No crown of victory without previous contest, and that proportionately to its brightness; no moral ideal without personal attainment and probation. The patriarchs had been tried and proved; so had Moses, and all the heroes of faith in Israel. And Rabbinic legend, enlarging upon the Biblical narratives, has much to tell of the original envy of the Angels; of the assaults of Satan upon Abraham, when about to offer up Isaac; of attempted resistance by the Angels to Israel's reception of the Law; and of the final vain endeavour of Satan to take away the soul of Moses. Foolish, repulsive, and even blasphemous as some of these legends are, thus much at least clearly stood out, that spiritual trials must precede spiritual elevation. In their own language: '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.'
Thus far as regards man. But in reference to the Messiah there is not a hint of any temptation or assault by Satan. It is of such importance to mark this clearly at the outset of this wonderful history, that proof must be offered even at this stage. In whatever manner negative critics may seek to account for the introduction of Christ's Temptation at the commencement of His Ministry, it cannot have been derived from Jewish legend. The 'mythical' interpretation of the Gospel-narratives breaks down in this almost more manifestly than in any other instance. So far from any idea obtaining that Satan was to assault the Messiah, in a well-known passage, which has been previously quoted, the Arch-enemy is represented as overwhelmed and falling on his face at sight of Him, and owning his complete defeat.
On another point in this history we find the same inversion of thought current in Jewish legend. In the Commentary just referred to, the placing of Messiah on the pinnacle of the Temple, so far from being of Satanic temptation, is said to mark the hour of deliverance, of Messianic proclamation, and of Gentile voluntary submission. 'Our Rabbis give this tradition: In the hour when King Messiah cometh, He standeth upon the roof of the Sanctuary, and proclaims to Israel, saying, Ye poor (suffering), the time of your redemption draweth nigh. And if ye believe, rejoice in My Light, which is risen upon you . . . . . Isaiah 60:1. . . . . upon you only . . . . Isaiah 60:2. . . . . In that hour will the Holy One, blessed be His Name, make the Light of the Messiah and of Israel to shine forth; and all shall come to the Light of the King Messiah and of Israel, as it is written ..... Isaiah 60: 3. . . . . And they shall come and lick the dust from under the feet of the King Messiah, as it is written, Isaiah 49:23. . . . . . And all shall come and fall on their faces before Messiah and before Israel, and say, We will be servants to Him and to Israel. And every one in Israel shall have 2,800 servants, as it is written, Zechariah 8:23.' One more quotation from the same Commentary: 'In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, exalts the Messiah to the heaven of heavens, and spreads over Him of the splendor of His glory because of the nations of the world, because of the wicked Persians. They say to Him, Ephraim, Messiah, our Righteousness, execute judgment upon them, and do to them what Thy soul desireth.'
In another respect these quotations are important. They show that such ideas were, indeed, present to the Jewish mind, but in a sense opposite to the Gospel-narratives. In other words, they were regarded as the rightful manifestation of Messiah's dignity; whereas in the Evangelic record they are presented as the suggestions of Satan, and the Temptation of Christ. Thus the Messiah of Judaism is the Anti-Christ of the Gospels. But if the narrative cannot be traced to Rabbinic legend, may it not be an adaptation of an Old Testament narrative, such as the account of the forty days' fast of Moses on the mount, or of Elijah in the wilderness? Viewing the Old Testament in its unity, and the Messiah as the apex in the column of its history, we admit - or rather, we must expect - throughout points of correspondence between Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah. In fact, these may be described as marking the three stages in the history of the Covenant. Moses was its giver, Elijah its restorer, the Messiah its renewer and perfecter. And as such they all had, in a sense, a similar outward consecration for their work.
But that neither Moses nor Elijah was assailed by the Devil, constitutes not the only, though a vital, difference between the fast of Moses and Elijah, and that of Jesus. Moses fasted in the middle, Elijah at the Presence of God; Elijah alone; Jesus assaulted by the Devil. Moses had been called up by God; Elijah had gone forth in the bitterness of his own spirit; Jesus was driven by the Spirit. Moses failed after his forty days' fast, when in indignation he cast the Tables of the Law from him; Elijah failed before his forty days' fast; Jesus was assailed for forty days and endured the trial. Moses was angry against Israel; Elijah despaired of Israel; Jesus overcame for Israel.
Nor must we forget that to each the trial came not only in his human, but in his representative capacity - as giver, restorer, or perfecter of the Covenant. When Moses and Elijah failed, it was not only as individuals, but as giving or restoring the Covenant. And when Jesus conquered, it was not only as the Unfallen and Perfect Man, but as the Messiah. His Temptation and Victory have therefore a twofold aspect: the general human and the Messianic, and these two are closely connected. Hence we draw also this happy inference: in whatever Jesus overcame, we can overcome. Each victory which He has gained secures its fruits for us who are His disciples (and this alike objectively and subjectively). We walk in His foot-prints; we can ascend by the rock-hewn steps which His Agony has cut. He is the perfect man; and as each temptation marks a human assault (assault on humanity), so it also marks a human victory (of humanity). But He is also the Messiah; and alike the assault and the victory were of the Messiah. Thus, each victory of humanity becomes a victory for humanity.
