In this second temptation we look at the devil’s temptation of Jesus that He cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Satan appeals to Scripture, contending that the angels would catch Him if He fell.
Because of the great amount of material that could be discussed in this second temptation, we will limit ourselves in the next few weeks to Satan’s tactics in the temptation and also Jesus’ answer to the temptation, making application along the way.
The first tactic we will study is Satan’s twisting of Scripture.
The devil intentionally misinterprets the portion of Scripture to which he refers – Psalm 91:11, 12. It stands to reason that if the devil can at least appear that he is bringing God’s Word, then the temptation will be effective. To that end, he spins a masterful and crafty web of lies concerning Psalm 91.
First, he frames Psalm 91:11, 12 in such a way that the text must be taken in a strictly literal sense. That this is Satan’s intent is clear from his temptation of Jesus: he asked Jesus to throw Himself, physically and literally, off the pinnacle of the temple. The angels, physically and literally, would bear Him up.
But the meaning of the Psalm is not first and foremost, if at all, literal. Psalm 91:2 speaks of deliverance from a fowler; vs. 4 speaks of Jehovah covering with His feathers; vs. 9 says that the LORD is the believer’s habitation; vs. 13 states that those who make the LORD their refuge shall tread upon lions and adders. Obviously, this Psalm is not concerned with the physical realities, but with the spiritual realities to which the physical pointed. While it is true that God could use angels for physical deliverance and protection, the context makes clear that the devil is using the words of the Psalm in his own service, for the purpose of tempting Jesus to jump. If the devil brought the text with its context, the temptation would lose all its force.
Second, Satan leaves the context out in another sense. Psalm 91, throughout, speaks of a man who makes God his refuge. This man is an elect child of God. Satan knows full well that the man of whom Psalm 91 speaks would never tempt the Father in the way He was asking Jesus to do. Yet, Satan uses this Psalm to lure Jesus into tempting His Father – that is, into making Jesus ask the Father to do something He revealed He was not pleased to do. Thus, by tempting Jesus, the devil slyly leaves out this part of the context. Had he inserted this bit of the context, the temptation would have lost all its effectiveness.
Third, Satan seeks to hide the deeper spiritual implications of jumping off the pinnacle of the temple by making the main issue Jesus’ safety in a physical fall. The deeper spiritual implications/questions of such an action would be: is this truly the Word of God in this Psalm? Is God’s will for me that I cast myself off the pinnacle of the temple? Is this truly the calling of the angels – to catch those who plunge themselves into danger?
But the devil in his temptation seeks to steer Jesus away from these questions, reducing the temple plunge into an issue of mere safety. Satan communicates this in his statement to Jesus: Jesus need not worry about dashing His foot on the stones below; He would not be hurt at all. Before He would hit the ground, the angels would surely swoop Him up. The devil switches the situation from the “why” of jumping – the spiritual implications/questions – to the “result” of jumping.
There are a couple lessons here, young people, about Bible interpretation. First, we see that the devil is the father of the lie, the father of twisting Scripture. When a man twists Scripture against better knowledge, his work is nothing less than devilish in nature. Today, there are many theologians who are trying to make a name for themselves by interpreting the Scripture in new ways. They contradict other passages of Scripture, and the confessions, which are a faithful summary of Scripture. These men must not be commended for their scholarship or ingenuity, but must be disciplined. Their work is devilish.
Second, we see here the importance of considering the context of a passage. The devil took God’s Word out of context. His interpretation seemed legitimate. His argument appeared to be convincing. But the context determines the meaning of a passage. Do you remember the one, great rule of biblical interpretation? It is this: Scripture interprets Scripture. Because we love and honor the Bible, we will interpret it carefully and properly.
Next time, we will consider another tactic of Satan in this second temptation.