I have spent a good deal of time these last few days wrestling with the temptation narratives as detailed in Matthew and specifically Luke . There are a great many questions left unanswered about these accounts. Nevertheless, the main issue at hand is the purpose of these temptations.
I suspect most of us have heard various homilies on these temptations and what Satan was trying to lure Christ into. Some accurate, others less so. Nevertheless, the main focus is the understanding Jesus has of his role and purpose as a kingdom builder and if he will stay true to that mission.
Each temptation is preceded by the phrase, “If you are the son of God….”
There no doubt in Satan’s mind that Jesus was the Son of God. What he wanted to see is whether or not Christ could be tempted to establish his Kingdom as something other than what it was intended to be. To make his sonship less than God wanted it to be. It was not a matter of “IF you are” but more a matter of BECAUSE you are the son of God, you can take this route to the kingdom instead of the one set by the Father.
The situation is similar to what Peter said to Christ, “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you,” talking about Christ’s impending death and the event of the cross (Matt 16:23). Jesus’ rebuke of Peter shows that he knew the enemy was simply trying an end run to the same goal. It was a stab at one of those “opportune times” Luke mentions as he concludes the temptation narrative (Luke 4:13).
There is more to the temptation narratives than either author lets on. It runs deeper than mere symbolic gestures designed to present an un-temptable Christ. Nevertheless, the primary message is about the Kingdom. The true Kingdom which is to be built on the spilling of blood and an empty tomb. If the enemy could be successful with Christ, as the sacrificial lamb of God, and divert him from that mission, it could end up being no mission at all.
The enemy always seeks to detour our devotion with easy things. He intends to clutter our life with the doing of things and not the becoming of Christ likeness. For our culture and mind set this is more than tempting, it is desirable. Doing things is measurable and quantifiable. Becoming “in Christ” is less tangible. It requires greater discipline and a sensitive balance of inward and outward focus. There is no easy task list to check off. The narrow road is never any wider than what the cross on our back will allow.
Not in the same magnitude, but often in a similar manner, we are all tempted and tested in ways that stretch and challenge us to make choices. Seldom are our physical and mental resources depleted on the same scale as Jesus’, but that is no matter. Satan still finds us an easy target. He is good at spotting our vulnerability. He knows how to sift and seek the “opportune time” to moves us off our intended path.
How do we resist? Is it simply a matter of quoting the appropriate verse of scripture? No, it is much more than that. It is understanding who we are in Christ and what our intended purpose is as a child of God and a servant of the Kingdom. What that means for you, I am not certain. What that means for me, I choose not to share. However, what it means for each of us is this…
Rom 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Rom 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.