Matthew 4: Understanding the Enemy
Understanding our spiritual enemy is a critical endeavor when it comes to temptation. Eve ignored the devil’s devices, and became enticed with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16; cf. Genesis 3:1-6). On the other hand, Jesus knew His enemy, and defeated him with the power of the Word (Matthew 4:4,7,10).
There are some things the temptation of our Lord reveals about the devil. He is:
- Real. The devil is not a fictional character that was invented to frighten people. In the Scriptures, his very existence is as sure as the existence of God. If the devil does not exist, then neither the One Who was tempted by the devil, destroyed the dominion of the devil (Hebrews 2:14), dissolved the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and finally will cast out the devil for eternity (Revelation 12:9; 20:10).
- The tempter. The Scriptures present this feature of the devil since the beginning to the end of human history (Genesis 3; Revelation 12:9). There has never been an accountable soul who was not tempted by the provisions of the devil, and there has never been an accountable soul (besides our Lord) who did not succumb to one of his ruses (Psalm 53:3; Romans 3:10,23). The question is not, “Will we be tempted?,” but, “Will we be prepared?”
- Ruthless. He did not have mercy of the Son of God in His weakest physical condition; neither will he have mercy of any of us. We cannot talk to his heart; he is heartless. We cannot plead with him; he is merciless. We cannot overwhelm him with pity; he is tearless. He will have as much “mercy” of us as a hungry, fierce lion will have of a defenseless gazelle (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).
- Persistent. His first and second failures did not stop him, and after the third attempt, the devil only left the Lord “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). No matter how many times he is defeated, he will always be in the battlefield; no matter how many of his strategies fail, he will always come up with a new one or polish an old one; and no matter how many souls he has in his army, he will always be forcefully recruiting more. Only God’s love for us can outlast the devil’s insatiable hate for us.
- Satan. This word means “opponent, enemy, adversary” (Strong, 1995, p. 140). The devil is our enemy; we cannot make peace with him. He is our accuser (Revelation 12:10); we cannot be by his side. He is a liar, a thief, and a murderer (John 8:44; 10:10); we cannot come to an agreement with him. He does not want the good of anyone. “It is his goal to wreck every couples’ marriage, every person’s health, every mind’s sanity, every heart’s peace, every maiden’s virtue, every servant’s ministry, every church’s harmony, every sermon’s effectiveness, and every soul’s destiny” (Webster, n.d.).
The devil is still real, is still tempting, is still ruthless, is still persistent, and is still our enemy. We cannot play with the devil, underestimate the devil, or bargain with the devil. His best offers include a fruit for a perfect garden (Genesis 3), a stew of lentils for the lasting blessings of God (Genesis 25:34; Hebrews 12:17), a “night of pleasure” for two eyes and freedom (Judges 16:4-22) or a life of tears (2 Samuel 12), and the perishing things of this world for the eternal soul (Matthew 16:26).
My beloved brethren, let us meditate on our Lord’s temptation to understand our enemy, our perfect Example, and the way to victory. Let us not allow “Satan [to] take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Strong, James (1995), New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
Webster, Allen (no date), “A Decent Devil?,” tract (Jacksonville, AL: House to House).