How can the sinless be tempted to sin?
"And Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness For forty days to be tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing in those days; and after they had come to an end, He hungered.
"Then the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that this stone 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 led Him up into a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this authority, and the glory of them all; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I desire. Therefore, if You will worship me in my presence, all things shall be Yours." But Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan; for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.' "
"Then he led Him to Jerusalem and set Him upon the edge of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, cast Yourself down from here; For it is written, 'He shall give His angels charge concerning You to keep You; And in their hands they shall bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.' " But Jesus answered and said to him, 'It is clearly stated, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.''
"Now when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from Him for a time." (Luke 4:1-13, HBFV)
In what respect could Jesus Christ, the Perfect Sinless Man, the Son of God, have been tempted of the Devil? That He was so tempted is of the very essence of this narrative, confirmed throughout His after-life, and laid down as a fundamental principle in the teaching and faith of the Church. On the other hand, temptation without the inward correspondence of existent sin is not only unthinkable, so far as man is concerned, but temptation without the possibility of sin seems unreal - a kind of Docetism. Yet the very passage of Holy Scripture in which Christ's equality with us as regards all temptation is expressed, also emphatically excepts from it this one particular sin, not only in the sense that Christ actually did not sin, nor merely in this, that 'our concupiscence' had no part in His temptations, but emphatically in this also, that the notion of sin has to be wholly excluded from our thoughts of Christ's temptations.
To obtain, if we can, a clearer understanding of this subject, two points must be kept in view. Christ's was real, though unfallen Human Nature; and Christ's Human was in inseparable union with His Divine Nature. We are not attempting to explain these mysteries, nor at present to vindicate them; we are only arguing from the standpoint of the Gospels and of Apostolic teaching, which proceeds on these premisses - and proceeding on them, we are trying to understand the Temptation of Christ.
Now it is clear, that human nature, that of Adam before his fall, was created both sinless and peccable. If Christ's Human Nature was not like ours, but, morally, like that of Adam before his fall, then must it likewise have been both sinless and in itself peccable. We say, in itself, for there is a great difference between the statement that human nature, as Adam and Christ had it, was capable of sinning, and this other, that Christ was peccable. From the latter the Christian mind instinctively recoils, even as it is metaphysically impossible to imagine the Son of God peccable. Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself human nature with all its infirmities and weaknesses - but without the moral taint of the Fall: without sin. It was human nature, in itself capable of sinning, but not having sinned. If He was absolutely sinless, He must have been unfallen. The position of the first Adam was that of being capable of not sinning, not that of being incapable of sinning. The Second Adam also had a nature capable of not sinning, but not incapable of sinning.
This explains the possibility of 'temptation' or assault upon Him, just as Adam could be tempted before there was in him any inward consensus to it. The first Adam would have been 'perfected' - or passed from the capability of not sinning to the incapability of sinning - by obedience. That 'obedience' - or absolute submission to the Will of God - was the grand outstanding characteristic of Christ's work; but it was so, because He was not only the Unsinning, Unfallen Man, but also the Son of God. Because God was His Father, therefore He must be about His Business, which was to do the Will of His Father. With a peccable Human Nature He was impeccable; not because He obeyed, but being impeccable He so obeyed, because His Human was inseparably connected with His Divine Nature. To keep this Union of the two Natures out of view would be Nestorianism. To sum up: The Second Adam, morally unfallen, though voluntarily subject to all the conditions of our Nature, was, with a peccable Human Nature, absolutely impeccable as being also the Son of God - a peccable Nature, yet an impeccable Person: the God-Man, ' tempted in regard to all (things) in like manner (as we), without (excepting) sin.'
All this sounds, after all, like the stammering of Divine words by a babe, and yet it may in some measure help us to understand the character of Christ's first great Temptation.
To restate in order our former conclusions, Jesus had deliberately, of His own accord and of set firm purpose, gone to be baptized. That one grand outstanding fact of His early life, that He must be about His Father's Business, had found its explanation when He knew that the Baptist's cry, 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,' was from God. His Father's Business, then, was 'the Kingdom of Heaven,' and to it He consecrated Himself, so fulfilling all righteousness. But His 'being about it' was quite other than that of any Israelite, however devout, who came to Jordan. It was His consecration, not only to the Kingdom, but to the Kingship, in the anointing and permanent possession of the Holy Spirit, and in His proclamation from heaven. That Kingdom was His Father's Business; its Kingship, the manner in which He was to be 'about it.'
