Perhaps you have heard the advice that if you don’t have a good, sound argument, then find an argument that sounds good. Anyone interested in American politics sees that ploy in use all the time. But you can find people in the Gospels trying the very same tactic on Jesus.
The Jewish religious leaders, led by the scribes and Pharisees, had a problem on their hands. They had given a name to their pain, and that name was Jesus. We already know they were working on a plot to kill him (Matthew 12:14), but they had to be careful about his death to avoid any blame.
Might there be another way to stop Jesus?
22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, Could this be the Son of David?
24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
When you read this, the Dallas Cowboys will be preparing for the playoffs. As every football fan knows, when you have a powerful opponent, it is vital to scout them thoroughly and try to find some way to attack them. The Pharisees and their allies had been scouting Jesus from the beginning, but his abundant miracles, both healings and exorcisms, gave their efforts special urgency.
It is my opinion that the events we are looking into today may have been an ambush. The Pharisees knew Jesus would perform an exorcism, if the need arose, and they had prepared an argument that they hoped would place him in such danger that his life could be taken according to the law. Practicing magic or sorcery was a capital offense under Jewish religious law, so one promising line of attack was to convince the public that Jesus was a sorcerer. Such a charge would put him on the wrong side of Roman law as well. As in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Roman consent was necessary to execute anyone, but an aroused mob needs no consent. While this is speculation on my part, it fits the circumstances as we know them.
Matthew reports the miracle with remarkably few words (verse 22). Yet the few words present a man in abject misery, having an ongoing experience of blindness and inability to speak due to a demonic presence within him. This man is an archetype for a prisoner of Satan. Though the details are not stated, we can infer that Jesus cast out the demon, and muted it as well, because Mark informs us that, upon seeing Jesus, the unclean spirits would cry out, You are the Son of God (Mark 3:11). Jesus freed this man so he could both see and speak (Matthew 12:22).
Yet the words Matthew reports are those of the astonished witnesses: Could this be the Son of David? (verse 23). France notes that this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel a crowd has used explicit messianic language about Jesus. The significance of the crowds reaction is not lost on the Pharisees! They immediately respond with their prepared charge: It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons (verse 24). Beelzebul seems to have been a popular nickname for Satan, a name chosen for the crowds ears.
In making his first counterargument (verses 25-26), Jesus too relies on what is common knowledge; a demon king attacking his own forces would divide his own kingdom and lead to its fall. The people knew all about how internal divisions had torn Herod’s kingdom into many pieces after his death (see the map in the introduction). So, it made no sense for Satan to attack himself by empowering Jesus exorcisms.
How does unity among Christians play a vital role in accomplishing Jesus work among us and in our community? What about the effect of disunity?
Jesus makes his second counterargument in verse 27; his opponents have no right to criticize his exorcisms while approving exorcisms done by their own disciples. Do not fail to notice verse 27b: So then, they will be your judges. In the final judgment, when the deeds of every person are evaluated by God, the disciples of the Pharisees will testify that they performed exorcisms on orders of their masters, bringing them shame for criticizing Jesus.
The idea that these false charges against Jesus were orchestrated finds support in Jewish sources making the same charge of sorcery or magic against Christians working miracles well into the second century after Christ came. One such Jewish source talks about an early second-century rabbi who, when near death, tried to get a second rabbi to let a Christian enter and pray for him, but he died before he could finish the argument. We all want miracles!
The Arrival of God’s Promised Rule
Matthew 12:28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
My guess is that the Pharisees were not expecting Jesus to meet their prepared charge with a strong defense. Worse for them, Jesus took the offensive (verse 28) with an effective, though indirect, claim to cast out demons by the Spirit of God. His audience knows what he is claiming, but his wording offers no effective way to charge him with anything.
This skirmish between Jesus and the Pharisees has the appearance of a strictly earthly struggle for religious control of Galilee, but Jesus is revealing developments in a much larger conflict. Jesus is ripping away parts of Satan’s kingdom and making them part of his own. He pulls back the concealing drape in verse 28.
The if-statement in verse 28 has a form meaning that it must be taken as true for the sake of argument. As a matter of fact, we know the if-statement to be true. Jesus does drive out demons by the Spirit of God. That means the matching conclusion is true as well: then the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28b). Jesus is warning his opponents that his decisive victory over the demonic spirits by the Spirit of God is a clear sign that God’s rule has come through him. To oppose Jesus is to oppose God.
What are the implications of such an effortless victory by Jesus over Satan? What does this victory say about Jesus ability to help you defeat spiritual enemies in your own life?
The person who best develops the meaning of the phrase the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28) is Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary when he explains Luke 11:20. Bock points out that Jesus demonstration of saving authority demands a decision: Jesus is perceived as ruling over God’s many salvation benefits. He has the authority to distribute them to anyone who responds to his message. Bock points out that the presence of Jesus rule within believers, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, looks forward to his coming physical rule over the earth.
Have you made a decision about the reign of Jesus over your life? If not, what is standing in your way?
Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 361.
 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)477.
10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
The angelic front of the Great War
Since Daniel proved unable to hear the voice of the Messiah, an angelic messenger lifts him to his feet while declaring that he has “now been sent” (verse 11) to explain things that Daniel is commanded to understand. Though still trembling, Daniel is strengthened to listen and learn.
