The Temptations of Christ

I have decided to work through the book of Mark. I’m not certain why but looking afresh at this the smallest of all the gospels, there is an intrigue about the book, its reflection of Peter’s teachings and how they may have impacted John Mark.

My first stop is at the temptation of Christ – Mark 1:12-13. Compared to Matthew and Luke, Mark is rather thin in his account. Simply put, Jesus was driven by the Spirit to the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan. That is it. There is no hint of the type of temptations that Matthew and Luke outline. There is no drama being played out. It all is rather matter-of-fact.

Does this mean that Mark assumes his readers know of the other accounts? Could it be that his account is so barren that the other writers felt a need to expand the account?  Unless Jesus told his disciples of this experience, how did anyone know what transpired in the wilderness save for the angels who were ministering to Christ?

I suspect if you’ve spent any time at all in the gospels, you’ve heard sermons and teachings on the temptation scenario. So I will not rehash that here. However, there is one commentary on the event that peaked my interest as soon as I read it. It made me think, “If I heard this in a sermon on Sunday morning, would it ring true?”

The comments are from Gregory the Great, pope from AD 540 til his death some 14 years later. Here are his comments on the temptation of Christ in Mark.

Temptation is brought to fulfillment by three states: suggestion, delight, consent. And we in temptation generally fall through delight, and then through consent; for being begotten of the sin and the flesh we bear within us that through which we suffer conflict. But God, incarnate in the womb of a virgin, came into the world without sin, and so suffers no conflict within himself. He could therefore be tempted by suggestion, but the delight of sin could never touch his mind. So all these temptations of the devil were from without, not from within Him.  (Quoted from The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Inter-Varsity Press, 1998, Downers Grove, IL  16)

What struck me about that comment was the rather sterile approach to the temptations of Christ. If Christ could be tempted only at the level of suggestion and the temptation not involve his mind (remember he is a man as well as God) then how can I, as a man, identify with that isolation of temptation?  In short, I can’t. None of us could I suppose. If Christ suffered “not conflict within himself,” how can I identify with that, for every temptation and suffering seems to come from within. It is true, sin finds it seed in suggestion, but if it cannot be processed through the mind – if it cannot cause conflict within ones self, then it is no real temptation. Desire is of the mind, suggestion rests outside the mind. As James says, “…Each person is tempted when he is is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin…(James 1:14-15 ESV)”  If Christ was not tempted at the level of “delight” then how does that translate into being “tempted in all points as we are… (Heb. 4:15)?”

If all the temptations experienced by Christ were from “without not from within Him” than I am of all men desolate in my sin. I am hamstrung by temptation. I have not a savior who can identify with my struggle. He might be able to sympathize with my torment, but empathy is far from him.

Now I have no idea what type of temptations Christ might have really gone through in the wilderness. If Mark knew, he is not telling. Nor am I convinced that Matthew and Luke got it right. But I suspect, if the agony of the Garden is any indication, something was indeed touching the Master’s heart. It was not just without – it was within. His mind may have told his feet to take flight, but his heart was honed in on the finale and his fingernails were dug deeply into the rocks that provided the backdrop of that moment in time. A decision had to be made – get out or give in and give all.

He resisted the temptation – gave in and gave all. To God be the glory!

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7 Comments

Filed under Gospel of Mark, Temptation

7 responses to “The Temptations of Christ

  1. Kit

    Hey Norm,

    Interesting concept. I claim no special insight but if I correctly understand the argument, I don’t think I agree with Pope Gregory the Great.

    One of the temptations was to turn stones into bread. Christ was experiencing hunger and obviously He could imagine how good bread would have tasted. The satisfying of hunger is not normally considered sinful but in this case it would have been. So there we have the “suggestion” and the briefly imagined “delight” of how good food would have tasted.

    Now having said this, I am confident that Jesus did not dwell on the delight of the suggested sin – which is where many, myself included, begin the downward spiral into sin.

    Now I will agree that Christ never experienced the “consent” of sin. In fact I have occasionally thought that perhaps Jesus does not know the emotion of guilt. However, when I reflect upon the mystery of the cross, Jesus in all probability felt the guilt brought on by my sins as they were laid upon Him. In fact, I suspect that He experienced the guilt more acutely that we do because He in some way stood before the Father bearing our sins. So while He never consented to sin, I think He knows how we feel after we have consented.

