Jesus’ Battle in the Wilderness for Our Good (Part 1)

Jesus’ temptation has long been a subject of study. That the Son of God would be tempted at all is a fascinating detail of his earthly life. The account in Matthew 4 has often been noted as a parallel to Israel’s own wanderings in the Wilderness. It is specifically noted that where they failed Jesus succeeded. This repetition of history, with a different outcome, points to Jesus’ fulfillment as the true Israel. Jesus’ battles with Satan in the wilderness, however, also speak to our present temptations and struggles. Jesus’ victories over Satan in the wilderness serves as both our righteousness and our help in temptation.

A look at each of the three showdowns, which Jesus had with Satain in the wilderness, will help us to see their value for us personally. We begin here with Satan’s first temptation, the temptation to turn stones into bread. This first battle demonstrates both how Jesus perfectly trusted God for us, and how he empowers us to fight temptation with faith. We read:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:1-3)

The temptation parallels Israel’s own complaining over bread. Of course, Israel was not merely complaining about food. Their desire for bread had deeper roots than empty stomachs. The story in Exodus tells us that they had rebellious hearts (Exodus 16:7-8; v. 28). Their complaint against the Lord was not motivated purely by hunger, but by their own selfishness, self-worship, and distrust of the Lord.

When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness he is not merely appealing to the Lord’s earthly biology. He is tempting Jesus to distrust the Father. It is a ploy he has used often, not least of all in the initial human sin in the Garden of Eden. When he tempts Eve he urges her to see God as unreliable, as dishonest, as hiding from her.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LordGod had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Satan’s goal in each case (both Garden and Wilderness) is not merely to get people to desire, but to get them to distrust the God who has not given them what they want. Satan’s tactics with us are, of course, no different.

What do you want that you don’t presently have? Does your lack tempt you to distrust God? Does it make you wonder if he really cares, is really present, or can actually accomplish? Satan tempts us with desires in order to draw out distrust in our hearts, to make us doubt God’s character, power, and promises. And we often follow his prompting towards these doubts. But, where we and Israel fail to believe God, Jesus has perfectly trusted.

When Jesus is tempted by Satan he goes to battle with the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). His knowledge of, and trust in the Word of God enables Him to fight back effectively. When Satan tempts him to complain against God, Jesus responds with the Word of God:

 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Jesus won’t bite on Satan’s tempting lure. He knows the character of God and the truth of His Word. Jesus obeys God and lives by this Word. He trusts the Lord. He trusts on our behalf.

Isaiah 11 records the promise of a King who would rescue disobedient Israel. This King, we are told, will wear a belt of truth. We read:

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (v. 5)

The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the same word for “faithfulness” as Ephesians 6:14 does for the “belt of truth.” In other words, the armor that we are called to put on Jesus wore first! He wore it on our behalf. Iain Duguid has beautifully highlighted this point in his book The Whole Armor of God. Speaking of Jesus wearing the belt of truth he writes:

The toxic effects of the fall, brought about by the first Adam listening to Satan’s lies, would be reversed by this Second Adam and heir of the line of David whose foundational qualities are truth and faithfulness. (33-34)

Jesus wore the belt because Adam had not, because Israel had not, and because we cannot. Duguid continues:

We are not equipped with a solid belt of faithfully appropriating the truth, but Jesus was, in our place. His faithful girding of himself with the truth stands for us, so that on the last day, when the Father summons us into his presence, he will not condemn us for our faithlessness but will delight to clothe us in Christ’s perfect faithfulness.  (34-35)

Jesus wore the belt of truth for us. He never distrusted God because He knew we would.

Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf should, then, empower us to fight Satan’s lies with the truth. While we have Christ’s righteousness before the Father, we also have hope that because Christ has defeated Satan’s lies we too can fight back against them. The belt of truth which Christ wore for us we are commanded to pick up in Ephesians 6:

  “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11).

We can fight against Satan’s lies through the use of God’s Word. We can defeat temptation by believing God’s Word. We can put on that belt of truth! What Jesus accomplished for us, he then invites us to participate in. We can fight because He has fought for us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Christ overcame Satan’s temptation to distrust God. He did this for us, because we could not do it. And, because He has done it once and for all, He enables us now to do it too. Jesus empowers us to fight temptation with faith, because that’s just what He did on our behalf.

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