What the angel reveals is astonishing because it describes spiritual activity — both influence on specific people and conflict with one another — that goes on all the time but is unseen by humanity. The angel reassures Daniel and explains that his humble heart triggered a response from heaven on day one of his fast (verse 12)! So, why did it take 21 days for the message to arrive? The answer is that the angel was resisted by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (verse 13). Wood explains, “These matters taken together show that this adversary was a demon, no doubt of high rank, assigned by the chief of demons, Satan, to Persia as his special area of activity.” If that sounds odd, recall that Cyrus, king of Persia, is the one who returned many Jews to Jerusalem and whose further decisions would affect their welfare. The entirety of Revelation 12 tracks the attempts of Satan to attack the Jews, kill the Messiah and dominate the earth, so influencing Persian policy was vital!
The messenger-angel was not able to reach Daniel, a subject of king Cyrus of Persia, until greater angelic power was brought to bear in the person of Michael, “one of the chief princes” (verse 13). The standard Hebrew lexicon says that here prince means “a higher being, a guardian angel.” Miller summarizes: “From this passage several important facts are evident concerning angels: (1) angels are real; (2) there are good and evil angels; (3) angels can influence the affairs of human beings. Particularly, this passage teaches that angels inspire human governments and their leaders.” From this conclusion we can understand why Paul commands Christians to pray “for kings and for all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2) no matter how we may feel about them. Our lives may depend on it!
In a book that emphasizes God’s rule over all things, it is vital to know that he rules over the unseen realm as surely as over the part we plainly see. His temporary tolerance of rebellion, both human and angelic is no sign of weakness or disinterest. Miller quotes a wise statement by Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer: “‘While God can, of course, override the united resistance of all the forces of hell if he chooses to do so, he accords to demons certain limited powers of obstruction and rebellion somewhat like those he allows humans. In both cases the exercise of free will in opposition to the Lord of heaven is permitted by him when he sees fit.’” Of course, even limited rebellion has serious consequences as the punishment of the Jews amply demonstrates!
Verse 14 describes the scope of what the angel came to tell Daniel. He will explain future events that involve “your people” (the Jews). These events are said to be “in the future” (NIV), but, in fact, the phrase means “in the latter days,” as we said in connection with Daniel 2:28. Miller explains, “Normally the phrase describes events that will occur just prior to and including the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”
We will soon discover that the angel’s message focuses on Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who ruled 175 B.C. to 163 B.C.) and his Satanic, end-times counterpart the Antichrist. Both men were of interest to Daniel, but the second one is our chief concern today.
14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: “Paul’s insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.”
The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.
To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8–10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these “sensible people” to judge his words carefully.
Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16 the NIV uses the English word “participation” to translate the Greek noun koin?nia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say “communal participation” and explains that here “it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.” That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koin?nia.
Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The “one loaf” is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said ,”Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, “we, who are many, are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.
Even though the final paragraph (verses 18–22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koin?nia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12–15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Paul’s question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.
Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!
Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).
4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The first two verses (v. 4–5) of our lesson have challenged many interpreters. Verse 4 speaks of the assembled church with whom Paul is spiritually present along with “the power of our Lord Jesus.” Note carefully that while Paul orders the expulsion of the man guilty of incest, it is the entire church that must carry out that action. Remember that in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, Paul said: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” The church’s toleration of blatant incest — along with their spiritual complacency — is destroying the church in Corinth!
The most convincing analysis of 1 Cor. 5:5 arises from demonstrating that Paul, drawing on his familiarity with the Old Testament prophets, uses a literary structure with certain verses being parallel to others. If, for example, we could show an A-B-A literary structure was present, this would mean that the two verses labeled with the letter “A” were similar and thus could be used to clarify each other. In our case, such a pattern does exist and 1 Cor. 5:2b is parallel to 1 Cor. 5:5a. Let’s put those two verses together and see what we learn.
1 Cor. 5:2b = “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this”
1 Cor. 5:5a = “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”
What does the comparison of these two verses tell us? Many have puzzled over the meaning of 1 Cor. 5:5a, wondering what “hand . . . over to Satan” might mean. The Greek verb for “hand over” has an ominous history; it is used in the Gospels for handing over Jesus for trial by the Jews and later Pontius Pilate, so it means here togive into the custody of Satan. Similar language occurs in 1 Tim. 1:20 in relation to two men guilty of blasphemy.
Anthony Thiselton further explains, “Consigning to Satan means ‘putting him outside the sphere of God’s protection within the church, and leaving him exposed to the satanic forces of evil in hope that the experience would cause him to repent and return to the fellowship of the church.’” The last part of that quotation might seem confusing to those who thought “the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5a) meant physical death, but the interpretation affirmed here is that the word “destruction” has metaphorical force.
For that matter, “flesh” is also metaphorical. Gordon Fee explains, “’Flesh’ means the whole person as oriented away from God.” David Garland similarly says that ‘flesh’ is “the sin-bent self characterized by self-sufficiency that wages war against God.”
How do we know that “destruction” does not mean death? Consider the purpose stated for putting the man out of the church: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b). Thiselton says, “What is to be destroyed is the ‘self-glorying or self-satisfaction of the offended and perhaps also of the community.” Of course, Paul does attribute some deaths in the Corinthian church to abuse of the communion table (1 Cor. 11:30).
In 1 Cor. 5:6, we begin a section in which Paul uses three metaphors about leaven and Passover. To unravel its meaning requires some background.
