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First Quarter 2016 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON REBELLION AND REDEMPTION
Week 6: January 30–February 5
COMMENTARY ON VICTORY IN THE WILDERNESS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness stands as a decisive victory over Satan for all of God’s people, for all time. If we can clearly grasp what He accomplished there in the desert we will receive great comfort and confidence in Jesus as our High Priest and Savior. If we misunderstand how this story was meant to encourage us, we fail to obtain the rich blessings offered. Unfortunately, this Quarterly’s Lesson misses the real lessons in foundational ways. Here are 4 important problems in their version of the story:
1. That Jesus entered the wilderness only to fast and pray, not to purposely meet Satan head-on and defeat him.
2. The first and primary temptation was giving in to the sin of appetite. Therefore, redemption must begin with conquering appetite (EG White, Desire of Ages, p. 86).
3. That Jesus had taken on “the infirmities of degenerate humanity” with a sinful human nature and was capable of sinning (DA, p. 87).
4. That Jesus had to disprove Satan’s accusations against God, whose character was on trial before a watching universe.
The Lesson injects the great controversy worldview into this episode of Christ’s life, and entirely misses the main theme. We’ll take these problems one at a time.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). The text plainly states that His purpose for being led there was to be tempted. This was a divinely arranged appointment, not merely Satan finding an opportunity to attack Jesus. No events in Jesus’ life were accidental or under Satan’s control. Scripture does not say that He went there only to fast, pray, and prepare for His mission, as White claims (DA 86). He was led there “to be tempted…” to engage Satan in combat, for our sake. Jesus chose to suffer temptations so that He could help us who are being tempted (Heb. 2:18). He suffered and fought for us as our High Priest: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
What was the first sin? Adam and Eve failed to trust and obey God’s word and rest in His provision. The serpent’s first words to Eve were, “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1), making trust and obedience the main issue. Appetite was a minor issue in the scriptural account, although it is the primary issue for Ellen White. The serpent promised that the fruit would make them wise like God, knowing good from evil, and Eve fell for that lie. The first temptation for Jesus in the desert, on the other hand, was to doubt His identity as the Son by proving it to Satan.
Jesus was never capable of sinning, because He is the great I AM (John 8:58), eternally and righteously God. Though He became a servant, He didn’t empty Himself of being God. The Bible is clear that God cannot commit evil. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). God cannot violate His own nature, to be something He is not. To have a sinful nature is to harbor sin within one’s soul, to be naturally drawn to it because it finds its natural home there. The person who “knows” sin has no natural fellowship with God and stands under condemnation. He would need a redeemer.
Sin is far more than a defective physical body or the mere acting out of sinful behaviors. Sin cannot be described by a medical model or treated as an illness. Sin is spiritual death, and it rules the desires of our hearts, the deep core of our souls, making us, by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Jesus had nothing in Him that was drawn to sin, for He was the spotless Lamb of God (1Pet. 1:19). In Him was life (John 1:4), and no sin was in Him (1Jn. 3:5). He did not “know” sin, and His sinless nature qualifies Him to be our High priest and substitute: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2Cor. 5:21
Was the wilderness temptation of Christ a battle scene from the great controversy (GC) between Christ and Satan? According to White, the desert encounter was Satan’s opportunity to bring down the Son of God. The Lesson quotes Ellen White: “Satan rejoiced with his angels, that having caused man’s fall, he could bring down the Son of God from His exalted position” (DA 66). Notice the language she uses, “…bring down the Son of God from His exalted position.” The word “exalted” is freighted with meaning here. The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary defines “exalt” this way:
1. To raise in rank, power, or character
2. To elevate by praise or in estimation: glorify
The words here suggest that Christ had been raised or elevated in rank and power, that equality of the Father was not really His, and this had prompted Satan’s hatred of him. Thus, Satan was jealous of that promotion and wanted to bring down the Son. However, this narrative is not from the Bible, which clearly states in several passages that Christ is always is in control of His encounters with Satan. Satan cannot act independently of the ultimate purposes of his Creator, Christ Himself. Satan was created by Christ Himself for the purpose of ultimately glorifying Himself:
“For by·him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
Satan is a ruler with a dominion, created by and for Christ, and his rebellion does not change the fact that his sins will God designs to ultimately glorifying Himself. Satan’s doom is sure, and as long as he is alive, though he is very destructive here on earth, he is fulfilling God’s purposes for the redeemed. It is difficult for Adventists to imaging that the suffering that Satan produces could in any way by ordained by God for our good. However, that is what God’s word tells us. A good God controls our disasters, suffering and death:
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; band there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39
“The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” 1Samuel 2:6
In the story of Job, who finally gets credit for bringing all that disaster upon him?
“Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil·that the·LORD had brought upon him.” Job 42:11
The great controversy theology portrays a battle between good and evil, much like many pagan cosmologies, where history is chaotically ruled by gods and monsters constantly battling each other. Humans are always in the crossfire, there are many casualties, and the future is very uncertain. Adventist warfare cosmology also greatly weakens the believer’s confidence in God’s sovereignty over Satan and evil, for Satan’s power has put God on the defensive. Deep down, many Adventists not only wonder if they can be saved in the end; they also wonder if God can actually defeat His powerful foe who seems to have the more dangerous weapons. Our sufferings are in His hands: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lam. 3:37, 38). We can thank God that He does His will on earth, and in the host of heaven, as King Nebuchadnezzar said,
“…for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” Daniel 4:34-35