In this series of posts we’ve explored in depth the temptation accounts of Jesus (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). We’ve done this to not only understand how we might win in the face of our own temptations, but to come to a greater appreciation for and love of Christ, who won the victory against our enemy, the devil.
We’ve seen how the perfect Son of God became a human being so that he might sympathize with our weaknesses, so that we might approach Him in humble prayer and know He understands what it means to live in frail, mortal flesh.
We’ve seen how Jesus came as the Second Adam, the one who picked up the scepter the first Adam dropped in the Garden. Because Jesus succeeded where the first Adam failed, all those united to Christ will one day be lifted to the level we were meant to occupy, bearing God’s image and co-reigning with Him over the world.
We’ve seen how Jesus defeated the devil in each temptation, winning where Israel before Him had lost. Unlike Israel, He trusted God amidst His physical hunger, was not preoccupied with food but with His Father’s will, and refused to let impatience push Him to complaining or rash action. Unlike Israel who tested God with brazen words, Jesus trusted God to make His presence known in His ministry. Unlike Israel, which gave into idolatry again and again, Jesus loved His Father with all His heart and soul and strength.
Lastly, we will look at the thing that gave Jesus His strength amidst these temptations. We look at the Word of God.
It is Written
If Jesus grew up in the typical fashion of His culture, then at age five He would have begun a rigorous study of the Holy Word in His community. Sabbath after Sabbath He would gather at the synagogue in Nazareth and listen to the Torah teachers. All the while He would have been learning His family trade. He likely began memorizing much of the Torah and the Prophets by oral recitation. As an exceptional student He would have started dialoging with the rabbis more about interpretations of God’s Law.
It was this upbringing that enabled Jesus to say with clarity: “It is written.” He knew and loved the Word of God.
As disciples we should ask ourselves how much we love the Word. Are we in awe of the fact that God would inscribe His thoughts in a book? Do we hang on each word believing in its divine origin?
As redeemed people we can be in awe of the mind of our Savior who took to heart each and every oracle of God. Moreover, we can see Jesus not merely as the One who knew the Word, but see Him as the One who is the Word. God’s greatest and final word to humanity is the person of Jesus Himself. He is God’s Word made flesh (John 1:14).
Paul called the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), a piece of spiritual armor we need in order to stand our ground against the evil powers of this world. Hearkening back to the prophets, Paul knew the very words that come from God’s mouth can smash a nation to pieces (Hosea 6:5), slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4), and shatter the rocks (Jeremiah 23:29). God’s words in the mouth of a prophet are like a sharp sword (Isaiah 49:2).
Paul was likely imagining a Roman soldier when he gave his description of our spiritual armor. Roman soldiers carried gladii—double-edged, high-carbon steel swords suitable for thrusting in battle. A knobbed hilt and ridges provided grip. Often a soldier’s name was engraved on the blade.
Paul wanted believers to wield the words of God by speaking them aloud, thrusting God’s words like a sword to attack His enemies, the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. This is exactly what Jesus did: He brandished the sword by speaking God’s commands aloud.
Contrast this with our first parents. One of the most disturbing verses in the Bible is Genesis 3:8: “She [Eve] also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam stood by during the whole encounter with the serpent and said nothing. He was silent as his wife debated with the serpent. He was silent as she approached the tree. He was with her through the whole encounter. His spoken word could have prevented Eve’s sin and his own, but he said nothing.
Adam’s silence was no trivial matter. God rebuked Adam for it: “you listened to your wife and ate from the tree” (Genesis 3:17). He listened to his deceived wife when he should have spoken truth to her.
Adam was made in God’s image, and like God he was designed to speak order into his world. With a spoken word, God created order from chaos, beauty from darkness, and substance from void. Adam was to reflect this kind of divine authority on the earth, exercising dominion over created order. After placing Adam in the garden he commissioned Adam to classify and name every animal.
And yet, when the serpent tempted him and his wife, he said nothing.
Jesus, the Second Adam, spoke aloud in the face of temptation. When the devil lured Him, the Second Adam was not silent. He spoke truth to counter the enemy’s lies.
As disciples, this means we must learn the art of speaking truth aloud to ourselves and to the devil. This does not mean engaging in a shouting match with evil as if the strength of our voice will scare away the demons. This does not mean standing up to supernatural foes as if we had anything in ourselves to combat them. Rather, this means saying aloud, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9), and speaking aloud the promises of God which focus our energies on the glories and beauties of Christ, not on the alluring bait of temptation.
As redeemed people we can enjoy this story about the Son of God, knowing that a day is coming when the image of God will shine forth from us once more. We will again be lords of the earth, joining the symphony of creation and never cease to worship our King. Because the Second Adam spoke truth instead of passively believing the lies, He went to the cross as the spotless lamb and covered our sin. We are now a part of a new humanity.
Using the Broadsword
Speaking God’s Word aloud is important, but if explained wrongly it can also lead us to superstition. True, God accompanies His words with His power, but His “Word” does not merely refer to direct quotations from the Scriptures. When Jesus quoted Scripture to the devil, he was not pulling quotations at random or reciting them like mantras; rather, He was pulling them deliberately from the scabbard of Deuteronomy. Like the rabbis of His day, when Christ quoted a verse of Scripture, this was a shorthand way of bringing to mind the whole context of that verse.
In other words, Jesus didn’t merely combat the devil with a dagger of short God-quotes, but with the weighty, broadsword of the whole story of God’s people.
When Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” this was not just a Bible-memory-verse coming to the surface of His thoughts. This was the whole story of Israel’s feeding on manna in the desert coming to mind, with all its lessons and implications. When Jesus said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” this was not merely a divine command being reiterated. This was rather the whole story of Israel at Massah coming to mind. When Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,” this was more than a spiritual maxim. This was a reminder of Israel’s constant failure to remember the Lord, their continual rush to idolatry.
When we quote the Scriptures aloud in times of testing, is it merely a mind trick to distract us from the surface temptations? Or is it a way for us to fully engage our minds and hearts with the stories of His people, and the commands, the promises, the beauties of God? Do we treat the Bible as a book of mantras? Or do we see it as the grand story of God’s unfailing love?
Thoughts for Personal or Group Reflection:
1. What prevents you from memorizing and meditating on the Word of God?
2. Do you speak the words of God aloud throughout your day? Why or why not?
3. When you quote the Word of God, is your mind filled with a broader context, or do you merely use it as a mantra?