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7. Temptation After Baptism #3

Chapter 7

Temptation After Baptism #3

Luke 4:9-12, parallel Matthew 4:5-7
Montreal, April 15, 1979


What makes the account of the temptation of Jesus so important? What does it have to do with us Christians, disciples of the Lord Jesus? In the last two messages, we have found in the temptation account many practical lessons which we must learn if we are to survive spiritually and be overcomers in the spiritual battle.

The first thing we observed is that right after the baptism of Jesus, indeed right after he had been anointed with the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel, he was led by the Spirit into the wilder­ness where he faced Satan’s attacks in the form of temptation.

Similarly, there will be temptation right after baptism for every disciple of Jesus who has been anointed with the Spirit, for we are also the sons of God. Are you contemplat­ing baptism? Have you been baptized recently? Then watch and pray because temptation will come to you. God allows us to be tested, but never more than we can bear, so that we may learn obed­ience through suffering and grow strong through spiritual conflict.

So far we have studied two principles of temptation which Satan used against the Lord Jesus, and which he will also use against us. In the first principle of temptation, Satan tempts you, a child of God, to put your legitimate physical needs and desires above your spiritual needs. In the second principle of temptation, Satan tempts you to choose the easier road, to make things easy on yourself.

The third temptation: Serve God with partisan zeal

Today we continue in Luke chapter four, proceeding to verses 9 to 12, in which we find the third principle of temptation:

9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels con­cerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:9-12, ESV)

To understand the situation, imagine Satan saying to Jesus, “Do you want to serve God? Then serve Him to your utmost capacity. Let us, you and I, go to Jerusalem where you will stand on the pinnacle of the temple and jump off into the courts below. You are going to come down from heaven, and descend upon the worship­ping crowds. Come down to earth as the Savior of the world. Your ‘second coming’ will take place in your first coming! The Son of God will descend from heaven to the worship­ping multitudes.”

How’s that for a plan? When Satan gets sympathetic and gives you some “caring” advice on fulfilling your role and purpose, you had better be on the alert. What is more, Satan knows the Bible well. He quotes from Psalm 91, a wonderful psalm which is among the finest of the psalms. In this psalm, God is twice spoken of as “the Most High” (vv.1,9). In quoting this psalm, Satan is responding to Jesus’ statement about serving God only, and turning it back on him like a good swords­man or judo expert who uses your strength against you. “So you say that we serve God only, for He is the highest? Fine, then let me quote Psalm 91.” This psalm begins the powerful words, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty”. The Hebrew word for “Most High” (Elyon) means the highest One, the supreme One.

In Luke’s account of the temptation, Satan quotes the following passage of Psalm 91 accurately:

11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12, ESV)

Satan continues: “Just now you said that the Most High God is the only one we must serve. Here then is the plan for fulfilling your purpose: Didn’t God say that if you fall to the ground, He will give His angels charge over you so that you won’t get hurt? If that is the case, what objection do you have to this plan?”

The third principle of temptation is this: Serve God, but serve Him in your own way, on your own terms. That is what Satan is tempting Jesus to do. Beware of a zeal that seeks to serve God, but not according to God’s way. You may think that no one could ever make this kind of elementary mistake, but in fact serving God in your own way is a mistake that the majority of Christians make.

This can be seen even in small ways. I get worried when Christians say, “Can’t I do it this way?” For example: “I will worship God at home. Why do I have to go to church for that? Isn’t God everywhere? Since He is everywhere, I can worship Him at home.” That sounds logical. Since God is everywhere including my home, I can worship God at home and in my own way.

When someone says, “I will serve God this way,” the issue is not so much whether you can do it. Of course you have the ability to go ahead with it. Can Jesus jump off the pinnacle of the temple? Of course he can. The issue is whether it is God’s way.

You know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power

Satan quotes Scripture, and quotes it accurately, even from one of the most precious psalms in the Bible. But the question is, What are you doing with the Bible passage? It is hard for Christians, especially young Christians, to discern Satan’s subtle tactics. He wants you to do your own thing, and serve God in your own way.

People fall into this trap for the same reason which Jesus points out regarding the Pharisees: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt.22:29). You have gone astray because you don’t know the Scriptures.

How do you defend yourself from Satan’s subtle attacks when he quotes you a Bible verse? Have you noticed what every false sect does? Whether it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, or the followers of Christian Science, they all quote the Bible. Their Bibles may be nicer than yours and certainly nicer than mine. My Bible doesn’t have gold edges, but these people come to me with expensive gold-edged Bibles. What is more, they quote from their Bibles.

