’ If it is true that the angels are given charge over You, jump off the temple pinnacle. You have nothing to worry about. Normally You can’t fly, but You’re the Son of God. If You don’t sprout wings on the way, that great fall won’t do any damage to You because the angels can fly, and they’ll bear You up lest You dash Your foot against a stone.”
Jesus answered him: “Your quotation of Scripture is accurate, but your interpretation of it conflicts with everything else the Word of God says. If I jump from this pinnacle, I would be putting God to the test, and it is not allowable for Me to test God. He is testing Me, and I don’t have to jump off this temple to know that the angels will guard Me. Because My Father says it, I don’t need to test it, and I don’t need to test Him,” because as Jesus would say later, “His Word is truth.”
Jesus Passed Every Test
Satan, in his frustration, left the Savior. His departure was not permanent, but only temporary. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, he was lurking in the shadows, hiding behind every bush, speaking even through the lips of Jesus’ own disciples.
Jesus recognized Satan’s voice in Peter’s protest against His going to Jerusalem to be delivered. Peter said, “Never,” and Jesus said: “Get behind me, Satan. That’s not you talking, Peter. It’s the same old trick, it’s the same old message. I know in whom I have believed. As Job said in the middle of his test, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’”
Amazingly, in the other accounts, as soon as Satan departed, suddenly the heavenly host who had been there the whole time manifested themselves to Jesus and ministered to Him. He received angelic support, the angelic chorale of triumph that would have been given to the first Adam had he not succumbed to the temptations of the devil.
Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, as soon as He was anointed, the Messiah had to pass this test, and He passed it at every point. He passed not only the test in those forty days, but up until He drew His last breath, in which He said, “Father, into Thy hands, I commend My spirit.” The whole world attacks the Word of God. They are in the enemy’s pocket, but we as Christian people are to live by every word that comes from His mouth. Let’s pray.
Our Father and our God, we thank You that Jesus succeeded where we have failed, that He achieved righteousness where we have not, that He acted radically different from the first Adam, which Adam we have imitated. So, we ask afresh, O God, lead us not into the place of testing, but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.