In the wilderness nothing is man-made. All that is needed for survival must be provided by God. In His wilderness journey Jesus would have sheltered in caves or one of the many rocky recesses to be found in the cliff faces. He would have refreshed Himself at the small springs of water that occasionally break forth from beneath the arid terrain. He would have crossed paths with nomadic herders, tent dwellers who were content to make the wilderness their home. As someone has wisely noted, not all who wander are lost.
In his three major temptations of Jesus, Satan had by now used up two of his trump cards: the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh. Jesus has resisted each of them. Having caught on that Jesus will not be detoured from the Word of God, Satan now cloaks himself in piety and for the first time quotes the scripture back to Him:
“Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” (Luke 4:9-11)
But Jesus counters with: “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (Luke 4:12)
What’s going on here? The place where this exchange takes place is pivotal to our understanding. Satan leads Jesus to the pinnacle, i.e. the highest point, of the great temple in Jerusalem. It is from here that he once again invites Jesus to prove that He is God’s Son by the sign of leaping from the building and trusting God to rescue Him.
The temple in Jerusalem was the pride of all Israel. Its system of ritual and sacrifice was embedded deeply into the Jewish way of life and more than anything else defined Jewish history and culture. At a later date, some of Jesus disciples excitedly pointed out to Him the grandeur of the great temple’s structure, but Jesus was unimpressed (Mark 13:1,2). The temple had a pinnacle that was extremely high, overlooking the deep Kidron Valley outside the city walls. Some scholars believe the drop may have been as much as 700 feet. The historian Josephus described the distance between the pinnacle and the valley below this way:
“….the valley was very deep, and its bottom could not be seen if you looked from above into the depth……insomuch that if any one looked down from the top….he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.” -Antiquities, Book 15, Chap.11:5
The pinnacle was also known as ‘the place of the trumpet”. It was from this highest part of the temple that a priest would watch for the dawn, and then blow a trumpet signaling the commencement of the day’s activities, beginning with the morning sacrifice. The temple pinnacle was easily viewable from large sections of Jerusalem and the Jews believed that Messiah would reveal Himself to Israel from this highest section of their temple (see Mal. 3:1).
In effect, to paraphrase, Satan was saying: ‘Well of course you’re the Son of God Jesus. I know that. And to ensure everyone else knows it You should announce Yourself in spectacular fashion. If you throw Yourself down and miraculously survive, everyone in Jerusalem and beyond will hear about Your long awaited arrival. You will be an instant celebrity. Your Messiahship will be proclaimed throughout Israel. You’ll have so many followers You won’t be able to count them. And You don’t have to worry about those natural laws of gravity at all because You know God’s infallible Word will never let you down. Go for it!”
Jesus called his suggestion for what it was: testing God. We can be sure when Satan can’t get us to disregard God’s Word he will then try to convince us God needs our help. Going down that path will soon put us in the driving seat with God as our passenger. Jesus knew and respected His Father too well to ask Him to prove Himself. He would not test His Father.
Notice when Satan quotes the word of God, that’s the best he can do. He can only quote but never inspire, because the truth is not in Him (Jn. 8:44). One of the most precious things we can learn in the wilderness is a new way of hearing and receiving the Word. The Word of God is far more than moral instruction. Above all it is living revelation to the human spirit. Many, both inside and outside of Christianity, can quote God’s Word, but only those who walk with Christ can utter it forth with authority as indisputable truth.
It is the expressed purpose of the Spirit to lead us into all truth, and it is Christ who is ALL truth (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit delights to continually reveal Him to us, building layer upon layer, glory upon glory. Here in the wilderness, unrestrained by the will of man, He can do just that. The different denominations and streams of organized Christianity present us with an incomplete Christ, emphasizing this or that aspect of His character and downplaying or denying His other facets. Here in the wilderness we begin to behold the immensity of Christ in His fullness. Previous mindsets, often erected over many years, must come crashing down to make way for a Christ who is fuller, deeper and greater than we had ever imagined Him to be. The limited Christ we have known gives way to the Christ who is fills all in all.
I find it interesting that when Satan so piously quoted scripture to Jesus with the preface “it is written” Jesus did not reply “it is written’ but ‘it is said”. It is then recorded that Satan left Jesus to wait for an ‘opportune time’ (Luke 4:12,13). Here is the Spirit filled rhema Word of God on the tongue of the living logos Word of God, rebuking a fallen angel. Is it any wonder Satan got out of there fast?
The temple represents the religion of the flesh, where the pride of life masquerades as holiness. It was the pride of life that finally ensnared the first humans in the Garden of Eden when they saw that the forbidden fruit was ‘desirable to make one wise’ (Gen. 3:6). The wisdom they received was not God’s wisdom but the counterfeit wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:19,20; 2:5; 2:7; 2:13; 3:19).
Every high and lofty thing that exalts itself above the knowledge of Christ has its roots in the wisdom (or pride) of this world. History bears witness than whenever that pride is aligned with carnal religion, the outcome is oppression and spiritual death. Too often in the man-made temple system of organized Christianity human pride masquerading as spirituality finds a welcoming embrace and is allowed to thrive. The fruit is a shallow, compromising Christianity devoid of the power to truly transform the human soul. It was this temptation to take pride in His spiritual credentials that was at the root of Satan’s invitation for Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the temple.
In the wilderness, however, the pride of life is dealt a death blow. In the wilderness too we learn spiritual warfare is not about proving who we are but about standing still while God proves who He is.
Every man-made temple has a pinnacle. The temple system with its emphasis on hierarchy, law, ritual, tradition, and history still provides the perfect setting for men and women to proudly display their spiritual credentials. Super celebrity apostles and prophets trumpet out their messages from the heights while the masses below gather to hear their latest ‘word’ or revelation. Too often the message is ‘you can attain this height too by simply buying my book, following my plan or supporting my cause” etc. Mega church leaders count success by the size of their building programs or efficiency of their marketing strategy. Everywhere people are busy ensuring temple life continues as it always has been and that the temple agenda is uninterrupted. The temple atmosphere is ripe for self-exaltation.
In the wilderness there is no man-made temple and precious few opportunities for sitting on pinnacles. The temple where God resides cannot be seen with the human eye, but is nonetheless being built in the Spirit, living stone upon living stone. We will find the atmosphere very different to that which we have come from. Here the only way up is down, and the Cross is a daily reality, not a historical event. In the wilderness even our desires are changed. Where once we sought to emulate our favourite ministry leaders, now we delight to decrease that Christ might increase (Jn. 3:30).
In the busy metropolis of organized Christianity life centres around the temple and its activities. In the empty spaces of the wilderness, Christ Himself becomes our life and we become His temple.
In the wilderness the religion of our flesh is revealed for what it really is and we are confronted with a radical choice. We can consent to die to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, or we can follow the well-worn trail back to the comfort and soothing familiarity of the temple system, where such dramatic choices are rarely mentioned, let alone demanded.
That’s the thing about the wilderness. The Cross can be seen clearly from anywhere.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.