Summarizing the World Problem
1 John 2:16, 17 says,
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
Here again the apostle takes us back to the origins of the world’s problem, which began with the temptation in Eden and the sin of Adam and Eve. When John speaks of “all that is in the world,” he is giving us a summary of the Cosmos that began in Gen. 3:6,
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Note how John interprets the event in Genesis 3.
When “the woman saw that the tree was good for food,” John says that this was the origin of “the lust [desire] of the flesh.”
When she saw “that it was a delight to the eyes,” John says that this was the origin of “the lust [desire] of the eyes.”
When she saw “that the tree was desirable to make one wise,” John says that this was the origin of “the boastful pride of life.”
These three fleshly desires formed three roots of the “tree,” so to speak. There is nothing wrong with good food, pleasant sights, or wisdom. The problem comes when each is obtained unlawfully through disobedience, giving them priority over God’s word and turning them into idols of the heart.
Occult groups teach that God was being mean in denying Adam and Eve certain knowledge and pleasure, and so they resent the restrictions that God placed upon them. They malign God for His apparent meanness and they appeal to people’s pride and lawlessness by promising to give them what this mean God had denied them.
Hence, they gather together to commit sin. As they go deeper into bondage, their sins become greater and greater until they finally engage in torture, pedophilia, cannibalism, and human sacrifice. The depths to which such people go can hardly be imagined.
Yet when we read historical accounts of the atrocities that men commit in times of war, we may understand the depths to which men have fallen since Adam and Eve first sinned.
The Three Temptations in the Wilderness
At the start of Jesus’ ministry, He was led “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). The three temptations listed in later verses show how Jesus overcame where Adam and Eve and succumbed. Matt. 4:3 says, “the tempter came and said to Him…” even as the same tempter had come to Eve in Gen. 3:1.
The order of the three temptations in Matthew 4 differs from the story as told in Luke 4. In both cases, the first temptation is the same, but the second and third are reversed in the two accounts.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation correlates with the actual order of temptation that is found in Gen. 3:6. John (in his first epistle) also uses the order seen in Genesis.
1. Turn these stones to bread (desire of the flesh)
2. Throw Yourself off the pinnacle (boastful pride of life)
3. Worship me to get what You want (desire of the eyes)
1. Turn these stones to bread (desire of the flesh)
2. Worship me to get what You want (desire of the eyes)
3. Throw Yourself off the pinnacle (boastful pride of life)
Genesis 3:6 correlated with 1 John 2:16:
1. Tree was good for fruit (desire of the flesh)
2. Fruit was a delight to the eyes (desire of the eyes)
3. The desire to be wise (boastful pride of life)
Regardless of which came first in Jesus’ temptation, all three temptations had to happen in order for Jesus to be “tempted in all things as we are” (Heb. 4:15).
Overcoming the Desire of the Flesh
We will use Luke’s account. The first temptation is given in Luke 4:3,
3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus was tempted by the desire for food. After Jesus had fasted for a long season, any food looked good to Him. Hence, it was a temptation of “the lust [desire] of the flesh.” But He refuted it with the word of God, quoting from the law. Luke 4:4 says,
4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written [in Deut. 8:3], ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’.”
Moses had told Israel that God had brought them into the wilderness to test their hearts and to see whether they would keep His commandments or not (Deut. 8:2). In the next verse Moses told them (Deut. 8:3),
3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Hence, Jesus understood the divine purpose for going into the wilderness, and He overcame where Israel had failed. Not only does the word of God take precedence over all fleshly desire, but we must also live “by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
We must have a balanced diet, whether we eat physical or spiritual food. To feed the body (“old man,” as Paul would call it) is not wrong, but even that must be subject to the law of God, so that we feed the spiritual man as well (“new man”). We all would do well to be instructed by Jesus’ words, because many limit their spiritual diet to certain portions of the word, such as the New Testament. To understand the New Testament, we must also understand the law. To understand the first epistle of John, we must also understand the first few chapters of Genesis.
Overcoming the Desire of the Eyes
The second temptation is given in Luke 4:5-7,
9 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.
Being the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), Jesus was the true Heir of the world. The sin of the first Adam had caused him to lose all that had been entrusted to him, for his entire estate had been sold in payment of his sin-debt (Matt. 18:25). So Jesus did not refute the devil’s claim that “it has been handed over to me,” for that part was actually true. The estate sale had been part of God’s lawful judgment for Adam’s sin.
The devil was tempting Jesus to get it back the easy way. The choice was either to get it quickly by worshiping the devil, or by going to the cross and redeeming it by His blood. Jesus chose the hard way and refused to sell His soul to the devil.
Though Jesus did not refute the devil’s lawful claim on Adam’s estate, neither did He try to obtain it in an unlawful way. Instead, He quoted Deut. 6:13. However, to appreciate His refutation fully, we must read that verse in its original context. Deut. 6:10-13 says,
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.
When Moses spoke these words, Israel was about to receive the promised inheritance—the land of Canaan. Many years earlier, some had tried to claim the inheritance by acting contrary to the word of God (Num. 14:40, 41, 42). They suffered many casualties.