Modern Bible translations sometimes fail to distinguish between leaven and yeast. Unlike today, yeast was generally unavailable in the ancient world. C.L. Mitton explains: “In ancient times, instead of yeast, a piece of dough [called ‘leaven’] was held over from one week’s baking to the next. By then it was fermenting, and so could cause fermentation in the new lot of dough, causing it to rise in the heat.” This was handy but not safe because dirt and disease could be passed from week to week. The Jewish feast of Passover broke the leaven cycle and was followed by eating unleavened bread for seven days (Lev. 23:6). That information will help.
Consider the following A–B–A literary structure in 1 Cor. 5:6–8 (ESV):
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.
For Christ, our Passover lamb,
has been sacrificed.
8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival,
not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
(adapted from Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 166).
The sin they are tolerating (“leaven”) affects everyone (v. 6). They must expel the man committing incest (“the old leaven” v. 7a) to demonstrate their renewal in Christ and their true identity as a people no longer dominated (“unleavened”) by the sin of their former lives. Christ died and enabled us to live each day (present tense “celebrate the festival” v. 7b) not as the people we used to be (“the old leaven . . . of malice and evil” v. 8) but as those whose lives show the presence of the Spirit (“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” v. 8b).
 Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011) 163.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 397, quoting J.T. South, Disciplinary Practices in Pauline Texts (New York: Mellen Press, 1992) 43.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 212.
 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 175.
 Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 396.
 C.L. Mitton, The Gospel according to St. Mark (London: Epworth, 1957) 61.
Because the created order pours out evidence of God’s divinity and power, a choice to suppress that truth has grave consequences. First, thinking becomes distorted (1:21), and then lust drives those affected toward physical actions that deepen the problem (1:24).
The process described above underscores the importance of choosing God as the focus of your life!
(ESV) Romans 1:24–25 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
There is a sad reciprocity in these verses. Because they had exchanged God for powerless idols, while knowing he was God, the Lord handed them over to impure actions driven by their own lusts (1:24). The Greek verb paradid?mi (1:24), meaning “to convey something in which one has a relatively strong personal interest, hand over,” is the very same one used repeatedly in the Gospels for those who handed over Jesus to be tried and crucified (John 18:30, 19:11). So, the verb frequently has strong overtones of physical custody or limitation.
One commentator has likened the handing over to God’s released hold on a boat that is being pulled downstream by a current, whose pull represents “the lusts of their hearts.” Douglas Moo goes even further: “The meaning of ‘hand over’ demands that we give God a more active role as the initiator of the process. God does not simply let the boat go — he gives it a push downstream.” ESV says God gave them over “to impurity” (1:24), and this word means “immorality, vileness especially of sexual sins.”
In relation to God handing them over, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407 AD) said:
After all, he set before them, as a form of teaching, the world. He gave them reason and an understanding capable of perceiving what they needed to understand. Yet the people of that time did not use any of those things in order to obtain salvation, but rather they perverted what they had received into the opposite. What could God have done about this? Could he have forced them to do what was right? Yes, but that would not have made them virtuous.
The exact nature of “dishonoring of their bodies” (1:24) will become more clear in Romans 1:26–27, so we will reserve detailed discussion until that time. For now, consider that this is not merely a problem in the spiritual sphere, though that would be serious enough, but it affects the bodies of those involved. Spiritual decisions have a physical effect!
In 1:25, the ESV is alone in translating with “because.” Moo says, “Since v. 23 has already expressed the reason for this handing over, it is preferable to see v. 25 as initiating a new sentence.” What does the new sentence say? It holds that humanity has made a fatally bad bargain by trading the truth of God for a lie. Not surprisingly, Jesus says the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Paul is not thinking about lies in general, but the specific lie described by the second half of 1:25. People who suppress the truth reject the worship of God “the Creator” and replace it with worship of some part of the creation (“mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” 1:23). Above all lesser lies is the fundamental lie that denies both God’s right to rule and his power.
Paul will in time explain how Jesus Christ is the one to whom our faith must be given. But before that comes the fundamental issue: will you seek God or fall for the lie? Osborne points out: “In the West, where there are few physical idols, another type of idolatry predominates (even more dangerous because it is not identified as such): the idolatry of self that is manifested in possessions, status in society and sex.”
Accept God and reject the lie!
The same bargain the world offers to us in the twenty-first century was offered to Jesus in the first century. Before his ministry to Israel, Jesus was tempted by the devil:
Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “To you I will grant this whole realm — and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. 7 So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5–8, NET).
1. What events indicate that pressure is rising against the expression of Christian faith in public settings? How do these developments push people toward making choices with their time, money and commitment that do not consider God?
2. What forms has idolatry taken in your extended family and what terminology might you use to try to reach the affected people for Christ? How might you use the creation itself to convince family members of God’s divinity and power?
Many mistakes in life can be easily corrected, but fundamentally rejecting God is not one of them. Because that choice has spiritual, intellectual and physical consequences, it takes nothing less than the power of God to overcome it. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ is such power available.
Cancer is a word that ignites ugly fears. No disease has captured the attention of Americans the way cancer has. That is strange, because health statistics prove that heart disease kills far more Americans than cancer does. Yet when opinion surveys are taken in America, most people will predictably rank cancer as a greater killer than heart disease.
From these facts, it appears that we are easily distracted by things that have a strong emotional component. Cancer seizes our attention and summons strong feelings. Other things that are dull and simple, even though vitally important, may easily be forced from our conscious minds.
In this media-driven age, we watch television programs with multi-million dollar budgets on our HD-TVs and become increasingly attuned to flash. One communications expert has said that our society has become so used to over-stimulated communication that it takes sensory overkill to get people’s attention.
