11. The Temptation of Jesus Part III (Luke 4:9-13)
There are many things in this life that I consider tempting. One of the greatest temptations for me has to do with cars, horsepower, and speed. I have occasionally had a friend come by with a new car, hoping I would find out “how fast it would go.” For me, that is a real temptation. That is one of the primary reasons I have always driven older, slower cars (another is money). I am able to identify with the first two temptations of our Lord as well. The first temptation was in the area of food and hunger. Satan sought to tempt our Lord to satisfy His hunger by commanding a stone to become bread. This would have been no difficulty for our Lord, and it would have solved His problem of hunger.
The second temptation was in the area of power and control. If the first temptation had to do with physical “needs” which motivate men, the second had to do with the psychological “need” to exercise power and control over others. The prestige and power of “all the kingdoms of the world” were offered our Lord by Satan if He would but bow the knee in worship to him. Our Lord rejected this offer because man’s worship and service can only be directed toward God. Since the worship of Satan would have necessitated serving him, our Lord would have become his servant had He succumbed to this temptation.
Again I say that I can identify with the human (albeit fallen, oft times) desire for food and for power. The third temptation is one that has no immediate attraction at all. I have never felt the temptation to jump from a tall building. If I were standing on a very high place, my only temptation would be either to cling to some piece of the structure for fear of falling, or to crawl down as quickly as possible. How is it that Satan can suppose jumping from the pinnacle of the temple can be a tempting offer?
I would suggest to you that this offer could only have been tempting to the Son of God. If I were a bird, it would be a delight for me to leap from the high place, only to soar even higher when the winds provided lift for my wings. If I were but a man, there would only be the certainty of a very messy “splat” on the rocks below. But if one were indeed the Son of God, One with Whom the Father was well-pleased, One who had the assurance of His care and protection, then jumping might well be a tempting thought.
Have you ever watched a small child learn to trust its father? When my children were younger we would sometimes visit a swimming pool. With a little persuasion, I would entice one of the kids to jump into my arms in the pool. After a few experiences, no coaxing was needed. Indeed, the child would sometimes leap when I was not looking, bobbing to the surface (or perhaps being lifted to the surface) with the greatest of delight. It is not difficult to imagine that the Son of God could have felt the same way about jumping from the pinnacle of the temple.
Satan’s temptation of our Lord, then, is a back-handed admission on the part of the devil to the deity of Christ. Satan knew that proposing a leap from the heights of the pinnacle of the temple might only have an appeal to the Son of God. For anyone else, for any lesser being, it would only be a temptation to dramatically commit suicide. Thus Satan in this third and final temptation (as Luke records it) is tempting the Son of God as God. Only God, or at least someone very much assured of God’s protection, would contemplate a leap from the heights of the pinnacle of the temple.
As we come to this third temptation of our Lord, it is Satan’s final temptation, at least for the time being. We know from the final verse of this section, that other temptations would follow later:
And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).
The purpose of this lesson will be to explore the third temptation of our Lord by Satan. We will seek to understand what it was that Satan was seeking to accomplish and why. We will also make an effort to determine why leaping from the temple would have been sin, and its results, had our Lord done so. We shall also explore the reason why our Lord gave Satan for refusing. Finally, we will endeavor to explore the ways in which jumping from the pinnacle of the temple may be performed by people today.
The Setting of the Temptation
Each of the three temptations takes place in a different setting. The first temptation occurred in the wilderness, the second was proposed from the top of a very high mountain, and the third temptation will take place in the “holy city,” Jerusalem, and on very high point of the temple.
Our Lord had no doubt been in Jerusalem on a number of occasions. His parents, Luke has informed us, went up there every year (Luke 2:41). To this point in the life of our Lord Luke has only recorded the incident which took place in the temple at Jerusalem when our Lord was 12 years old (cf. Luke 3:41-51). Even at this early age our Lord recognized that the temple was “His Father’s house” (3:49).
