When I read about the temptation of Christ, I always notice that Jesus uses the Bible to answer the devil.
Today, I was wondering why.
Jesus is God. Every word He speaks is the Word of God.
So, why did He use written Scriptures against the devil? He could have just told the devil to leave Him alone. His words would have had the same power.
Let’s first examine what happened when Jesus was tempted.
Jesus had fasted forty days and nights. We’re not sure why He did that, but there’s a clue in the first verse of the temptation passage: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil (Matthew 4:1).
The whole purpose of His fasting must have been to prepare Him for the temptation. It was necessary, and it’s a model for us, when we face something very hard. God (the Holy Spirit) led Jesus into the wilderness, knowing He would face the devil.
The Bible tells us Jesus was hungry (4:2). Forty days and nights without eating would make a person very weak. This shows Jesus was fully human as well as fully God.
Satan suggested to Jesus that He make the stones become bread (4:3). There are two important things here. One is that the devil knew God could do it, no problem. After all, God had made the stones in the first place, and God had even created Satan. This temptation is couched in a taunt: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. If.
Jesus is the Son of God, and He could easily have proved it by furnishing Himself a banquet of bread, had He wanted to. But He didn’t.
He answered instead with, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (4:4, quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).
Then, the devil put Jesus up on the pinnacle of the temple. Does this hit you as strange? The devil could never have done that, except that Jesus allowed it. Jesus Himself said, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above (John 19:11a).
Again the devil begins his temptation with the statement, If thou be the Son of God (4:6). Okay, the devil knows Who he’s talking to, but the whole temptation has to do with Jesus being God in the flesh. The devil is appealing to Jesus’ humanity, to His pride.
Cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
The devil is getting smarter. He figured out that Jesus would answer with Scripture, so he—as he did with Eve in the garden—uses Scriptural facts wrongly in order to tempt. (This time, he quotes the Messianic Psalm 91:11, For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. Note that the devil knows this passage is about Jesus. He adds the part that it’s okay for Jesus to throw Himself down.)
Jesus quotes Old Testament Scripture: It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (4:7, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16).
So, the devil moves Jesus again (by permission) to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. I looked in the commentaries, and no one ventures an opinion about where this mountain may have been. So, we’ll take it at face value. It was a high place where the view was spectacular. Satan, in control of the kingdoms of the world, said to Jesus, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me (4:9).
There was no way that was going to happen! Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (4:10). This is the strongest rebuke yet. Jesus’ response comes from Exodus 20:1-6 and 34:14. This is the First Commandment of the Law.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him (4:11). At the end of the temptation, the devil flees. The angels minister to Jesus, just as was promised in Psalm 91:11 and misused by the devil. How ironic!
So, why did Jesus use written Scripture against temptation? These are my ideas:
- He knew the power of the written Word. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
- Jesus, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, quoted that same Word of God. In the New Testament, we often read the phrases it is written and as it is written, speaking of Jesus. Here, Jesus speaks verses from that same part of Scripture, lending His divine seal of approval to it.
- Jesus is a model for us. The best way to combat temptation is by prayer and meditation on the Word of God. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psalm 119:11). Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
- Jesus knew we would need to use the written Bible.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Why did Jesus use Scripture to combat the devil?
It was to teach us how to use the offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17b).