Why Does God Allow It?
Why this book? Because most Christians do not understand how God works through temptation. Many are afraid to address this issue for fear of sounding like “accusers of God,” but as we will see, even though God does not tempt us, He does permit us to be tempted.
Why does God allow us, weak human beings, to be tempted to sin? Why does God allow us to be tempted, and even fail, when the Bible says that we have been set free from the power of sin? As you read the following pages, you will see that God has a master plan and purpose that includes temptation. If we come to an awareness of the whole picture, as it is clearly laid out in Scripture, it helps us to realize full victory in Christ. By understanding the way God works, we are less vulnerable to the lies of the devil that say, “If God was with you, you would not be tempted.”
This book will not be that interesting to you if you do not love God’s Word. You will likely not even be interested in the topic if you are not one who is seeking God first in your life. However, if you are one who loves God, and you want to walk in victory over sin, pray before you read this, and attempt to read it in one setting. It is short, but the entire book flows together in one thought. As you read you will see that each chapter and paragraph builds on the last.
I have added the original Greek language to give the full depth of the issues at hand. You will be blessed as you carefully read and pray. One reading will not be sufficient to retain all that is here, but you will see as you read that God’s Word has more to say concerning our temptations than you ever realized. God bless you.
Senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Interdenominational Church
El Dorado Springs, Missouri
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………… 1
2. DEFINING TEMPTATION……………………………………………………… 2
3. DO NOT LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION……………………………………… 4
4. BIBLICAL BACKGROUND OF TEMPTATION……………………………… 6
First and Second Adam……………………………………………………… 6
Fasting of Moses and Elijah………………………………………………… 7
Wilderness Wondering of Israel………………………………………… 7
The Author of Testing…………………………………………………… 9
Christ’s Testing: Son of God or Son of Man? …………………………… 10
Abbreviated Lexical Study of πειράζω………………………………… 13
5. DISTINCTIONS IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPEL ACCOUNTS OF THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST… 14
Matthew’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Matt. 3:16-17; 4:1-11… 14
Unique Emphasis in Matthew’s Account………………………………… 14
Mark’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Mark 1:9-13…………… 15
Unique Emphasis in Mark’s Account……………………………………… 15
Luke’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Luke 3:21-23a; 4:1-15……… 18
Unique Emphasis in Luke’s Account…………………………………… 19
6. A NEW TESTAMENT UNDERSTANDING OF TEMPTATION…………… 21
7. SUMMARY…………………………………………………………………… 26
“Why am I tempted so severely?” “God, why do you keep allowing me to be tempted so bad?” “Why, when all I want to do is live a godly life, does God keep letting me suffer through these various severe temptations?” “Why does it seem like the devil has so much ability to tempt me?” “God, I thought I was set free from my sin, why do I continue to sin?” “I love You, I fear You, I read the Bible, I pray…why?” “Father, why do You let the devil keep on setting me up to fail?”
Have you found yourself praying this way? Have you found yourself crying out to God in repentance and frustration because that certain sin keeps tripping you up, even though you truly love God? If so, this book is for you.
I was born again in 1997 in a Missouri prison. I had went to prison three times, had nine trips to alcohol treatment, two trips to mental hospitals, and several trips to various county jails throughout Missouri and Kansas. The result of being saved out of this was a deep love and appreciation for the Lord Jesus Christ and what He had done for me. However, as a Christian, and in spite of my great love for God, I found myself severely tempted, and frequently submitted to these temptations. Though temptation still occurs in my life today, as it does for all Christians, it does not have the same power in my life that it had before I understood how that God works through temptation. Temptation no longer appears impossible to overcome because God has revealed to me how that He works through it.
The inner thought of my heart, even though I would not dare say it with my mouth, used to be, “God, if You want me to be free from sin, then why do You keep letting the devil tempt me?” After I would fail miserably I felt that the solution was to run and hide from temptation more than I had been, for I thought that this was the “biblical” way to live the Christian life. I made rules all the way from not having television, to having no internet, to various other rules and regulations to keep myself from temptation. Little did I realize that I was actually living a defeated life and fearing sin…something that God does not want His people to do because He “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Yet, even in running and hiding (like having no TV, or internet), I found myself tempted anyway. It seemed that the devil had more ability to tempt me than God was willing to protect me from it. It was through my personal struggle with temptation, and failure, that I learned what the Bible really said about the issue. I realized that biblical truth is not learned by simply reading the pages alone, but by living out the Christian life. I learned that it was not enough to just know that I should not sin, or to simply know what the Bible says is right or wrong…but I needed to know how to live in victory in a fallen, sinful world that is full of temptation.
Temptation to do evil, or the pressure to go against what we know to be right, has been evaluated in many ways, both in the Church of Jesus Christ, and in the secular world. Talbot Brewer writes of Aristotle and says that he made “the suggestion that those who feel displeasure in virtuous action, or who feel a strong temptation to act viciously, are not fully virtuous.” For every sincere Christian this is no great surprise. True believers fully understand that they are not “virtuous” in and of themselves. The error in Aristotle’s philosophy was that he believed there are fully virtuous people, apart from Christ. His suggestion was that those who are tempted, are therefore not fully upright. As we will see later, to believe this is to believe that Jesus Christ Himself was not fully upright, because He too was tempted to sin.
A mere worldly, unbiblical, understanding of temptation cannot do justice to the subject because temptation, in and of itself, is a spiritual matter. Since secular philosophy, in large part, totally ignores the spiritual reality of life, it cannot fully remedy the problem. Likewise, when secular philosophy attempts to address the spiritual realm, it does so from an unbiblical reference point, or worse of all, it will twist biblical truth.
Being biblical in our thinking is absolutely necessary. Christians must keep the Word of God as their primary reference point in every matter of life. Without going to the Bible first, we will embrace secular philosophies, and will eventually end up in some form of destruction. Case in point: the only men and women throughout history that have truly blessed the Church of Jesus Christ have been people of the Word. Paul Hoffman writes of Thomas Aquinas, “Aquinas maintains that when we succumb to temptation our actions are wholly voluntary. When we give up a good in the face of a threat our actions are partly involuntary, but they are more voluntary than involuntary.” Aquinas accurately explained biblical truth because he made this statement from a biblical worldview. The facts are, we are indeed responsible when we succumb to temptation, whether Satan tempts us or not.