Satan must have led our Lord to Jerusalem for a particular reason. I believe it is safe to assume that he led the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem and to the temple, thinking that this would make his final temptation more appealing. Jesus has just been acclaimed the Son of God, the “King of Israel,” by the Father, at the time of His baptism. Jerusalem is the place where the king would reign. It is also the capital of the kingdom. Just as the “wailing wall” in Jerusalem today brings many memories of Israel’s glorious past, and inspires hope for her future, so Jerusalem and the temple were emotion-stirring places. Strong emotions must have stirred in our Lord as He passed through the streets of the holy city, being led on His to the temple, the scene of His final temptation of this series.
Jerusalem meant a great deal to an Israelite. Some Israelites swore by Jerusalem (Matt. 5:35). Our Lord also had a great feeling for the city of Jerusalem. He once said,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 13:34-35).
Later, our Lord would warn of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20ff.; 23:27-31). The kingdom of God will come to the earth with the arrival from heaven of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12; chapter 21).
In addition, it was surely in Jerusalem that many devout (and many not-so-devout) saints lived who were waiting for the coming of Messiah and the commencement of His kingdom, people like Simeon and Anna, for example (cf. Luke 2:25ff.). These people would surely be the first to recognize the Messiah when He revealed Himself to men. If our Lord was to manifest Himself as Messiah, Jerusalem would be the place to do so, and the temple would be the one place in the city where He would most likely appear. The Old Testament prophets had spoken several times of His appearance in the temple:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:1; cf. Micah 1:2-3).
It was in Jerusalem and on a very high place of the temple68 that Satan’s final proposition was made.
“If You are the Son of God, cast Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,’ and, ‘ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” (Luke 4:9).
The challenge is clear. Satan dares, as it were, our Lord to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Since our Lord has in the previous two temptations cited Scripture as the reason for His refusal of Satan’s solicitations, Satan this time cites Scripture himself, supposing that this will greatly enhance his position.
Satan’s Use of Psalm 91
Satan’s biblical citation comes from the text of Psalm 91. The psalm speaks of the safety and security of the one who takes refuge in God. We are told that the Jews of that day understood this psalm to be messianic in that the protection spoken of was specially that which Messiah would experience.
It is my opinion that Satan is a very poor student of Scripture. While Satan may have great intelligence, we know that the Scriptures cannot be understood apart from the divine illumination of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-16). If the “natural man” cannot comprehend the things of God, how is it that we think Satan has such a thorough grasp of the word of God? I do not think that Satan is a very good student of Scripture, although I do believe that he “searches the Scriptures” in an effort to determine what God is doing.
I believe that Satan thought that the Psalm 91 was a messianic psalm, and thus that it could be cited as convincing proof of God’s protection and care of His Son, Israel’s Messiah. I further believe that Satan’s interpretation of this psalm was borrowed from the Jewish scholars, who held the view that the psalm was messianic. I also believe that Satan learned from the Jews their tradition that Messiah would manifest Himself to Israel by leaping from the pinnacle of the temple.
It is my conviction that Satan not only misapplied the passage he cited from psalm 91, but that he misinterpreted it as well. Satan may very well twist the truth, but in this instance, I do not believe that he knew the trust. Satan sought to buttress his final temptation with a passage of Scripture which he had misinterpreted and which he thus misapplied. It is not that he knew the true meaning of the text and twisted it as much as that he did not know the meaning of the text and thus misapplied it.
What, then, was the true meaning of Psalm 91? I believe that this psalm speaks of the safety of every saint who takes refuge in God, who looks to God for protection. More specifically, the safety which is spoken of here is the divinely provided protection from God’s wrath. The plagues and dangers here are not, in my opinion, the adversities and dangers of life, but the perils of the wicked in the outpouring of divine wrath. As the psalmist puts it, “You will only look on with your eyes, And see the recompense of the wicked” (Ps. 91:8).
The Psalm is not a promise of protection for Israel’s Messiah. Indeed, it is the opposite! It is the promise of protection from God’s wrath for all who take refuge in God. It is the salvation from judgment which the believer is assured of. From the “suffering Servant” passages in the Old Testament (e.g. Isa. 53) and the message of the New Testament, we know that it was the suffering of Messiah which provided the protection from the saint. It was because Christ bore the wrath of God on the cross of Calvary that men need not experience that wrath themselves. Thus the message of Psalm 91 is not a promise of protection for Messiah, but an implied reference to Messiah’s suffering the wrath of God on the sinner. If the psalm refers to God’s care for Messiah, it is with veiled reference to the resurrection of Messiah after He has died for the sins of men (cf. vv. 14-16). This was therefore a terrible proof text for Satan’s temptation.
