The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness
Luke 4:1
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,

The first thing that strikes us here is that Jesus was not master of His own movements. An unerring voice, which He knew to be from heaven, sent Him into the lonely wilderness — the place where no society or communion could disturb the law of development of t/is character — in order to be tempted in that solitude. He could not have gone thither Himself, aware of the trial before Him, without tempting God. The next thing which arrests our attention and, at first, our wonder, is that He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. What a fearful and solemn glimpse is here given to us of the moral agencies of the universe. Good and evil, infinite good and absolute evil, good and evil in personal substance, with that intense antipathy to one another that souls of the largest grasp and depth must feel, are in restless action around a human soul. And if such parties were concerned in the temptation something of importance must have depended on the result. But in what form, it may be asked, did this tempter place himself in the way of Jesus? Did he keep to his spiritual incorporeal nature, or take a body, and become visible to eyes of flesh? Was the temptation transacted before the mind of Christ, or was its sphere more outward, concerned with bodily phenomena and human language? In the first place, the agency of Satan elsewhere, in the New Testament, is that of a spiritual being, and, so far as I am aware, corporeal form is never ascribed to him. In the second place, suppose the Saviour to be carried to an exceeding high mountain, yet the spherical form of the earth would allow the eye to take in but a very minute portion of the kingdoms of the world and of their glory. We must, then, either dilute the narrative, as many do, by understanding these expressions in a hyperbolical sense of the little tract of country around Palestine, or must resort to a second miracle, in order to conceive of the broad earth spread outward and upward before our Lord's eye. What need, then, of the high mountain, and why might not the same sight be obtained without leaving the wilderness? In the third place, it is noteworthy that the narrative makes no mention of the return of Jesus from the temple and from the mountain, just as if, in some sense, He had gone there while He remained in the desert in another. And, in the fourth place, if the temptation was addressed to the bodily senses of the Lord, it loses its insidious character, and becomes easier to be resisted. I am constrained, therefore, to believe that the transaction was a spiritual one, a conflict between light and darkness in the region of the mind, in which a real tempter assailed Christ, not through His eyes and ears, but directly through His feelings, and imagination. After the same manner, the prophets of the Old Testament passed through events in vision, of which they speak as we should speak of realities. Thus Jeremiah must have been in prophetic vision when he took the linen girdle to Euphrates to hide it there and went again in quest of it, as also when he took the cup of wrath from God's hand and gave it to the nations to drink. So, too, Ezekiel was transported from Chaldea to Jerusalem in that remarkable vision, the narrative of which occupies the chapters of his prophecies from the eighth to the eleventh. Hoses, again, it is commonly believed, narrates only a symbolical vision, where he speaks of himself as marrying an adulteress at the command of God. The martyr Stephen, also full of the Holy Ghost, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, not in bodily shape, but in a form presented to the mind's eye, and yet expressive of a great reality. If, now, the Scriptures allow us to interpret the events of the temptation in this way, we can see that greater strength is thereby given to the suggestions of Satan than if they had been addressed to the bodily organs. The power over the mind of a highly endowed being through the imagination, may indefinitely exceed that which is exerted through the sight. Multitudes have been seduced by that faculty, which paints absent or distant objects in colours of its own, whom no beauty or pleasantness lying in objects of sight could have led into sin. The world of imagination is more fascinating to their elevated mind than this outward world with all its shows and riches. The phantom, which has something heavenly in it, cheats and betrays them, while they turn aside from the obvious snares of visible things. But we pass on from this point, to a more important and indeed to an essential remark, that the temptations were intended not for Jesus in His nature as a man, but for Jesus in His official station as the Messiah. God was not putting it to the test, whether a certain good man or good prophet would yield to evil or conquer it, but whether Jesus was qualified for His office — whether He would remain true to the spiritual idea of the Messiah, or would fall below it under temptation. Nor was the tempter in this case anxious simply to lead a good man into sin, but he was striking at the root of salvation; his aim was to undermine the principles of the kingdom of heaven. This thought is the key to the story of the temptation. It explains why the temptation occurred when it did, at the commencement of Christ's public work, and shows the greatness of the crisis. The question whether Jesus would be made to adopt the worldly idea of the Messiah's kingdom was one of life and death for mankind. And again, had Christ followed the suggestions of the tempter, He could not have taken on Him the work of our salvation. The form of a servant, which He freely assumed, involved subjection to all the physical laws which control our race, and the endurance of all sufferings which the Father should lay upon Him. But if, by His inherent power, He had now relieved His own hunger, He would have escaped from the form of a servant, and even from subjection to the Divine will; and, on the same principle, He never could have been obedient to death — even the death of the cross. But to the sophistry of the tempter Christ had a ready reply. "It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God," that is, "I may not, because entitled to His protection, appeal to it against the laws of His providence, to rescue me from dangers into which I have entered unbidden." As thus viewed, our Lord's reply is given in the same spirit with His former one during the first temptation. He subjected Himself freely to physical law, and His Messiahship depended on His self-chosen humiliation. His choice of means, however, for securing His kingdom would in the end amount to a choice between two kingdoms, the one, severely spiritual, introduced by moral and religious forces only, the other becoming worldly by its alliance with the world of outward influence and temporal glory. The instinctive shrinking from harm and difficulty, which belongs to us all, would lead Him to choose the worldly way of doing good, would prejudice His mind in favour of the easier and quicker method. But He held on to His spiritual conception of His office, kept His obedience, and triumphed. Satan approached Christ in the belief that He was capable of taking false views of His office, through which He might be led into sin. Another remark which we desire to make is, that the narrative, as interpreted, shows the subtlety and insinuating character of the temptation. The acts to which Christ was solicited were not sins, so much as misjudgments in regard to the means to be used for gaining the highest and noblest ends. And these misjudgments would consist, not in the use of means plainly and boldly sinful, but of such as involved a departure from the true idea of the Messiah's earthly mission. But it is more important to remark, that the narrative is too refined and too full of a somewhat hidden, but consummate wisdom, to grow out of the imaginings of the early Church. It is no rude picture of assaults which might befall a holy man in solitude, but an intellectual and moral struggle, which put it to the proof whether Christ would be true to the spiritual idea of the Messiah. It involves a conception of the Messiah's kingdom which the early Church did not entertain until some time after the death of our Lord; how then could it be elaborated by crude Galilean disciples of Christ, whose views were full of that earthly mixture which the narrative condemns?

(T. D. Woolsey, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,

WEB: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness

The Temptation of Christ
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