Chapter IX--The Christ and Evil Spirits
Our Lord Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. This was the first pitched battle of the holy war, for which He had come in our nature, and it is as such that the Evangelists have recorded it. [Matt. 4:1-11. Mark 1:12, 13. Luke 4:1-13.]
The Temptation of Christ is not to be regarded primarily as affording an example to sinners: first and chiefly it is the necessary meeting of God and Satan in the great contest for the kingship of the human race. Of course the manner of the contest, the methods of warfare adopted by our Lord, the craft of Satan, the nature of the temptations, all these serve us either as examples or warnings: but we are not to regard the knowledge of them as of primary importance. The temptation would have been necessary, even if the story of it had never been made public.
For in the wilderness, during those forty days, the Lord Jesus in our nature and on our behalf met Satan; and for us He conquered him, and cast him down from the earthly throne on which we, by our disobedience, had seated him. The Saviour won for us the decisive battle in a campaign that cannot cease until the glorified Jesus and Satan meet again in the day of God's wrath. Our part meanwhile is to lay hold of the power of Him Who conquered, and in that same power to strive to win our little battles day by day, keeping Satan from re-establishing his dominion in our corner of the earth.
So that it is with the power of the tempted Christ rather than with His methods that we are chiefly concerned. We need to know what it is in itself, and how we may come to share it. Knowing this, and being assured of His presence within us, we are able to put ourselves to school with Christ's methods.
I. What, then, is the exact meaning of Christ's Temptation? How was He tempted? What power had Satan over Him?
We have seen that the Incarnate Son in assuming our human nature willed to live entirely under the conditions and within the limits of manhood. Both Godward and manward manhood mediated His consciousness and His exercise of personal powers. In this world of ours He lived relating to Himself every circumstance in His environment through His human faculties. Thus in the measure that these faculties were really human, and not merely assumed organs of divine activities, He laid Himself open to the action of circumstances that were, in fact, not fit to be related to Himself. He could not be really human if His human faculties only dealt with a select number of the forces at work in the world. His mind must come into contact with the thought of His age, selecting, differentiating, approving, and rejecting. And with the sinless Christ rejection implies the action upon Him of external forces. So with His will, if He be truly man His will must not only go forth to draw to Himself the good: it must also be a barrier against the action of what is evil.
Thus the moment that God the Son became truly man, conditioning Himself in manhood, He became an object of attack to the normal forces of evil. Thus Satan had at once the necessary handle of temptation in the Son of Mary. Satan found the Christ with a set of relationships with the Father and with men which depended upon His human faculties. To pervert these relationships by the misdirection of one or more of these faculties seemed to him to be possible. He had succeeded in doing so with every man from the days of Adam: he knew no reason why he should not succeed with the Son of Mary, the Prophet of Nazareth, whom he suspected of being the Messiah.
Satan therefore set himself to his task, apparently with a double aim. He wished to defeat Jesus; he also wished to discover the secret of the personality of one who had for thirty years avoided sin. There can, I suppose, be no doubt that the sinlessness of Christ gave Satan pause, suggesting to him a mysterious personality, or a miraculous gift of strength from on high; while on the other hand His evident humanity prevented the adversary from apprehending the truth.
In the first instance, [I follow St. Matthew's account.] then, the Devil framed a temptation that made its appeal to human lust, to the desire for food; but he put it in such a way as to shew that he regarded our Lord as being capable of working a miracle.
Secondly, he tried to reach human pride in our Lord, suggesting an act of self-advertisement in such a way as to recognize His supernatural relation to the Father.
And, lastly, he made the proposal to gratify our Lord's desire to reign over men in such a way as to make possible an escape from death, if so be He were the Christ of God.
In each temptation Satan provided against the possible presence of supernatural power and prerogative in Christ; but in each case he made his appeal to what is really human. The lust for food, the pride that loves adulation and independence, the craving for power, the fear of sufferings: to all these Satan made his offer. And in each case the acceptance of the offer carried with it the misuse of the supernatural power.