It is crucial to know the Scriptures well. That is why we in this church are concerned to train up everyone in the Scriptures. “You err,” Jesus says, “because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” It worries me when people don’t take Bible study seriously or are indifferent to it, because if you don’t feed on the Word of God, you will be easily deceived. We live by every word, drawing sustenance from every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt.4:4). If you don’t live by God’s word, you won’t survive as a Christian. So it is crucial to know the whole Scripture.

One way of handling an attack is this: When someone quotes you a Bible verse, think of another verse that may supplement it. Is what he quoted from Scripture the whole truth?

Satan’s weapon: Teaching a partial truth

In many churches you will hear the same biblical themes being preached again and again to the neglect of other equally important themes. You may think that this kind of error would be rare, but in fact it is the most com­mon of errors. For example, a church which preaches only on the topic of being saved has only told you one part of the truth. This is very dangerous, and it shows that Satan has misled the church along this line.

In Scotland where I studied, there were many Gospel Halls, and they would always preach on how to be saved. Sunday after Sunday, the sermon would be on the topic of how to be saved. I looked through the congregat­ion and saw that 98% of them were already Christians. I asked myself, “Who are they preaching to? There are no non-Christians here.” It is certainly wonder­ful to preach on the blood and the cross of Jesus, but that is not the whole Scripture.

Pentecostal churches emphasize tongues, tongues, and tongues, and seem to find tongues everywhere in Scripture. The Bible does speak of tongues, and it is a wonderful truth, but tongues are a very small part of the Bible. But you wouldn’t know that by visiting a Pentecostal church.

When exposition focuses on Paul and not on Jesus

Already when I was a young Christian, I noticed that in the Protest­ant churches I visited, the preaching was only on Paul’s writ­ings. It was Paul this and Paul that. “Today we are going to study Ephe­sians, next week Colossians.” I asked myself, “When will any­one expound what the Lord Jesus taught?” The absence of exposit­ion on Jesus’ teachings made me suspicious. After all, Paul wrote only one third of the New Testament. What about the other two thirds? What did James say? Or Peter? Or Jude? These writers are ignored by most churches, so every Sunday it would be Paul this and Paul that.

When you visit a Christian bookstore, scan through the shelves, and you will see many books on Paul’s letters. It is Paul, Paul, and Paul. But you will find only a few commentaries on the other writers such as James, Peter or Jude. As for the central teachings of Jesus, almost nothing!

The kingdom of God is a central teaching of Jesus, yet it is ignored or misinterpreted by Christians. I have been searching for books on the kingdom of God because I am doing a new study on this topic. But I can hardly find anything. In the evangelical world, the only current writer who has written a proper book on the king­dom of God is G.E. Ladd, who was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary until his retirement. Apart from him, no evangelical has written anything of exegetical importance on the kingdom of God.

Ladd’s book is the only serious study on the kingdom of God among evangelicals, yet it was published in the 1950’s. There are a number of other books on the kingdom of God, but they are written by liberal scholars, and few are up to date. One such book was pub­lished recently, but the book before this one goes back to the 1970s. I have searched far and wide for every work on the kingdom of God whether by liberals or evangelicals, but there is almost not­hing on this central theme of Jesus’ teaching. By contrast, the books on Paul run into the thousands!

This caused me to think that something is not in order. When the central theme of Jesus’ teaching is ignored to extent that you can hardly find a good book on it, it worries me.

Let me say something crucial: The only Biblically complete teach­ing is that of the Lord Jesus. His teaching contains the whole counsel of God. It omits nothing. Everything is there in its prop­er emphasis and proport­ion. That is why I have been stressing Jesus’ teachings. After having studied his teachings for many years, I have come to see a perfect com­pleteness to them, with nothing left out.

The apostle Paul is in fact a commentator of Jesus. Every­thing that Paul writes is a commentary on Jesus’ teachings, and he would often assume that you the reader are already familiar with what Jesus taught. Hence, when we study Paul, we are only studying the commentary and not the text. If you don’t under­stand the text, how will you understand the comment­ary? The inevitable result will be lopsidedness and misinterpretation.