The next step was not, like the first, voluntary, and of preconceived purpose. Jesus went to Jordan; He was driven of the Spirit into the wilderness. Not, indeed, in the sense of His being unwilling to go, or having had other purpose, such as that of immediate return into Galilee, but in that of not being willing, of having no will or purpose in the matter, but being 'led up,' unconscious of its purpose, with irresistible force, by the Spirit. In that wilderness He had to test what He had learned, and to learn what He had tested. So would He have full proof for His Work of the What - His Call and Kingship; so would He see its How - the manner of it; so, also, would, from the outset, the final issue of His Work appear.Jesus is 'driven' into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted. The history of humanity is taken up anew at the point where first the kingdom of Satan was founded, only under new conditions. It is not now a choice, but a contest, for Satan is the prince of this world. During the whole forty days of Christ's stay in the wilderness His Temptation continued, though it only attained its high point at the last, when, after the long fast, He felt the weariness and weakness of hunger. As fasting occupies but a very subordinate, we might almost say a tolerated, place in the teaching of Jesus; and as, so far as we know, He exercised on no other occasion such ascetic practices, we are left to infer internal, as well as external, necessity for it in the present instance.
The Tempter could not have failed to assault Him with considerations which He must have felt to be true. How could He hope, alone, and with such principles, to stand against Israel? He knew their views and feelings; and as, day by day, the sense of utter loneliness and forsakenness increasingly gathered around Him, in His increasing faintness and weakness, the seeming hopelessness of such a task as He had undertaken must have grown upon Him with almost overwhelming power. Alternately, the temptation to despair, presumption, or the cutting short of the contest in some decisive manner, must have presented itself to His mind, or rather have been presented to it by the Tempter.
And this was, indeed, the essence of His last three great temptations; which, as the whole contest, resolved themselves into the one question of absolute submission to the Will of God, which is the sum and substance of all obedience. If He submitted to it, it must be suffering, and only suffering - helpless, hopeless suffering to the bitter end; to the extinction of life, in the agonies of the Cross, as a male-factor; denounced, betrayed, rejected by His people; alone, in very God-forsakenness. And when thus beaten about by temptation, His powers reduced to the lowest ebb of faintness, all the more vividly would memory hold out the facts so well known, so keenly realized at that moment, in the almost utter cessation of every other mental faculty: the scene lately enacted by the banks of Jordan, and the two great expectations of His own people, that the Messiah was to head Israel from the Sanctuary of the Temple, and that all kingdoms of the world were to become subject to Him. Here, then, is the inward basis of the Temptation of Christ, in which the fast was not unnecessary, nor yet the special assaults of the Enemy either 'clumsy suggestions,' or unworthy of Jesus.
He is weary with the contest, faint with hunger, alone in that wilderness. His voice falls on no sympathising ear; no voice reaches Him but that of the Tempter. There is nothing bracing, strengthening in this featureless, barren, stony wilderness - only the picture of desolateness, hopelessness, despair. He must, He will absolutely submit to the Will of God. But can this be the Will of God? One word of power, and the scene would be changed. Let Him despair of all men, of everything - He can do it. By His Will the Son of God, as the Tempter suggests - not, however, calling thereby in question His Sonship, but rather proceeding on its admitted reality - can change the stones into bread. He can do miracles - put an end to present want and question, and, as visibly the possessor of absolute miraculous power, the goal is reached! But this would really have been to change the idea of Old Testament miracle into the heathen conception of magic, which was absolute power inherent in an individual, without moral purpose.
The moral purpose - the grand moral purpose in all that was of God - was absolute submission to the Will of God. His Spirit had driven Him into that wilderness. His circumstances were God-appointed; and where He so appoints them, He will support us in them, even as, in the failure of bread, He supported Israel by the manna. And Jesus absolutely submitted to that Will of God by continuing in His present circumstances. To have set himself free from what they implied, would have been despair of God, and rebellion. He does more than not succumb: He conquers. The Scriptural reference to a better life upon the Word of God marks more than the end of the contest; it marks the conquest of Satan. He emerges on the other side triumphant, with this expression of His assured conviction of the sufficiency of God.
It cannot be despair - and He cannot take up His Kingdom alone, in the exercise of mere power! Absolutely submitting to the Will of God, He must, and He can, absolutely trust Him. But if so, then let Him really trust Himself upon God, and make experiment, nay more, public demonstration - of it. If it be not despair of God, let it be presumption! He will not do the work alone! Then God-upborne, according to His promise, let the Son of God suddenly, from that height, descend and head His people, and that not in any profane manner, but in the midst of the Sanctuary, where God was specially near, in sight of incensing priests and worshipping people. So also will the goal at once be reached.