The Leading Spiritual Killer
Happily, only a fraction of us will ever have to face cancer or heart disease. But I invite your attention to an insidious killer that threatens every one of us to one extent or another. First, be warned that this killer comes disguised in dullness and simplicity, so you are already conditioned to ignore it. Some of you will feel little urgency when I tell you what it is, and that’s too bad.
This silent assassin is spiritual heart disease, a problem Jesus treated with utmost seriousness. In fact, he spoke about it in his very first parable. Jesus warned people from the outset that, if they wanted to understand anything else that he was going to say, then they had to deal with this problem.
In the early part of his ministry Christ had gained wide acceptance and popularity. Because of his great miracles, people thronged from the entire region to see him. Once again the spectacular had captured men’s minds.
But Jesus had drawn some unfavorable attention as well, and agents from Jerusalem began to track him around. Pharisees and Sadducees could always be found near him, opposing what he said. They couldn’t deny that Jesus had great power to work miracles, so they had come up with an explanation.
They acknowledged Jesus’ miraculous powers, but said that he drew them from Satan rather than from God. In response, Jesus rightly accused them of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. As such opposition hardened against him, Jesus spoke increasingly in parables. One such parable focused on spiritual heart disease.
The Field and the Farmer
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Jesus had been traveling from town to town in Galilee in the manner of an itinerant rabbi. He was spreading the word about the kingdom of God and how men might enter it. Some who heard trusted in Christ; others flatly rejected him; and still others had every response in between. The parable speaks of various ways that people respond to the Word of God.
Jesus said that some of the seed fell along the path (Luke 8:5), which seems like a strange place to be sowing seeds. But the farmers of Israel had clever ways of reducing the labor involved in planting a crop. They would take the family donkey and strap a sack of seed on his back. After cutting a small hole in the sack, the donkey would be released to wander at will around the property dropping seed. Some seed dribbled out onto the path. After the donkey had done his work, the farmer would simply go out and sow seed in the spots that the animal had missed.
The seed that fell on the path suffered a predictable fate — “it was trampled on” (Luke 8:5). The Greek verb can mean that something is physically stepped on, but it also has the figurative meaning of treating something with disdain. We have the same idiom in English. Most of us have seen pictures of foreign nationals trampling on an American flag to show their contempt. Trampling on God’s Word is worse!
The seed on the path didn’t stay for long; it had only a brief opportunity to take root. Soon it was taken away altogether.
The next portion of seed fell on rock (Luke 8:6). Many parts of Israel have thin layers of soil on top of rock shelves. You can’t tell the rock layer is there by looking at the soil, or even by looking at the plants. But as the plants grow larger it soon becomes evident that their root systems have no access to moisture. After a promising start, such plants soon wither under the burning sun.
The seed that falls among the thorn bushes (Luke 8:7) also struggles to live. The thorn bushes compete with the new plants for both moisture and sunlight, making survival difficult.
Only the fourth type of soil, the “good soil” (Luke 8:8), had any production, but what amazing production! As we will see, this yield was God-given.
After telling this simple parable, Jesus did something quite extraordinary: he shouted in a loud voice to the crowd, saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Luke 8:8). Jesus gave his words terrific emphasis in two ways: first, by the intensity of his shout, and second, by a grammatical construction that communicated an added impact to his listeners. The NET Bible says, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” That is outstanding translation!
In the discussion above, I have introduced a small amount of interpretive material, but for a moment put yourself in the place of the original listeners. What would you have known, based upon the simple facts of the parable?
Without interpretation being provided, I doubt if anyone would have known very much. In fact, some who came out to hear the great teacher and miracle worker probably turned to one another and said, “Is that all there is? Is that all he’s going to say? I didn’t need to come out here to hear that!” Some of Christ’s listeners likely turned away and went home in disappointment. Was he testing them?
A Desire to Hear
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’”
The Greek grammar of Luke 8:9 makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples asked him repeatedly what the parable meant. That should lead us to question why they had to demonstrate such persistence.
The simplest answer is that Jesus did not reply to them the first time they asked. He didn’t divulge the meaning of the parable to them immediately. He designed his response to act as a filter, screening out those who were resisting the teachings of the Word of God.
But that approach also met the needs of those who had spiritual hunger, the receptivity of the human heart to spiritual things. So, the ones who didn’t want to know gave up and went away, while those heeding his command to “hear indeed” were granted deep understanding.
The Lord’s method reminds me of what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, when he instructed the disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking so that the door might be opened to them (Matt. 7:7–8). Jesus acknowledged his method by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who described a people who would see, and yet not see, who would hear and yet not hear.
The Parable Interpreted
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:11–15)
In interpreting the parable, Jesus never revealed the identity of the farmer, but it seems obvious that he is the farmer. Most commentators agree on this.
Jesus interpreted the soils by describing four kinds of responses by the human heart to the Word of God.
Resistant (Luke 8:12), on the path;
Opportunistic (Luke 8:13), on rocky ground;
Distracted (Luke 8:14), among thorns;
Receptive (Luke 8:15), on good soil.
Let’s study each type of heart in detail.
The Resistant Heart
The first soil, the soil on the path, represents the resistant heart. I find that Christians who study Luke 8:12 often miss part of the meaning by jumping to the concluding part of the verse. Notice first that these people do hear. Even so, the things Jesus said do not find a reception in their hearts. Like the hard-packed ground of the path, the soil of their hearts doesn’t take in the seed.