Paul never wrote anything original. The more I study Paul in relation to Jesus’ teaching, the more I find Paul’s entire teaching in Jesus’ teaching. But not the reverse: There are some things in Jesus’ teachings which are not necessarily found in Paul.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Paul and his writings. His deep spir­it­ual insight is unsurpassed. But I suspect that this is not the true reason many Christians study Paul today. The true reason is that they want to forever harp on only one aspect of Scriptural truth. It is an important and precious aspect, but nonetheless only one aspect, and it is justification by faith. Again, don’t get me wrong. Justification by faith is as precious to me as to anyone else. But it is crucial to preach the whole counsel of God of which justification by faith is only one part, and not the biggest part at that. No wonder the church has become lopsided. This is Satan’s strategy against the church. It worked well against the church even if didn’t work against the Lord Jesus.

Beware of taking offence at a verse of Scripture

Beware of anyone who gets offended when you point out a Script­ure that seems to contradict the one he is expounding as he interprets it. I will give you an illus­tration of this. In my student days in London, I was at a meeting in which a dear brother was going on about justification by faith alone. In fact the word “alone” in the sense of “justification by faith alone” is found nowhere in Scripture. Beware of inserting a word that is not found in a text of Scripture. In fact it is easy to demonstrate that “justification by faith alone” is found nowhere in the Bible. So I was disturbed when this brother inserted this tiny word “alone” into Paul’s teaching of justification.

I immediately quoted to him the words of the apostle James: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). And do you know what? He got annoyed.

I hope that you will love the whole counsel of God, the whole Word of God, and not pick and choose from it. I beg of you to take the Word of God in its entirety. For your salvation’s sake, never pick and choose from the Bible as many Christians do. Paul never said “justification by faith alone,” and neither does the rest of the Bible.

Joachim Jeremias, an eminent German theologian with whom I had corresponded with at various times because I had questions about some of the things he had said, wrote a book called The Central Message of The New Testament (1965, reprinted 1981) in which he says that although Paul did not use the word “alone,” its insertion is nonetheless justified. Now, if you start reasoning like this, you are in trouble! Never play around with the Word of God. Yes, we are justified by faith, but not faith alone. Paul would agree 100% with James that we are not justified by faith alone but by the works that come from faith.

If you get annoyed when someone quotes a different Scripture to complement what you quoted, you had better worry. If I quote a verse of Scripture and someone else quotes another Scripture for a balanced under­standing of the truth, I would be most grateful to him for showing me something I may have overlooked. But if you start getting annoyed, you are in trouble.

Martin Luther criticized the letter of James for saying that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [1] His criticism of James and a few other books of the Bible gave way to the liberal tradition in Germany, for once you start criticizing the Bible, why shouldn’t anybody else do the same? German scholars have been doing this to the Bible ever since the time of Luther. I don’t mean to be harsh with Luther because I love him very much. No one who has studied Luther’s life as I have would fail to have a deep affection for him. But he was not perfect, just as none of us is perfect. He made a serious mistake, and that started the whole liberal tradition in Germany. To this day, Germany more than any other country is a stronghold of liberalism.

Be sure to be faithful to the whole Scripture, the whole Word of God. If you emphasize one thing only, you are in trouble. I have sought by God’s grace to teach everything that Jesus taught in every aspect of his ministry, whether it is justification or sanctification or glorifi­cation. There are great riches in God’s Word, and God forbid that we should narrow it down to one thing as though it were the only truth. There are great riches in God’s Word! The fullness of the riches in God’s truth is liberating.

Zeal for a partial truth leads to persecution

After I had been a Christian for several years, I started to ask whether the Bible has anything to say beyond justification. As I studied the riches of God’s Word more and more, I began to see the vastness of these riches in which are found great revelations! I asked myself, “Why have they left us so impoverished by emphasizing one thing only?” So beware of emphasiz­ing only one aspect of Scripture because this will make you dogmatic and narrow-minded. One of these days, you will be like the religious people whom Jesus speaks of in John 16:2, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

You may wonder how it is ever possible for anyone to think that he is serving God by killing others. Has he never read the Bible? Yet sooner or later we will encounter people who emphasize only one doctrine, and they become intolerant and narrow minded when they hear another.

If you point out James to those who emphasize “justifi­cation by faith alone,” they will get angry with you, and accuse you of this and that. In fact, the more they oppose you in one way or another, the more they think they are doing God’s service. I have seen unlovely conduct in this type of Christian. They don’t care what the Scripture says, they just cling to their doctrines. Anyone who departs from their doctrines by so much as a tiny fraction, even a nuance, will be accused of heresy.

Sorry to say, this sort of thing happens a great deal within a certain deno­mination that I am personally familiar with, whose name I will not mention. They are forever accusing one an­other of heresy, and there is no end of it. They lack properly trained people to teach the Bible, so they stress only one aspect of biblical teaching. Now, I love them very much, and I say this not out of bitterness or hostility. They are only passing on what they themselves have learned. They cannot teach others what they themselves have not learned. As a result, they become narrow-minded and squabble over the minutest details you wouldn’t think are worth arguing over. They call each other heretics. Never let this happen among you.

