Christ's Authority Tested

Chapter 26

Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins and closely related by the circumstances of their birth, yet they had never had any direct contact with each other. The early life of Jesus was spent at Nazareth in Galilee while John had lived in the remote wilderness of Judea. Amid widely different surroundings, they had had no communication with each other. Providence had ordered this. No opportunity was to be given for the charge that they had conspired together to support each other's claims.

When Jesus came to the Jordan River asking for baptism, John drew back, exclaiming, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" Jesus replied, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it be cometh us to fulfil all righteousness." John, consenting, led the Saviour down into the Jordan and buried Him beneath the water.

Jesus did not receive baptism as a confession of guilt on His own account but as our example. He identified Himself with sinners, taking the steps that we are to take. In His baptism, as in His life of suffering and patient ability to withstand abuse, He was an example to us.

As He came up out of the Jordan River, Jesus knelt on the bank in prayer. While He prayed, the heavens opened and a dove-like form of purest light rested upon His head. From the open heavens, a voice was heard saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." These words came not only to inspire faith in those who were watching the scene, but to strengthen the Saviour for His mission.

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." "And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts." "And in those days He did eat nothing."

Satan had hoped that God's hatred of evil would bring an eternal separation between heaven and earth; but at the Saviour's baptism, he heard the voice of Jehovah testifying to Christ's divinity. As he saw the Father's glory surround His Son, he saw unmistakable evidence that the connection between God and humanity had been restored. Satan saw that he must either conquer or be conquered.

Since the announcement to the serpent in Eden, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed," Genesis 3:15, Satan had known that he did not hold absolute power over the world. There could be seen in men the working of a power that withstood his control. With intense interest, he watched the sacrifices offered by Adam and his sons. In these ceremonies, he recognized a symbol of communion between earth and heaven. When God's written Word was given, Satan studied the prophecies of the Saviour's coming. From generation to generation he worked to blind the people to these prophecies that they might reject Christ when He came.

When Jesus entered the wilderness, He was absorbed in communion with God. His human nature shrank from the conflict that awaited Him. For forty days He fasted and prayed. Weak and wasted from hunger, worn and haggard with mental suffering, "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." Isaiah 52:14. Now was Satan's opportunity. Now he supposed that he could overcome Christ.

There came to the Saviour, as if in answer to His prayers, one in the guise of an angel from heaven. He claimed to have a commission from God to declare that Christ's fast was at an end. Pointing to the stones that strewed the desert, which had the appearance of loaves, the tempter said, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." In the tone of his voice is an expression of utter disbelief. Would God treat His own Son thus? Would He leave Him in the desert with wild beasts, without food, without companions, without comfort? He implies that God never meant His Son to be in such a state as this.

Though he appears as an angel of light, these first words betray his character. The words "If Thou be the Son of God," carry with them the suggestion of distrust. Should Jesus do what Satan suggests, it would be an acceptance of the doubt.

Jesus refused to enter into a discussion with temptation. He met Satan with the words of Scripture, "It is written." In every temptation, the weapon of His warfare was the Word of God. So long as Christ held to this position, the tempter could gain no advantage. In maintaining His integrity, Jesus testified that it is a lesser tragedy to suffer whatever may befall, than to depart in any manner from the will of God.

The cunning enemy now speaks words that had first been spoken by God. "And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone."

He now supposes that he has met Jesus on His own ground. He still appears as an angel of light and makes it plain that he has a knowledge of the Scriptures and understands the meaning of what is written. As Jesus had earlier used the Word of God to defend His faith, the tempter now uses it to gain acceptance for his deception. As the Saviour has given unmistakable proof of His trust in God, Satan urges Him to give still another evidence of His faith.

The tempter said to Jesus, "Cast Thyself down," knowing that he could not throw Him down, nor could he force Him to cast Himself off, for God would interpose to deliver Him. Unless Christ should consent to temptation, He could not be overcome.

The tempter can never force us to do evil. He cannot control minds unless they are given over to his control. We must let go of our belief and confidence in Christ before Satan can exercise his power upon us. Every sinful desire we cherish, however, allows him a foothold. Every point in which we fail of meeting the divine standard is an open door by which he can enter to tempt and destroy us. Every failure or defeat on our part gives opportunity for him to dishonor Christ.