As a result, the seed has no opportunity to penetrate. After a brief period, the devil removes any further opportunity “from their hearts.” Here Jesus plainly identified the soil with the condition of the heart. He was talking about spiritual heart trouble and making a diagnosis. Such people have had ample opportunity, but, by hardening their hearts, they have failed to make any use of their moment.
The Opportunistic Heart
The second soil represents the opportunistic heart. By “opportunistic” I mean someone who has — as Charles Dickens said of one of his characters — “a keen eye for the main chance.” The opportunist asks, “What’s in it for me right now?”
Jesus intentionally used the Greek middle voice for the words translated “receive” and “fall away.” The middle voice frequently implies self-benefit. Such people either embrace the Word or reject it, depending upon whether it seems to benefit their purpose at the moment.
Christ made it quite clear that the beginning of hardship leads such a person to see no further benefit in hearing the Word. That’s when they fall away. It may be that some of the people Jesus was speaking about had been influenced by the Pharisees’ charges that he worked his miracles through the power of Satan. Such criticism could have easily deflected the opportunistic heart from the Word of God.
After all, such a person could expect expulsion from their synagogue for following Jesus. What immediate benefit would that bring?
The Distracted Heart
The seed that fell among the thorns represents the distracted heart. In my own spiritual heart, this danger threatens most. At times I allow the worries and concerns of this world to crowd out concern for what God is doing. Riding in the car listening to an all-news radio station constantly injects worries about economic troubles, terrorism, pandemics, street crime, and many other things.
I’m not suggesting total isolation from those things, but I find that my heart is too often distracted by them. In most cases I can do absolutely nothing about the problem, and yet it occupies my conscious attention. The common availability of a 24/7 news cycle means that lots of people are getting paid to ask questions and raise fears.
Jesus warned that distraction comes not only in a negative form, but in a positive one, too. The riches and pleasures of this world can also occupy the central focus of our lives.
In many parts of the Western world we have an unprecedented chance to enjoy the pleasures and challenges of life. We need not regard such opportunities as inherently wrong, because they aren’t. But the pursuit of pleasures can achieve such dominance in our lives that it crowds out more important things, such as drawing closer to God.
The dull and simple challenge of nurturing our own spiritual lives pales by comparison to the flash and glitter of our iPad or Internet feed. How tragic it is if we can only be reached by the sensory overkill of our culture and not by the spiritual challenge of life with Christ! At this writing, Facebook absorbs enormous amounts of time from Christians who ought to know better.
I’m not alone in this problem, because we are a distracted culture. It concerns me that so many people in church hear God’s Word, walk out the door and soon sit down to watch two back-to-back professional football games. (I often watch, too.) No one will keep this balance for us. Our spiritual heart condition is our personal responsibility.
Jesus says that the distracted person never matures. The stunted plant cannot produce mature fruit. Failure to mature always has a high price.
The Receptive Heart
The good soil represents the receptive heart that eventually produces tremendous, God-given bounty. Just as in the case of the other three kinds of people, the receptive person hears the Word of God. The difference is that they cling to it. Actually, the Greek word gives the idea of holding onto something for all you’re worth!
Once I was standing on the deck of a Navy submarine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A helicopter was hovering over me with a long cable and sling hanging down beneath it. They were going to use this rig to lift me from the submarine into the helicopter. Almost the instant I sat down in the sling, the young sailor told me, “Hold onto the cable.” And up I went!
You better believe I held onto that cable! There wasn’t another thing on my mind! That’s the kind of grip that a person with a good and noble heart gives to the truth of God.
But notice that Jesus said that retaining the Word is not enough; the fruitful person must also persevere before producing a crop (Luke 8:15). At this point some of us encounter another cultural stumbling block. Americans don’t persevere very often. Yet a person can’t plant the seeds and reap the crop the next day; nor the next week; nor the next month. It requires persevering care over an extended period of time before the harvest comes. Our cultural emphasis on the instant and the immediate undermines the concept of perseverance.
Many people find it difficult to make commitments and then stick to them. It’s not simply because of difficulties that come along. Distraction often rears its ugly head and draws a person off toward some better offer. That concerns me, because the body of Christ requires commitment at every level. That’s what it’s all about — commitment to Christ and to one another.
16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (Luke 8:16–18)
It’s obvious that most of the parable deals with the issue of salvation rather than Christian living. Jesus began by talking to an audience largely composed of unbelievers (Luke 8:1, 4). Their hope lay in allowing the Word of God to find a place in their own hearts so that they might trust in Jesus and have eternal life.
Yet pertinent principles for Christian living can be drawn from each of the soils, or heart types. Certainly by the time Jesus spoke about persevering to produce a crop, he had gone beyond salvation.
The sober warning that begins in verse 16 was addressed to Jesus’ disciples, who pressed him earnestly so that they might “hear indeed.” They had to take these matters seriously, because God always gives his blessings for a purpose. He has given the Word of God to instruct us, the Spirit of God to dwell within us, and the body of Christ to encourage us so that we can yield an abundant harvest. That’s the meaning of Luke 8:16.
God has lighted the lamp so that it will cast light and accomplish his purpose (Luke 8:16–18). In this indirect way, Jesus challenged his disciples not to waste what God had implanted in their hearts.
Jesus also told them that in the course of time their response would become known. Because there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed in time. By application to us, that means that what we do with the Word of God will ultimately show up in our lives.
In his final challenge to his disciples to hear carefully Jesus said, “Whoever has will be given more” (Luke 8:18). That’s the outcome I want in my life and in the lives of other believers.