Knowing that we need to go to the Bible as our sole reference is good, but where in the Bible do we go? Where do we start? Each Christian, theologically educated or not, can understand this complex issue by looking at the life of one Person in the Scriptures. This Person is Jesus Christ. Rather than complicating the issue with secular, sometimes “evangelical,” philosophies, Christians simply need to examine the life of Christ. His life is laid out for us in the gospels for that very purpose, to learn. God has given us His Word to learn for our own benefit. This is why God declares in Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). The only thing that the Christian has to do is pick up their Bible and read it. This is their only protection against the co-mingling of the secular with the holy, the clean with the unclean.
The reality today in the Church of Jesus Christ is that many philosophies and theologies that Christians hold are unbiblical. The primary reason for this is that many Christians do not make time to read their Bibles on a daily basis. They are “too busy” to learn the spiritual truths that set us free and help us to mature. Consequently, this book is being written, to help every sincere Christian to understand why temptation is permitted by God, and to encourage every Christian to continue in daily Bible reading. Erroneous theologies and philosophies in the Christian’s life will lead the Christian to defeat, and unjust condemnation. This is why Christians must read their Bibles. Case in point: many Christians feel condemned when they are tempted, yet, the Bible makes it clear that temptation is not sin! As well, many Christians believe that temptation proves that God is not answering their prayers, or that temptation proves that there is some inherent evil in them that is not in every other brother and sister at church. This is wrong, and God does not want His precious saints tormented with these favorite lies of the devil.
The three temptation accounts of Jesus in the wilderness have much to offer Christians. In the following pages we will look at some of the differing ways the gospel writers delivered the account to us, and learn precious, liberating truths. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptic gospels) we see that Jesus’ temptation experience occurred during the same time period in His life. All three gospels confirm that He entered His time of trial immediately after His water baptism. We also read that these forty days of temptation ended with Christ entering into His public ministry. As we will see, the parallels between His life and our lives are astounding. May God richly bless the reader as he or she reads the following chapters.
DO NOT LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION
Before discussing Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, and the reality that God permits temptation in our lives, we must answer the question, “What did Jesus mean when He said that we should pray, ‘do not lead us into temptation’?” Why would Jesus say this? It is unmistakable that God the Father willed for His Son Jesus to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12). So why would Jesus say this in light of the rest of the Bible, which shows us clearly that God wills for us to be tested at times?
First, we must understand that the Bible makes it clear that God Himself does not tempt anyone (Jas. 1:13). We can never misunderstand this, and most Christians do not. However, what is not very well understood often times, is that it is sometimes God’s will to permit us to be tempted by Satan, but why? Likewise, why would Jesus say that we should pray, “Do not lead us into temptation?”
To obey Scripture, we must “rightly divide,” or be a person who “correctly handles the word of truth.” So we must look throughout the entirety of Scripture to really understand what Jesus meant. This is precisely what the rest of this book will do, explain the issue of temptation in the life of Christ, and it’s parallel to our own lives.
When Jesus told us to pray that the Father would not lead us into temptation, there is an immediate disclosure, not apparent at first glance, of the possibility that God might lead us into temptation, even though He does not tempt us. First, Jesus would not have said this if it were not a real possibility. Secondly, God the Father did lead Jesus out “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). So we see that Jesus said this from experience because He had “been there and done that.”
So why should we pray that we are not led into temptation? I firmly believe that what Jesus had in mind was “testing.” As we will see later, the Greek word used here can also be translated, “testing.” Jesus was saying that we should pray that we are not led out to be “refined in the fire” through temptation or testing. Another way of saying this would be, “Father, please give me the grace to stay humble and obedient without various afflictions/temptations. Help me not to go through unnecessary trials and please help me to be a quick learner.”
This might sound odd to you at first, but as we study many other Scriptures, we will see that this is almost certainly what Jesus meant. Being tempted, tested, and tried is not fun, and unless it is absolutely necessary we should pray, “Father in heaven, please don’t allow me to be tempted.”
Now this is not to say that every temptation or trial is a test, but we most certainly are tested and tried in this way. As we hunger for God’s truth and His grace, He will bless us with a new understanding of this misunderstood truth, and the result will be victory and joy abundant, in the midst of trials. After reading this short book we will be able to better understand what the epistle of James means when it says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Jas. 1:2).
BIBLICAL BACKGROUND OF TEMPTATION
First and Second Adam
Realizing that the New Testament describes Jesus as the second Adam, we learn that the first Adam (Gen. 1:26-2:7) must be a model from which we can learn. Since Jesus is referred to as the second Adam, the inference is that there are similarities between these two men that are unique to them alone. For example, one of the first events we read of in Scripture is that of the Fall of mankind into sin (Gen. 3:1-6). This Fall through the first Adam brought death and suffering upon humanity, even as the victory of the second Adam brings life to all who accept it by faith (Rom. 5:18). This is but one correlation between these two men. Other similarities would include the fact that they both had the same Father, literally, neither had a sin nature (before the first Adam fell into sin), and they were both tempted to sin, apart from having a sin nature.
We read in the book of Genesis that after God created Adam, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:15-17). It was not hidden or mysterious to Adam as to what God had commanded him. Nevertheless, the Fall came as Adam and his wife did not obey God, but were willfully misled into the temptation set before them as we read in Genesis chapter 3:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he
ate (vs. 1-6).
As a result, the Fall into sin occurs and humanity is driven into both physical and spiritual death. What similarities are there between this event in the life of the first Adam, and those events of the second Adam? What similarities do we see with regard to temptation? Primarily, in both Adams, there is set before them the temptation to rebel against God the Father and sin. The first Adam failed and brought death upon mankind, the second Adam overcame and brings life to all who will trust Him (Rom. 5:12-18).
Fasting of Moses and Elijah
There are more Old Testament parallels to Christ’s temptation than Adam as can be seen by examining the Old Testament Scriptures. Eugene Carpenter says that, “The forty days of fasting [of Christ] recall the experiences of Moses and Elijah (Exod. 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8).” It is clear that this is not an inadvertent similarity between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Moses and Elijah both experienced a forty day fast as did the Son of Man. What does this mean? Essentially, it is all meant to reveal God’s method in which He speaks to humankind, through the lives and writings of people like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Another thought to ponder is this; Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all met together on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4). It is as if God is saying, “Moses and Elijah were types of My Son who was to come.” So we conclude, Moses and Elijah are yet two more Old Testament people we need to pay attention to so we might see more which reveals Christ to us.