The Spirit of God had driven Jesus into the wilderness; the spirit of the Devil now carried Him to Jerusalem. Jesus stands on the lofty pinnacle of the Tower, or of the Temple-porch, presumably that on which every day a Priest was stationed to watch, as the pale morning light passed over the hills of Judea far off to Hebron, to announce it as the signal for offering the morning sacrifice. If we might indulge our imagination, the moment chosen would be just as the Priest had quitted that station. The first desert-temptation had been in the grey of breaking light, when to the faint and weary looker the stones of the wilderness seemed to take fantastic shapes, like the bread for which the faint body hungered.
In the next temptation Jesus stands on the watch-post which the white-robed priest had just quitted. Fast the rosy morning-light, deepening into crimson, and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the Priests' Court below Him the morning-sacrifice has been offered. The massive Temple-gates are slowly opening, and the blasts of the priests' silver trumpets is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before their Lord. Now then let Him descend, Heaven-borne, into the midst of priests and people. What shouts of acclamation would greet His appearance! What homage of worship would be His! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing Israel. Jesus is surveying the scene. By His side is the Tempter, watching the features that mark the working of the spirit within. And now he has whispered it. Jesus had overcome in the first temptation by simple, absolute trust. This was the time, and this the place to act upon this trust, even as the very Scriptures to which Jesus had appealed warranted. But so to have done would have been not trust - far less the heroism of faith - but presumption. The goal might indeed have been reached; but not the Divine goal, nor in God's way - and, as so often, Scripture itself explained and guarded the Divine promise by a preceding Divine command. And thus once more Jesus not only is not overcome, but He overcomes by absolute submission to the Will of God.
To submit to the Will of God! But is not this to acknowledge His authority, and the order and disposition which He has made of all things? Once more the scene changes. They have turned their back upon Jerusalem and the Temple. Behind are also all popular prejudices, narrow nationalism, and limitations. They no longer breathe the stifled air, thick with the perfume of incense. They have taken their flight into God's wide world. There they stand on the top of some very high mountain. It is in the full blaze of sunlight that He now gazes upon a wondrous scene. Before Him rise, from out the cloud-land at the edge of the horizon, forms, figures, scenes -- come words, sounds, harmonies. The world in all its glory, beauty, strength, majesty, is unveiled. Its work, its might, its greatness, its art, its thought, emerge into clear view. And still the horizon seems to widen as He gazes; and more and more, and beyond it still more and still brighter appears. It is a world quite other than that which the retiring Son of the retired Nazareth-home had ever seen, could ever have imagined, that opens its enlarging wonders.
To us in the circumstances the temptation, which at first sight seems, so to speak, the clumsiest, would have been well nigh irresistible. In measure as our intellect was enlarged, our heart attuned to this world-melody, we would have gazed with bewitched wonderment on that sight, surrendered ourselves to the harmony of those sounds, and quenched the thirst of our soul with maddening draught. But passively sublime as it must have appeared to the Perfect Man, the God-Man - and to Him far more than to us from His infinitely deeper appreciation of, and wider sympathy with the good, and true, and the beautiful - He had already overcome.
It was, indeed, not 'worship,' but homage which the Evil One claimed from Jesus, and that on the truly stated and apparently rational ground, that, in its present state, all this world 'was delivered' unto him, and he exercised the power of giving it to whom he would. But in this very fact lay the answer to the suggestion. High above this moving scene of glory and beauty arched the deep blue of God's heaven, and brighter than the sun, which poured its light over the sheen and dazzle beneath, stood out the fact: 'I must be about My Father's business;' above the din of far-off sounds rose the voice: 'Thy Kingdom come!' Was not all this the Devil's to have and to give, because it was not the Father's Kingdom, to which Jesus had consecrated Himself? What Satan sought was, 'My kingdom come' - a Satanic Messianic time, a Satanic Messiah; the final realization of an empire of which his present possession was only temporary, caused by the alienation of man from God. To destroy all this: to destroy the works of the Devil, to abolish his kingdom, to set man free from his dominion, was the very object of Christ's Mission.
It is to be the bringing of worship, not the crowning of rebellion, which is the Kingdom. And so Satan's greatest becomes to Christ his coarsest temptation, which He casts from Him; and the words:
"You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve."
He Whom God had anointed by His Spirit had conquered by the Spirit; He Whom Heaven's Voice had proclaimed God's beloved Son, in Whom He was well pleased, had proved such, and done His good pleasure.
All the temptation during Jesus' forty days of trial had been all overcome, these temptations against submission to the Will of God, present, personal, and specifically Messianic. Yet all His life long there were echoes of them: of the first, in the suggestion of His brethren to show Himself; of the second, in the popular attempt to make Him a king, and perhaps also in what constituted the final idea of Judas Iscariot; of the third, as being most plainly Satanic, in the question of Pilate: 'Art Thou then a King? '