The Temptations of Jesus
5 – Tested and Tempted
As we look more closely into the temptations of Jesus, we do need to define our words. In our English language we have a range of words that carry different but often related meanings. The word “temptation” usually has a negative inference, whereas the word “test” is usually morally neutral.
In the Old Testament the single Hebrew word “nasah” can be translated: to try, to test, to prove, or to tempt.
In the New Testament the Greek verb “peirazo” and the noun “peirasmos” can be translated: to test, to tempt, or can refer to a time of trials and suffering.
Let’s try to define this range of words with a bit more detail
This word does not refer to a court case where a person might be tried for a crime, though this usage does have to do with testing the evidence brought to the court. In the scriptures it usually refers to a time of suffering or persecution. (Hebrew 2:18, I Peter 1:6). “These are the things that try men’s souls.”
This is an attempt to prove whether something is true or not.
- Are you what you claim to be? (We don’t think so!)
- Is this gold, pure gold or something else?
- How good are you at this sport? Let’s see.
- Am I cut out for this job? Let’s take the test.
- Here’s a challenge for you. I hope you pass the test and succeed!
This is an attempt to seduce or persuade a person into making a wrong choice. This for Jesus involved the religious leaders trying to trick him into saying or doing something they perceived to be wrong. “The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matthew 16:1) “Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3) “But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites.” (Matthew 22:18) “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:35-36)
Every time of suffering is not only a trial, but places us on trial. How will we handle this? Will we be tempted to cut and run? Tempted to get querulous with God and lose our trust in him?
The intention of the tester makes the event either a temptation to evil, or a way to gain insight into a person, or to build confidence, or develop a skill. Who is asking the question? The defence attorney or the prosecuting attorney?
Every test that is laid before us by God will be used by the tempter, to try to tempt us towards evil. On the other hand every temptation laid before us by the evil one, will be used by God who might say “Well let’s not waste this moment. Can we make lemonade from these lemons!
Tests laid down simply by circumstance, may also be used both by God and the tempter to pull us in one of two directions. For we are always on probation and are called upon to make a choice, without coercion by God or Satan.
In the OT most often it is God that tests. He is never described as testing sinners, but always his own people. The exceptions to this is when Satan is the tempter, but these are very late in Israel’s development: (Job 1 & 2, and I Chronicles 21:1 compare with II Samuel 24:1) But even then the testing is always under God’s sovereign authority.
In the Old Testament Apocryphal book, Sirach 2:1-5 the author writes, “My Son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation. Set your heart aright and endure firmly, and do not be fearful in the time of trouble… Accept whatever is brought upon you… for gold is tested in the fire, and men acceptable to God in the furnace of affliction.”
There are different kinds of goodness. Innocence is not righteousness. Some of us are not good, we are just untested. We may never have found ourselves in a place where we had to be good against our wills and wants. And some of us are not good, just cowards, who avoid evil because we are afraid of being caught. Some of us are never tempted to resist an offer, because we go with the flow of culture or peer pressure.
Relationship between Temptation & Sin
Some of us feel guilty when temptation comes. Temptations are desires that come to us, unasked. We cannot stop them using our minds as a thoroughfare, but we can prevent them from making their home in us. We cannot stop tele-marketers calling us, we just do not have to listen, and we do not have to buy their wares.
There are thoughts that come hammering on our heads asking for admittance. God has so constructed us that when both Jesus and temptation come they must stop and say “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” But knocking does not guarantee admittance. That is a human prerogative. We can say to both God and the devil, “begone” and they will obey. Of course only for a season. They will be back. There is no sin in thoughts coming to the mind, as there is no virtue in me in hearing Jesus knocking on my door.
There may be no sin in opening the door, and standing at the threshold for a conversation with this thought that comes “knock, knock, knocking on my chamber door.” There are some thoughts that need to be investigated to find out whether they are friend or foe. We need to ask, what is their business and their intent. And upon finding that they have insidious intent, we need to close the door, as firmly as Jesus did with each of his temptations.
But for me to have such an open mind, that has no door, and no doorman or sentry guarding the entrance, says that anyone and anything can enter and sit down, and while away the hours. If I am not careful they may seduce me or overwhelm me. The camel’s nose once inside my tent, may create a wedge that brings in an entire menagerie of unwelcome guests. Ask those to testify who have allowed a bit of pornography to creep into their imagination, as to how hard it is to shoo them out, or stop their colleagues from dropping by.
Ancient theologians informed us that temptation travel a very clear road to the centre of the human mind. The Latin phrases are “Cogitatio, Imaginatio, Delectatio and Assensio.” “To cogitate, to imagine, to delight in, to assent to.”
Alexander Pope writes in “The Essay of Man”
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated, needs but to be seen,
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face
We first endure, then pity, then embrace
Many a war is lost before some of us know a battle is raging. The sappers have entered the basement before we have seen any foe on the horizon. The fifth column has done its damage which makes the entrance of the other four columns of soldiers have easy access to our destruction. The resistible soon becomes irresistible.
With these clarifications in mind, let us turn to Mark’s version of the temptation of Christ.