We see the potency of Satan’s tactics in getting us to see just one part of the truth. You insist on that tiny part because you don’t have the whole truth but only part of it. This was the tragedy at the Banff conference where some church leaders said to me, “You are not teaching our doctrine.” I make no apology for not teaching their doctrine. I preach the Word of God, not their doctrine. I am not here to preach Reformed doctrine, which is Calvinism, but the Word of God in its entirety and riches.

Brothers and sisters, when you study the Word of God, don’t just say, “Ah, this is the truth. I have just discovered it!” Ask if there is another side to your discovery. Study especially those Scriptures that make you feel uncomfortable. I make that my principle. I don’t want to study only those Scriptures which soothe me, but particul­arly those which disturb me, which make me uncomfortable, which I find hard to understand, in order to see if there is something I may have missed. I want to be sure that I have not missed anything of God’s Word because we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Make it your principle to never use the Bible merely for gaining comfort. Let it make you uncomfortable. Avoid the easy road, and you won’t go wrong.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God as his central teaching, and with it God’s rule and kingship. I will em­phasize what he em­phas­ized. I will not emphasize what he did not emphasize. He didn’t emphasize tongues, so I won’t emphasize tongues. I accept tongues but won’t emphasize it.

Jesus also taught just­ification. It was not his main teaching but none­theless an important element. In his teaching, justification is simply the path to the kingdom of God. The kingdom remains the central theme in his teachings. Yet how strange that you can hardly find a book on the kingdom today. Satan has done his work indeed!

I intend to put that right by God’s grace. It is for this reason that I will keep on speaking on God’s kingship and lordship. But when you preach only justification, man becomes central, which is exactly what Satan wants for you. He wants you to think that God is there to save you, do things for you, cleanse you, sanctify you, and glorify you. When justification be­comes the central doctrine, man becomes the center. But when you stress God’s king­ship, God becomes the center. We have drifted from the true center, turning the gospel upside down, and heading for disaster. We must return to what Jesus emphasized: God’s kingdom and kingship.

Deuteronomy proclaims God as King

Have you noticed that Jesus’ replies to Satan all come from Deuter­onomy? The verses are 8:3, 6:13, 6:16. Interestingly, he quotes from Deuteronomy even when Satan quotes from the Psalms. That intrigued me. Why did Jesus answer Satan with Deuteronomy? When I studied Deuteronomy, I began to understand why.

The central characteristic of Deuteronomy is its stress on the kingship of God, a theme that meshes with Jesus’ central emphasis on God’s kingdom and kingship. Satan tried to tempt Jesus to do his own thing in his own way, but Jesus’ constant reply was “God is King.”

Let me illustrate this with some statistics. The Hebrew word mitzvah (“commandment”) occurs 43 times in Deuteronomy. By com­parison, in the other four books of the Pentateuch (a term which refers to the first five books of the Bible), mitzvah occurs once in Genesis, 4 times in Exodus, 10 times in Leviticus, and 5 times in Numbers—but 43 times in Deuteronomy. If you include other words related to mitzvah which have to do with commandment and statute, you will find the same predominance of those words in Deutero­nomy. No other Old Testament book has “commandment” anywhere as frequently as in Deutero­nomy.

The book of Deuteronomy stresses God’s law, God’s nomos. The word “Deuteronomy” (deuteros nomos) means a copy of God’s law, under­stood as an earthly copy of God’s heavenly law. It is a second declaration (deuteros means “second”), a repetition on earth of God’s law in heaven. It is the book of law par excellence. It is this book which emphas­izes God as King, the One who gives His law to His people. Hence it is significant that the Lord Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. There is nothing accidental about it.

Do you delight in God’s law, His life-giving Word?

The Lord Jesus delights in God’s law, as does the Psalmist who says, “O Yahweh, I delight in Your law” (Psalm 119:174). Anyone who loves God will love His law. Beware of the Christian who does not like the law of God. He wants God to do things for him but doesn’t want to do anything for God or be under God’s law.

But a true Christian will love God’s law as seen in many Old Testament verses. In Psalm 119:47, the Psalmist delights in God’s law with his whole heart: “I delight myself in Your commandments, which I love.” Psalm 119:127 says, “I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, more than fine gold.” If you love God’s Word and God’s law, and live by every word that proceeds out of His mouth, Satan will never be able to bring you down.


