And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
How is the temptation of Christ to be understood? As a history, a parable, a myth, or an undesigned, though not accidental, compound of the three? Let us begin —
1. With what ought to be a self-evident proposition. As Jesus was a moral being, whose nature had to develop under the limitations necessary to humanity, we must conceive Him as a subject of moral probation. He could not escape exposure to its perils. But again —
2. We must here conceive the temptable as the tempted. In the person and life of Jesus there was no seeming, A real humanity cannot escape with a fictitious temptation. Though our narrative may be termed by pre-eminence The Temptation, it was not simply then, but always, that Jesus was tempted. The devil left Him only "for a season"; returned personified now as Peter, now as Judas, and again as the Jews; met Him amid the solitude and agony of Gethsemane, in the clamour, mockery, and desertion of the cross. But —
3. How could Jesus be "tempted in all things, like as we are, yet without sin"? Is not temptation evil? We must consider —
I. HOW THE TEMPTED COULD DE THE SINLESS CHRIST. And —
1. What is temptation? Seduction to evil. It stands distinguished from trial thus: trial tests, seeks to discover the man's moral qualities or character; temptation persuades to evil, deludes, that it may ruin. God tries; Satan tempts.
2. The forms of temptation. It may be either sensuous, imaginative, or rational; perhaps it is never so powerful as when its forces approach the mind together, and at once through the senses, the imagination, and the reason.
3. The sources of temptation. It may proceed either
(1) from self, or
(2) from without self.If the first, the nature must be bad, but not of necessity radically bad; if the second it may be innocent, but must be capable of sinning. If now the temptation comes from without, three things are possible — it may speak either —
1. To still fluid evil desires and make them crystallize into evil action; or —
2. To innocence, and change it into guilt; or —
3. Supply it with the opportunity of rising into holiness. Illustrations: of
(1) Macbeth; of
(2) Hubert, in "King John"; of
(3) Isabella, in "Measure for Measure," the play that so well expounds its own saying —
"Tis one thing to be tempted, Esealus,
Another thing to fall."
Isabella, lovely as pure, most womanly in her unconscious strength, stainless among the stained, loving her doomed brother too well to sin for him, triumphs over his tears and entreaties, the wiles and threats of the Deputy, and emerges from her great temptation chaster, more beautiful in the blossom of her perfect womanhood, than she had been before.
4. We are now in a position to consider the temptation of Christ in relation to His sinlessness. Temptation implies(1) ability in the tempted to sin or not sin. Jesus had, to speak with the schoolmen, the posse non peccare, not the non posse peccare. Had He possessed the latter, He had been intemptable.
(2) Evil must be presented to the tempted in a manner disguised, plausible, attractive.
(3) The tempter must be sinful, the tempted may be innocent. Our discussion conducts, then, to but one conclusion; temptation was not only possible to the sinlessness, but necessary to the holiness, of Christ.
II. THE PLACE WHERE THE TEMPTATION HAPPENED IS NOT WITHOUT SIGNIFICANCE. Into which wilderness Jesus was led we do not know — whether the wild and lonely solitudes watched by the mountains where Moses and Elijah struggled in prayer and conquered in faith, or the steep rock by the side of the Jordan overlooking the Dead Sea, which later tradition has made the arena of this fell conflict. Enough, the place was a desert, waste, barren, shelterless, overhead the hot sun, underfoot the burning sand or blistering rock. No outbranching trees made a cool restful shade; no spring upbursting with a song of gladness came to relieve the thirst; no flowers bloomed, pleasing the eye with colour, and the nostril with fragrance; all was drear desert. Two things may be here noted — the desolation, and the solitude. The desolation must have deepened the shadows on His spirit, increased the burden that made Him almost faint at the opening of His way. And He was in solitude — alone there, without the comfort of a human presence, the fellowship of a kindred soul. Yet the loneliness was a sublime necessity. In His supreme moments society was impossible to Him. Out of loneliness He issued to begin His work; into loneliness tie passed to end it. The moments that made His work Divinest were His own and His Father's.
III. BUT MUCH MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN THE SCENE OF THE TEMPTATION IS THE PLACE WHERE IT STANDS IN THE HISTORY OF THE LIFE AND MIND OF JESUS. Just after the baptism and before the ministry; just after the long silence and before the brief yet eternal speech; just after the years of privacy, and before the few but glorious months of publicity. We must study the temptation through the consciousness of Jesus. The temptation and the assumption by Jesus of the Messianic character and office are essentially relented. The one supplies the other with the condition and occasion of its existence. When He was driven into the wilderness three points must have stood out from the tumult of thought and feeling pre-eminent.
1. The relation of the supernatural to the natural in Himself; or, on the other side, His relation to God as His ideal human Son.
2. The relation of God to the supernatural in His person, and the official in His mission; and
3. The nature of the kingdom He had come to found, and the agencies by which it was to live and extend. And these precisely were the issues that emerged in His several temptations. They thus stood rooted in the then consciousness of Christ, and related in the most essential way to His spirit.
(A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,