Wilderness Wondering of Israel
Eugene Boring says, “Just as Israel was tested forty years in the wilderness after their deliverance at the Red Sea and before entering the promised land, so the Son of God is tested forty days after His baptism and before entering into His ministry.” Boring makes a valid point. Israel, as God’s son (Hos. 11:1), was led out to be tested for forty years, and Jesus, God’s Son, was led out to be tested for forty days.
God told Ezekiel, “For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel [emphasis added]” (Ezek. 4:5). Here we see God Himself speaking of days in terms of years. Again, in the book of Numbers we read, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection [emphasis added]” (14:34).
In God’s way of doing things, years and days can be interchangeable when He is trying to make a point. The question is, why would God not be trying to speak to us in the manner of which He led Israel, His son (Hos. 11:1), and Jesus, His Son, into the wilderness for forty years and forty days? If we read Scripture very literally we cannot interpret it this way. However, if we give God opportunity to speak in parables, use figures of speech (Hos. 9:1), and refer to His people as His “Bride” (Isa. 62:5; Rev. 21:2), we can see this outline clearly in the Bible. Forty days and forty years are by no means the same thing if we are determined to be strictly literal, yet, the similarities here are obvious when we allow the metaphors, or types and shadows, of Scripture to speak for themselves.
Scripture records that Israel was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness (Exod. 13:21), and the Israelites time of testing was quite difficult. In Deuteronomy we read, “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not [emphasis added]” (8:2). Most certainly, the testing of Jesus the Son with Israel the son has many similarities.
We are instructed by observing the obvious types and shadows of Scripture that Christians should not be apprehensive toward them merely because of the abuses of others. Many Christians are hesitant to listen on this subject regardless of this precious truth. All types and shadows, or allegories, are not inherently evil. There is much that can be seen under the surface of Scripture and it is possible to do so by understanding metaphors and types that God uses in an obvious manner.
The New Testament makes it clear that the Old Testament is full of types and shadows. For example, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ [emphasis added]” (Col. 2:16-17). I would argue that Adam, Moses, and Elijah are also shadows of Christ who was to come. Other examples of types and shadows include Melchizedek, Hagar and Ishmael (Gal. 4:25), and the cities of Jerusalem and Babylon.
The Author of Testing
Craig Keener writes, “The Bible usually makes God the author of ‘testing’ (Gen. 22:1; Deut. 13:3; Ps. 81:7), but in the sense that He proves the depth of a person’s commitment, not in the sense of seeking to make a person fall.” Yet, James writes:
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (1:12-15).
Regarding this apparent contradiction, Ernest Williams explains, “The Bible says, ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.’ Yet, ‘God did tempt Abraham [KJV Gen. 22:1].’ When it says, ‘God did tempt Abraham,’ it means that God tested or tried him, not that He sought to induce him to do evil. In this sense He also will tempt us. We shall be tested.”
As we comprehend that every man and woman of God in the Bible went through times of incredible temptations and trials, we then realize that the applications to our personal Christian lives are many. Even if all of the trials of the godly are not recorded in Scripture, it can be assumed that they took place because, as we will see, this is a pattern in which God works. Every genuine ministry, or fulfillment of a promise, comes after a time of testing or temptation. If the first Adam, in a perfect world, was tempted to sin, we all will too.
James chapter one verses twelve to fifteen (above) does not mean that God will never test us or permit us to be tempted by Satan; on the contrary, it means that God Himself does not tempt anyone to do evil because God cannot be influenced by evil in any way. The conclusion is that when temptation or testing comes into the Christian’s life, it is with God’s permission and it is with the purpose of testing us, or proving us. God wants us to pass the test and overcome, Satan, on the other hand, wants us to sin and fail. Thus, Satan tempts us for our demotion, while God tests us for our promotion.
Christ’s Testing: Son of God or Son of Man?
Another misunderstanding is to see the temptation of Christ as a temptation of Him as the Son of God. He was not tempted as the Son of God, but as the Son of Man, in His true humanity. Since “God cannot be tempted by evil [emphasis added]” (James 1:13), we must conclude that Jesus’ temptation took place in His humanity. Donald Burdick says, “In Him [God] there is not the slightest moral depravity to which temptation may appeal.” Graham Scroggie agrees, “Had He met the devil as the divine Son He would have proved to be his Lord, but not our Deliverer.”
This helps us to understand Satan’s usage of words when he said to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God [emphasis added],” four times in his various enticements to Him. The devil was essentially saying, “If you are God, prove it.” The dilemma was that Jesus did not come to the earth to fully exercise His divine attributes, rights, or power, but He left these in heaven (Phil. 2:6-7), even though He was God. Jesus came to be a human being just like us, to show us Christianity, and to take our place on the cross. How could we follow His example if He were someone other than human? If a bird were to teach us to fly, it would not be attainable, because we are not birds…however, if another human being learns how to fly, then we could learn from him. If Jesus had lived as God alone, He would not have been a true Man, we could not identify with Him, we could not truly follow His example of life, and He could not have paid for our sins, because God cannot die, as Jesus did, on the cross. A truly human, perfect person had to pay the price for our sins. Animals could not fulfill this (Heb. 10:4), only a person, and that Person was Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. This was done out of His love for us…His desire to offer Himself as a sacrifice, while living out the New Covenant victorious life by the grace of God, yet not as God Himself, even though He was God.
Just as W. Graham Scroggie so accurately writes, “Had Christ fought out that battle on ground we could never occupy, and in a strength we do not possess, it could never have been said of Him, ‘He was tempted in all points, like as we are, yet without sin’; neither, again, ‘In that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted [KJV Heb. 2:18].’” If Jesus would have lived as God alone, we could not identify with Him, nor look to Him as an authentic example, because we are human beings. Yet He chose to live and overcome temptation as a mortal—by the grace of God. The secret to authentic Christianity is overcoming sin and Satan by the
grace of God.
Jesus Christ was God and Man, fully divine, and fully mortal. The temptations He experienced were as a human. W. H. Hutchings says, “The temptation creates a new fount of sympathy, and brings Christ most near to us in our own conflicts.” When we are tempted we know that, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin [emphasis added]” (Heb. 4:15). This ought to drive the Christian to the feet of Him who understands how we feel, because He has felt it Himself. We see this plainly in the very next verse, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need [emphasis added]” (4:16).
“It has been truly said that the secret of Christianity lies in the personality of Jesus Christ. The more, therefore, that we know of Him, the better shall we understand it.” The more we see into the life of Christ, through the Holy Scriptures, the more we can understand our individual Christian lives. Just as Christ victoriously lived full of “grace and truth” as a human, so must we (John 1:14). Christ is the very definition of Christianity, so we must examine His life to understand our own.
Christians cannot look at the life of Jesus and say, “Yes, He did this and that, but He was God.” To do so is a cop-out because we see clearly that while He was on earth, Jesus did not operate in His full deity, but in His humanity. If He had operated in full deity, He would not have prayed to the Father just before going to the cross, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
If Jesus would have operated in His full deity on earth He would not have said, “learn from Me” (Matt. 11:29), because we can never learn how to be God. The sure implication from Jesus is that we should look to Him as He lived in this world to see how to live as Christians ourselves, only by the grace of God. This is why the book of Hebrews says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone [emphasis added]” (2:9).
Boring and Craddock write, “[The temptation story in Luke 4:1-13] presents Jesus as the model for the Christian in testing and temptation. Those who, like Jesus, have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit are not immune from the assaults of Satan.” We must face the certainty that temptations will come, even though God is not the tempter, and that they are a part of God’s plan for us. We also must realize that temptation alone is not bad, in fact, it will be used by God to culminate into a good thing if we will permit it to. Bob Mumford says, “Temptation is designed to bring out what is really in our hearts. Temptation, in itself, is not good or evil; it simply puts to the proof and test. This reveals what we really are.” When we are tempted we act out what is really in our hearts. The truth is, if we do not learn our lesson the first time, we will continue to experience the same “tests” repeatedly until we “pass.”
“Temptations must come into our experience whether we like it or not. It always presents a lesson to be learned. Our choice demonstrates whether the lesson is learned or if it must be repeated.” We earn a metaphorical grade of “A” or “F” when we go through temptation. If we pass the test by God’s grace as Jesus did, God will elevate us to a higher level, however, God will not elevate us if we do not pass, because if He did, it could destroy us. This is beautifully depicted in the book of Exodus as God tells the children of Israel concerning their enemies in the conquest of the promised land, “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land” (23:29-30).
Mumford explains that he would not appoint his fifteen-year-old son as the Vice President of his company apart from first “proving” him through less significant jobs like cleaning toilets or janitorial work. God deals with us the same, and until we learn to get on our knees when we are tempted and ask Him for grace, He cannot give us more of what He wants to give us lest it destroy us, and others as well. This is precisely why the Bible says that leaders in the Church must not be “novices” (1 Tim. 3:6), or new converts.
Truly, “It is a common saying, that what is a temptation to one person is none to another,” yet, we will all be encountered with those things that appeal to our flesh individually. Consequently, we must learn that we will all have a “tree in the garden,” and we will all have a serpent who will attempt to cause us to see the forbidden “fruit” in our garden as being better than what it really is.
This is why Ernest Williams writes, “Surely we need to pray, ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’” (Matt. 6:13). Temptation is not something to be feared altogether, but to be faced when necessary, by the grace of God. We as Christians simply must pray that we do not face any unnecessary temptations, and when temptation is deemed “necessary” in God’s infinite wisdom, that we humbly petition Him for the grace to endure (Heb. 4:15-16).
Abbreviated Lexical Study of πειράζω (peirazo)
The Greek word πειράζω/peirazo means, “I try, I prove in either a good or bad sense, tempt, test by soliciting to sin,” or “I try, attempt, assay.” The temptation word group (i.e., related verb and noun forms) is found in each of the synoptic gospel’s (Matt., Mark, and Luke) wilderness temptation accounts. It is found in many other passages as well. Even though πειράζω/peirazo changes its form, the root is the same. The foremost thing to notice is that the same word is used in each wilderness temptation account, as well as in other passages referring to testing and temptation that I will conclude with.
There are many differing themes that are affiliated with the πειράζω/peirazo time in Jesus’ life. Donald Gee describes Jesus’ temptations as temptations to selfishness (stones into bread), compromise (worshiping the god of this world), and fanaticism (the pinnacle of the temple). Scroggie says that the temptations were essentially to selfishness, presumption, and compromise. These categories like those of 1 John chapter 2 verse sixteen, (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life), may accurately describe the general types of temptations that Jesus faced, but for this book we will only look at the fact that we are tempted like Jesus was, πειράζω/peirazo, and how to overcome these temptations, rather than the various types.
The deep issues of every temptation narrative in Matthew, Mark and Luke will not be addressed, instead, the unique issues of temptation as portrayed in each gospel, and their application to the lives of Christians today will be highlighted. We will see the differences in the temptation accounts and what we can learn from them today.
DISTINCTIONS IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPEL ACCOUNTS
OF THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Matthew’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Matthew 3:16-17; 4:1-11
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, and, in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
Unique Emphasis in Matthew’s Account
The unique aspect of Matthew’s account not found in Mark or Luke is verse one which reads, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil [emphasis added].” Why is this element essential for every Christian to see? Matthew’s wording illuminates the fact that Jesus was led out by the Holy Spirit with the direct purpose of being tempted by the devil. The New Living Translation says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [emphasis added] there by the devil” (Matt. 4:1), and the New International Version says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted [emphasis added] by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). One helpful insight as to why this happened to Jesus was written by William Barclay, he says:
Just as metal has to be tested far beyond any stress and strain that it will ever be called upon to bear, before it can be put to any useful purpose, so a man has to be tested before God can use him for His purposes. The Jews had a saying,
“The Holy One, blessed be His name, does not elevate a man to dignity till He has first tried and searched him; and if he stands in temptation, then He raises him to dignity.”
The Gospel of Matthew is revealing to us that God willed for His Son, the second Adam, to suffer temptation by the devil in the wilderness. God wanted the first Adam to suffer temptation by the devil in the Garden of Eden, even though God did not want him to sin. All Christians can expect that temptation, or a “wilderness experience” will come into their lives as well, not to cause us to sin, but to prove us.
