We sometimes make an elementary mistake when reading the temptation narratives. We assume that their chief purpose is to teach us about our temptations and how we should resist them.
True, our Lord’s example of resisting his temptations does help us to withstand our temptations. But their point is not to say, “Jesus was tempted, and you are tempted just like him, so respond to temptation as he did.” That would turn his temptations into a mere example for us to emulate. No—we are told that the Holy Spirit led Jesus, indeed “drove him,” into the wilderness to be tempted.42
Jesus’ temptations were not a series of unfortunate events that overtook him unexpectedly. They constitute an epic confrontation taking place within the divine strategy. What we see here is Jesus’ work of conflict, victory, and salvation. He came face-to-face with Satan. He appeared as God’s new man, the second Adam, to do what the old man, the first Adam, had failed to do. The question is: who will possess the kingdoms of this world? And how will God’s kingdom be recovered and established? And the answer is that Jesus will repossess them in our name and for his Father’s pleasure and glory. Satan will be crushed under foot!
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A Second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
That did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.43
This is why Jesus experienced such overwhelming weakness and hunger (in contrast to Adam, who enjoyed plenty). This is why he faced temptation in a wilderness (not like Adam, situated in a lovely and hospitable garden). This is why he was surrounded by wild animals (not, as Adam was, by pliant, obedient, almost domesticated animals). Jesus, the Last Adam, had to conquer in the context of the chaos the first Adam’s sin had brought into the world.
So from the beginning of his ministry to its end, Jesus is marching against the powers of darkness. Virtually immediately after the temptations, as he begins his public ministry, he has to face a further onslaught of demonic activity in the Nazareth synagogue.44 Soon afterwards he encounters a man in Gadara whose life is under some destructive alien influence and out of control. He roams through the tombs like a wild animal nobody can subdue.
Jesus says tenderly to the demoniac, “What is your name?”
He replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”45
A Roman legion theoretically consisted of around four thousand to five thousand soldiers. The man is saying, “Thousands of demons have invaded my life.”
But catch this. It takes only one demon to destroy a man. Why, then, have thousands of demons invaded him? Because the Lord Jesus was there. That is the whole point. This is not simply a poor man possessed by a legion of demons. That would be an extravagant deployment of forces Satan could never afford. No, not this man, but the destruction of Jesus’ ministry is the ultimate target.
The reason there is so much demon possession in the time period recorded by the Gospels is not—as is sometimes assumed—that demon possession was commonplace then. In fact it was not. Rather, the land then was demon-invaded because the Savior was marching to the victory promised in Genesis 3:15. And all hell was let loose in order to withstand him.
The response of the demons themselves to Jesus makes this clear. When he was confronted by the demon-possessed man in the Capernaum synagogue, the unclean spirit’s reaction to him was “Have you come to destroy us?”46
And then, of course, this sinister opposition took a more subtle form in one of the three men Jesus loved most in the world, when Simon Peter echoed the Serpent’s temptation of the Savior: “Don’t take the way of the cross, Jesus.”47
How resolute Jesus was—how clear-headed to hear in Peter’s words the accent of the Evil One—and to respond: “Get behind me, Satan!”48
Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).
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