Neither the Jews nor Satan had grasped the meaning of Psalm 91, and thus they failed to understand its application to Messiah. Our Lord understood it fully, and thus was not impressed by Satan’s offer. Just what was Satan offering our Lord? What did he hope to accomplish by enticing our Lord to jump from the pinnacle of the temple? This is what we shall now seek to discover.
The Nature of this Temptation
We can all agree on one thing: Satan was seeking to persuade the Lord Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. But why? The answer to this question is not as obvious. I believe that there are several possible reasons, one or more of which may have been Satan’s purpose in this temptation:
(1) Satan was seeking to disqualify our Lord as Messiah. Had our Lord “put God to the test,” He would have sinned, thereby disqualifying Him to serve as Messiah.
(2) Satan was seeking to get our Lord to doubt the goodness and power of God, and thus to “Divide and Conquer.” The only reason for putting God to the test is doubt and unbelief. For Jesus to have jumped would have meant that He doubted God and thus found it necessary to test God’s love and care. Our Lord’s responses to the first two temptations indicated a firm faith in God, a faith which was willing to passively wait for God to bring about His will, rather than to independently bring it about by His own actions. Satan sought to turn passive faith into presumptive faith, a faith which forced God to act.
(3) Satan may have sought to bring about a premature introduction of Jesus as Messiah, ushering in the kingdom before He could destroy the evil one. Satan may well have learned that the Jews expected Messiah to manifest Himself by leaping from the temple. To persuade Him to prematurely manifest Himself, with divine power and deliverance, might have convinced the people of Jerusalem that He was Messiah, immediately ushering in the kingdom, and hopefully (from Satan’s point of view) eliminating the need to crush the head of Satan.
(4) Satan was seeking to kill the Messiah. In Genesis chapter 3, God had told Satan that the Messiah (the seed of the woman) would crush his head (3:15). He, on the other hand, would “bruise the heel” of the seed. From this point on, I believe that Satan sought to prevent the seed from being born, or to kill the seed once he was born. This helps to explain Satan’s opposition against Israel (through whom the seed would come) in the Old Testament period. Once the birth of Messiah has taken place, Satan is apparently behind the attempt of Herod to kill the child (cf. Matt. 2). In the end, it was Satan’s entering into Judas which brought about the scheme which resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. Satan did not realize that “killing Messiah” was the divinely intended means of His bearing the sins of the world on the cross. My point here, however, is that Satan saw the killing of Messiah as the solution to the threat of Messiah and his kingdom.
Just how would Satan envision killing our Lord by persuading Him to leap from the pinnacle of the temple? I can think of several ways. First, acting presumptuously would be sin, and sin (as he knew well) brought death. Second, if our Lord were to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, he might not be saved, and thus would die. Finally, Satan’s angels might be employed to bring about the Messiah’s death. Satan has cited a passage which, according to his interpretation, views the angels as God’s instruments for protecting and rescuing Messiah. It is also the “fallen angels” who make up the lion’s share of Satan’s forces which oppose God. Thus it would seem to be Satan’s fallen angel forces which interfered with the heavenly messenger in Daniel chapter 10. Could it be that Satan hoped to convince Jesus to jump, and then to thwart an angelic deliverance by calling in his own angelic forces? Such a plot is not too devious for one so evil and cunning as Satan.
In one or more of these ways, I believe that Satan sought either to disqualify or to disarm Messiah, so that He would not be able to fulfill His mission, which was to destroy the evil one and to establish His kingdom on the earth.
Response to Satan’s Offer
Once again, our Lord did not respond by correcting every error in Satan’s theology and methodology.69 He struck at the jugular vein of the matter, giving but one biblical response, one which terminated not only this temptation, but the entire session, which had lasted forty days. Our Lord’s response was a biblical one: “‘YOU SHALL NOT FORCE A TEST ON THE LORD YOUR GOD’” (Luke 4:12).