Even though Satan attempts to persuade us to sin in temptation, temptation will be permitted, or willed, by God for the purpose of testing us in order to bring us up to a greater level of maturity and power in Him. As we will see later, when we are weak, we are then strong (2 Cor. 12:9). When we are weak, or humble, the grace of God rests upon us (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5), and it is by the grace of God that we live the New Covenant Christian life. This is most clearly revealed in Luke’s account as we will see later.
Mark’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Mark 1:9-13
It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Unique Emphasis in Mark’s Account
The distinctive aspect of Mark’s account not found in Matthew or Luke is verse twelve which reads, “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness [emphasis added].” Neither Matthew nor Luke use such strong language here for the activity of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word unique to Mark’s account is the verb ejkbavllei/ekballei from ejkbavllw/ekballo. This word is used extensively by Mark throughout his gospel and, “used repeatedly of the expulsion of demons; neither Matthew nor Luke uses it here.” This verb connotes the idea of “casting out” or “expulsion.” Hooker writes that this cannot imply that Jesus was not totally willing to go into the wilderness. However, if Jesus had to pray in Gethsemane, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), it demonstrates that in His humanity He had to subject His will to His Father, just as we do.
Mark’s use of the verb ejkbavllw/ekballo could imply that Jesus was not overly willing (in His humanity) to suffer. Jesus, because He was truly human, did not see suffering as irrelevant, (and it would have been irrelevant if He had chose to exercise His deity at all times while here in the flesh), but He had the human tendency to resist affliction (i.e., the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42). When we read the many passages that refer to demons being “cast out,” ejkbavllw/ekballo, it implies that the demons were “resistant,” otherwise the word would likely not have been used. If they had left willingly there would not be such a potent verb to describe it (though the verb is not always used “potently” in every context), rather, “The Holy Spirit ‘led’ (a[gw/ago, h[gagen/egagen) the demons out of the people.” This is not to say that Jesus was not a willing and obedient Son, however, the compelling of the Holy Spirit in His life must be recognized in light of His humanity.
Jesus was a real Man that, like the first Adam, had to make the choice to obey His Father. If Christ had not lived this way, we could not identify with Him as being our model for living the New Covenant Christian life under grace. This parallel most certainly applies to Christians today, but, if Jesus had functioned in His deity alone, as Son of God, we could not identify with Him.
The Gospel of Mark does not tell us that Jesus started His ministry in power immediately following His return from the wilderness experience as Luke does, but Mark does demonstrate this by the context. Jesus’ temptation experience is recorded from chapter 1 verses twelve to thirteen, while verses fourteen to fifteen demonstrate that Jesus started to preach repentance. A few verses later His ministry in “power” is further ratified by the casting out of demons (vs. 21-28).
Of all of the gospel accounts of the temptation experience of Jesus, Mark says the least, possibly in view of the fact that he was the first of the gospel writers. One event that is not in Mark is the detail that Jesus fasted while He was in the temptation process (Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:2). This means nothing lest we remember that Mark must not have been led to call attention to this, rather, he does make it a point, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to emphasize the fact that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. “Mark neither details the temptation nor says whether Jesus resisted it. Emphasis falls instead on its length of time, forty days.” What could be the reason for this? Forty days may well be more significant in the mind of Mark than the fact that Jesus fasted, and so, we conclude that forty days probably has significance, though at first glance it may not.
The book of Romans tells us, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (8:14). Could it be that Mark may have had in mind that Jesus was fulfilling the picture of the Israelite’s testing in the wilderness? Just as the cloud led the people through the wilderness (Exod. 13:21; Deut. 8:2, 16), the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness (and through it), and Christians are led into and through the wilderness, by the same Holy Spirit, as well.
R. T. France does not like the title “Temptation of Jesus” for Mark’s version of the wilderness temptation because one must study the other gospels to come to that conclusion. Truly, by reading Mark alone we do not see temptation as being the most important theme. Our understanding of the wilderness experience as being the “temptation of Jesus” comes from our reading of Matthew and Luke. Garland titles the account, “Testing in the Desert.”
Testing would be a good translation of the Greek as we saw in the word πειράζω/peirazo earlier. Again, the word means, “To test, tempt, endeavor, scrutinize, entice.” When we look at the temptation accounts in Matthew and Luke we see that this is precisely what did happen to Jesus; more so than simply being tempted to sin, He was tested. We know this because the Holy Spirit was the initiator of His experience, and God cannot be tempted with evil. In other words, because it was God’s will for Jesus to go through this, it can only be called a test from God’s standpoint. A test implies a good motive on the part of the one testing, who hopes to see the tested individual pass in order that they receive a promotion into a higher level of spiritual maturity. Temptation on the other hand, implies a bad motive on the part of the one tempting, who desires to move or entice an individual to sin. The word πειράζω/peirazo can be translated both ways, depending on the context.
One thing to draw attention to while we speak of this testing, is the fact that some scholars do not think that verse eleven (God’s commendation of Christ as His Son at His baptism) can be separated from verses twelve to thirteen (the Spirit driving Him into the wilderness). Ben Witherington says that, “Verses twelve to thirteen should not be separated from verse eleven. No sooner had the Spirit come upon Jesus than it cast or drove Him out into the wilderness.” This helps us to see the intimacy of the presence of God in our lives mingled with trials. The very moment a person receives the Holy Spirit, God immediately starts to work in their life. This “working” includes trials and temptations that make us strong by teaching us to humble ourselves relentlessly to receive grace. This is precisely what Peter is referring to when he writes, “now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials [emphasis added]” (1 Pet. 1:6).
R. T. France writes, “The sequence from the overt expression of God’s acceptance of Jesus in chapter 1, verse eleven, to His testing at the hands of Satan, recalls the opening of the book of Job where God’s affirmation of Job’s blamelessness (Job 1:8) leads directly to Satan’s challenge and testing.” Without a doubt, God’s presence in our lives will be accompanied by temptations.
Luke’s Account of the Temptation of Christ: Luke 3:21-23a; 4:1-15
When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Now Jesus Himself began His ministry…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,’ and, ‘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. Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
Unique Emphasis in Luke’s Account
Luke offers us much on the subject of temptation in our lives. He makes three emphases that Mark and Matthew do not, emphases that are extremely important for all Christians to understand.