The Son of Mary remained unmoved, tasting the bitterness of the struggle to the end, in a measure that no one else can ever reach. There are who have learned to hate the dregs of Satan's cup who yet loved the first draught, and were intoxicated by it. There are who have learned to hate the cup who yet have not the courage to dash it to the ground. Jesus alone perfectly hated the cup from the first; and in Him alone was found nothing that could make its bitterness seem sweet: He alone did not surrender to its fumes. He could gaze into the cup, hating it, shuddering at its contents, and leave it untasted. He alone had such true knowledge of the Father and our nature as can grasp the awful possibilities of a misused manhood; and through manhood Satan tortured Him. Therefore it is that the struggle was for Him most fierce. He never yielded, and He remained unyielding until Satan had exhausted upon Him all his craft and power.
II. As Satan tempted Christ through His human faculties so by the exercise of those same faculties Christ conquered Satan.
As we read the story we realize how entirely the Incarnate was confined within the limits of manhood. His human lust and desire He entirely controls in dependence upon His Father; and He defeats Satan by an act of dependence upon God. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
His human will and heart He controls in profound self-subjection, pride having no part or lot in Him. The temptation to pride and self-exaltation He meets by an act of humility. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
And His mind and will are again perfect in their complete acceptance of the divine purpose and will. So that the temptation to acknowledge another as rightful king, and to fulfill God's design in a way that is not God's, was met by an act of adoration and obedience. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; and Him only shalt thou serve."
It is all quite natural: it is just what we should imagine in a perfect man. Every human faculty is tested: each is found true to its divinely ordered work: and each is found linked to the divine will by a voluntary choice that is expressed in the words of the Jewish law.
III. But when we go deeper and ask what exactly was the power that the Incarnate exercised in His contest with Satan, the solution of the question is not so simple.
In the first place, we know that no man ever conquered Satan completely from the first to the last except the Christ; and the world's experience goes to support the view that they who are most successful in resisting him now are those who in some way or another look for help to Christ. There is absolutely no evidence that merely human power ever conquered Satan; and there is no real justification for the assumption that unaided manhood ever could have done so. Perfect Man conquers, but perfect man is not mere man: he is God-aided man. The whole dogma of the Incarnation starts from two postulates: that God can come to indwell the human race, and that the human race without the indwelling of God cannot become perfect. So that as Christians we seem committed to the view that the perfect man Christ Jesus conquered Satan just because He is not mere man.
And, secondly, in the view of the manner of the Incarnation that I am advocating we find a reconciliation of the ideas of superhuman power and human power. The Incarnate is God the Son under conditions of manhood; and His divine powers He possesses within and up to the measure in which His human faculties can mediate them. This power is God's gift to mankind; it is itself divine, but unless it can be strictly mediated by human faculties, appropriated by and assimilated to manhood, it can avail men nothing. In its exercise, in its fullness, and in its limitations it must be completely measured by manhood's capacity. Thus the Incarnate was tempted as man, humanly, and He conquered as man, humanly; but He Himself is not merely man, nor was the power mediated by His manhood merely human. And therefore is He able to succour all who come to Him for help: communicating to them of His own divine power, but always through His manhood, and always in the measure of the varying capacity of their own human faculties.
The theory that constitutes the manhood of Christ in the unlimited Word of God fails us here; for it provides for the presence of an unlimited divine power that no human nature could either assimilate or mediate, and that the human race is unable to appropriate. Also it opens the way to the belief that Christ conquered Satan by an act of divine power that has no real connection with us; with which, in fact, no human being could ever cooperate.
While, on the other hand, the extreme Kenotists so deprive the Christ of His divine powers as ultimately to require us to regard His victory as due merely to human power, thereby rendering unnecessary the Incarnation of God and God's power in our flesh.
The humanitarian view, so popular today, that rejoices in the merely human character of Christ's victory and emphasizes the value of His human example, ignores the fact to which attention has already been drawn that Christ's example is not human in the sense that He Who set it is merely human. However much we may strip the Incarnate of His divine powers and attributes He is still a divine person, and His example is only human as that set by a divine person living under the conditions proper to man. If we go further and strip the Incarnate of His divine personality we render the word incarnation meaningless in connection with Him.
