Temptation Overcome: The Story Rewritten

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Eve took the fruit.
Adam ate it, too.
Then they fell from grace.
And that's it for the rest of humankind…

… who apparently are subject to all sorts of different temptations (from which we could make an interminably long list), which seem difficult or impossible to resist.

… Or so the story goes.

Often overlooked in this story is an incredibly crucial point, which comes from Eve: "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat" (Gen. 3:13). Eve, taking responsibility for her actions, realized that she had allowed herself to be taken in by the serpent's smooth-tongued talking. The forbidden tree had been there all the time, but it wasn't until the serpent made it appealing to her that she took the fruit. It wasn't in Eve's or Adam's nature -- and it's not in ours -- to take the bait. It was something outside of their nature -- a talking serpent -- that suggested they believe a lie … by making it pleasing.

That's just the thing about temptation -- it always seems appealing.

Rather than debilitate us, the Adam and Eve story can actually help us resist temptation, for it shows us the way evil works:

  • It lies and deceives in order to be appealing.
  • It tries many different ways to get to us, the most effective being its disguise as our own thinking.
  • It tempts us where or when we're weak.
  • It tempts us as soon as we've made progress.
  • It usually tempts us with something that's important to us.

Most of us wouldn't fall for a talking serpent. But it is easy to be taken in by a spectacular magic trick -- until we know how the trick is performed. Like magic, temptation tries to fool us, making itself look good through deception and lies. It uses many different channels -- the media, friends, colleagues, even our own thoughts: "Wouldn't that be great! I sure could use the money. It's only just this once. You'll look beautiful. He deserves it. I'm so lonely, depressed. No one will ever know. I'm in love." The biggest trick of temptation is to masquerade as our own thinking so we won't recognize it as an intruder upon our peace and purity. Temptation bases its tactics on the same premise as the shape shifters in "Star Trek" and "X-Men" -- that we won't be able to detect the real from the phony.

Since we seem to have plenty of opportunities to detect the real from the phony, we might as well decide now how we're going to confront temptation.

  • We really don't want to dabble with evil or waffle in our response to temptation. Why?
    • Jesus told us that "a house be divided against itself . . . cannot stand" (Mark 3:25).
    • If we waver in our decisions as to how to deal with evil, terror, lying, self-gratification, self-glorification, cheating, stealing, etc., then our mental house is susceptible to attack from evil, and we are allowing ourselves to be destroyed easily.
  • Since we know that the strategy of evil is to tempt us where we're the weakest spiritually, morally and physically, it is vitally important that we maintain our integrity, fight off impurities, and stand up to evil.
  • The best way to stand up to evil is to know that it's a lie.
    • Jesus said of evil, or the devil, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44).
    • A lie does not have power over us once we know that it's a lie. What the serpent offered Eve was a lie. If our eyes are open to the truth, we won't fall for the lie, no matter how glamorous it appears.
  • The way to detect the phonies and defeat temptation is not to get to know the phonies intimately; it's to get to know the truth intimately -- to be so familiar with the real that we know what's not real.
  • It's simple: the truth is the truth, and as a result, the lie destroys itself. Lies simply vanish when faced with Truth.

But it seems that as soon as we've really gotten familiar with truth, understood a principle in math, figured out how not to react to the person who really pushed our buttons, or attained a clearer understanding of our inseparable relationship with God, we're tested to demonstrate that we indeed know the truth. Or, we're tempted to believe that we really didn't have a breakthrough, can't deal with criticism, or really don't understand God. This test/temptation usually deals with something that is very important to us. This isn't new. It happened to Jesus.

The way Jesus handled temptation serves as a model for us. We all know the story (Matt. 4, Luke 4). The Holy Spirit had just descended upon Jesus "like a dove," announcing that he was God's Son and that God was "well pleased" with him (Matt. 3:16-17, Luke 3:22). So, next comes the temptation. Jesus was led to the wilderness by the "Spirit" and was tempted by the "devil," but the Spirit stayed with him.

The devil tempted Jesus to:

  • turn stones into bread with the promise of food
    • satisfy his hunger (he hadn't eaten in forty days)
    • do miracles for the sake of doing miracles
    • prove that he had power
  • cast himself off the temple, assuring him that the Scriptures say that God's angels would save him
    • test God
    • prove that God could do anything (which was not the real temptation)
    • commit suicide, even though it didn't sound like suicide, as the devil tried to make it sound as if throwing himself off the temple would prove that God's angels would save him (and so they would if the real need arose; for instance, if he had been pushed)
    • escape the crucifixion, which Jesus couldn't have been looking forward to with great eagerness
  • gain all the power and glory of all the worlds if he would bow down to and worship Satan
    • take the power for himself
    • become king of the world
    • worship something or someone other than God (like work, appearance, power)
    • deny God
    • throw away his entire mission and purpose in life
    • have a will of his own!