When Israel Tested God
The words which are Lord cited to Satan are found in Deuteronomy chapter 16, with a further descriptive statement: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah (Deut. 6:16).
If we want to understand what it means to “put God to the test” we must learn how Israel put God to the test there. The account of this is found in the 17th chapter of the book of Exodus:
Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD? But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Exod. 17:1-7).
From this text we can identify certain actions which is called “putting God to the test.” Let us consider what some of the characteristics of testing God are, from this incident at Massah. Then let us seek to determine how the third temptation of our Lord was similar, and thus a testing of God.
Characteristics of Testing God
(1) The Israelites put God to the test because they felt God was failing to meet their needs and to fulfill His promise. The land to which God promised to bring His people was described as a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exod. 3:8, 17; 13:5). It was one thing not to have these things in abundance; it was quite another to lack water, a basic necessity for life. The Israelites had come to Rephidim and there was no water there. It would seem that Adam and Eve also disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree because they felt that the knowledge of good and evil was an unmet need, worthy of disobedience.
To put the matter a little differently, the Israelites put God to the test when they realized that God’s purposes and leading brought them into adversity, rather than ease and comfort. In the Israelites’ protest against Moses and God, they spoke of the “good old days” in Egypt and contrasted them with their present circumstances (Exod. 17:3). Life was better then, they protested. It was so good, in fact, that they threatened to go back.
(2) The Israelites put God to the test because they doubted God’s good will and good purposes for their lives. The Israelites accused God of leading them into the wilderness to put them to kill them and their children and their cattle (Exod. 17:3).
(3) The Israelites put God to the test by resisting God’s leadership. The people grumbled against Moses and argued with him, but ultimately they were resisting God.
(4) The Israelites put God to the test by insisting that God perform according to their expectations and demands. The Israelites put God to the test by determining His presence by His presents. The word of God was not sufficient, nor was God’s marvelous works for them in the past. They wanted God to act now, to give them what they wanted, when they wanted it, or they would refuse to acknowledge His presence among them. God’s presence among His people could only be proven by His on-going performance of miracles, so that none of their needs were unmet.
(5) The Israelites put God to the test by reversing the Father-Son relationship. Our Lord Jesus has just been designated as God’s “Son” at His baptism (Luke 3:22). As God’s Son, the Lord Jesus needed to be tested and proven, before He could be given all of the privileges of His sonship:
So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “THOU ART MY SON TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”; just as He says also in another passage, “THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.” In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation; being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5-10).
There is a very clear principle underlying this passage, one which is clearly applied to all saints later in the book of Hebrews. Speaking to those who are chafing under minimal suffering, the writer says,
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb. 12:4-8).
Israel was also, in a collective sense, God’s son:
“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born”’“ (Exod. 4:22-23).
Later on, through the prophet Hosea, God said of Israel: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son” (Hos. 11:1).
I believe it is a principle that the son must first be tested and proven, and then exalted to a position of prominence and power, by God Himself, in His own time. This was to be true of Israel, so that the adversities Israel experienced in the wilderness were God’s test, to see if the nation was fit to reign as God’s “son”:
“And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deut. 8:2-5).
Israel failed the test of “sonship” and our Lord Himself has been designated as God’s “Son,” who will establish the kingdom of God and rule over the earth. Satan’s temptation, while couched in terms that appear to be a challenge to prove His sonship, is really a solicitation to renounce it. As the “Son of God,” our Lord was to endure physical want, waiting for God to satisfy His needs. Satan challenged the Lord Jesus to meet the need Himself, by commanding a stone to become bread. The “son of God” was to be the instrument through which the whole world would worship God, yet Satan sought to entice our Lord to worship him, in order to possess a kingdom which was in rebellion against God. Finally, in this third test, the “Son of God” was to wait for the day when God Himself enthroned Him as the king. Satan sought to persuade the Savior to leap from the pinnacle of the temple, thus instituting a kingdom independently of the Father.