Humanitarian Christologians have failed to bring Christ near to men. For first they tell us that He used no powers that are not proper to mankind; and then they are driven to admit that in the last resort there is a gulf between the personality of the Christ and our personality. How, then, can we be saved? Can we receive of the personality of the Son of God? Or shall we return to the Catholic conception of the Christ, acknowledge Him to possess divine power under human conditions, and in that divine power humanly mediated find our salvation and our strength?
Surely it is clear gain to Christian thought to discover in the Gospels the picture of the divine Son living within the limits of humanity as true subject of a complete manhood, and exercising in His conflict with Satan divine power conditioned by the capacity of His perfect human soul. For in such a Christ we see Him Who through all the ages is as glorified Son of Man the fountain of divine strength to all who have become His members, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh; giving it forth to them just in the measure in which each one can receive, assimilate, and exercise it through his human faculties.
IV. In confirmation of this view of the Christ I would adduce evidence from the Gospel witness to the relations of the evil spirits to Him.
It is most striking that whereas Satan was very uncertain of Christ's personality before he went into battle in the wilderness, after the conflict all the evil spirits, the angels of Satan, recognize Him as in some sense divine. They knew Him as Lord of their lord, as Son of God, as the Holy One of God. [Mark 1:34; 5:7, etc.] But at the same time so truly was His deity conditioned in manhood that the full truth of His person was not completely apprehended by them. For we are told that Satan departed from Him only for a season, [Luke 4:13.] and the devils whose name was Legion dared to adjure Christ in the name of God. [Mark 5:7.]
It is difficult to say how far this evidence will take us. It is, I think, probable that Satan's return refers not to temptations as such, but to the trials of the ministry and the sufferings of the Passion and Crucifixion; or perhaps the battlefield was the hearts of men whom Christ sought to win. And there is no reason to expect that the devils would be able to reconcile the divinity of Christ with their own belief in the one God. But I do think that the evidence may fairly be held to prove on the one hand the presence of real divine power in the Christ such as no human person could exercise; and on the other hand the very true mediation of that divine power through the manhood of the Christ.
I think, then, that we are quite justified in saying that the Evangelists mean us to regard the victory of Christ as belonging to Him as perfect man; that they do not suggest the presence of any divine power that could not be mediated and exercised by God-aided manhood. While at the same time they also mean us to understand that the army of Satan discerned in the perfect manhood the true nature of the perfecting power, and knew it to be divine in essence.
In fact, the Scriptures depict Christ as the power of God for Satan's overthrow. [Matt. 12:28; 25:31 ff. Cf. 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 19:11-16, etc. etc.] In them the Son of Mary becomes the ideal man: the man in whose likeness are found all those who by faith have surrendered themselves to His will and appropriated His life and His power. He is shewn to us as using to Satan's destruction the very human faculties which mankind had abused in weakness, thereby establishing that evil one as their king and lord. In that same power are we in our turn and in our measure to conquer and reach our perfection. The power in which we are to conquer today is the very same in which He conquered of old. There is no gulf between the power of the Redeemer and the power of the redeemed. He did not conquer in merely human power that we might have divine power at our command. No! The power is one and the same. Divine in essence it is yet truly human in the sense that it is available only in so far as manhood can assimilate it, cooperate with it through the will, and exercise it through human faculties.
The modern mind suggests that Jesus Christ did not possess in His manhood the power that He communicates to each soul that turns to Him. But I think it will be found that the Son of Mary is representative of mankind not only on the sacrificial side but also on the side of human weakness. The manhood of Christ would not have been perfect had it not shared divine power in the measure in which it could make it its own; even as we have no life apart from the divine life of the Son of God.
The Christ victorious over temptations is not the type of the heathen man struggling towards the light: He is the type of the God-indwelt Christian who, in the power of God humanly exercised, seeks to rescue himself and others, soul and body, from the assaults of Satan.