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  2. Norm

    Kit, thanks for the comment and your insights. I suspect you are right, especially about the “consent” idea.

    Your observations about the guilt Jesus felt under the load of our sin is interesting. In some repsects, we might surmise that he felt that “guilt” each day he walked among the sick, the tired, the hungry, the unbelieving. And indeed perhaps in the garden. However, it is your final coment about “I think he knows how we feel after having consented” that may dilute the concept.

    If he never consents then he can never know. Oh we may say his “divine side” knows all things. But that neuters the fully man side. If Jesus always played the “divine” trump card, than it is somewhat impossible to identify with him or him with us when it comes to the riptide of sin that seeks to pull us under.

    To a large degree my beleif is that we will never know or could ever know what he felt; what he sensed or what kept him up at night. That is what makes the mystery a mystery. But what I do know is that his pain on the cross was my pain. That is something I am certain he felt!

    Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

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  3. Hi Norm,

    As per usual, very nice job. The temptations are indeed an interesting study.

    The reason that Mark is a little sparse in his narration is because of the differing themes of each book. Each Gospel presents Christ as a different person. Let me quickly explain.

    The Gospel of Matthew presents Christ as King (The prophesied King). Matthew was written for the Jews.

    The Gospel of Mark presents Christ as servant (The obedient servant). Mark was written for the Romans.

    The Gospel of Luke presents Christ as man (The perfect man). Luke was written for the Greeks.

    The Gospel of John presents Christ as God (The divine Son). John was written for the world.

    That was an interesting statement put forth by the Pope but it had one flaw: using man’s theory to explain and question God and His Word. Hebrews 4:15 is good enough for me.

    There’s an old saying that says, “God said it, I believe it, that’s it.” I have a different take on that. It goes something like this, “God said, I don’t HAVE to believe it, that’s it.” In other words God’s Word IS the Gospel. (Pun intended.)

    Good job Norm.

    L8R Brother

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  4. On your last comment to Kit – How can we, as human, feel Christ’s pain on the Cross and have never been crucified. Why is it a stretch of the imagination that Christ, as GOD, could feel our guilt and other emotions having never sinned. What do you think.

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  5. Norm

    Jim, your initial comment is testimony to how commentator’s influence our understanding of Scripture. It may be true about the intended audience, similar to what they taught me in seminary, but that gives us an implied lense to read the message. It may not have been that simple. It’s a decent starting point for understanding the four gospels, but it may not explain Mark’s brevity as much as his attempt at remembering the preaching/teaching of Peter and revisiting that FOR the Christians at Rome – no so much as TO the Christians at Rome.

    Regarding my comment to Kit about “pain”. It was not that I could feel Christ’s pain “having never been crucified” it was that he was feeling MY pain. The pain of sin. I obviously did not phrase that clearly in my reply.

    Just a comment about your “God said it, I don’t HAVE to believe it, that’s it…God’s word IS the gospel.”
    That phrase is packed with difficulty. I’m fairly certain, having read your blog, that you may not subscribe to that totally. Nevertheless, it does provide a certain background regarding ones view of inspiration.

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  6. Jesus was tempted of everything.

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  7. Norm

    Jeremiah, let me see if I understand your “Jesus was tempeted of everything.” When God sends his son to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, what we read there is just a glimpse of what Christ endured during his life. There were other times that God tested or tempted him that we don’t see in the Gospels. Temptations or testing that leap beyond power, hunger or forsaking his “calling.” Temptations like illicit drugs, sexual temptations, temptations to hurt with words or actions; temptations to cheat or lie and more. We see little indication of any of these when it comes to his life and ministry. That does not necessarily mean these things did not happen but it seems odd there is little hint of them

    When we look at all the great figures of Scripture whether it’s Moses, David, Peter or Paul there is almost always a hint at their weaknesses. Not so with the Messiah. Perhaps the Garden episode is close, but that’s about it.

    Perhaps you can clarify what you mean and provide some evidence of the “everything.”

    Thanks for your comments and interest.

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