By Bob Gessner
As one examines the New Testament, it becomes evident that Satan had two primary
objectives in this world, among many more perhaps less evident. (1) To tempt the Messiah
to conform to the image of the worldly Jewish religious thinking of His time. (2) To
influence the church so that it conforms to the worldly religious thinking of our times.
In the first objective, Satan totally failed. He met an opponent who stood firm. In the
second objective, he has met with more success than we would like to think or admit.
I. A Worldly Messiah: Impossible.
From the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry, Satan confronted Christ with the object
of tempting Him to conform to the religious world that Satan himself had organized. This
confrontation was necessary at the very beginning so that “Jesus was led by the
Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1) In both accounts
(Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13), although the order of the three proposals changes, it is
evident that Satan’s primary objective was to persuade Christ to follow his suggestions.
On the surface the suggestions seemed to contain sensible advice. Considering them more
carefully, they were self-promoting and worldly. If heeded, the three suggestions would
have brought to Christ instantaneous worldly acclaim and acceptance among the religious
leaders. “To understand this we must recall what has been said of the state of the
Jewish nation, and especially the nature of the Messianic hopes which they were indulging.
They expected a Messiah who would work dazzling wonders and establish a world-wide empire
with Jerusalem as its center, and they had postponed the ideas of righteousness and
holiness to these [ideas]. They completely inverted the divine conception of the kingdom,
which could not but give the spiritual and moral elements precedence over the material and
political considerations. Now what Jesus was tempted [by Satan] to do was, in carrying out
the great work which His Father had committed to Him, to yield in some measure to these
expectations. He must have foreseen that, unless He did so, the nation would be
disappointed and probably turn away from Him in unbelief and anger” (James Stalker,
Life of Christ ). Although it was a decisive struggle and the devil was thoroughly
defeated, the devil “departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). He
was not yet ready to admit defeat and he planned to keep on trying until the end.
His subsequent attacks were not long delayed. They were not direct confrontations with
the devil himself, but they were nonetheless suggestions that came from Satan’s mode of
thinking. Many times these suggestions are the most dangerous because we are not aware of
their source. Not so with Christ, for He was always aware of all the devices of the devil.
One attack came from his very own family in Galilee. His brothers said to Him,
“Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that
You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known
openly. If you do these things, show Yourself to the world.” The brothers did not
believe in Him and thus we understand the origin of their suggestion. It was a worldly
promotion that motivated their thinking. Christ answered them, “My time has not yet
come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I
testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to
this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:2-8). He did not succumb to
the darts of His brothers, but He went to Jerusalem later in accordance with His Father’s
timing and planning.
The attack still continues. This time it comes through His spiritual family………
Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things
from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the
third day.” This was God’s plan and Christ’s mission on earth. Then Peter took Him
aside; he obviously felt he had some wise advice for the Lord. He then actually began to
rebuke the Lord. This is quite an act for a mortal man to attempt to correct His Lord. He
said to Him, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Now Peter
is suddenly a prophet, a false prophet at that! But the Lord turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the
things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt. 16:21-23). He directly and correctly
identified the mind that was behind the counsel.
Once more our relentless foe attacks. This time he uses the howling mob that has
gathered underneath the cross of Calvary. Christ is now not only hungry and thirsty, but
He is bleeding and dying. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and
saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself,
and come down from the cross!” The chief priests also, together with the scribes,
mocked and said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King
of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:29-32).
Using the same “if clause” that the devil himself used in the wilderness, they
said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matt. 27:40). For
a mortal man, with endowed divine power, how tempting it would have been to come down from
that cross and spectacularly destroy everyone of His enemies before the eyes of a
terrified crowd. But Christ was not a mortal man. He knew His mission and He knew that it
had to be finished. If Christ had come down from the cross, it would not have proved that
He was the Son of God. It would have proved that He was not the Son of God. It would have
demonstrated that He was just a man, a selfish man, interested in saving Himself rather
than fulfilling the mission of His heavenly Father. Satan struck his final blow on the
Messiah; his opportune times were gone; and the mission of our Lord was carried out
according to His Father’s plan to the very last detail.
But even after Christ’s death, our relentless foe still continues to attack.
II. A Worldly Church: Undesirable The Head of the Church is gone back to heaven but His
body is still here on earth. Thus Satan concentrates His attack on those who form His
body. Saul learned this truth on the road to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why are you
persecuting Me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” He recognized the
voice speaking from heaven had to be divine, but he had not the least idea Who it could
And the Lord said to him, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul was
making havoc of the church; he was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of
the Lord. But he never once laid hands on Jesus of Nazareth. How could he be persecuting
Jesus Who was in heaven. In time, he learned the full intent of this statement. When He
touched the body on earth, He touched the Head in heaven (Acts 9:4,5). Saul ceased his
activity for Satan, and became a disciple of the Lord.
But our relentless foe again continued to attack. Our “adversary the devil walks
about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). But his most
effective attacks take the form of subtlety, seeking to conform the church to the
standards of the world rather than obedience to the Word of God. Paul would later write to
the church at Corinth, “But I am fearful lest that even as the serpent beguiled Eve
by his cunning, so your minds may be seduced from wholehearted and pure devotion to
Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Thus Satan continues his use of seduction in an attempt to
draw the church away from direct obedience to the Lord. And at times, including the
present, we have seen evidences in many parts of the world of a church permeated with
worldly desires and attitudes. A church that often has been attractive to the world, but
powerless in proclaiming the Word of God and its truth.
Those who have experienced working in the local church know and understand the
influence that is brought upon them by the world’s way of thinking. They understand the
temptation that is often confronted to yield in some measure to these suggestions. Their
is something attractive and easy about many of these methods. It is much easier to say
“yes” than to say “no” to them. The suggestions may not be in complete
adherence to the Word of God, but they are partly in agreement. They are appealing,
popular suggestions and at times they are even lots of fun. The temptation then takes this
form. If we can first win the approval and acceptance of the world, are we not able to
later on lead them to the truth? It would be as if Christ would have accepted the Jewish
concept of the Messiah, won their confidence, and then later attempted to teach them the
righteous, moral, and spiritual concepts of His kingdom. This subtle temptation may even
come to the worker through his own immediate family as it did with Christ. Sometimes it’s
a wife or husband; a daughter or son; a father or mother who raises the question,
“Why can’t we do this or that? Everybody else does.”
“Other times the suggestion comes from our spiritual family. Peter was certainly
not aware that he was being used as a tool of Satan. But his thoughts regarding the
Messiah were influenced by Satan’s way of thinking.
Although they are totally unaware of it, our Christian friends can often be thinking
and planning under the influence of this world’s teachings. They have developed an
attitude that suggests, “if it works for the world, it will work for the
There is a temptation “which every worker for God, weary with the slow progress of
goodness, must often feel, and to which even good and earnest men have sometimes given way
– to begin at the outside instead of within, to get first a great shell of external
conformity to religion, and afterwards to fill it with a reality” (Stalker). But it
never works. It never has and it never will.
The temptation is strong. Those who adopt the ways of the world seem at times to
prosper so much more than those who adhere to the unadulterated Word of God. Must we give
in if we are to succeed. The busy, he has many supporters, but we have on our side the
Christ , the Head of the Church, who has overcome all the temptations of the devil.
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is
greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the
world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us. By this we know
the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I Jn. 4:4-6). Plod on, Christian
worker. don’t give in now. The time of reaping is almost here!