Skip to content

As Revealed By Scripture– The Devil #6

Through The Gospel We Have Victory Over The Devil

It is not a well-kept secret among Christians that Satan is outmatched by the Son of God, Jesus the Savior. Though Satan can outmaneuver a weak child of God, and does so to our constant dismay, he never caught Jesus off-guard. Every contest between them ends in a repetition of Satan’s ancient experience — he’s the primordial loser.

We have data on this — some recorded by Matthew and some by Luke (both in chapter 4). It is commonly referred to as “the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness.” A more accurate and better P.R. for Jesus might report: “Jesus’ attitude of self-sacrifice bested Satan in the wilderness temptations.” In these three confrontations Satan was playing a single tune with the recurring theme: “Why do you persist in being so self-sacrificing when, after all, as Son of God you are entitled to some modicum of bodily comforts, some adulation, some reward. You deserve it.” The simple (and horrible) point was to subvert Jesus’ attitude of submissive self-sacrifice.

The Spirit summarizes this for us in Philippians 2:4-12, when Jesus’ humility is pointed out as His forte in all His life-experiences. Thus Satan’s target was the essential center, the nucleus of Jesus’ Saviorhood. If His heart could become infected with self-interest, His Messiahship would vanish in a puff of hellish smoke, and sinners would be left with a self-serving impostor.

If we study each temptation-episode in that light, we see that the first (Mt. 4:3) was an appeal to Jesus to serve Himself physically; the second (Mt. 4:5-6) a decoy to serve Himself by gaining some adulation from a temple crowd that would applaud Him as He levitated above the rocks.

The third (Mt. 4:8-10) is a bit more tricky. (It is puzzling that Luther thought the Devil here had reached a new low of stupidity when otherwise he considered the Devil to be the “wily foe.”) The Devil was offering Jesus something the Devil had never owned in the first place, “all the kingdoms of the world . . . and their glory.” To which he hoped Jesus would selfishly respond, “Yeah; right; it all belongs to ME, for my Father has not surrendered it to you.” What a neat psychological setup for a knee-jerk selfish reaction! If only Jesus had been less nobly dedicated to the interest of sinners, He could have felt miffed over Satan’s condescending tone. We are thrilled that Jesus kept US at the top of His priorities and avoided all desire for claiming His “rights.”

Thus we are led to deduce that He needed the wilderness-temptation experience to equip Him for His ministry of Saviorhood. It was of primary importance that He become strengthened in that self-sacrificing mode with which He had begun lest He crumble when faced with the crux of Good Friday. And by what method did He strengthen His resolve to succeed as our Savior? By hearkening back to His Father’s work with those other children of His in similar circumstances. The marvelous suitability of those Deuteronomy passages surged up in His holy heart to “bear Him up” on those angel wings. Deuteronomy chapter 8, starting at v. 1, reveals the parallel between the biography of the Israelites in the wilderness (forty years) with Jesus’ experience (forty days) “. . . to humble you and to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Chapter 6 likewise. Jesus used those words of His Father to strengthen His resolve to serve rather than be served, so as to be armed and equipped to best Satan in that final onslaught, to “give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

John Milton in Paradise Regained makes the error of treating the Wilderness-temptation episode as the center of Christology: that is, that Jesus accomplished His Saviorhood via the temptations resisted. This overstates the case, of course, for saving sinful humanity required Jesus’ entire output of willing submissiveness and humble obedience even unto the death of the cross–thus a winning combination of attitude plus performance–to chase Satan back to hell&gone, where he belongs.

Beyond the function of the event in Jesus’ life’s mission, we ask what purpose is served by the Spirit in recording it for us. First, our hearts are refreshed in appreciation of our Savior’s heart-felt dedication to the job of redeeming us, who are otherwise lost sinners. Secondly, we are reminded that the issue of attitude is paramount in all moral/spiritual activity, for a sinful attitude of heart can produce no good works — as Luther also reminds us that we should revere and love God so that our deeds will be God-pleasing. In concert with such a God-revering attitude, the Christ-like heart searches Scripture for sustenance in our times of temptation, and the Spirit honors our claim on Him by bearing us up on the angel wings of God’s words.

All praise to Jesus for His successes

Against the wily foe’s devices;

His love for us has foiled the schemer.

Hallelujah to Jesus, our great Redeemer!

–Paul R. Koch

Editor’s note: This concludes the series on the devil. Next we have asked the writers to tell what Scripture teaches about the good angels.