Testing and Healing Our Hearts
Use the following concepts to evaluate your own heart condition and your behavior.
1. In light of our Lord’s parable, how would you evaluate your general heart condition — your response to Christ and his Word?
The American mindset in the 1970s became so self-interested that it was labeled the “me generation.” Self-interest can eat up everything else! Unfortunately, in 2011 things are not much different.
Or perhaps you are distracted. Facebook, sports on cable television, ferrying children to activities and other things already make that possible.
2. One way to determine whether we are receptive to God’s Word is to evaluate our behavior.
Do you think that God’s principles are increasingly being integrated into your behavior as time goes on?
What kind of feedback do you get from others about your commitment to Christ and growth in him?
I hope that they tell you that you are becoming more mature in Christ and that they see growth in your life. You probably won’t get any feedback unless you overtly ask for it. Certainly I see value in each of us monitoring their own spiritual condition, but we tend to believe what we want to believe. Others may give a more realistic evaluation.
A Final Word
In every phase of life we must pay attention to priorities. I don’t think I was ever struck so much by that fact as when I went to my first Dallas Cowboys football game. My father had bought end zone seats, and we were watching the game through binoculars.
Pittsburgh had the ball, and their linemen came up to take position at the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh’s quarterback was looking hard at the Dallas defense as he walked slowly toward the line to take the snap. The Dallas defense was jumping all around trying to confuse him.
Distracted by the movements of the defense, the quarterback put his hand under the right guard to take the snap. Then he called the snap signal and the center — one person to his left — snapped the football straight up into the air. There was a wild struggle to catch the loose football when it came down.
The quarterback may grasp the defense perfectly, but if he doesn’t get the snap from center, he’s in big trouble! The distracted quarterback had forgotten about priorities.
Our top priority is to deal with our own spiritual heart condition. Only in that way can we yield a crop “a hundred times more than was sown.”
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 7, we see Jesus in the midst of his ministry. The challenge was that everyone had an agenda for Jesus to follow. How did he manage those pressures?
Some of my teachers are hard to remember, while others I will never be able to forget. I never liked Mr. Crutchfield, but he won immortality in my hall of bad memories.
I made sure to get to his college physics class early and to sit down quietly. Almost two hundred of us would wait in the large, steeply-sloped lecture hall for his grand entrance through the side door. His coming was an important event. You see, the moment Mr. Crutchfield entered, trailed dutifully by his grader, a holy silence had to dominate the entire room. Immediately!
If some unthinking soul failed to see the mighty man enter, Mr. Crutchfield would look up with a scowl and snap, “Take out a sheet of paper.” Then would come an all-too-regular pop quiz. At times, even when the room was just perfect, Mr. Crutchfield would give us a pop quiz anyway. Keep in mind that we’re talking college physics here.
Fortunately, I will never have to face those surprise tests in physics again, but life throws its own little tests at me regularly. Although I don’t like them any more than ever, I have to face them, just as you do.
Testing, trials, and temptations come in many forms. They swoop down frequently, if unpredictably, throughout the course of life. At such times, we must face the hardship of living in tension. Some tests strike with the suddenness of a lightning bolt. Other problems, such as chronic illness or an unhappy marriage, can linger for years with quiet savageness. Those things are the bad news.
The good news is that Jesus thoroughly understands how it feels to take tests in life. He faced both kinds: the sudden, sharp tests and the long, grinding ones. Christ knows from experience what we so desperately need from him in our own hour of crisis. For Jesus, every test took on the dark hues of a final exam, because his whole mission could have been destroyed through a single act of sin. By considering his model, we can learn how to endure when the sky begins to fall.
The First Test
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1–4)
After being baptized to identify himself with those turning to God, Jesus entered the wilderness to face the onslaught of Satan. To the Israelite mind the wilderness was a place of testing. It also represented a place of purging and preparation before full possession of the Promised Land.
Like Israel, Jesus faced trial in the desert, the scene of the nation’s great failure under temptation. Jesus was the keystone of a new beginning for the people of God, so the Father tested him to prove his qualifications for that mission. The Spirit led him into the desert, demonstrating that this encounter for the Son had the direct approval of the Father. The Father had a totally constructive purpose for Christ in imposing this test.
The Holy Spirit did not commune alone with Jesus in the wilderness. An unholy spirit, Satan, met them there as well. He came to destroy Jesus and his ministry, if possible. If Jesus could be made to stumble even one time, then he would be disqualified as our sinless sacrifice upon the cross. At that crucial moment both God and Satan were operating in the wilderness. The two unequal forces collided in the heart and life of Jesus Christ.
The Greek verbs imply that Jesus faced temptation during the entire forty days. Luke draws our attention to the end of that time so that we can appreciate the tension at its greatest intensity. Jesus had eaten nothing, and by that time his hunger must have been severe. To hunger is not wrong, and to satisfy hunger would not normally be wrong either. But to interrupt a God-intended hunger would defy the decision of the Father.
In his hunger Jesus was reenacting the experience of Israel during the exodus, but with one vast difference. The Israelites’ hunger had led them to grumble against God in unbelief (Exodus chapter 16), but Jesus never faltered in trusting the Father to meet his need at the proper time.
In meeting the test of bread, Jesus quoted from the teaching of Moses (Deut. 8:2–3). Moses told the Israelites that God had tested them in the desert to know their hearts. He had allowed them to know hunger and afterward fed them with manna so they would realize that man doesn’t live merely on bread.