Sonship really was the issue of this temptation. Israel had failed to grasp what sonship entailed, or rebelled when they became aware of its price. Our Lord understood fully what sonship was all about, and thus each of His responses to Satan came from the one place in the Old Testament which most emphatically taught the meaning and implications of sonship.
What Satan is seeking to accomplish in the third temptation is even more bold, more evil, than that which happened at Massah. At Massah, Israel suffered from a genuine need of water. The need was not of their own making, but divinely brought about. They tested God by demanding that God meet the need in order to prove Himself worthy of their obedience and worship. In the temptation at the pinnacle of the temple, Satan is proposing that our Lord presumptuously create a need which forces God to intervene, based upon a text which was believed to teach that God would not allow any evil to happen to His Messiah.
There are times when one may be in danger due to the leading of God or to one’s obedience to the will of God. For example, Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were in grave danger (death in the fiery furnace) because they refused to bow in worship of the golden image. Even though the danger was, as it were, beyond their control, they refused to place God in a position where He had to act a certain way:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
As we attempt to explore the relevance and application of our text to our own lives, let us remember that Christians are also, in a sense somewhat distinct from that of our Lord, “sons of God,” who are to reign with Christ (cf. Hos. 1:10; Rom. 8:19; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 1:6; 20:6). As “sons of God,” we are subject to testing and discipline (Heb. 12). We are also susceptible to the same temptations to which Adam and Eve and Israel (and virtually all mankind) have failed. Thus, the test of our Lord’s sonship is very relevant to “sons of God.”
The specific test of our Lord’s sonship was that of “putting God to the test.” Why is it wrong to test God? Let me suggest several reasons why putting God to the test is sin.
(1) It is a sin against our sonship and God’s sovereignty. The father-son relationship is one with a clearly defined chain of command. The father is in authority over the son. The son is to trust and obey the father. The son is to wait until that time when the father installs him as the king.
For a “son of God” to put God, the Father, to the test is to reverse the authority structure which God has established. It is to forget that it is God who is to test us, not we who are to test God. It is we who need proving, not God. It is we who should serve God, not God who is our servant, in the sense of viewing Him as standing by, every ready to do our bidding. It is He who directs us, not we who are to direct Him. Is this not the essence of God’s rebuke of Job? All too often, Christians are representing God as the servant of man, who is so eager to have followers that He is ready to do our bidding. Wrong! Sonship means that we are to obey, we are to serve, we are to suffer, if it pleases the Father.
Our Lord understood that the day of His enthronement was the prerogative of the Father (cf. Heb. 5:5). Thus, when pressed by His disciples concerning just when that day would be, our Lord left this matter in the Father’s hands, not His own (Matt. 24:36). The disciples continued to press to learn the time, even after our Lord’s resurrection, but our Lord responded, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority, … ” (Acts 1:7).
(2) It is a sin against love. Perfect love is inconsistent with fear (1 John 4:18), which is often the occasion when men seek to put God to the test. Israel feared that they would die in the wilderness. Love does not know fear. In addition to this, love does not doubt, but believes. The apostle Paul put it this way, “Love … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Putting God to the test is not bearing, not believing, not hoping, and not enduring.
(3) It is a sin against faith. Faith is simply believing God. It is taking God at His word, and not demanding continual signs and proofs. Job put it this way: “Thou He slay me I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
Faith is rooted and grounded in the promises of God. Many of the promises of the Bible are the assurance of future blessings or events. By their very nature, they are not present realities. It is the abuse of God’s promises which is often the source of putting Him to the test. God promised He would bring Israel into a land of milk and honey, and they began to demand that God bless them now. As Israel and Satan (wrongly) understood Psalm 91, God promised to protect His Messiah from all harm and injury, and so he urged our Lord to force God to fulfill that promise then and there. This is all contrary to faith. The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that all of the Old Testament saints died without receiving the promises of God:
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Heb. 11:39-40).
Faith is believing in the promises of God, and waiting for God to fulfill them in His own time. Faith is enduring suffering, persecution, and adversity in the present, while looking forward to the promises of God. Putting God to the test is demanding the God bless us now, and remove all suffering from us.
