When you have two accounts of the same event in Scripture it challenges the mind to determine whether one account is correct, the other incorrect. Whether both accounts are correct just told from different angles. Or, whether one account is abbreviated for whatever reason and the other expanded for whatever reason. Such is the case in the endings for the temptation of Christ stories in the synoptics. Matthew’s ending of this “event” is rather abrupt and matter-of-fact. “Then the devil left him….(4:11 NASB)” Where Luke’s account adds some information that certainly compels the reader to think of what might be next for the Messiah – “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time… (4:13 ESV)” Perhaps Luke, after hearing the account from Jesus himself regarding the experience, adds a personal thought based on what Jesus said, or simply tells us more of the accounting than Matthew does. There is no way to know for certain. But what Luke adds brings value to the story.
Each account of the temptation of Christ shows us three primary temptations. However, it might be appropriate to think that there were more than three during the forty days. The ending of this temptation experience was certainly not the ending of temptations for the Christ. Peter pushes his button in Mark 8:33, the Pharisees and religious leaders agitate his ministry in John 8:40, and then the Gethsemane event (Luke 22: 42, 53) might be another time.
Now it seems legitimate to ask, was the tempting throughout the forty days? Near the end of the forty days when weak from hunger Jesus may begin having “visions” or simply a summation of the types of all the temptations Jesus experienced? After all, viewing all the kingdoms of the world, or being carried to the pinnacle of the temple, seem a bit of a stretch if viewed as physical feats. Plus, there are no indications of sexual temptations, coveting, lying, or similar such sins even though Luke stresses “every temptation” – panta peirasmon.
For a man like me, sins are a culmination of opportunity or opportunities. If never presented with certain situations, not sinning (if viewed as an act) is somewhat easy. Having little to go on about the early years of Jesus, there is no compelling reason to believe he did not experience the temptation for sins of opportunity. One would have to assume he did, if he was indeed fully man. Therefore, the temptation passages may be displaying only one thing – the temptation to avoid or circumvent his true mission as the son of God not the type of sins we normally associate with human existence or our every day lives. If that is the case, and I believe it is, what application do the temptation narratives have for me as a follower of Christ?
A definitive answer to that question is not possible. However, if speculation were allowed, that experience demonstrates that: 1) the evil one attacks based on where we are in life and 2) he is never quite done. He is always looking for opportunity to catch us in desirous moments and exploit them not so much for his gain, but rather for our loss. He knows that if those moments can be fully realized, in any way, the end result is enmity between us and God and the evil one has done what delights him most.
James, in his letter, puts it this way, “…Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15 ESV).”
Father Spirit, it is not sin that strangles my pure intent, it is uncontrolled desire that results in sin. Help me to recognize the difference. Let me bring the desire to you first, that it might lose its power over me and the intended consequence.