STUDIES IN HEBREWS

© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002

STUDY TEN: A DEEPER LOOK AT TEMPTATION

Before we begin: Before we move on to Hebrews 12, let us remember why the letter to the Hebrews was written: it was not written because its recipients were being tempted to commit moral sins; rather, it was written because they were on the brink of denying or letting go of their faith because of (1) the pressure to revert to the rituals of Judaism, and (2) the pressure of persecution. The 'sin' which confronted them was the sin of denying Christ and his gospel. Or, to put it another way, they were striving against the sin of others who in their unbelief were pushing, poking, prodding, provoking the Hebrew Christians to the limit.

A. PRECONCEIVED IDEAS

We are conditioned to think of temptation as being seduced to sin. In this way: we perceive that temptation is thinking about stealing an apple from the fruit shop, or, reading a novel instead of the Bible, or, wanting to lie down when we think we should be doing something, or, pausing to read the stars as we flip through magazine pages.

B. A QUESTION: DOES THE BIBLE SPEAK OF TEMPTATION THIS WAY?

Yes it does, but only a few times. In the Biblical occurrences of the words 'tempt' and 'temptation' we find that:

  • in only three is the meaning unquestionably seduction to commit moral sin.
  • in three others (occurring in James 1:14, and 1 Cor 10:13) there is a possibility it means seduction to moral sin.
  • in 17 God is said to be tested or put to the test.
  • in 15 Jesus is said to be tempted or tested, or to undergo trials.
  • in 32 the genuineness of our faith and commitment is tested.
  • 2 simply refer to attempting or trying to do something.
  • 2 are in the Lord's prayer: lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Overwhelmingly the Biblical use of the word is relation to being put to the test, being pushed to one's limit, beyond which one will give in, being provoked to respond or react in some way. This is often done to God. It was done to Jesus. And it is done to believers.

C. SOME EXAMPLES OF THIS KIND OF PRESSURE

[1] The Israelites, and others, are reported to have done it to God frequently . By their behaviour they were pushing, poking, prodding, putting pressure on God to see just how far they could go in disobeying him, before he did something about it. (Children to this to parents and teachers). The question is: does God really mean what he said? Will calamity really come to us if we disobey? How far can we go?

Study: Exodus 17:2,7; Numbers 14:22; Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalm 78:18, 56; 95:9; 106:14; Isaiah 7:12; Malachi 3:15; Matthew 4:7; Acts 5:9; 15:10; 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 3:9. [In each of these the KJV uses the verb 'tempt', while the NIV favours the verb 'test'.]

[2] It happened to Job . God had affirmed his acceptance of Job, identifying him as a man of true faith. Satan, the accuser, questioned the integrity of Job's faith, asserting that a bit of pressure would make him deny his faith and curse God to his face. God allowed the pressure to be asserted. Job, although at times he felt like he was losing his faith, endured the pressure (the testing) and came out the other side of it with his faith not only intact, but enriched and strengthened. It is important to note here that it was not God who was testing Job. God had no doubts that Job's faith would survive the pressure. God knew, before the testing began, that Job's faith was genuine.

Study: Job 1 and 2.

[3] In the parable of the Sower (Luke 8) the seed sown among the rocks represents those whose apparent faith is proved non-genuine by the pressures and trials that come their way.

[4] Luke records Christ's prediction of Peter's denial (22:31-34): 'Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. ... Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.' Notice that Jesus doesn't consider Peter's denial as a permanent failure of faith; but notice also that the pressure of Satan's attack did cause a temporary 'giving in' to the testing.

[5] Similarly, Jesus in Gethsemane, instructed the disciples to 'pray that you will not fall into temptation'. This falling in to temptation was not concerned with their going out and murdering or stealing or such like, but with the very real pressure which was about to come against them to turn their backs on Jesus and give up on their faith.

[6] Jesus was 'tempted' by Satan in the desert. (Matthew 4; Luke 4). This was not temptation to commit moral sin but to give up on the God-ordained, long-planned way of the cross. Prophetically he had said 'I delight to do thy will or God.' Here his commitment to that will is put to the test. Here Satan pushes him, pressures him, testing his commitment to God and God's plan and purpose, trying to provoke him to the point where he will give in and opt for the easy way out.

We also read of many instances where various Jews 'tested' Jesus. Some of these are pushing him to make his identity known; some are pushing him to identify himself as a miracle-working national hero; some are trying to push him into making a mistake that will show him and his claims to be false.

Study: Matthew 16:1; 22:18, 35; Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Luke 10:25; 11:16; John 6:6; 8:6. In all of these the normal word for 'tempt' is used, yet in no way are these incidents temptations to commit moral sins. In each of them pressure is being put on Jesus for one reason or another.

[7] The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were being pushed by Satan through the pressure of teachers of Judaism and circumstances, to the limit of their faith and commitment . So the writer refers to Jesus, who was tempted/tested, without giving in, to the Israelites, who put God to the test, evidencing their lack of true faith, and to the heroes of faith listed in chapter 11, who endured all sorts of trials and persecutions for the sake of God and his truth.

D. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

What does this prayer mean? Is it talking about seduction to sin? Or is it talking about testing and pressure that come against our faith from Satan to push us into denying Christ and giving up our faith? I would suggest from the overwhelming use of the word 'peiradzo' and 'peirasmos' in reference to testing and trials and pressure, that that is what we are praying about here. Here we, conscious of our weakness, conscious of the enemy and his tactics, ask our Father not to bring us into these kinds of circumstances and pressures where we will be pushed to the limit, but, if and when he allows such circumstances to come on us, he will then rescue us out of them, and, importantly, rescue us from the ultimate evil of denying him in a permanent way. Satan is not far away from us when we pray this prayer. He is the source of pressure that is aimed to destroy our faith, not God. God allows him sometimes, to put the pressure in our path, but God will never allow more than our genuine faith can bear (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). God, in his sovereign power, uses the pressure not only to validate genuine faith, but also to strengthen and increase it, as he did with Job.

For future study: Be on the look out later this in 2002 for Studies on the Lord's Prayer planned for this website. They contain in depth study on 'lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'.