But after forty years of trial in the wilderness, the time had come for God to give them the land. Hence, Moses told them that God was about to give them the Kingdom and that they should not forget God. They were to keep their priorities in proper alignment. The inheritance was to be obtained in a lawful manner.
Jesus understood this principle. The devil tempted Jesus to obtain His inheritance in an unlawful manner by violating the commandment of God. But even as Israel was required to wait forty years, so also Jesus was required to wait. He even had to postpone His own ministry for forty days while He fasted in the wilderness.
The parallel is evident between Jesus and Israel. Under Moses, the twelve spies had been shown with their eyes all the blessings of the promised inheritance, while Jesus was shown all the kingdoms of the world which were His inheritance. But just because one is a true inheritor does not give him license to take it earlier than the appointed time or to receive it in an unlawful manner.
Jacob himself set the evil pattern for his descendants when he obtained the blessing in an unlawful manner. He lied to his father and pretended to be Esau (Gen. 27:19, 24) in order to obtain the birthright and fulfill the earlier prophecy given to his mother (Gen. 25:23).
Jacob (and his mother) should have had faith that what God had promised, He was able to perform. Jacob was a believer, but not yet an overcomer. So he too had to go into the wilderness for 20 years (Gen. 31:41)—half the time that his descendants spent in the wilderness—to be humbled and to learn obedience. He had to learn that the promises of God are not obtained by the power of flesh or by lawless actions.
It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Hence, whereas the first temptation was directed at the body (flesh), the second was directed at the soul through the desire of the soul (eyes).
When Moses finally led them to the border of Canaan, he warned Israel not to forget God after receiving the inheritance in a lawful manner and at the appointed time. They needed to understand that they were stewards of God’s land, not its owners.
Understanding the sovereignty of God and respecting God’s rights of ownership are a requirement to maintain humility. Pride causes men to think they own that which God has created. Israel was humbled in the wilderness so that each tribe and family would be qualified to steward a small portion of God’s inheritance in the land of Canaan.
As we know from the book of Judges, Israel forgot Moses’ warning, and so God brought judgment upon them through various captivities. But where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded, for throughout His ministry, He did only what He saw His Father do. He fulfilled the word all the way to the cross and beyond it, and thereby received glory and honor and authority over all of God’s inheritance.
Overcoming the Temptation of Pride
The third temptation is found in Luke 4:9-11, which says,
9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it is written [in Psalm 91:11], ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You’; 11 and [in Psalm 91:12] ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone’.”
This time, the devil quoted part of Psalm 91 that Moses wrote. He conveniently left out the next verse, where Psalm 91:13 says,
13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent [or dragon] you will trample down.
1 Peter 5:8 says that “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion.” John says that “the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9). The Scriptures are misused when quoted piecemeal in the attempt to justify lawless behavior.
Jesus refuted the tempter by again quoting Moses. Luke 4:12 says,
12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said [in Deut. 6:16], ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.”
In Deut. 6:16 Moses was referring to the incident in Exodus 17, where the people had run out of water and were ready to stone Moses. Moses was told to “strike the rock” (Exodus 17:6), and water flowed out of the rock to the people. Then Exodus 17:7 says,
7 And he named the place Massah [“temptation, testing”] and Meribah [“strife, contention”] because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
From God’s perspective, knowing the hearts of the people, the Israelites thought that God had abandoned them and that this was why they had run out of water. When adversity strikes, the flesh is tempted to assume this.
But Jesus said in Matt. 28:20, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In other words, Jesus promised not to abandon the church during its time in the wilderness (not forty years, but forty Jubilee cycles). Yet many have felt abandoned when they have encountered adversity or when they do not feel His presence. Such people still live by the flesh, lacking faith in the promises of God.
God often hides Himself in order to test our hearts in this way. It is one thing to have faith in God while all things are going well; but when things seem to go wrong, or when tragedy strikes, or even when we cannot seem to hear the voice of God, then is our faith truly tested. In such times we ought to re-read Matt. 28:20 and comfort our hearts by His word, knowing that He will not break His promise to us.
Jesus refuted the devil by referring to Deut. 6:16. Israel had tested God when they had no water. Jesus refused to test God when He had no food. There is a right way and a wrong way to test God. Throwing one’s self off a pinnacle is the wrong way to test God’s promise of protection, for such tests spring from a root of unbelief. The right way is given to us in Mal. 3:10,
10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”
This is a test that springs from faith, not from unbelief. Jesus was fasting by faith, being “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matt. 4:1). In a sense, He was bringing “the whole tithe into the storehouse,” not living by bread alone, but by every word of God. In doing this, He trusted that there would be “food in My house.” Fasting was an act of faith on His part, but the devil tried to turn it into an act of unbelief.
When we act upon unbelief, we elevate ourselves to the position as gods over ourselves and our circumstances. The soul takes precedence over the spirit, and takes the lead by fleshly pride. The devil tempted Jesus with this “pride of life,” perhaps offering Jesus a T-shirt that said, “I survived a leap from the pinnacle.”
But Jesus refused to be led by the flesh and its boastful pride, and in so doing, He overcame the third and final great temptation that is common to all men.