The Mountain of Temptation
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
‘ Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense’, Song of Songs 4. 6.
It has been noticed that Matthew must have been a lover of mountains, as he is careful to record that so many of the important events in the life of the Lord Jesus took place upon mountains. In the series of articles, of which this is the first, it will be our reverent task to climb these mountains to behold the many aspects of the glory of Him who tabernacled amongst men, full of grace and truth.
1. THE MOUNTAIN OF TEMPTATION
‘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. 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’, Matt. 4. 8-10.
The Prince of this World
Our first mountain scene is one of stern testing and yet of complete triumph. The words quoted form the climax of the three temptations mentioned in Matthew, and is almost certainly the last in point of time. It may, therefore, be regarded as the fiercest onslaught of the evil one. We cannot too strongly condemn the interpretations of the temptation which reject the idea of the personality of the devil and regard what took place as the meditations of Jesus in the solitude of the desert upon the character of the ministry which lay before Him; The Tempter was real. Later the Lord said of him, ‘the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me’, John 14. 30. At no single point in the person and character of our Lord could the devil ever gain even a momentary advantage. On the other hand, it is equally mistaken to give the impression that the temptation was not real and very terrible. It is one of the many glories of the manhood of Jesus that, whereas the first man, Adam, fell though surrounded by every evidence of the goodness of God, He, the second Man, the Lord from heaven, triumphed when tempted in the wilderness.
We shall consider the nature of the testing, the way of victory, and the ultimate effects of the triumph.
The Nature of the Testing
Upon a high mountain the devil causes to pass before the vision of the Son of man all the kingdoms of the world with their glory. Before his eyes there comes the glorious dream that has dazzled would-be world conquerors, Caesar, Napoleon, and others, the dream of universal dominion. Had not the Scriptures told of One who should have dominion from the river to the ends of the earth, and of One whose kingdom should have no end? ‘One act of homage’, says the evil one, ‘and all shall be thine’. The nature of the temptation, in fact, was that Jesus should take a short cut to the appointed goal; that He should step aside from the pathway of patient obedience to the will of God. That path would be beset with difficulty, and the end was death, even the death of the cross. But why take such a path to ultimate dominion when there is a much easier way? ‘Fall down; worship me; all shall be thine’.
The devil was a liar from the beginning. The authority he claimed was a usurped authority. An act of homage denotes a recognition of the superiority of the one to whom homage is done. The very word reminds us of the phrase of sworn fealty, ‘I am your man’. That was the path to which the devil tempted Jesus; to be his man, and not God’s. The act of homage also denotes the denial of liberty, and the admission of subservience. In fact, the devil was tempting to that which would not lead to dominion, but to the most abject servitude.
The Way of Victory
One can almost hear the stern, ringing command of the Lord Jesus, ‘Get thee hence, Satan’. There is One only to whom homage must be given, and that is to God. There is One only who must be enthroned in the heart, to be obeyed unquestioningly at all times, and in all circumstances, and that is God.
It has been often noted that Jesus did not argue with the tempter. He did not question his claim to authority. Each temptation was met by simple reliance upon the Word of God. God’s words were His delight and He meditated on them day and night. They proved in the hour of temptation a sharp sword to counter every blow, and His absolute faith was a shield that quenched all the fiery darts of the wicked one. He could say ‘By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer’, Ps. 17. 4. Here upon the Mount of Temptation is a lesson for us to learn. Our testing will lead to triumph only in the measure in which we place similar reliance upon what God has said. ‘It is written’ is still the sword of the Spirit, and faith is still the shield that alone can keep us safe.
The Effect of the Triumph
For a proper understanding of the temptation, it is essential to notice the reality of the manhood of Jesus in the hour of testing. The devil had said, ‘If thou be the Son of God’, but the Lord said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’. As the Son of God He accepted the worship of the man born blind, and others, but as Man He says, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’. A due recognition of this will lead to a clearer understanding of the ultimate effects of the Saviour’s triumph. The triumph of Christ, the second Man, is the triumph of the race of which He is the representative head. In Him the seed of the woman was bruising the serpent’s head, and of His followers it is said, ‘And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly’, Rom. 16. 20.
The immediate effect of the Lord’s triumph is seen in the absolute authority that He displayed in commanding unclean spirits to come out of men. They recognised Him; they recognised His authority. The strong man of the parable had met a stronger than he, and he was being despoiled of his goods. Poor, broken humanity, possessed in some mysterious form by terrible powers of evil, was to know the liberating power of the word of Jesus of Nazareth. Men, a terror to themselves and to all others, were to be found sitting, and clothed, and in their right mind. They were to go home and tell their friends what great things God had done for them, and had had compassion on them, e.g., Mark 5. 15, 19.
Sterner conflicts would take place at Gethsemane and on Golgotha’s hill, but the final triumph was assured in the words, ‘It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’. That path of perfect worship and of perfect service would lead most surely to the terrors of the Cross, but by way of the Cross it would lead to the throne of God. ‘But now we see not yet all things put under him (man). But we see Jesus . . . crowned with glory and honour’, Heb. 2. 8, 9.
The kingdoms of this world and the glory of them were shown to Him in the hour of temptation. They belong to Him although the usurper still holds sway. The devil received his notice of dismissal, ‘Get thee hence’. Already the prince of this world is being cast out, and the purposes of God will continue to be fulfilled in God’s own way and time, until it shall be proclaimed with triumph, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever’, Rev. 11. 15. Hallelujah!