Temptation can be difficult. Oscar Wilde wrote “I can resist anything except temptation.” Lane Olinghouse noted that “those who flee temptation usually leave a forwarding address.” Even when we do resist, we may not be pleased with the result; James Branch Cabell said “There is not any memory with less satisfaction than the memory of some temptation we resisted.”
Of course, these are all written from a human perspective; Christians are called to more than that, and to see how to do that, we can look back to one of the first events in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this and the following two devotionals, we’ll look at three different times that Jesus resisted temptation, and see how we can follow His example.
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But He answered, "It is written,
— Matthew 4:1-4 (ESV)
‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"
The first temptation shows us Jesus resisting when He was weak. He had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and was physically weak and drained from that experience. The timeframe of 40 days is significant; we see that in several other places in Scripture, and usually indicated something being done to completion:
Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with eating, and Jesus was physically famished. However, the temptation here was for Him to use His divine power to satisfy a physical urge. His mission was to come to earth, live as we live (sinlessly - Hebrews 4:15), then give His life as a ransom to pay for our sin. Making bread materialize out of thin air, or starting with some rocky raw materials, would not have been consistent with that mission. If other humans can’t do it, He shouldn’t do it.
There is a taunt in there with the temptation. Notice Satan’s first words to Jesus: “If You are the Son of God…” Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, but He had no need to prove Himself, or respond to that taunt. He knew His identity, and He saw through Satan’s attempt to get Him to do something to prove it. As with the stone-to-bread temptation itself, though He was the Son of God, He was living as a human; this was the time for humility and humanity, not miracles and majesty.
Jesus resists Satan by using Scripture (Old Testament, no less!); specifically, what He quotes to Satan comes from Deuteronomy 8:3.
3And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
— Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)
In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is encouraging Israel to remember what God has done for them, and how He has protected and provided for them as they have wandered in the wilderness for the past 40 years. It is part of the Torah, what we now call the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which was the “Bible” for the Jews of that day. Jesus did not call upon His divine nature to resist this temptation, nor did He miraculously remove Himself from the situation; He used God’s revealed Word to defend Himself against Satan and resist this temptation.
Like Jesus, we should resist temptation when we are weak. That seems to be Satan’s favorite time to come to us, when he can tempt us with something that we think will improve our lives. To be able to resist, however, we must rely on God’s power and His Word; and, to be able to rely on His Word, we must know what it is. Pouring ourselves into God’s Word (and it into us) is the best way to prepare for whatever temptation may come our way. We must make it so familiar to us that, even when we are weak, we can bring His words to our mind, and use them to resist temptation.
This week, let’s look at 2 Corinthians 3:16. This is a beautiful verse!
16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
— 2 Corinthians 3:16 (HCSB)
In this passage, Paul is illustrating the access that we now have to the Lord by contrasting it with Moses’s encounter with God when he received the Ten Commandments, along with plans for the Tabernacle and other laws. Here is the description of this from Exodus:
18Then Moses said, “Please, let me see Your glory.”
19He said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” 21The Lord said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.”
— Exodus 33:18-23 (HCSB)
29As Moses descended from Mount Sinai - with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain - he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone! They were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called out to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he commanded them everything the Lord had told him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever Moses went before the Lord to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35and the Israelites would see that Moses’ face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil over his face again until he went to speak with the Lord.
— Exodus 34:29-35 (HCSB)
This is a very interesting story. In the first part, Moses has been taking down laws from God for quite some time (in the Scripture, since the bottom of chapter 20), and he asks to see Him. God tells him that he can’t look on His face and live, but he can see His back. In the second part, every time Moses spoke with God, he had to wear a veil on his face afterwards, because the people could not look on him due to how radiant his face was! In some sense, one’s closeness to God determined how much of His glory one could see. Only when Moses had entered into the inner part of the Tabernacle could he remove this veil.
Now, we come to the time after Jesus has come and given His life for us. Let’s look at today’s verse in its context.
12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness - 13not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside [only] in Christ. 15However, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
— 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (HCSB)
Let’s skip verse 12 for now, as verses 13-15 describe the way it “was” instead of the way it “is.” Moses put a veil over his face due to the closed-mindedness of the Israelites. In verse 15, “reading Moses” refers to the reading of the first five books of our Bible, what we call the Pentateuch, but Hebrews call the Torah - to this day, the Torah is read as part of traditional orthodox Judaism. It does not recognize Christ as having fulfilled the law, so the focus is continually on following the law given in these Scriptures. Paul says that when this happens, the veil remains.
Verse 12 and verses 16-18 describe the way it “is” now. We can use boldness because the veil has been removed. Verse 17 describes this as “freedom,” translated in the King James Version as “liberty.” We don’t have to go through a “closer-to-holy” intermediate person like Moses in order to get to God, and it’s not a one-way God-to-us communication either. We can go directly to Him, and He can speak directly to us, either in our hearts or through His Word. When Jesus was crucified, God even gave a symbol of this.
50Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom…
— Matthew 27:50-51 (HCSB)
This curtain was the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the inner part of the temple that was restricted to priests once a year to offer the sacrifices for the people. Jesus’s payment for our sins was complete - we are no longer restricted when coming before Him!
Finally, in verse 18, we see the reason for this. We come before God with no veil, and can view His glory directly. We benefit from this, as we are transformed and become closer to the image of God. However, this also benefits others - we, like Moses, should reflect this glory! Others should be able to look at us and see Him. This is my prayer this week - that we will become so close to God that we will reflect His glory to the world around us.