The “temptation of Jesus” is a fascinating episode right before Jesus started His ministry to human beings, in which He interacted with all the other kinds of beings: God, the devil, the angels, and even the animals! The Holy Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to fast for forty days, hang out with the animals, be tempted by the devil and ministered to by the angels (Mark 1:9-13). As we have in the other stories, let’s look both at the Main Point and also what we can learn about angels. (To read the whole story for yourself, look at Matthew 3:13-4:11).
I don’t envy Jesus in this story! As kids, we wailed, “Mom, I’m starving!” during the seemingly long interval between lunch and dinner, and were told, “Don’t say that, you’re not starving.” But after forty days, not four hours, Jesus is getting close. And the devil pounces when Jersus is physically vulnerable. The last words Jesus heard as He came out of the waters of baptism were His Father’s voice booming from heaven, “This is My Beloved Son!” The first words out of the devil’s mouth are, “If you are really the Son of God…” Jesus doesn’t bite. He refuses to fall for any of the three temptations: to use His miracle powers to turn the stones into bread, to bow down and worship Satan in exchange for the whole world, or to jump off the roof of the temple to make God rescue Him. Even though in that last one (see verse 6), Satan is extra sneaky and misquotes Scripture–even using a beautiful promise about angels!
So I would propose that the Main Point of this episode is that Jesus Succeeds Where We Have Failed. He succeeds where Adam failed because He says “no” to Satan and “yes” to God, even though He is starving in a desert and not feasting on a garden full of not-forbidden fruit trees. He succeeds where Israel failed. They were “baptized” by going through the Red Sea, then followed God through the wilderness for forty years where they complained, worshipped idols, and “put God to the test” over and over. Jesus is baptized and follows the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, where He refuses to complain, worship the devil, or put God to the test. He is ‘“tempted in every way like we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15) and as soon as Jesus passes all the tests Israel failed, God brings Him back.
And Jesus succeeds where you and I have failed, too. The devil has never offered me all the wealth and power of ruling every nation on earth. He’s never needed to. While I’ve never consciously wanted to worship the devil, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to place something else higher in my heart than God more times than I can count. We all have our price, some little promise for which we’ve been willing to “bow the knee” to some person, place or thing besides God Himself. The devil took one look at Jesus and placed all his cards on the table. He offered Him everything.
And Jesus still said “No.”
I picture God in that moment erupting off His throne with a cheer the way we erupt off the sofa when our team scores the winning point, and yelling, “I have been waiting for all of human history for somebody to say ‘No!’ to him for Me like that! THAT is what Adam should have said. THIS GUY is the Second Adam. This guy is the hope for humanity. I can save the world through this guy! Oh yeah! You go, boy! Didn’t I tell you He was My beloved Son? I knew He could do it! Daddy’s never been more proud of You!”
The masterpiece in the center of this “picture frame” is the success of Jesus. And guess what? All that success-of-Jesus was for us. Jesus scored straight A’s on His report card and God offers us that report card before we ever start school, so we can learn without any fear of punishment for our mistakes.
And since Jesus was righteous on our behalf in EVERYTHING, one of the things He succeeded at for us was relating to both Satan and the good angels properly. A common fear we might have is that we might accidentally worship an angel. Of course, a real angel will stop us if that happens (Revelation 22:8-9), but even if we did stumble and need forgiveness, Jesus already succeeded on our behalf when He was tempted by the evil deceiver who wanted to be worshipped. We might fear being confused or deceived. Our Jesus saw through the deception even when Satan was quoting Scripture and talking about angels.
Our Jesus was perfectly, beautifully wise and discerning and also perfectly, beautifully fearless. He never gave way to fear. This is so important. Satan is a thief who tries to “steal” (John 10:10). And one of his tactics is to tempt us to overreact to mistakes (either our own or other people’s) so that we“throw the baby out with the bathwater” and then he can steal the baby. But this didn’t work on Jesus because Jesus doesn’t overreact. Jesus doesn’t say, “I had a bad and scary experience where Satan misquoted that verse about angels to try to tempt Me to sin, so now I don’t want anything to do with that verse anymore,” or “Satan talked to Me about angels when he tried to deceive Me, so I am afraid to be open to God using the real angels in My life.”
I would have. For years, when I read Psalm 91:11-12, the verses Satan quoted to try to tempt Jesus, I would think, “that’s the verse Satan used” as if that made it contaminated, and I would fear to meditate on it, claim it, or even believe it lest I mis-use it and be deceived too.
But guess what? It’s a pretty cool verse:
“For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
And more importantly, IT WAS TRUE! The angels WERE assigned to take good care of Jesus. The verse doesn’t mean, “therefore you should go jump off buildings to prove God will save you,” as Satan tried to claim, but the verse is true. As soon as Jesus finished His duel with the devil and passed the test His Father had appointed for Him to take, those angels who had been commanded to keep Him in all His ways showed up to feed Him and comfort Him and get Him out of the desert alive. And it’s a good thing that Jesus didn’t overreact and say, “Yikes, I’ve just experienced Satan trying to deceive Me, I’m not allowing these so-called ministering spirits that have just showed up to get anywhere near Me. What if it’s Satan coming back dressed as an angel of light?” Because I think He might have died passed out on the sand if the angels His Father had sent didn’t get to help Him after forty days of fasting in a wilderness, and then how would He have saved us from our sins?
Jesus saved me by getting this angel thing right, with wisdom, not fear. And if I ever mess up in discerning an angel of God from my imagination or my enemy, Jesus has already succeeded on my behalf in this area, just like in every other. No condemnation (Romans 8:1). Just Jesus.
And even though Satan didn’t quote the next verse (I don’t think he really likes the next verse!), that verse was true of Jesus as well:
“You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:13).
Those different types of lions and snakes are metaphors the Bible uses for Satan. Jesus crushed the serpent’s head, just like God promised him (Genesis 2:15), and it is because of Jesus’ victory that we can be victorious too.
Whenever we learn something new, Jesus is our righteousness. Whenever we mess up, Jesus is our righteousness. And when, like Jesus, we have to learn to interact with the unseen spirit world in some way shape or form, Jesus is our righteousness. Whether we are hearing the Father’s voice, following the Holy Spirit’s leading, battling the devil’s temptation, or receiving the ministry of God’s holy angels, we never go alone. We go with Jesus. Praise be to His glorious name!