In Matthew we read of the “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him” (3:16). Mark says that Jesus “saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove” (1:10). Luke says it a bit differently, “Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). Jesus was “filled” with the Holy Spirit and then He enters His time of temptation. The Holy Spirit did not just set “upon” Jesus here, but He
Another unique aspect of Luke is found in verse thirteen, “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time [emphasis added].” What can we glean from Luke’s use of the words, “an opportune time?” We see a method in which Satan maneuvers. This is an incredible jewel for those who are serious about their relationship with God.
Satan “wisely” waits for us to be vulnerable, and this is precisely why Peter wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV 1 Pet. 5:8). This same Peter knew first hand that Satan tempts us when we let down our guard, because he had denied Jesus three times, and he was a personal witness to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, and most importantly concerning the purpose of this book, we read a nuance in Luke that surpasses the importance of all of the other gospel writers’ accounts concerning how temptation, or testing, applies to Christians today. This is found in Luke chapter 4 verse fourteen, “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all [emphasis added].”
The thing we need to observe here is the fact that after Jesus had experienced “hell on earth,” and overcame the devil’s temptations, He then went out in “power of heaven” (which is nothing less than the grace of God). Just as Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10b). Jesus, in His weakness, received power. The method by which God made His Son weak was permissible temptation and testing, hence, Luke reveals a precious truth for us as Christians today.
Graham Twelftree says Jesus’ “ministry is introduced with Him returning in the power of the Spirit from the wilderness and temptation experiences.” He goes on to say, “Jesus’ being said to return in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14) applies to His teaching as well as to His miracles.” Jesus returned in power after passing the test of being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Christians also are tempted, and often don’t realize that the sole purpose for this is that God is testing them so that He can trust them with more of His blessings.
The ministry of Christ started in power immediately following His testing, and we will later see why this pattern of “wilderness-temptation-ministry in power” is applicable for Christians today. Just as the book of Acts tells us, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all [emphasis added]” (4:33). In context, the apostles had just experienced an incredible time of temptation (4:18, 21).
A NEW TESTAMENT UNDERSTANDING OF TEMPTATION
After examining the temptation accounts of Jesus, we need to ask ourselves, “How does this apply to me; what does God want me to learn from the conduct of His Son in His trials?” To do so we need to go elsewhere in Scripture and look at the greater picture that God has lovingly revealed to us.
The epistle of Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need [emphasis added]” (4:15-16). Jesus Christ, our High Priest in the New Covenant, sympathizes with our weaknesses because He was weak Himself, but how does this passage reveal to us that He was weak? In what way does this verse make known to us that we are weak? It is obviously in our times of temptation. This is one of temptation’s main purposes for the Christian, to keep the Christian humble, weak, or dependent upon God’s all sufficient grace. The fact is that the entire New Covenant rests upon this one thing, humility in the life of the believer.
The book of Romans declares, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace [emphasis added]” (6:14). This Scripture is one of the most misunderstood in Christianity, even though it is one of the most important. The truth it reveals to us, (incidentally, the truth is what sets us free, John 8:32), is that grace is the key to overcoming the power of sin in our lives. This is why John makes it a point to emphasize this in the life of Christ, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [emphasis added]” (John 1:14). John stresses the fact that Jesus was full of grace and truth, but why? A couple of verses later he writes, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ [emphasis added]” (1:17). Grace and truth came through Jesus, but why do we need to examine this?
For Protestants, the truth that we are saved by grace through faith alone (Rom. 1:17; Eph. 2:8) is very well understood, at least on the surface. However, when it comes to actually having victory over sin in their private lives, most Christians cannot say that they do. Why is this? It is because many do not truly understand the truth about grace. Grace is not merely the unmerited favor of God, because if grace were unmerited favor alone, then Jesus did not have grace because He deserved everything He had. Grace is more than that. God’s grace is the unmerited (to sinners) power of God over sin in
Grace and mercy are not the same thing as most Christians think. Mercy speaks of God’s forgiveness, compassion, patience, and endurance toward sinners, which is never said to be applied to Jesus Christ, as He never needed mercy. Grace speaks of God’s enabling, or power, in our lives to live the New Covenant life of victory over the power of sin. The epistle of Jude warns of those who will pervert this doctrine and calls them, “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ [emphasis added]” (v. 4b).
The truth sets us free, we are saved by grace, and Jesus was full of grace and truth. Essentially, this tells us that all we need is Jesus, but not just on the day we were saved, we need Him daily. We need truth and grace day by day in our Christian lives. Sin shall not have dominion in our lives only if we are under grace, on a daily basis, so why does it seem that so many believers are under the dominion of sin? It is because they are not truly living under grace. Consequently, this brings the question, “How do we get grace or walk in it?” Simply put, grace only comes to the humble, or the weak, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble [emphasis added]” (Jas. 4:6b; 1 Pet. 5:5).
This is what the Book of Galatians is referring to when it says, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This “Spirit” is of course the Holy Spirit, but, as is seen in other passages, He is revealed to us as the “Spirit of grace.” We read in Zechariah, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced [emphasis added]” (12:10b).
Additionally, the book of Hebrews cautions Christians who have been saved and then believe that they can live life on their terms, arrogantly, or outside of grace. These believers are warned, “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace [emphasis added]” (10:29). To live in sin after being saved and sanctified is one and the same as insulting the Spirit of grace, treating the blood that Jesus shed as trivial, and trampling on Jesus Christ.
In regard to this passage we need to see a couple of things, first of all, it is evident that those being spoken of here are born again Christians because of the simple fact that those being spoken of “were” sanctified, past tense. Secondly, the height of their terrible sin is the fact that they insult the “Spirit of grace.” What does this mean? How does a person “insult the Spirit of grace?” It is by living a proud, self-sufficient life which results in ungodliness; just as living a life of true humility produces genuine godliness developed by the grace of God.
The apostle Paul illustrates this best to us in his testimony of a thorn in his flesh, as he states:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong [emphasis added]
(2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Very simply put, Paul is saying that God gave him a messenger of Satan to afflict him so that he did not become proud. This messenger of Satan is described as a “thorn,” or “skovloy/skolops,” and though we do not know exactly what this thorn was, it certainly wasn’t enjoyable to Paul. The word means, “Something pointed, sharp, as a stake, the point of a hook, a thorn, [or a] prickle.” Paul Barnett says, “On the grounds of historical analysis…the truth is that we do not have enough unambiguous information to do more than speculate on the nature of Paul’s skovloy/skolops.”
