If you are the Son of God…
Satan’s thrice-repeated address, “If you are the Son of God” is better translated as “Since you are the Son of God.” The Greek allows either but following Matthew 3:17 there can be no doubt about Jesus’ identity.
What is at issue is what it means. How will Jesus employ His divine sonship – to advance God’s kingdom, or Satan’s? Can Satan persuade Jesus to reinterpret His role, and God’s call, just as He did Adam and Eve (Gen 3.1-7)? God was well pleased with Jesus at His baptism; will He be well pleased with Him after this testing?
Satan does everything in his power to deflect Jesus from the path of filial obedience, knowing that if he cannot then his own dark kingdom will be defeated. He appeals to Jesus’ physical and emotional desires and to the scriptures. He tries to sow doubt in His mind, both about His relationship to God His Father and the mission to which He has been called.
English artist Stanley Spencer takes us to the crux of the matter. Obedience to the Father will ultimately lead Jesus to offer His own body as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world on the cross. Hence, the cut wood behind Him and the bleeding carcass before Him.
Sustained by the Holy Spirit
Will Jesus be obedient to death, or will He employ the divine powers surely available to the Son of God to take an easier path? This will not be the last time he faces this temptation (26.53; 27.40, 42), but resistance now will lay the foundation for victory over Satan later. Remember that it is the Holy Spirit who has led Jesus into the wilderness (1). It is by the Word and the Spirit that He is sustained.
Having defeated Satan and again been assured of the Father’s favour (by the sending of angels, 11) Jesus is faced with the reality of the fate, He has just committed Himself to: John has been arrested. He withdraws for emotional and practical reasons, but then takes up John’s preaching and message (17, cf. 3.2). His course is set.
Jesus’ Ministry Inaugurated
The time has arrived for Jesus to inaugurate His kingdom. He does this by calling the first disciples, teaching, preaching, healing, and driving out demons. Whereas John’s message was singular (repentance) and linked Jesus’ coming only with judgment, Jesus’ ministry is a demonstration of power and a call to those who have been baptized to partner with him and bear fruit. Fishermen become evangelists, the sick are healed, and Satan’s kingdom is driven back.
Jesus’ opening ministry is an unqualified success and attracts crowds of followers from near and far. The agenda for His mission is clearly laid out: it is good news for those who welcome it, bad news for the forces of evil.
Consider your own call: how might Satan be trying to distract you from it?
Father, your Son taught us to pray daily for deliverance from temptation. Help me, I pray, to stand against Satan; to resist the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions; and to fulfil the calling you have given me. I ask it in your name and for your glory. Amen.
Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash