"Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." (Matt.4:11)
Luke’s account of this episode in the life of Jesus lets us know that the devil’s leave-taking was only “for a season,” but if you have wrestled much with temptation, you will still find these words encouraging. Though it may be persistent, temptation is not incessant. In other words, while we’re living in these bodies there will never be a time when there is no more temptation to face. However, there will be intervals when it does not rear its ugly head.
“Well, Jesus was able to resist because He was God,” some have suggested. But the whole rationale behind His coming to earth as a baby and growing into manhood was so that He could be “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb. 4:15). He could simply have shown up, died on the Cross and raised from the dead, then returned back to the Father. That would have paid the sin debt. He didn’t come so He would know what it was like to go to a wedding or a funeral, or have dinner with friends. It was so He could know what it is like to live among prostitutes, thieves and murderers; lose a friend by death and betrayal; suffer hunger, thirst, pain, torture, and death; and on the mount of temptation, be offered the world in exchange for your soul. And He experienced it all as a Man. “Man shall not live by bread alone…” (Matt. 4:4).
Why did the devil finally leave Jesus? Was he through with Him? Obviously not. We can all offer our own idea, since we are not given insight into his actual thinking; but I would argue that he knew he wasn’t going to win this round, so he decided just to chuck it. Looking at our Lord’s tactics from a human standpoint, it would seem to me that He used two things: His will and the Word. He refused and He refuted. Everything the devil suggested to Him, He countered with a Biblical alternative and a flinty resolve (Isa. 50:7). And in the final analysis, that’s all you and I really have. Fortunately, because of the indwelling Spirit of God, it’s all we need. Prayer and accountability partners are wonderful to have, but on our own “mount of temptation,” there will not be anyone there but the devil and us.
We have an adversary who is real. He is not a “force” or an “influence.” He is a personality. His hatred for us is rooted in spite. He hates us because we are the beloved of God; so he tempts us to spite Him. It will take both the power of the Word and our wills to overcome him. The Word of God must be hidden in our hearts (Psl. 119:11), not just pounded into our heads. It must be ingrained in our thinking, and grafted into our souls (James 1:21). And our will does not have to be strong, only focused and centered on pleasing God (2 Cor. 8:12).
One day, the Bible says, our battle with Satan will be over; and, in our case, this fight is “fixed.” We will win (Rev. 20:10). No wonder old Lucifer tries to initiate as much rebellion and wretchedness in our lives while he can. He only has so long. In the meantime, you and I can wear him down and send him slinking off down the road, till the next time. Our Lord has left us an example in temptation, and we should follow in his steps (1Pet. 2:21).
“A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later…We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only true realist.” – C. S. Lewis