In our three messages on post-baptismal temptation, we saw three principles of temptation which Satan used against the Lord Jesus and which he will also use against us.

First, Satan tempts us by appealing to our legitimate physical needs and desires, so that we may put them above our spiritual needs. Second, Satan tempts us to take the easier road. Third, Satan the good swordsman will try to make us devote ourselves to one part of God’s truth, and to serve God in our own zeal.

Partisan zeal is most terrifying. Serving God with narrow zeal for the affirmation of one tiny part of His truth has resulted in some of the most dreadful episodes in the history of the church.

Read about the Inquisition one day. It will make you weep to see how Christians tortured Christians to death in God’s name. In God’s name! They will kill you, yet they think that they are doing God’s service (John 16:2). This partisan zeal stems from a misguided idea, ultimately instigated by Satan, of serving God in your own dogmatic and narrow way, even to the extent of killing people in God’s name. I dread to think of the future of the church in which some of us may be killed not by non-Christians but by Christians.

Recall the Inquisition in which Christians put Christians to death in God’s name. Apart from that is the fact that the Protestants in Calvin’s Geneva burned people to death over doctrine. Such mis­guidedness makes me sick in the heart, for they thought they were doing God’s service in killing others. The Crusaders killed Muslims and Jews in God’s name too. God help us! How Satan has misguided the church!

So I plead with you to study and understand the whole Word of God, especially those parts which make you feel uncomfortable and don’t agree with your doctrines. Don’t seek comfort and shelter in your theology! As I said, I welcome those verses which seem to dis­agree with me. I have had to revise my thinking again and again in studying the Word of God. I would embrace one particular doctrine only to find that the Word of God blows it to pieces. And I would say, “Okay, God, if that is how it is, then out goes my doctrine. You tell me what You want me to believe.” I don’t want to believe anything apart from what the Word of God teaches. I want to know the whole truth, not some part of it. Make this your aim and you will not go wrong.

Conviction, not comfort

Have you noticed something about the words which Satan quotes to the Lord Jesus from Psalm 91?

He will give His angels charge of you, to guard you. And on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:10-11, RSV)

What comforting words! Brothers and sisters, beware of listen­ing only to comforting messages. Conversely, when you hear a message that makes you uncomfortable, convicts you, or dis­turbs you, thank God for it. But those who go to church just to seek comfort will be open to Satan’s attacks. In that case, religion is truly an opiate. We have enough of opiates and don’t need any more. We don’t want to make the Bible an opiate.

But we give thanks for those who go to church even if they know that they will hear a message from God’s Word that cuts into their hearts, convicting them of sin and judgment.

I don’t comfort people much in my preaching, do I? I comfort people on the personal level, but not in preaching because what the church needs today is not comfort but conviction.

But Satan’s messages are comforting and soothing. Can you discern what he is doing in quoting Psalm 91:11-12 about the angels protecting God’s people? He quotes this passage out of context in order to extract from it the “once saved, always saved” teaching. Satan is saying, “No matter what kind of person you are, you will be saved. If you jump off the pinnacle of the temple even if God tells you not to, He is still com­mitted to make sure that no harm will fall on you.” Do you see the error? Have you discerned that the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is not found in the Bible? Do you see the danger in teaching the doctrine that no matter what you do, God will bear you up through His angels?

Psalm 91 is, first and foremost, addressed to those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, and abide in the shadow of the Almighty (v.1). God’s promise of protection is for those who live in obedience to Him and recognize Him as the Most High.

If you jump off a pinnacle in order to test your doctrines, you will not be borne up by angels but will be dashed to the ground. Make no mistake about it. It is only when you walk in the presence of the Most High all through your life that you can be confident that if you should ever trip over a stone or stumble over a cliff, He will bear you up. That is because you are living in total devotion to Him, not doing your own thing.

You can feel fully secure about your salvation when you walk in total obedience to God. I have great assurance of salvation. I don’t live in fear or dread because, by God’s grace, I have always wanted God to be the Most High in my life. But assurance is not for those who do not acknowledge Him as King.

[1] Luther called the letter of James “an epistle of straw”. In his German trans­lation known as the Luther Bible, completed in 1534, Luther moved Hebrews and James to a position in the New Testament just in front of Jude and Revelation, but behind those books which he calls “the true and certain chief books of the New Testament.” He was also suspicious of Esther, Hebrews, and Revelation, the last of which for the reason that he could not “detect that the Holy Spirit produced it”. It is believed that Luther softened his views in his later years.


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