Whatever the case, Paul could have rejected this revelation from God, and became bitter for his affliction, like many Christians have done. Many saints become bitter when they are tempted and tested because they do not recognize the sovereign hand of God in their struggles. Frank Macchia says that Pentecostals and Charismatics especially, “locate the Spirit in the events of healing and victory, but struggle to find the Spirit in the midst of suffering, defeat, and death.” I will add that it is a shame that those who profess to be “Spirit filled” the most, are those who reject the doctrine of biblical suffering the most. One cannot separate the doctrine of biblical suffering from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In fact, we read in the New Testament, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution [emphasis added]” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Elsewhere in the book of Hebrews we read, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted [emphasis added]” (2:18). In other words, because Jesus also suffered the same kind of temptations we suffer, He is fully able to give them perfect aid. Interestingly, another verse in Hebrews sheds more light on this as we read, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered [emphasis added]” (Heb. 5:8). The “things which He suffered” were temptations, as we saw in chapter 2 verse eighteen. This teaches us that Jesus learned obedience through temptation, and the same holds true for us.
All of this helps us to appreciate James better when he writes, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him [emphasis added]” (1:12), and, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [emphasis added]” (1:2). William MacDonald makes a good point when he says, “James does not say ‘if you fall into various trials’ but when. We can never get away from them.”
As we understand the way that God works through temptations and trials, it is important for us to remember what Earl Radmacher says:
God will never deliberately lead a person to commit sin because that would not only go against His nature, but it would be opposed to His purpose of molding His creation into His holy image. Yet God does sometimes place His people in adverse circumstances for the purpose of building godly character (Gen. 22:1, 12).
The Apostle Paul addresses the issue of pride, humility, and temptation very clearly when he writes, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands [starts to get proud] take heed [humble himself] lest he fall [step outside of grace]. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it [emphasis added]” (1 Cor. 10:12-13). It is very important to see that this passage says that God will make a way of escape “with” the temptation, not “without” it. “Paul’s warning to ‘take heed lest [you] fall’…is as necessary today as it has ever been. For we, like all who have gone before us, are fallen, temptable, and subject to thinking and doing what is wrong. Few teachings of Scripture have more practical implications for day-to-day living.”
The Apostle Peter probably gives us the greatest theological contribution concerning this subject of being grieved by trials and suffering, and the hopeful outcome from God’s perspective. Peter writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power [grace] of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls [emphasis added] (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Bob Mumford says, “Untempered steel, given too much pressure, will break; seen in this perspective, temptation isn’t something frightening or to be avoided. Rather, it is a necessary part of our Christian lives.” Mumford goes on to say, “Between us and the fulfillment of each of God’s promises stands a situation that includes temptation…for the Israelites, it was a geographical fact that the wilderness existed between the Red Sea and Canaan…between the promise and it’s actual fulfillment lies a physical and spiritual wilderness, consisting of problems, difficulties, and confusion.”
Just as Jesus had a time of testing and temptation in the wilderness, so will all Christians. Carpenter and McCown say that, “Jesus’ baptism and temptation serve to equip Him for ministry.” Like Jesus, we must be prepared before we go into battle against the forces of hell, whether in ministry, or simply living the Christian life.
We are unlike the Son of Man in one very big way, we have a sin nature, and He did not. Our struggle is a bit different than His, yet, His temptations were more severe because He never succumbed to them. Not only did Jesus abstain from all sin, but He endured incredible pressure for extended periods of time, because He never chose to end His suffering by giving in and sinning.
Let us learn from Christ to draw from God’s grace in our temptations through humility and dependence upon God, and God alone. “It may be well for us also to remember that while every test is not a temptation, every temptation is a test, and the two are frequently combined.”
It is absolutely necessary that all sincere believers in Jesus Christ understand that temptation is not a confirmation that they are not walking close to God, but might very well be the proof that they are. The Son of Man walked in perfect harmony with the Holy Spirit at all times, and He suffered fierce temptations. In view of His ministry, and the whole of Scripture, it is apparent that temptations are necessary in the lives of
Like the first Adam, Jesus was tempted to sin. As well, Jesus the Son, like Israel the son, was led out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose of testing. We too will be led out by the Holy Spirit to be tested. We must remember that these fiery trials are the flames that burn self-sufficiency out of us, create godly humility, and result in a life of victory over sin by God’s grace. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!
Dear Christian, don’t become bitter in your time of difficulty, rather, thank God that He loves you enough to teach you to trust Him. Thank God that He is teaching you what the New Covenant is all about; “For by grace you have been saved through faith…[emphasis added]” (Eph. 2:8a.), and, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus [emphasis added]” (2 Tim. 2:1).
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McKnight, Scot. Interpreting The Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids: Baker Book
Mumford, Bob. The Purpose of Temptation. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1973.
Murphy, Edward F. Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
Nestle-Aland. Greek-English New Testament. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1998.
Oates, Wayne E. Temptation a Biblical and Psychological Approach. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 1991.
Perkins, Bill. When Good Men are Tempted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.
Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
_________. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Gospel According to Matthew and Mark. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Scroggie, W. Graham. Tested by Temptation. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.
Smith, William. Smith's Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary. Clarksville, Maryland: Jewish New
Testament Publications, 1999.
Strong, James. The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville:
Telford, W. R. The Theology of the Gospel of Mark. Cambridge: University Press, 1999.
Thomas, John Christopher. The Pentecostal Commentary on 1,2,3 John. Cleveland: The
Pilgrim Press, 2004.
Thomas Nelson Publishers. What Does the Bible Say About: The Ultimate A to Z Resource Fully Illustrated. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001.
Thrall, M. E. International Critical Commentary. Vol. 2. 2 Corinthians 8-13. eds. Emerton, J. A., C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton, London: T&T Clark International, 2000.
Twelftree, Graham H. Jesus The Miracle Worker. Downers Grove, ILL:
Vine, W.E. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary Topic Finder. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
_________, Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Vol. 2. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Vos, Howard Frederic. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs: How the People of the Bible Really Lived. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Wigram, George V., Ralph D. Winter. The Word Study Concordance. Wheaton, ILL:
Williams, Ernest S., Temptation and Triumph. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing
Winter, Ralph D., Roberta H. Winter, eds. The Word Study New Testament.
Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale, 1978.
Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio Rhetorical Commentary. Grand
Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 2001.
Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Zanchettin, Leo, ed. Matthew A Devotional Commentary. New York: Paulist Press, 1997.
Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament. Chattanooga:
______________. The Complete Word Study New Testament With Greek Parallel.
Chattanooga: AMG, 1992.
Black, Percy. “Extraneous Intrusions in Moral Temptation Can Switch Decisions.” Journal of Moral Education, 22 (Aug. 1993): 162-191.
Brewer, Talbot. “The Character of Temptation: Towards a More Plausible Kantian Moral Psychology.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 83 (June 2002): 103-130.
Hoffman, Paul. “Aquinas on Threats and Temptations.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 86 (June 2006): 226-242.
Hughes, Paul M. “Temptation, Culpability, and the Criminal Law.” Journal of Social Philosophy, 37 (summer 2006): 221-232.
Macchia, Frank D. “‘I Belong to Christ:’ A Pentecostal Reflection Paul’s Passion for Unity.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 25 (Spring 2003): 129-132.
Schiavo, Luigi. “The Temptation of Jesus: The Eschatological Battle and the New Ethic of the First Followers of Jesus in Q.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 25 (Dec. 2002): 141-164.
Viscuso, Patrick. “Clergy and Laity in Late Byzantine Canon Law: Reflections on the Past and Perspectives for the Future.” Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 48 (Spring-Winter 2003): 83-92.
Talbot Brewer, “The Character of Temptation: Towards a More Plausible Kantian Moral Psychology,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 83 (June 2002): 103.
Paul Hoffman, “Aquinas on Threats and Temptations,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 86 (June 2006): 226.
 All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.
Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-14.
G. H. Twelftree, Joel B. Green, and Scot Mc Knight, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 822.
Matt. 6:13; 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 11:4; 22:40, 46.
New Living Translation. 2 Tim. 2:15.
peirasqh'nai- Strong’s number 3985. πειράζω pĕirazō, pi-rad´-zo; from 3984; to test (obj.), i.e. endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline:— assay, examine, go about, prove, tempt (-er), try.
Rom. 5:12, 14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45.
Ernest S. Williams, Temptation and Triumph (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1944), 13.
Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, eds., Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 113.
David R. Bauer, Asbury Bible Commentary, ed. Wayne McCown and Eugene E. Carpenter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 880.
Num. 10-26; 14:33-34; Deut. 8:2.
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 189.
Youngblood, Nelson's Dictionary, 273. 2 Sam. 12:1-4 Luke 15:11-32.
Ex. 14:19, 24; 33:9, 10; Num. 9:15; 14:14; Deut. 1:33; Neh. 9:12; Ps. 78:14; 99:7; 105:39;
1 Cor. 10:1-3.
Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17, 21.
Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12; 16:19; 17:5; 18:1, 9, 10, 21; 19:1; 21:2, 9, 10; 22; 1 Pet. 5:13.
Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 138.
Ernest S. Williams, Temptation and Triumph (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1944), 3.
Donald W. Burdick, “James,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 172.
W. Graham Scroggie, Tested by Temptation (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980), 8.
Matt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9.
Scroggie, Tested by Temptation, 7.
W.H. Hutchings, The Mystery of the Temptation (London: J. Masters and Co., 1889), 103.
Scroggie, Tested by Temptation, 5.
Boring, People’s Commentary, 190.
Bob Mumford, The Purpose of Temptation (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1973), 17.
Hutchings, The Mystery, 103.
Williams, Temptation and Triumph, 6.
Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga: AMG, 1992), 1135.
W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, vol. 2 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996) 621.
The verb changes its morphology in the synoptic passages. peirasqh'nai, Matt. 4:1; peirazovmeno", Mark 1:13; peirazovmeno", Luke 4:2. Also see: Matt. 4:1,3; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mark 1:13; 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Luke 4:2; 11:16; 20:23; John 6:6; 8:6; Acts 5:9; 15:10; 16:7; 24:6; 1 Cor. 7:5; 10:9, 13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 3:5; Heb. 2:18; 3:9; 4:15; 11:17, 37; James 1:13, 14; Rev. 2:2, 10; 3:10. George V. Wigram and Ralph D. Winter, The Word Study Concordance (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1978), 610.
Peirasmw'/, 1 Cor. 10:13; peirasqeiv", peirazomevnoi", Heb. 2:18; pepeirasmevnon, Heb. 4:15; peirazovmeno", peiravzomai, ajpeivrastov", peiravzei, Jas. 1:13; peiravzetai, Jas. 1:14.
Donald Gee, Temptations of the Spirit-filled Christ (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1966), 1.
Scroggie, Tested by Temptation, 1.
William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), 55-56.
Luke 2:40; John 1:14, 17; Acts 4:33, 15:11, 20:24; Rom. 3:24, 5:2, 15, 17, 21, 6:14, 16:20; 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 9:8, 12:9; Gal. 2:21; Eph. 2:5, 8, 3:7, 4:7; 2 Thess. 2:16; 2 Tim. 2:1; Tit. 2:11, 3:7; Heb. 2:9, 4:16, 10:29, 12:15, 28; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 1:10, 13, 5:5, 12; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 4.
R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 84.
Hooker, Mark, 49.
Mark 1:34, 39; 3:15, 22, 23; 6:13; 7:26; 9:18, 28, 38; 16:9, 17.
Hooker, Mark, 49-50.
Robert H. Gundry, A Survey Of The New Testament, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 133.
France, Mark, 83.
David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark, ed. Terry C. Muck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 50.
James Strong, The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 365.
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 75.
France, Mark, 83.
Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1999), 145.
Zodhiates, Word Study Dictionary, 1296.
Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,
Frank D. Macchia, “‘I Belong to Christ:’ A Pentecostal Reflection Paul’s Passion for Unity,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 25 (Spring 2003): 130.
William MacDonald, Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 337.
Earl D Radmacher and H. Wayne House, eds., Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 441.
Thomas Nelson Publishers, What Does the Bible Say About: The Ultimate A to Z Resource Fully Illustrated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 262.
Mumford, Temptation, 18.
Ibid., 19, 28.
Carpenter, Asbury, 833.
Scroggie, Tested by Temptation, 46.