It must be well understood by those who have chosen to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth that they need to be sober and vigilant, because our adversary the devil, walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (See Revelation 14:4; I Peter 5:8.) Satan spares no effort in attempting to throw his hellish shadow across the path of those hungering and thirsting for the truth.
In Satan’s efforts to destroy Jesus, he came to Him as an angel of light when He was at his weakest, after 40 days of fasting in the desert. Throughout His life, Satan had sought tirelessly to destroy the King of the universe. Since he was unsuccessful, he is now sparing no effort to destroy His loyal subjects, unrelentlessly casting his shadow across their paths on a daily basis.
Tempting us when we are the weakest is a common method of operation for the enemy of souls. It was when Moses was at his weakest—after nearly 40 years of putting up with the murmuring and complaining Israelites—that his faith failed and he succumbed to Satan’s temptation by over-reaching in fulfilling the Lord’s instructions. (See Numbers 20.)
Elijah’s faith failed when he fled from Jezebel’s threats after facing the false prophets of Baal. He, that same day, had manifested the strength of heaven when he slayed 450 prophets at the Brook Kishon, but in the moment of weakness that followed, Satan instilled in Elijah an ungodly fear of the hateful wife of the weak monarch. (See I Kings 19.)
Although it was when Christ was at His weakest after fasting 40 days that Satan came at Him in marked contrast to prior temptations, Christ was able, by relying on the word of God, to resist Satan’s efforts to destroy not only Himself but the plan of salvation as well.
In each of the synoptic gospels, two short verses introduce the beginning of the earthly chapter of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.” Matthew 4:1, 2.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.” Mark 1:12, 13.
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.” Luke 4:1, 2.
John does not mention Christ’s temptations in his gospel, but he makes an allusion to them in his first epistle. In it, he gives us a very succinct statement of the avenues Satan used to try to dissuade Christ from the path of truth, righteousness, and faithfulness.
In I John 3:8, John states, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
Here we see clearly and succinctly what Christ accomplished in His earthly efforts for the salvation of mankind—the destruction of the works of Satan. Those efforts were begun immediately after His baptism when He was led—or driven, as Mark says—into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
Earlier in that same epistle, John had enumerated the specific temptations Satan had hurled at Jesus. It is those same temptations that he dangles before us today, in thousands of different forms. He has studied the character of mankind for 6,000 years and has tailored his temptations to entice each one of us according to our weakest points.
John lists, in I John 2:16, the specific points on which Satan tempted Christ and the very points on which Satan tempts us, time after time: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
A careful study of Christ’s three temptations will reveal that it was these very avenues—lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—that Satan used to tempt Christ when He was at His weakest.
When strength fails and the will-power is weak and faith ceases to cling to God, then those who have stood long and valiantly for the right are overcome. When they are at their weakest physically, mentally, and spiritually, Satan makes his most severe efforts to overcome them.
Humans will fall when any one of these faculties—physical, mental, or spiritual—has been stretched to the limit. Christ experienced a lessening of all three, yet He withstood all the attempts by Satan to destroy the plan of salvation.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the three temptations of Christ in hopes that we can learn from the example set before us, so that by the grace of God, we can prevail when Satan comes in like a flood to dissuade us from the path of truth and righteousness.
“With the terrible weight of the sins of the world upon Him, Christ withstood the test upon appetite [lust of the flesh], upon the love of the world [lust of the eyes], and upon that love of display [pride of life] which leads to presumption. These were the temptations that overcame Adam and Eve, and that so readily overcome us.” The Desire of Ages, 116, 117.
- Lust of the flesh – physical – Turn these stones into bread.
How did Satan tempt Christ through lust of the flesh? We are told clearly in Matthew 4:3: “And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”
In the very first temptation that Satan brought before Christ, he used the exact same avenue that he had used so successfully to lead our first mother astray. There was, however, a significant difference in the circumstances of the two events: Eve was not hungry. Christ had fasted for 40 days. “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.” Verse 2.
“He did not realize any sense of hunger until the forty days of His fast were ended.
“The vision passed away, and then, with strong craving, Christ’s human nature called for food.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 9. He was definitely hungry!
