This week we look at an entirely different encounter with Jesus, one in which there is a sarcastic and intentionally provocative recognition of Jesus' divine identity, a deliberate antagonism, and a perverse determination to turn Jesus aside from his God-given mission. This tense and unpleasant encounter is highly significant.
God's voice from heaven had just confirmed the identity of Jesus: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.' God then led him into the wilderness where Satan took up this affirmation, and used it in an attempt to pressure and provoke Jesus to:
It is not that Satan was casting doubt on Christ's identity when he said 'If you are the Son of God'; rather, he was assuming the reality of this identity, in the sense that we would say 'Since you are the Son of God'. [This is the significance of the Greek, which has two different words for 'if' and several ways of using them.]
Satan's acknowledgement of Christ's divine identity is evident in the very form of the temptations he presents: Satan knows that God's Son is the One who has the creative power to turn stones into bread; Satan knows that Christ is the rightful king and owner of all of the kingdoms of the world, which he himself rules only for an interim; Satan knows that Christ has the angels at his command and in his service. They were temptations only because they were actually possible.
Satan is here pushing the Son of God to use his power as God in a way contrary to his nature as God. He is, in fact, pushing the Son of God to rebel against the Father. At the same time he is pressing Jesus to abdicate from and abandon his real humanity, aborting the substitutionary and representative role and purpose of his incarnation.
Jesus stood firm against this pressure, demonstrating the validity of God's affirmation and exposing Satan's warped and perverted perceptions of his own ability to corrupt Christ and sabotage God's eternal plan for our salvation. By Christ's firm stand both his divine identity and our salvation are preserved intact. Had Jesus succumbed to Satan's pressure he could never have been our Saviour.
This encounter authenticates Jesus not only as the Son of God, but also as a valid substitute qualified to take our place under God's judgement, and as a high priest qualified to represent us in God's presence. It does this in two ways: firstly, because Jesus came through it all without sinning, and therefore had no sin of his own to pay for; and secondly, because in this pressure from Satan he experienced the full power of temptation, he stood firm against it until the devil gave up. He, more than any of us, knows what it is like to be pressured to give in and give up: he can identify with us.
Thus he, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is qualified to be our both our substitute and our advocate.
By this encounter those those very things that Satan intended to corrupt and sabotage are affirmed and established.
Scriptures: Luke 4:1-13; 3:22; Hebrews 4:14-16.