NOWHERE is the true significance of temptation more clearly seen than in the historic forty days on the mount of temptation. There "see the Christ stand" we might say with Browning. We watch that tremendous scene, the last Adam, the Word made flesh, come to fight and win the battle that the first Adam lost. We see Him with His human instincts, passions and powers, true Man in spirit, soul and body. We watch the battle raging over forty days, the last word that can be spoken on the subject of temptation and its proper meaning and value. We see this Man complete in manhood's powers, forty days "tempted of the devil."
Temptation had started before then, of course. We catch a previous glimpse of it, when by a subtle solicitation through the channel of His enlarged and illumined spirit, the young lad of twelve might have been led away by the devil in disguise to follow the trail of false favor in place of filial obedience to His parents. But now He was a Man in the fullness of His power, and the only Man in history to whom those tremendous words had been or could be spoken, but a few hours before: "Thou art My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Consciously anointed by the Holy Ghost, knowing in Himself that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to fulfill the greatest commission ever given to man; to be the world's Savior, to be the Man of Destiny whose Nacre had been on the inspired lips of sage and prophet since the world began, the longed-for Messiah, there was still one thing needful, a final, irrecoverable choice of free will, a voluntary self-dedication of every power of spirit, soul and body to this one end. And for that the devil was necessary!
As light cannot be seen to shine except in contrast to darkness, nor heat felt to warm except in contrast to cold, so man cannot know his nature fixed Godward except by his refusal to fix it devil-ward. So Jesus met Satan on that mount. His body had natural instincts. Only through a right use of these instincts could He be preserved fit for its exacting ministry: He must eat, drink, sleep. In the fierceness of the conflict and the choice to be made, He had not eaten food for forty days. He was hungry; and then the suggestion stabbed home to Him: "Your new powers over nature. Use them. Make bread." In a moment the battle was joined. Was His body to be master or servant? Was He to move at its dictates, or was it to move at the dictates of the Spirit who controlled Him? The word was spoken. Not a powerless negative, a mere "No" which leaves the nagging temptation unrelieved; but a triumphant positive that swallows up the negative: "Man lives by every Word of God." That temptation was the highway, the only highway to bodily victory. It "drove" the Savior to a choice: that Spirit should control body, not body Spirit. It was settled. Henceforth His body was an instrument for God's glory: His appetites were the natural means by which it could be kept in working order.
Soul is greater than body, as spirit than soul. In the soul repose all the vast powers of the personality-to think, to will, to feel. All the mighty achievements of man, in art, in science, in literature, in action, flow from the soul. The genius, the leader, the inventor, the discoverer, have all great souls; and none so great as the human Jesus. Satan knew this; for to only one Man has he offered complete world dominion and promised Him title attainment of His objective; showed Him "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time"; said to Him "all these will I give Thee." The condition? That he commit Himself into the hands of "the prince of this world" (as He later calls Satan), absorb the spirit that is in the world, and act according to "the wisdom of this world"; for what we worship we assimilate and incarnate. In other words, all the powers of that greatest of human personalities, mental, emotional, volitional, would become the vehicle of world dictatorship, based on the age-old methods of conquest and compulsion, the only technique of government known to man and the spirit that works in man. The alternative? The worship and service of God; and that meant the subordination of these same soul-powers to the ways of His Spirit, to the carrying out of an alternative technique of ultimate world dominion which was in the wildest sense improbable and fantastic, and as totally removed from the way of the natural man as light from darkness. Truth, love, self-giving, meekness, faith, expressed through the concentrated soul-forces of a personality totally given to them, without weapon, without possession, without name, without friend at court, involving even the ignominious death of this "self-styled" king, were to establish a kingdom that would swallow up all other kingdoms and crown Him King of all other kings and Lord of all other lords. What a drama was enacted on that high mountain, worthy of the pen of the greatest of poets. History was in the balance, and that temptation of the human soul was the material from which the plan of the ages took its shape, in which the foundation of the kingdom of God was laid. It was the choice that fixed a destiny; not just His own, but of a multitude which no man can number, of a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.
Yet spirit is deeper than soul. It is the inner ego. It is the essence of a man. It is that which expresses itself through body and soul. It is the "I" which talks about myself. God is a Spirit, and the Father of spirits. It is the spirits of just men made perfect who dwell with Him. It is the center of my being where God walks and talks with me; His Spirit bearing witness with my spirit, joined unto the Lord, one spirit. And if body and soul must be fixed in God through the stabilizing processes of temptation, so also must the spirit. Body and soul may be in God's service, yet even in fulfilling His will in our innermost spirit we may still seek to be in the center of the picture; glory must come to us; people must be drawn to us; our honor and dignity must be upheld; and the impress of the servant, more than of his Lord who sent him, is left on the service rendered. So Satan sought to reach the spirit of the Savior, when he could not touch body or soul. Let them flock around Him as the miracle worker, as He descends through the air upheld by supernatural power. Let them all see who He is: the Son of God with power. The masses will be at His feet. The ear of the nation will be open to Him. They will be as clay in His hands, to be moulded to His pattern. The alternative? To give Himself to show forth Another as life's final meaning; to point to Another; so that from thought and word and action stands forth the outline, not of the visible Jesus, but of the invisible Father. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men Thou gavest Me... I have given them the words Thou gavest Me... and they have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they believe that Thou didst send Me." To worship any flesh, even the flesh of Jesus, is idolatry. To revere the human Jesus as provider of bread and healer of sicknesses would save no souls, found no new kingdom of the Spirit. To do this, in His flesh, His words, His works, they must see not a man, but God the Spirit, the Word made flesh. And so, on the one hand, He even tried to distract attention from Himself as a miracle worker; on the other, when at last acknowledged by Peter as Son of the Living God, the triumphant cry burst from Him: "Blessed art Thou, Simon, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in Heaven;" adding, as He foresaw through the centuries, the world-wide Church which was to be founded on that same principle of inner revelation: "And I say also unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock (a man who has by revelation concerning Christ penetrated through flesh to Spirit) will I build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Thus, on the pinnacle of the temple, that final battle of the spirit was fought and won. Satan's weapon of temptation was turned to his own confusion and made the means of confirming the Son as the Servant of the Father. The high road to man's salvation was now opened. The body was not for self-indulgence, nor the soul for self-aggrandizement, nor the spirit for self-exaltation; but the whole Man, Christ Jesus, driven by the Spirit to face Satan's plausible alternatives, by virtue of the very conflict and the choices entailed, came out of that forty days confirmed in His own consciousness and declared before heaven and hell, in spirit, soul and body, to be the Son of God with power, His Father's willing Servant, and the world's Savior. Only once more had such a battle to be fought; shorter, sharper, even fiercer, in three hours of bloody sweat; this time to gather strength by conflict and conquest to be the offering for the sin of the world.