Satan was successful not only in reaching Eve through appetite, but he also succeeded in leading Esau astray through the same avenue. Esau was willing to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. In that moment of hunger, satisfying his appetite meant more to him than salvation. He yielded willingly to the lust of his flesh. The results of that decision stayed with him and his descendants throughout history.
I used to think that somewhere near the end of time, just before the Second Coming, Satan or one of his agents would come to me with a plate of chicken-fried steak or a quart of ice cream—after I had observed a strict vegan diet for decades—saying, “John, you’re near to death from starvation. God loves you too much to let you suffer and die. Take this. Eat it.” Consider the possibility that—some time before the Second Advent—not only will Satan seek to have the Sabbath lightly regarded, but he may also attempt to demerit the value of adhering to the tenets of health reform. “Eat anything you want to.” Could he quote a Scripture to support that assertion, just as he quoted Scripture to try to entice Christ? Indeed he could … several, in fact.
“If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” I Corinthians 10:27.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.” Colossians 2:16.
How would you counter such an argument with a thus saith the Lord? If you cannot do that now, it would be wise to determine how you would meet such a test before it comes to you.
Often, seemingly intelligent individuals will maintain that the “counsel” we have been given in the Spirit of Prophecy—whether it is in regard to diet, exercise, Sabbath-observance, or some other point—is “only” counsel and that we are free to take it or leave it. While that is indeed true, if for no other reason than that we have been given a free will, the word of God tells us specifically, in Proverbs 1:25: “But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof.” This is not a commendation, for in verse 23, it was commanded, “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.”
How much more simple could the Lord have stated it? If we accept the counsel we are given and “turn” when reproved, the Lord will “pour out” His spirit upon us. Why would anyone choose to fail to act on such a promise? Claiming the promises of God without complying with the conditions for its fulfillment is presumption.
Well, as the Lord has slowly and wisely and lovingly removed the scales from my eyes, I have come to realize that the battle, specifically with appetite but, in general, with obedience, is a daily issue right here and right now. Lust of the flesh applies to appetite as well as to the lower passions of the natural heart.
Inspired writings contain some revealing statements regarding the natural heart.
“The propensities that control the natural heart must be subdued by the grace of Christ before fallen man is fitted to enter heaven and enjoy the society of the pure, holy angels.” The Acts of the Apostles, 273.
“The tendencies of the natural heart are downward.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 587.
In I Corinthians 2:14, Paul also speaks of the difficulty that the natural man has in receiving the Spirit of God. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Thayer’s Greek Definitions provides a revealing definition of natural: “the sensuous nature with its subjection to appetite and passion.”
Truly the natural heart willingly yields—and by its very nature longs to yield—to the lusts of the flesh!
- Lust of the eyes – mental – Satan showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8, 9.
“Placing Jesus upon a high mountain, Satan caused the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, to pass in panoramic view before Him. The sunlight lay on templed cities, marble palaces, fertile fields, and fruit-laden vineyards. The traces of evil were hidden. The eyes of Jesus, so lately greeted by gloom and desolation, now gazed upon a scene of unsurpassed loveliness and prosperity. Then the tempter’s voice was heard: ‘All this power will I give Thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If Thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be Thine’ [Luke 4:6, 7].” The Desire of Ages, 129.
How did Jesus refute Satan’s temptation? “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.” Matthew 4:10.
Let’s take a deeper look at the command, “Him only shalt thou serve.”
In I Samuel 7:3, we read, “And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
What does it mean to be delivered out of the hands of the Philistines?
There are two possible interpretations to this deliverance. Certainly at the time Samuel said it, it meant that if the children of Israel would turn from their idolatry, God would physically deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. But when we mine God’s word as searching for buried treasure, we can find a deeper meaning that is applicable to us today.
We learn in Strong’s Concordance by tracing the word Philistines down through several layers of word derivatives that it comes from a primitive root meaning to roll (in dust): – roll (wallow) in self.
When we apply that knowledge to man’s creation—“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground …” Genesis 2:7—we gain greater insight as to what it means to us to be delivered from the hand of the Philistines.
When we choose to serve God and Him only, He will deliver us from the “hand of the Philistines.” He delivers us from ourselves, freeing us from self and all the worldly entanglements that we have gotten ourselves into before we allowed God to crucify the old man and experience that new birth that we must have before we can enter the kingdom of heaven.
The story of Achan provides us with an example of lust of the eyes and its disastrous results. Achan was overcome when he spied the “goodly Babylonish garment.”
“When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them [I delighted in them; I lusted after them], and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.” Joshua 7:21.
Verse 25 gives the result of Achan’s yielding to lust of the eyes. “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.”
David is another example of someone who fell into sin because of lust of the eyes. The beginning of that story is in II Samuel 11:2–4.
“And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.”
How can one recover from a sin such as David’s? Psalm 51—one of the most uplifting of them all—reveals that to us. David’s repentance was from the depths of his heart.
“Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to thy lovingkindness:
According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in thy sight:
That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest,
And be clear when thou judgest.” (Verses 1–4.)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence;
And take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
And uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
Thou God of my salvation:
And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” (Verses 10–14.)
We have evidence from several different places in Scripture that God honored this heart-cry.
“… yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes.” I Kings 14:8.
Clearly, God kept His promise given in Psalm 103:12. He removed David’s sins “as far as the east is from the west.”
Repeatedly, after this incident, throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, God refers to David as His servant. But take note that neither Cain nor Saul nor any other unrepentant sinner ever receives a similar commendation.
Lust of the eyes nearly always turns into lust of the flesh. In fact, according to Genesis 6:1–3, that was a contributing factor in God’s determination to destroy the world by a flood.
“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Genesis 6:1–3.
Lust of the eyes led to lust of the flesh in David’s situation. It did the same in the children of Israel just before they crossed the Jordan. Read about that in Numbers 25 and in Patriarchs and Prophets, chapter 41, “Apostasy at the Jordan.” This story contains a critical warning for us today.
“We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ.” The Review and Herald, February 18, 1890.
What happened to the children of ancient Israel just before they entered the promised land is given to us as a warning against one of the most successful techniques that Satan has ever used to lead man astray or that he ever will use to tempt God’s children just before the second coming of Christ.
- Pride of life – spiritual – Throw yourself from this pinnacle of the temple … try to kill yourself, try to take your life, thereby destroying your soul and any chance for the salvation of the human race. The angels will protect you.
“The vision passed away.” Christ was having a spiritual experience. “He [Satan] resolved to appear as one of the angels of light that had appeared to Christ in His vision.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 9.
Once again we can turn to David for an example of yielding to the pride of life.
“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The Lord make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” I Chronicles 21:1–3.
Joab was attempting to make David realize that he had no reason to number his troops other than because of pride—to fulfill his desire to know how powerful he was. He was tempted to rely on his own arm of flesh rather than on the divine arm of God.
David was convicted of his sin. “And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” Verse 8.
As we continue reading from verse 9, we see what happened. The next morning a message was brought to David by the prophet Gad.
“And the Lord spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying, Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Choose thee either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me. And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.” Verses 9–13.
“The land was smitten with pestilence, which destroyed seventy thousand in Israel. The scourge had not yet entered the capital, when ‘David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.’ The king pleaded with God in behalf of Israel: ‘Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let Thine hand, I pray Thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on Thy people, that they should be plagued’ [I Chronicles 21:16, 17].” Patriarchs and Prophets, 748.
David realized immediately the error of his ways and turned to God with confession and repentance. God mercifully forgave David and regarded him as His faithful servant. We can expect the same enduring mercy to be manifested toward us by our loving Father when we confess and repent as did David.
We have clear statements of God’s forgiveness of David in Ezekiel 34:22–24. “Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.”
This was written sometime between 595 and 573 B.C., approximately 400 years after David’s rule as king of Israel. Clearly, God had answered David’s prayer of repentance!
There is another lesson in this temptation of Christ of which we should be aware, dealing with presumption. How important is it to distinguish between faith and temptation? We are told in Inspired writings that presumption is Satan’s counterfeit of faith.
“If he [Satan] can cause us to place ourselves unnecessarily in the way of temptation, he knows that the victory is his.” The Desire of Ages, 126.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, which is why Satan endeavors so tirelessly to make us cross the line from faith into presumption.
Inspired writings give us many different examples of presumption and provide a rich source of study for those who desire to sink the shaft deeply to mine the word of God.
Let us remember that through Christ we are more than conquerors, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39.
(Emphasis supplied throughout.)
John Pearson is part of the Steps to Life team. He can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.