As we’ve noted, the temptations of the wilderness were a battle, not the whole war. Luke 4:13 states, the devil left only to return at an opportune time.
What times were opportune?
Well in Matthew 16 we have another heavenly declaration of Jesus’ identity. This time it comes through the lips of Peter – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v16). But as with the baptismal declaration, this would be immediately tested by the question, What sort of Christ? What sort of Son of God will Jesus be?
Verse 21: From this time on Jesus begins to show His disciples that He must suffer and die. As soon as His divine identity becomes clear like this, Jesus immediately seeks to combat our natural theology of glory. He ‘shows’ them that He must suffer. That’s interesting isn’t it? He doesn’t simply tell them, He shows them – obviously from Scripture. For the bible has never revealed a theology of glory – it has always revealed the theology of the cross. Jesus makes this plain. And Peter, who one minute previously has been a mouthpiece of heaven (v17), is now a mouthpiece of hell.
Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Immediately Jesus recognizes the devil’s assault:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Peter thought the things of God were the things of power, prestige, safety and comfort. Jesus says, No, those things are the things of men. And, shockingly, the things of men are the things of Satan.
It couldn’t be clearer could it? Satan’s way is the way of all men – the way of comfort, the way of self, the way of safety. Christ’s way (which is God’s way) is the way of the cross, and He calls every follower to it (v24ff).
The next time ‘temptation’ is mentioned in Matthew is in the garden of Gethsemane (26:41). Here again the way of the cross was brought into an agonizing contrast with the way of all flesh. Would Jesus let the cup pass (v39)? Would He save Himself or save us? Again He resolved to let His Father’s will be done. This is not something different from His resolve to save us – it is precisely the same thing.
At His arrest, again the chance came for the angels to rescue Him (v53), but the Scriptures must be fulfilled (v54). Both the Father and the Scriptures speak with one voice – the Christ, the Son of God must suffer and must die. And Christ submits.
So as He pours out His life on that cross, here is the final ‘opportune time’. The religious leaders called out to Him:
Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.’” (Matt 27:40-43)
Do you recognize those words? “If you are the Son of God” began each of the wilderness temptations. Here is Satan again using his mouthpieces to offer Jesus a way out. Contrary to Martin Scorcese’s imagination, the last temptation of Christ was not some lustful fantasy. It was the much more seductive, much more truly carnal, temptation to save Himself. Thank God He resisted. For He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
And when He died, the most unlikely man of all suddenly got it. A Roman centurion declares: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (v54)
That’s been the issue ever since the baptism. What does it mean to be the Son of God? Satan threw everything at Jesus to make Him live like Adam, like Israel, like every other son in the history of the world. But Jesus refuses to live for self. Instead He dies for others and in this astonishing reversal a power is unleashed. There’s life from the dead (v51-53) and the man most likely to love vainglory and flesh and the way of Satan is turned around. Even in the eyes of this Gentile, the wonder of the cross becomes the definition of true Sonship. This is a power to overturn the world.
Satan is crushed.