The tactics of the "devil," the serpent, haven't changed; they're still the same: appealing, deceptive, in the form of his (our) own thought; sensitive to weakness (Jesus hasn't eaten for 40 days), and close to home. The devil even used Jesus' own words, prophecy, and the Scriptures (the very thing Jesus used throughout his ministry to prove that he was the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy) against him when the devil reasoned that "it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Matt. 4:6). But Jesus wasn't buying the warped, out-of-context logic.

Jesus' responses to the temptations were filled with the conviction of one who knows himself, knows God, and knows his relationship to God -- as His "beloved Son" (Matt. 3:17).

  • To the temptation to perform miracles for food, Jesus affirmed: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).
  • To the temptation to throw himself off the temple, Jesus decried: "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matt. 4:7).
  • To the temptation to become king of the world, Jesus declared: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10).

We, too, can have such conviction in our unbreakable relationship with our Father-Mother God. We don't know how easy or difficult it was for Jesus to fight the temptations, but we know how hard it is for us to resist temptation. If we put ourselves in his shoes just for a moment, we can understand the enormous pressure he must have felt. What moral courage, strength, and humility Jesus showed in the face of temptations which had pretty decent rewards -- food at his command, angels to guard him or an escape from a mission that involved crucifixion, power over the world … if … "if" he fell down. But he didn't. And we don't have to either. Each time, Jesus grounded himself in the Scriptures, refusing to yield to these temptations, refusing to believe that the promises the devil made were real, refusing to put himself above God. He knew the truth.

What was his reward? Well, when the devil knew that Jesus would not give in, he left. Matthew writes that "angels came and ministered unto him" (4:11). Luke explains: "And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about" (4:14). The angels were there; they did come to his rescue. Jesus had power, the "power of the Spirit," and glory. But it didn't happen in the way the devil predicted; it never does.

And people have noted that Jesus actually directly answered these temptations:

  • He fed the multitudes at least two different times from just a few loaves of bread and fish (Mark 6:35-44, Mark 8:1-9).
  • He walked through the angry mob who was trying to throw him off a cliff, invisible to their eyes (Luke 4:29-30).
  • He was called "King of the Jews" when he was crucified (John 19:19), but his real kingdom wasn't in the material universe; it was spiritual.

Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden of Eden is fully redeemed. While Adam and Eve gave into the tempting lie that they had their own wills and egos capable of knowing good and evil, gave into the lie that there was such a thing as a talking serpent, Jesus didn't believe the lie. He proved there is truly only One Will that matters, that has any power, or that has any reality.

Proving this wasn't without struggle and self-sacrifice. We know that his garden experience was tough. He asked his disciples to watch and pray while he went off by himself to pray. We can only imagine the disappointment and discouragement he must have felt when he returned and found them asleep. We can hear it in his response to Peter: "… couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation" (Mark 14:37, 38). The temptation to sleep was just too much for the disciples, which was the devil's desired outcome. But before we judge the disciples too quickly, we have to be honest with ourselves. How many of us, when there's something important to do, suddenly get very tired or think of several other unimportant things that have to be done, which takes our focus off of what must be done? It's not our own thinking. It's the serpent talking to us, making us sleep in the face of our most important responsibility and charge -- keeping our thoughts pure, strong, and safe so that we can do the work God would have us do. The disciples would pay for falling prey to this temptation.

But Jesus triumphed. Though the Greeks had wanted Jesus to preach to them (John 12:20-28), which would have offered him a way out of the crucifixion, Jesus knew that in order to prove that Life is eternal, that God is Love, he would have to stay with the Jews. He wrestled with this decision in the garden. His humble prayers, while his disciples were sleeping, reveal the way to defeat any temptation: "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).

The story rewritten.
Temptation overcome.
More than that -- illusion vanished in the light of eternal life!

So let's stop entertaining the serpent and let's start doing God's will.

Below are the two different versions of how Jesus overcame the temptations in the wilderness. Though the order is different, Jesus' responses are the same.

Matt 4:1-11
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Luke 4:1-15
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.