Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
This appears to have extended through the forty days of the sojourn of Jesus in the wilderness. Mark says, "He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan" (Mark 1:13). The text describes only the acme at the close of the forty days. It is given as a specimen of the wiles of Satan, and forms an epitome of all the temptations he has ever contrived. From it we learn -
I. THAT SATAN IS ARMED WITH FORMIDABLE POWERS.
1. Probably he appeared in an assumed shape.
(1) For he appeared to the manhood of Christ. He is introduced as "the tempter," but not named. Jesus did not give him his name until the tempter had fully discovered himself as the god of this world (ver. 10).
(2) This was not the only instance in which Satan assumed a disguise. He tempted Eve under the form of a serpent. After the fall he enshrined himself in men. Demoniacs. Some suppose that Satan appeared to Jesus in the character of a scribe, as he appealed to the Scriptures. He "fashioneth himself into an angel of light" (cf. Zechariah 3:1; 2 Corinthians 11:14).
(3) Beware of the devil in disguises. In men: "One of you hath a devil." In good men: Peter (Matthew 16:23).
2. Probably he literally transported the body of Jesus.
(1) Jesus was in "the wilderness." Certainly not a rural wilderness in the vicinity of Bethabara; for he was in solitude, and "with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13). The presumption, then, is that it was "the wilderness of the people;" for what other could be distinguished as "the wilderness"? Analogy also suggests the desert of Sinai, for there Moses and Elijah also had "fasted forty days" (cf. Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8).
(2) Thus, then, the "prince of the powers of the air" would have hurried the body of Jesus, as in an elemental chariot, over an interval of two hundred and fifty British statute miles, in order to "set him on the pinnacle of the temple." Philip was carried by the Spirit of God from the desert of Gaza to Azotus (Acts 8:39; see also 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:11-15).
(3) From the holy city Satan then carried Jesus away to the summit of "an exceeding high mountain." Could this have been that "high mountain" upon which the Transfiguration afterwards took place? It is noteworthy that, in the Transfiguration, with Jesus appeared in glory Moses and Elias, who, like him, had fasted (Matthew 17:1-3). If Hermon was that mountain, then about a hundred miles would have been traversed. If Nebo, whence Moses viewed the promised land, then about twenty-five, miles.
(4) With such an adversary it is obviously our wisdom never to contend single-handed. We have the promised help of God. With all our armour we should be armed with "all prayer" (Ephesians 6:13-18).
3. He wrought wonderfully upon the imagination of Jesus.
(1) This must have been so, if, as some suppose, Jesus had been simply carried by Satan mentally from the wilderness to the holy city, and from thence to Hermon or some other eminence.
(2) But from the mountain summit he certainly wrought wonderfully' upon the imagination of Jesus when he "showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them." Luke adds, "in a moment of time." Such a view of the tetrarchies of Palestine as could be obtained from Nebo or any other mountain summit scarcely comes up to the description, "all the kingdoms of the world," or "all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth" (see Luke 4:5, Greek). The panoramic effect Wrought by Satan upon the phantasy of Jesus was wonderful.
(3) Herein we are warned never to cherish an evil imagination. If we yield ourselves to the power of such a master of image-working we place ourselves at the mercy of the impersonation of cruelty.
II. THAT SATAN WIELDS HIS ENERGIES WITH SUBTLETY.
1. He selects a wilderness as the theatre of his operations.
(1) A wilderness, in the natural sense, is a wild, uncultivated waste. Such certainly was the desert of Sinai. In the metaphorical sense it is a state of mental solitude, depression, perplexity, or suffering.
(2) In such a state Satan finds us at a disadvantage, and then plies his arts with vigour. When the spirit is bruised he would excite in us rebellious thoughts of God and harsh thoughts of men.
2. He practises adroitly upon our necessities.
(1) Our Lord was "an hungered," and Satan tempted him to supply his need by supernatural means. If he finds us an hungered he may tempt us to supply our need by illicit means. He would have us justify thievery under the plea of necessity.
(2) The temptation is to distrust Providence. That Providence cannot lack resources which fed a nation in the wilderness for forty years. Angels in due time ministered to Jesus - brought him food (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8).
(3) "Man does not live by bread alone." The animal part of the man lives on bread; the nobler part of the man is nourished by faith in the Word of God. The spirit must not be starved in unbelief to supply the wants of the body. Be that feeds the soul will feed the body also (Matthew 6:33).
3. He turns our weapons against us.
(1) If we say, "It is written," Satan also will say, "It is written." He will take care to put his own interpretation upon the Scripture he quotes. Therefore we must say, "It is written again." To do this we must study the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the best interpreters of themselves. To the comparison of spiritual things Satan has no answer. Ignorance is danger.
(2) If we profess to trust in God, Satan will tempt us to trust in our faith alone. "Cast thyself down: for it is written," etc. He would push our confidence to the extreme of presumption.
4. He "bids up" for the soul of the good.
(1) He will, if possible, subvert us with trifles. Satan has a malignant pleasure in vanquishing and destroying us with trifles.
(2) Where trifles will not serve, he bids higher. To Christ he offered "all the kingdoms of the world." The bribe which Christ refused Antichrist accepts (cf. Revelation 13:2, 4, 8).
(3) Every man has not his price. There have been those who have laid down their lives for the truth. The race of the martyrs is not extinct.
III. THAT GOD SUPERINTENDS THE CONFLICTS OF HIS SAINTS.
1. He strengthens them for the battle.
(1) "This is my beloved Son Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit," etc.
(2) So the Transfiguration, wherein the pores of the body of Jesus were avenues for the streaming glory, was preparatory to that ordeal of agony in Gethsemane, wherein the same pores became the avenues for his blood.
(3) In your conflicts remember your baptisms. "Do not question the validity of your baptism because it was succeeded by a fierce temptation" (Dr. Parker).
2. He permits temptations for gracious ends.
(1) Christ was Divine, therefore invulnerable. Why, then, was he "led up of the Spirit" to be tempted? For our benefit. That he might be our Exemplar.
(2) Temptations are our educators. Who can grow in patience, in long-suffering, in courage, without trial?
3. He retains Satan under his control.
(1) Satan was permitted to convey Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple (Alford supposes this to have been the royal portico of Herod, overlooking at a fearful height the valley of Jehoshaphat). Satan was not permitted to push him over. He was permitted to convey Jesus to the summit of the mountain. He was restrained from dashing his foot against a stone.
(2) The will of God, as a chain, limits and restrains the evil one. This Satan confesses (cf. Luke 4:6). Remarkable illustrations of this principle are furnished in the history of Job (Job 1:12; 2:6).
(3) That will is defined in the promises for our confidence and comfort (see 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 2:18).
4. He gives final victory to the faithful.
(1) The "forty days" of our Lord's temptation in the Wilderness correspond to the "forty years" of Israel's pilgrimage. This is evident from the allusion to the manna (cf. vers. 1-4 with Deuteronomy 8:3). Both may be taken as representing the pilgrimage of life.
(2) As the temptation became fierce at the close of the forty days, so may we expect fierce assaults towards the close of our pilgrimage.
(3) But Satan will leave us at death. "Then," viz. at the end of the forty days. "Then," viz. when Jesus resolutely avowed his complete devotion to God - "the devil leaveth him."
(4) The rout. of Satan is the signal for the ministry of angels. With a convoy of angels the victorious Spirit ascends to heaven. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.