On the surface, it is clear that Satan was tempting Jesus to prematurely end the God-intended test. But underneath that, I see this attack as an attempt to get Jesus to distrust the Father. In other words, Satan was trying to disrupt the relationship.
Jesus could easily have met his own need by converting the stones into bread, just as Satan proposed. But that would have demonstrated a lack of trust in his Father’s loving care. Jesus passed this test with ease.
Lessons from the First Test
Our times of testing resemble those Jesus experienced in certain ways. Both God and Satan can simultaneously work in a given case. The test itself is often amoral, like a knife. A knife in the hands of a surgeon can cut out a cancerous growth and promote healing, yet in the hands of a murderer, the same knife brings death.
So it is with testing. In the hands of the Lord it takes on a constructive purpose, but in Satan’s hands it turns toward our destruction. The Greek verb peiraz?, used in verse 2 by Luke, can mean either “tempt” or “test.” Satan tempts us to bring destruction, but God tests us to confirm obedience and promote maturity.
The Second Test
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Matthew says that this temptation took place on a high mountain (Matt. 4:8). In the Bible, mountains often symbolize authority, power or a kingdom. So in a symbolic sense, Jesus was taken to the very throne room of Satan, from which he could survey the entire kingdom that had fallen into Satan’s hands. All the wealth, power and glory of the earth lay within Christ’s grasp in those moments!
With consummate persuasion, Satan put great emphasis on the personal pronouns in the Greek text. “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me” (Luke 4:6, italics added). Satan brought all this pressure to bear “in an instant,” perhaps hoping to bring about an impulsive response from Jesus.
Jesus suddenly faced an opportunity to grasp something he should not have. That’s an experience all of us have had and will have again. This kind of temptation invites all kinds of internal justification.
Let’s look more deeply at what Jesus was being asked to do. Satan was inviting him to rule the world immediately. Would that have been wrong? After all, the world rightfully belongs to Christ, and one day he will return to rule over all of it.
So, it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to want those kingdoms, but his time had not yet come. To have the world immediately would have meant the abandonment of his purpose to die on the cross for our sins. In effect, Satan was saying, “Jesus, instead of facing all the pain and suffering that you will endure, why not take all into your hands right now? It’s so easy! All you have to do is bow down and worship me.”
In that second test, Satan played the role of God by taking Jesus to that high mountain and showing him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus saw what he could not then have. This situation recalls the occasion when God took Moses to the top of a high mountain and allowed him to look at Canaan, which he would not be able to enter at that time (Deuteronomy 34).
That second test centered on immediate rule. On the surface, Jesus was invited to worship Satan. But to do that, he would have had to reject sole allegiance to the Father. Again, Satan was attempting to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son.
In his answer to Satan, Jesus maintained his sole allegiance to the Father: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8). Christ passed up unlimited pleasure and chose unlimited pain, to maintain his complete loyalty to the Father. Satan was thwarted a second time.
The Third Test
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
I agree with Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish Bible scholar who embraced Christian faith, who said that Jesus was taken to the highest point of the temple at the time of morning worship. At that hour a priest would blow a great horn, and the thousands of worshipers would pass through the huge doors into the temple.
The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah appeared, he would do so on the roof of the temple. They supported their dramatic prediction with several verses from the Old Testament. Knowing all that, Satan brought Jesus to a moment of great opportunity. Underneath him walked thousands of those he came to save.
When Jesus looked at the people, Satan reminded him of a promise from the Psalms (Psalm 91:11–12). If Jesus really were the Messiah, then the Lord’s angels would not let him fall and die. Instead, they would save him from harm. Such a miracle would undoubtedly have brought immediate acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. By this tactic, Satan again tempted Jesus to avoid the cross and have the kingdom in an easier way.
In answering this enticement, Jesus again relied on the Old Testament: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Jesus stopped without mentioning the next few words of the quotation: “as you did at Massah.”
The sad story of Massah is told in Exodus chapter 17. There the Israelites tested the Lord and said, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exod. 17:7). They were insisting that God prove that he was among them by performing a miracle to provide them with water.
They were wrong in trying to force God to act. The Lord doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone! For Jesus to throw himself from that temple roof would be presumptuous and an insult to his Father. Jesus rightly rejected such a proposal. Again, he triumphed where Israel had failed.
This third temptation consisted of immediate acceptance. Satan invited Jesus to force the Father to act in his behalf. It was another attempt on Satan’s part to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son had come to carry out his mission in humble obedience to the Father. Unlike Israel, Jesus proved obedient, even under the severest pressures.
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Satan would come again. This had been an opportune time for him, but there would be others. Satan used surrogates again and again to offer those very same temptations to Jesus. Consider, for example, the test of the bread. After Jesus fed the five thousand, they followed him to the other side of the lake and tried to get him to perform the same miracle again (John 6:25–30). He refused, on the grounds that they had only come to satisfy their physical hunger.
They wanted to live on bread alone, rather than on the words that come from the mouth of God, so Jesus refused their request. He didn’t come to be a magic man, and he refused to work that miracle because of the people’s distorted spiritual priorities.
In the same time period, the test of immediate rule recurred. Because Jesus had fed them, the people wanted to immediately make him king by force (John 6:15). He rejected this alternative to the cross, as he had before.
Even as Jesus hung on the cross, the people taunted him, as Satan had, by urging him to prove his claims by saving himself from crucifixion. They said that if he worked a miracle by saving himself from death, they would believe in him (Matt. 27:42). Thus, the temptation of immediate acceptance was repeated. Jesus never yielded to any of those temptations, in either their original or altered forms.