When Satan quoted the promise, "He shall give His angels charge over thee," he left out the words, "to keep thee in all thy ways"—that is, in all the ways of God's choosing. Jesus refused to go outside the path of obedience. While giving unmistakable evidence of perfect trust in His Father, He would not place Himself, unbidden, in a position that would require His Father to intervene in order to save Him from death. He would not force Providence to come to His rescue and thus fail of giving humanity an example of trust and submission.

Jesus declared to Satan, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." God had already testified that Jesus was His Son; and now to ask for proof that He was the Son of God would be putting God's word to the test—tempting Him. The same would be true of asking for that which God had not promised. It would manifest distrust and be really proving or tempting Him. We should not present our requests to God to prove whether He will fulfill His word but because He will fulfill it; not to prove that He loves us but because He loves us. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6

Presumption is Satan's counterfeit of faith. Faith claims God's promises and results in obedience. Presumption also claims the promises but uses them as Satan did, as an excuse for sin. Faith would have led our first parents to trust the love of God and to obey His commands. Presumption led them to transgress His law, believing that His great love would save them from the result of their sin. It is not faith that claims the favor of Heaven without fulfilling the conditions on which mercy is to be granted. Real faith is based on the promises and requirements of the Scriptures.

Often when Satan has failed of exciting distrust, he succeeds in leading us to presumption. If he can cause us to place ourselves unnecessarily in the way of temptation, he knows that the victory is his. God protects all who are in obedience, but not those who voluntarily place themselves on Satan's ground. Jesus has warned us, "Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Mark 14:38. Meditation and prayer would keep us from rushing unbidden into the way of danger, thereby saving us from many a defeat.

Jesus was victorious in the second temptation, and now Satan reveals himself in his true character. He does not appear as a hideous monster. Though fallen, he is yet a mighty angel. He declares himself the god of this world.

Placing Jesus upon a high mountain, Satan causes the kingdoms of the world, full of natural splendors, to pass in view before Him. The sunlight is reflected from the rich architecture, fertile fields, and fruit-laden vineyards, while all traces of evil are hidden. Jesus' eyes, accustomed to the gloom and barrenness of His wilderness surroundings, now take in a view of unsurpassed beauty. Then the tempter's voice is 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."

Christ could only accomplish the work He came to do through suffering. He must bear the sins of the whole world. Before Him was a life of sorrow, hardship, and conflict. He must experience separation from His Father's love and a shameful death. Now the tempter offers to yield up the power he had unlawfully seized and give it to Christ if He would only acknowledge his supremacy. But for Christ to do this would be to yield the victory in the great controversy. It was in seeking to exalt himself above the Son of God that Satan had sinned in heaven. Should he win now, it would be the triumph of rebellion.

When Satan declared to Christ, "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," he stated only part of the truth. Satan's control was only that control which he had taken from Adam. Adam's was not an independent rule; he was only acting as the representative of the Creator. Adam was to reign subject to Christ; and when he betrayed his control into Satan's hands, Christ still remained the rightful King. For this reason, the Lord had said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." Daniel 4:17. Satan can exercise the power he seized only as God permits.

In reality, Satan was proposing that Christ should give up the real kingship of the world and reign subject to himself. Christ replies to the tempter, "Get thee behind Me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve."

Christ would not be bought; He had come to establish a kingdom of righteousness, and He would not be turned from His purpose. With the same temptation, Satan approaches men. He offers them the kingdom of this world on condition that they will acknowledge his rulership. As his subjects, he requires that they sacrifice principle, disregard conscience, and satisfy selfishness. While Christ invites them to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, Satan walks by their side urging them, "Do not allow yourselves to be carried away with imaginary ideas of honesty or self-sacrifice. I will prepare the way before you." While Satan attracts them with the hope of worldly positions of importance, he gains control over men's minds; but he offers that which is not his to give and which is soon to be taken from him. In return, he cheats them of their title to an inheritance in heaven.

Satan had questioned whether Jesus was the Son of God. In his abrupt dismissal, he had proof that he could not deny. Divinity flashed through suffering humanity. Satan had no power to resist the command. Angered and thoroughly humiliated, he was forced to leave the world's Redeemer. Christ's victory was as complete as had been Adam's failure.

After Satan left, Jesus fell to the ground exhausted. He had withstood a greater test than any man had ever been called to experience. As He lay as one dying, the angels now came to the Son of God, strengthening Him with food and with the comforting message of His Father's love. They assured Him that all heaven shared in His victory. Warming to life again, Jesus left the wilderness to complete the work He had begun, of conquering Satan and redeeming our fallen race.

This chapter is based on John 3–4