When we put God to the test we are doubting not only the promises of God, but His presence among us. Remember those words of the Israelites, which constituted putting God to the test: “Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Exod. 17:7).
Our Lord has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). He promised to be with us always, to the end of this age (Matt. 28:20). Putting God to the test betrays a wrong premise, that God’s presence is only evident in times of blessing and prosperity. This is a heresy of our own day, but it is not taught in the Bible. Many of the people of the Bible found God’s presence even more precious and real in times of distress:
Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Ps. 73:25-28).
It is my personal opinion that presumption, that is “putting God to the test,” is a perversion of faith. It is faith taken too far. There is a fine line of distinction between trusting God and testing God. Testing God may very well be founded on the premise (faith) that God is able to do what He has promised, but is sinful in resisting God’s time table for fulfilling His promise. Trusting God involves receiving what God has presently provided, but waiting for what is yet future. Testing God is trying to force God to provide now what He has promised for later.
Putting God to the test is sin. On this we can all hopefully agree in principle. What does this mean in practice? How do we put God to the test in our culture? Let me suggest several possibilities, which may open the door to seeing some of the ways in which you are in danger of sinning in this area.
(1) Christians can put God to the test by acting on future promises as though they were present promises. The so-called “name it and claim it” Christians are sometimes (some might say often) guilty of claiming future promises as present realities, and thus the failure to be rich or healthy cannot be explained by the sovereign choice of God, but by one’s lack of faith, by one’s failure to possess God’s blessings. In such cases people are accused of sin for not “putting God to the test.” Let us remember that where there is one form of evil, Satan also has its opposite. Putting God to the test can have a very pious appearance, when in reality it is man’s demand that God jump through his own hoops.
Putting God to the test is often the result of our own impatience, of wanting now what God will give us later. Such impatience demands that God “hurry up” what He is doing. This is nothing new:
Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, “Let God hurry,` let him hasten his work so that we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it” (Isa. 5:18-19).
(2) Wrongly responding to Adversity. It is often in times of adversity that our tendency to put God to the test becomes evident. We may very well place conditions on God, things which He must do for us in order for us to acknowledge that He is present with us, and for us to worship Him. Thus, if we are sick and God doesn’t heal us, we question His presence and His goodness. If God doesn’t make our marriage heaven on earth or cause our wayward child to act as we think he should, we begin to function as though God were not with us. In effect, we have put conditions on God, things which He must do, if we are to worship and serve Him. This is putting God to the test, in my opinion.
(3) We can put God to the test by living recklessly. There are some people who like to flirt with danger. Living on the ragged edge of survival, or death, or disaster is the thrill which keeps some of us going. Compulsive gamblers are often this way. Most Christians know better than to excuse gambling and so they do it in different ways, often sanctifying their recklessness by labeling it faith. “I couldn’t afford this car,” they tell us, “but I am trusting God to provide the payments.” Living by faith can lead us into danger, as Daniel and his three friends learned, but faith is always evidenced by obedience to God’s Word. Faith is not foolishness attributed to trusting God, it is trusting God and forsaking folly. Let us be on guard about seeking to do that which is foolish by calling our actions “a step of faith.” There are more than enough things to trust God to do, so that we do not need to lengthen the list of the impossible things we are looking to God to accomplish.
68 There is no certainty as to precisely what spot at the temple is referred to by the expression, “the pinnacle of the temple.” Obviously, it was a very high point, perhaps the highest point of the temple.
69 It occurs to me that much of our Lord’s actions and attitudes could either be explained or illustrated in terms of the cross. Were Satan to be informed that Jesus was destined (and determined) to die on the cross, to die in the sinner’s place, it would have explained why our Lord thought, acted, and taught as He did. But our Lord very carefully avoided mentioning the cross. The reason for this is simple. Satan thought that putting the Savior to death would terminate the kingdom of God and the rule of Messiah on the earth. The opposite was true, and it was Satan who was to play a crucial role in orchestrating the Lord’s crucifixion (cf. John 13:2, 27). If Satan realized that God’s plans and purposes for Messiah were to be realized through His death, he surely would not have attempted to kill Him. Thus, our Lord carefully avoided the subject of His death in dealing with Satan.