The Temptations: A Snap or a Strain
Believers sometimes give the impression that such temptations were a snap for Jesus. They seem to think that Jesus felt no strain at all. But think carefully about the temptations he faced. He was asked to make a choice between limitless pleasure and unbounded pain. That’s far more pressure than any of us will ever have to endure!
Christians often speak about the agony of the crucifixion, and certainly it was terrible. But Jesus experienced no more physical pain on the cross than thousands of others who died by Roman execution. The real agony of the cross struck when the sinless Son of God became sin incarnate, by having all the sin of the ages dumped upon him.
Such shame and degradation surpasses our imagination. That was the unique pain of the cross. Satan invited Jesus to avoid such misery by simply bowing down and worshiping him. In this way Jesus was put under pressure far greater than any of us will ever see.
When I am tempted, I sometimes give in. Doubtless, you do the same. In those cases, I never experience the full force of the temptation, because I cave in before reaching that point. But Jesus didn’t have that luxury. He had to experience the full force and duration of every temptation that was ever thrown at him. There was no easy way out for him. In this respect, too, Christ’s temptations far exceed our own.
A third awesome element of Christ’s temptations is that he had the worst possible opponent. I really don’t believe that many of us, if any, are personally tempted by Satan. But Jesus was. Certainly we may face demonic harassment at times, but Jesus was attacked by Satan — the maximum enemy.
So, if you ever find yourself thinking that temptations presented Jesus no problem, consider those three factors. In order to save us, Jesus had to forgo unlimited pleasure and endure unlimited pain. To be the sinless Son of God he had to endure the greatest force and the longest duration of temptation. And, in Satan, he had the worst possible enemy a person can have. In those three respects, Christ’s temptation far exceeds anything we will ever have to face.
Tips for Passing Tests
Use the following applicational ideas to take advantage of what Jesus teaches us in his resistance to temptation.
1. Satan takes delight in seeing Scripture distorted. This could even be done by isolating one verse and ignoring other pertinent parts of God’s Word. That’s exactly what Satan did in the third temptation. Every “Christian” cult uses distortion of Scripture to gain converts. Use these principles to protect yourself from such practices.
Gain a general grasp of the whole Bible; concentrate special attention on the New Testament, but do not ignore the Old Testament. Even a general grasp can give you considerable protection, although the more you know, the better off you will be!
Before drawing a conclusion from a single verse of Scripture, read the paragraphs before and after it. Is your understanding of the verse consistent with its meaning in context?
When verses are taken out of context, they are often given a meaning that God never intended. I would suggest that whenever you read Christian literature and encounter Bible verses, you look each one up and study its context. Don’t be lulled to sleep just because someone throws in a few Bible references.
Avoid interpreting all statements made in the Bible to others as if they had been stated directly to you. Develop a sense for the difference between a general principle to be followed by all believers and a statement having only historical significance.
In many cases, we do this automatically. Let me illustrate by using two commands Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room: (1) “Love each other” (John 15:17), and (2) “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Did Jesus mean for you to go out and buy a sword? (It was a command!) No, of course he didn’t mean for you to do that. He was speaking about a specific historical situation.
But the command about love is one command that he wants every Christian to obey. How do we know the difference? Partly, it just takes intuition and good sense, aided by the Holy Spirit. A more objective method would be to consider whether another part of the New Testament repeats the command. The apostles do not repeat the command about buying a sword in the rest of the New Testament, but we find the command to love each other restated frequently.
2. Consider the subtle way that temptation often comes. It strikes at our trust in the Father’s concern for our needs. That’s exactly what Satan did in the test of bread. He didn’t come to Jesus to suggest that he go out and rob a bank, as believers sometimes seem to expect. No, Satan approaches in far more subtle ways than that. He leads us to question the Father’s actions and to “cut corners,” by letting the end justify the means; such was the case with the test of immediate rule.
Or, temptation may suggest that we take rash, willful action to end a time of testing; that was the test of immediate acceptance. Satan will probably not try to get us involved in drug-running. Rather, he will try to get us involved in so-called “small” sins.
How about you? What are you doing to resist temptation? Can you affirm the following statements?
I’m trusting God to meet my needs.
The presence of hardship in my life has not caused me to lose confidence in the Lord.
I’m not going to solve my problems by taking the easy, disobedient way out.
I’m committed to resisting rash or willful actions that I think would displease God.
3. Jesus understands and feels your struggles, and he rewards those who seek him. He was hated, rejected, unappreciated, attacked, tired, even moved to tears — just as we are at times. That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us that, because Jesus suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help us when we are being tempted (Heb. 2:17–18). The same writer tells us that Jesus can “empathize with our weaknesses,” because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15). So, when you hurt, he hurts with you. He knows what you are going through!
Apply the following questions to yourself.
Have you prayed for strength to cope with your test?
Do you really believe that Jesus knows how it feels to live in constant tension?
What problem or need should you take to him today?
A Final Word
In some ways our lives resemble a college course with its periodic tests. Assuming you are a believer in Jesus Christ, I have some good news and some bad news about your life-course. First the bad news: You’re going to keep on having pop tests. They will keep happening as long as you live.
Now for the good news: Jesus took the final exam in your place. And even though the course isn’t over yet, your final grade has already been posted.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 5, we listen as Jesus teaches his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount during his early ministry in the northern region called Galilee. The subject: judging others.
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 1:304.