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Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Part 4

Nov 27, 2013

The second and third temptations of Jesus are given in different orders in Matthew and Luke. Matthew 4:5 records the second temptation as the occasion when the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, whereas Luke 4:9 records this as the third temptation.

Each author has his own purpose and audience, and so there is no compelling reason that they should record each event in Jesus’ life in strict chronological order. John’s gospel, for example, arranges Jesus’ miracles in a way that reflects the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles. These were not meant to be written in chronological order.

Luke’s order, however, is consistent with the order of temptations in Genesis 3:6 and in 1 John 2:16, and these also follow the natural order of body, soul, and spirit.

The Second Temptation

Luke 4:5-8 gives us the second temptation, which is that of the soul:

5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” 8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only’.”

It is clear that the devil took Jesus into the spiritual dimension for this experience. It all happened “in a moment of time,” because all time is one in the world of spirit. The Greek word translated “moment” is stigma, “a point.”

As I wrote earlier, this temptation correlates with that of the serpent in the Garden in Genesis 3:6, “it was a delight to the eyes.” The devil was offering Jesus the opportunity to take the easy path to become king of the earth (but second in command).

Adam was originally given the Dominion Mandate in Genesis 1:28. He thus incurred a debt that he could not pay, and so the Divine Court “commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children, and all that he had” (Matthew 18:25). In such situations, a buyer is found, who is given dominion over the people and their former estate until a redeemer can be found or until the year of Jubilee.

In this case, the devil claimed to have dominion over the whole earth, which had been Adam’s estate. Jesus did not dispute this, although the devil failed to mention that with the dominion he had also been given the responsibility to pay the debt that Adam’s sin had incurred. That is the downside of taking over an estate being sold on account of debt. It does not come free of charge.

Jesus came as the Redeemer of Adam’s estate. Legally speaking, He had to pay the full penalty yet owed for Adam’s sin (as calculated by the Judge according to the law) in order to receive dominion over the estate. It would cost Him His life.

Hence, the devil was offering Jesus a “deal.” Jesus could avoid death and obtain the dominion mandate as second-in-command under the devil. No one gets everything they want in a compromise, but here Jesus could avoid death by crucifixion and get most of what He wanted.

We know from the scene in the garden of Gethsemane how much Jesus would have liked to avoid the pain of the cross. In Matthew 26:38 Jesus said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.” So this temptation of the soul was quite real. But Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. Let us quote the full context of this passage, verses 10-14,

10 Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you great and splendid cities which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied, 12 then watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name. 14 You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the people who surround you.

Israel was to receive dominion over Canaan as a prophetic model of what was to come later. Even as Joshua (Yeshua) took dominion over Canaan, so also would Jesus (Yeshua) take dominion over the whole earth. But the original purpose for the dominion mandate was to give Adam dominion under God. Adam had not created the earth, so it was not his to own. He was God’s chief steward, called to rule all things by the laws of God.

The devil, then, was offering Jesus a deal whereby He would be given dominion over the whole earth in order to rule it by the laws of the devil—i.e., by “lawlessness,” or in violation of the laws of God. Instead of ruling the earth according to the character and will of God, Jesus would have been bound to rule the earth according to the character and will of the devil.

If Jesus had taken the devil’s offer, He would have violated the law in Deuteronomy 6:13, 14. In fact, He would have followed Israel’s example of lawlessness, for Scripture makes it abundantly clear that after the Israelites inherited Canaan, they turned to follow other gods in violation of the law. But Jesus succeeded where Israel had failed—not only in the wilderness temptations, but also in the land of Canaan itself.

The nature of the temptation, as seen in God’s warning to Israel in Deuteronomy 6, was directed at the soul. The soul is the carnal mind, with its weakness and tendency to coddle itself and enjoy the good life, while forgetting the God who gave them the Kingdom with its bounty. The people were deluded by their own souls into thinking that they could live by their own conscience without being obedient to God. They had more confidence in their own sense of right and wrong than they ought to have had.

So also today, many are deluded into thinking that they can cast aside the law of God and simply be led by the Spirit, not knowing that the Spirit does not lead anyone into lawless behavior. When men violate the law of God, thinking they are being led by the Spirit, it is because their conscience resides in the soul, which is mortal and therefore weak and subject to the second temptation of the devil. It is only when the Spirit takes full dominion over the soul that the soul is able to see perfectly right from wrong.

In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve in Genesis 3:5 by saying, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The problem was that once they sinned, death (mortality) came upon them, lodging specifically in their souls. “The soul who sins shall die,” says Ezekiel 18:4. The idea that souls are immortal is foreign to Scripture. It is the soul that dies. (Our spirit returns to God, and is not said to be subject to death. The spirit in man has a consciousness, which does not die when the body and soul dies.)

Adam and Eve’s temptation was that they might be like gods or like God (Elohim), knowing good from evil for themselves, independent of the will of God expressed in His law. Many Christians have fallen for this second temptation, thinking that their conscience is capable of fully knowing good and evil. But in practice, many are led in many ways that go contrary to the law (character) of God.

The Holy Spirit is called to write the laws of God in our hearts, but He does this slowly through experience over many years as He changes our hearts. He does not instantly change our character in its entirety. Some have been changed in dramatic ways in an instant, but such changes are never complete. There are always further changes that the Holy Spirit makes as time passes.

So let us all be aware of the universal nature of the second temptation, knowing that the three temptations in the wilderness are common to all. Let us follow the example of Jesus’ success, rather than the example of Israel’s failure.


This is part 4 of a mini-series titled "Jesus' temptation in the wilderness." To view all parts, click the link below.

Jesus' temptation in the wilderness


This is part 12 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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