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5-8-1 Jesus In The Wilderness:

A Study In The Language And Nature Of Temptation

It may well be argued that the language of the wilderness temptations implies there was physical movement going on, e.g. the tempter came to Jesus and led Him away. We now consider how such language is relevant to our evil desires inside our mind.

“And when the tempter came to Him...”

The records of the temptations of our Lord seem to indicate that the ‘devil’ which tempted Him was His internal nature rather than an external tempter. However, some have found problems with this view - not least because the tempter is described as “coming to” Jesus and leading Him. The purpose of this study is to show that temptation and desire are often described in terms of physical movement, thus enabling us to analyze them in a way which is easier to visualize than to describe them in purely abstract terms.

We know that our Lord “was tempted in every point like as we are” (Heb. 4:15); and “every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts (desires) and enticed” (James 1:14). For Jesus to be tempted like us, He had to go through the same process of temptation as we do. So to some extent He also was “drawn away” by the evil desires - the ‘devil’ - which He had within Him. This would explain why the devil is described as taking Jesus into Jerusalem and into a mountain; this “taking” is the same as being “drawn away” in James 1. This association of our evil desires with the idea of physical movement is picked up frequently in the New Testament. “Lead us not into temptation” (Mt. 6:13) is a case in point. We are led by our evil desires, as Jesus was to a small extent in the wilderness; and yet God is expressed here as ultimately in control of these things. He is greater than our evil desires, and is able to stop them leading us, to “keep us from falling” (note the connection of temptation and physical movement again). The world generally makes no resistance to being led by the devil - thus “silly women” are “led captive...led away with divers lusts...led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Tim. 3: 6; 2 Pet. 3:17). Jesus was not led by the devil - His lusts which He shared with us - as much as these people. But nevertheless, the same basic idea of sin leading us in order to tempt us was true of Him. The Greek word translated “taketh” in Matthew 4 in relation to Jesus being taken by the devil is used both figuratively and literally (Strong). The following examples show its figurative use:

“..customs they have received to hold” (Mk. 7:4)

“His own received Him not” (Jn. 1:11)

“Ye have received Christ” (Col. 2:6)

Similarly, the Devil ‘coming’ to Jesus can also be subjective; again, Strong says the Greek word for ‘coming’ can be used either figuratively or literally . It is translated ‘consent’ in 1 Timothy 6: 3 - some “consent” not to wholesome words”. Hebrews 12:1 describes “the sin that doth so easily beset us”, as if sin - the devil - comes up to us and besets us. The language of Revelation 20 regarding the devil and satan being loosed and going out throughout the world now falls into place, once it is appreciated that the diabolism - our evil desires - are likened to coming to people. We often stress how Jesus answered each temptation by quoting Scripture, as if the whole experience was a living demonstration of Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee”. Although Jesus had the word in His heart, He had our lusts, and for a brief moment it was possible that “ the lusts of other things entering in” (Mk. 4:19 ) could try to choke that word, even in His heart. For them to try to enter in, they must come to us; and thus the devil - those lusts - came to Jesus. The parable of the sower equates all the various reasons for failure to produce fruit, seeing they all have the same effect. Satan coming to take away the word from the new convert is parallel, therefore, to “the lusts of other things entering in (choking) the word” (Mk. 4: 15 & 19). These lusts originate from our nature - their entering in to the heart from our nature is the same as 'Satan coming'.

There are other examples of our internal lust being described as physically moving in to us (1):

- Nathan’s parable about David’s sin with Bathsheba blamed the act on a traveller coming to David asking to be satisfied. The traveller of the parable represented David’s lusts which led to adultery and murder (2 Sam.12: 4), although both these come “from within, out of the heart of man” (Mk. 7:20-23).

- “He that is begotten of God (by the word - 1 Pet. 1:23) keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” - the Word in our hearts stops the advances of our internal devil from touching us.

It seems to me that Luke 4:13, when properly translated, provides the greatest support for the ‘internal tempter’ idea. The Devil “departed from Him”. The Greek word also means ‘to restrain’ - so the phrase seems to mean that the devil restrained himself from Jesus, it was something the devil did to himself; and thus by implication Jesus also restrained Himself from the Devil. In any case, the devil departing for a season from Jesus shows His sharing of the experience of every Christian - that sometimes the Devil seems stronger than others, some days or weeks can slip by in which we appear to be on top of our desires, whilst in others, for all our trying harder, the Devil seems so much stronger. The main conclusion from this is that Jesus was far nearer failure than we perhaps realize. The Diaglott translates James 1: 14 “each one is tempted by his own inordinate desire, being drawn out and entrapped”. This is the language of hunting animals - drawing them out and trapping them. 1 Timothy 3: 7 talks of the “snare of the devil” - our inordinate desires. Thus for Jesus to be tempted He had to be drawn out of the tremendous shell of His own spirituality, like a mouse is attracted out of a hole towards cheese set in a trap; and then having the self control and self possession to withdraw back again.


(1) This and other observations in this section are confirmed in Wayne E. Oates, Temptation: A Biblical and Psychological Approach (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991).