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Satan's Three Strategies of Temptation
by Stephen Stillman
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Matthew 4:1-11

Satan is definitely trying to wear down the Saints of God. He constantly strikes at God's saints through his strategies of temptation. To understand temptation we must first realize that there are two ideas of temptation. The first idea is any attempt to entice evil which has a negative significance. The second idea is that temptation indicates a time of testing which aims toward spiritual maturity and has a positive significance. Temptation in it's negative sense which entices evil is traceable to Satan. Temptation in it's positive sense (testing) which entices spiritual good is traceable to God. Testing may be for proving a person or possibly improving a person's quality by bringing out a person's weakness, or by trapping them into a wrong action. In other words, we become more spiritually mature when we learn by our mistakes.

In this article I want to address the negative significance of temptation which we attribute to Satan. Satan is the ultimate source of negative temptation because all of his actions and desires are contrary to the love of God. We can learn a lot about Satan's temptations by studying the temptation of Jesus. In order for Jesus to become our Savior, His character needed to be built up and established through the temptations to sin which He resisted and overcame. In the temptation of Jesus, Satan used three specific strategies to tempt Him.

Lust of the flesh. Jesus was led into the wilderness where He fasted forty days and nights. This time of fasting set the stage for His temptation. After fasting Satan came to Jesus and said, "if thou be the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread". Satan knew that Jesus would be hungry after his many days of fasting and challenged Him to satisfy his hunger. The wilderness setting made this temptation very powerful. Lust is a desire to have something and the flesh is the physical part of us that is able to enjoy the pleasures which the flesh lusts after. We are able to receive pleasure through our physical senses. We can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear things that bring pleasure to our heart, mind and soul through our body. We can understand how powerful this temptation would be. After forty days of fasting anyone would be extremely hungry and it would be easy to lust after food that would satisfy our flesh.

Jesus knew that giving into fleshly lust would be sinful. Jesus answered Satan's temptation by saying, "It is written man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God". In using the word man, Jesus was affirming His intentions to live on earth as a human, subject to the needs and hungers that pull us into sin. Even in a physically weakened condition, Jesus did not seek strength from His divine nature to resist Satan. Notice how Jesus defeated this temptation. It was by the intelligent use of God's word for Jesus said, "It is written". Jesus is indicating that it is more important to feed on God's word to strengthen our soul's spiritual condition, than to feed on things to strengthen our physical condition. We have the same tool for defeating temptations of fleshly lust today, God's Word. Jesus naturally desired to satisfy His hunger and give in to the lust of the flesh, but to use His divine power for selfish needs would dishonor God. We have many natural desires of the flesh in which dishonor is brought to God when we seek to fulfill them.

Lust of the eyes. When Jesus refused Satan's first temptation, immediately Satan takes a new approach. Since Satan could not persuade Jesus to dishonor God, he attempted to seduce Jesus into a presumptous use of God's power to further His mission as Redeemer. In this new approach, Satan took Jesus into the holy city and set Him on a pinnacle of the temple. The holy city reflects a place set apart for God. Placing Jesus in this position put Jesus as close to God as possible. Satan knows how to put people in position for failure. Satan this time says to Jesus, "if thou be the Son of God cast thyself down. For it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." In this temptation it is Satan that uses the Word of God. Satan stands at Jesus' side and says, "Look down there at that crowd of people, all expectant and waiting for the coming of their Messiah. Now is the time to proclaim yourself as the Messiah." Satan says, "Trust God and leap. If you land safely from this height you will prove yourself the Messiah. So shall you escape the long sacrifice and the awful shame of the Cross."

This temptation was to encourage Jesus to take an easier path to power instead of the self-denying path of the Cross. Satan is suggesting to Jesus that if He would cast Himself down and be miraculously delivered, thus dazzling the eyes of the crowd (the lust of the eyes) He will prove Himself the Son of God. Jesus' answer to this second temptation also came from the Word of God. Jesus said, "it is written thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God." The Gospel writer Luke saw this temptation as the greatest of the three. We all have times when we feel that God has deserted us. The issue here may be seen as putting God to the test. Is the Lord with us or not?

The Pride of Life. Satan had failed tempting Jesus twice but doesn't give up. He is now making his third attempt. Satan takes Jesus into a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world. Here again Satan sets the stage by putting Jesus and the world in position. Satan shows the condition of the world to Jesus. He shows Jesus all the misery and corruption. Satan shows Jesus that with his help Jesus can rule all and lead the world. Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would fall down and worship him. This temptation is seen by Matthew as the greatest of the three. Satan was offering to deprive himself of what rightfully belonged to Jesus on the condition that Jesus accepted the authority of the world on Satan's principles. Jesus knew what Satan was showing Him would eventually become His, but Satan was offering them now. Jesus could have fallen to Satan's temptation and all His suffering, rejection, and pain of death could have been avoided. Satan was suggesting to Jesus to take pride in Himself and raise Himself to Satan's position, ruler of the world. If Jesus would submit to the temptation He could then force men to do His will. Jesus' mission was not to compel obedience but to change the hearts of men. Satan lured Jesus into sin by the pride of life. The pride of being the ruler of the world. Satan was tempting Jesus to gain the world by abandoning the Father to become Satan's accomplice. Our own pride often tempts us to abandon our heavenly Father and His ways for a little glory in this world.

Jesus again used God's Word and said to Satan, "For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Jesus is telling Satan point blank that He cannot offer Him enough to turn from God and serve him. Jesus refused to submit to Satan's challenges even though He would have to face further suffering. We all face future suffering. Jesus gave complete commitment to the will of God which was His path to the throne. There is no other way and there are no short cuts. Our commitment to God's will leads us also to our heavenly rewards. We cannot get there by falling into the temptations and snares that Satan sets for us.

After the temptations, Satan leaves Jesus and the angels came. Satan had offered everything he could at the most vulnerable time. He carried out all three strategies. He works with us in the same way. When one trial fails, he tries again.

It is amazing how Jesus' temptations illustrate our own. Jesus had to cope with His great hunger as he was tempted to His lust of the flesh. We too, are tempted to satisfy our lusts of the flesh; our hungers and appetites. Jesus had to cope with His desire to satisfy the lust of the eyes. As He was shown the people in the temple He struggled with what they would see if He cast Himself down from the pinnacle. We too, are tempted to do things that are pleasing to our sight and the things that make us look good in the sight of others. Jesus had to cope with His pride as He was tempted to receive the power to rule the world. For some of us, it is our pride that is sometimes the greatest of the three temptations. We refuse to follow God's way for fear of failure. We submit to Satan's challenges because they give us strength today.

There are four lessons to be learned from Jesus' temptations.

1. Jesus was truly determined to be a servant. He did not stop being God, but freely set aside His rights as being God. In choosing to empty and humble Himself, Jesus displayed God's pathway to dominion. Many of us try to control things of this world by manipulating and using any force available to us.

2. Jesus' full identification with us in our humanity offers hope. If Jesus had not overcome the tempter in His nature as God, we could not expect to overcome temptation.

3. Jesus' responses to the tempter spotlights resources we can draw from to overcome temptation. In each case, Jesus used the Word of God and chose His principle to live by.

4. Jesus is portrayed as a person in full control of Himself. He demonstrated the authority of one who has gained power to humble Himself; power to submit to God; power to give up our rights; and power to obey.

Jesus established His character through the temptation by resisting sin and overcoming Satan's challenges. Christians should build their character in the same fashion. Temptation leaves it's mark on us, whether we have victory as Jesus did, or fail defeated and yield to it's enticements. The result of that mark which cuts deep into the soul, is our character; either good or bad.

Written by: Stephen Stillman
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