THE TEMPTATIONS OF EVE AND JESUS
Since temptation is something that we face and struggle against every day, it is necessary that we understand how it presents itself in our lives. We can gain much insight in the nature of temptation in Genesis 3:1–6, on the one hand the devil’s encounter with Eve ; on the other, his encounter with Jesus (Luke 4:1–13). What can we learn from the two experiences? Just as Jesus was tempted, so temptation will also come to those who follow him (Matthew 18:7). And the way we overcome temptation is by looking to the one who has already overcome the world (John 16:33). The temptation of Jesus by Satan (Luke 4:1–13) is counterpart to that of Eve and gives us insight in how to respond to temptation.
If we probe a little deeper into Scripture to see who or what is the principle of temptation in the case of both Eve and Jesus, we will discover something that cannot be easily dismissed or passed off as mere coincidence. To understand what tempts man, we must search scripture for an answer. I believe the answer is found in I John 2:16 which says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” What this tells us is that all temptations of evil are of this terrestrial world.
The “tree of knowledge” represents God’s Law in spiritual form (Romans 7:14). Partaking of its fruit, as Adam and Eve were warned and found out brings on death. It wasn’t the actual fruit that inflicted death, but rather their disobedience to what the Lord had commanded. So, in the symbolism of a tree, embodied three manifestations of all that is in the world. That is: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:16). When we investigate Eve’s infatuation by way of a stimulant i.e. the serpent, we find that all three parts of our worldly enticements were presented in the temptation. How does this relate to the three accounts of the Temptation of Eve and Christ? It must have been an important lesson to be included in the Genesis and three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These books reveal that how Eve and Jesus were tempted in three situations which (ironically) correspond to the three elements of ‘all that is in the world’.
2.0 THE THREE TEMPTATIONS
2.1 The lust of the flesh
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any… when the woman (Eve) saw that the tree was good for food.” (Genesis 3:1-6) The lust of the flesh was accomplished in that “The tree was good for food.”
“And when the tempter came to Jesus, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). This corresponds to the lust of the flesh.
2.2 The lust of the eyes
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any… when the woman (Eve) saw that… and that it was pleasant to the eye.” (Genesis 3:1-6) The lust of the eyes was fulfilled in that “It was pleasant to the eyes.”
“Again the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them”. (Matthew 4:8) This corresponds to the lust of the eyes. If we are to understand this exceedingly high mountain to be literal, then we are stuck with the impossibility of literally seeing all the kingdoms of the world by virtue of a limited horizon. Even if one were on top of Mt. Everest, one would not be able to see all the kingdoms of the world. This indicates that the narrative is engaged in figures of speech.
2.3 The pride of life
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any… when the woman (Eve) saw that… and a tree to be desired to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:1-6) And the pride of life was achieved in Eve’s belief that it was “A tree to be desired to make one wise”.
In the case of Jesus, the tempter said, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down”. (Matthew 4:6) This corresponds to the pride of life.
As Eve listened to the serpent’s wily seduction, she began to look at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil anew, with eyes clouded by the illusion of self-will. Rather than refusing the tree God had warned them to resist, she gazed upon a tree she now considered to be “good for food…a delight to the eyes…and desired for gaining wisdom.” In other words, she had been snagged. The lust of the flesh. The lust of the eyes. The pride of life.
Similarly, when the tempter approached Jesus in the wilderness, he carried no original material. The tempter prodded Jesus to provide food for himself, to set his eyes on kingdoms to possess and to force God’s hand by asserting his own rule in his own time. In virtual point-by-point fashion (lust, eyes, pride), another serpent came to Jesus.
3.0 DISTORTING GOD’S WORD – THE HALF TRUTH IN TEMPTATION
Temptation almost always begins by distorting authority. This was the approach Satan used when he came to Eve in the garden, taking God’s command and reshaping it, saying, “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). Satan’s words, which were designed to get Eve to debate God’s command, entertained the possibility that God did not know what was best. While God had commanded Adam not to eat from one tree, Satan told Eve it was “any tree in the garden.” In other words, Satan presents God as the cosmic killjoy, someone who comes along and likes saying no to everything and everyone. In his temptation, Satan did not just point to the tree and say, “Go on—eat it,” but he described reality in a way that is false. Satan’s first step in deceiving Eve was having her question the truthfulness of God’s word. Eve’s grasp of Scripture is not so true. God had told Adam and Eve, earlier in Genesis chapter 2: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.” Eve reports His words this way: “God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’” God never said that touching the fruit would make her die. She has reinterpreted God to make him sound unreasonable. This is a first step toward rejecting God. As Adam and Eve found out, there are only tragic consequences when we reject God’s Word as the sole authority for our lives.
However, for temptation to be appealing, it usually contains some degree of truth. What Satan promised Eve was partly true, but its ultimate end was a lie. The serpent undermines God’s word to Adam and Eve concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil with three counterclaims, each of which tempts them to seek to establish their own autonomy and an identity independent of God: (i) you will not die; instead, (ii) your eyes will be opened; and (iii) you will be like God.
Each of the three claims contains an element of truth and a tragic irony. We take them in reverse order.
First, in one sense Adam and Eve did become like God: in rebelling against him they asserted their personal autonomy and independence from God and usurped the place of authority in their lives that God had occupied. But ironically, as creatures made in the image and likeness of God they were already “like God,” in the best sense of being his children, made in his image and likeness. In disobeying God they forfeited the privileges associated with that status, including being known by him intimately and personally in the Garden.
Second, Adam and Eve’s eyes were actually opened, but not in a good way. They saw that they were naked, but ironically this realization led to fear and shame rather than liberation (Genesis 3:10-11). Prior to their transgression, “Adam and Eve were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25).
And third, Adam and Eve did not die immediately. In fact, according to Genesis 5:5 Adam made it to 930 years of age before dying. But in a more profound and dramatic sense, they did die having cut themselves off from God. The presence of God gave the Garden its life-giving power (Genesis 2:7), an environment in which Adam and Eve experienced true life in knowing God and being known by him. But the serpent undermined their relationship with God by questioning God’s motives: “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 2:5).
The serpent’s lies were designed to undermine Adam and Eve’s confidence in God and to tempt them to find their identity independently of him. In succumbing to the serpent’s lies they turned from their Father and became disobedient children.
In case of Jesus, the first two of Satan’s tests are prefaced with the taunt, “if you are the Son of God.” Satan’s tests are designed to see whether or not Jesus will remain God’s faithful and obedient Son. What does it mean to be the Son of God? What sort of Son is Jesus? All three temptations probe whether or not Jesus still trusts his Father in his weakened state. In response to the first temptation, to turn the stones into bread, Jesus quotes the Old Testament: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (see Deuteronomy 8:3). This same pattern is repeated with the second and third tests. In each case Jesus quotes the Old Testament Scriptures (all three quotes were from Deuteronomy) to indicate that, “listening to God is that which is life-sustaining.”
For us to try to determine truth apart from God is in fact saying, “I won’t accept God’s rules. I’ll make my own.” This determination is the beginning of idolatry. When God becomes too uncomfortable for us, we make our own rules. We fashion other gods, more domesticated gods, which are idols (Romans 1:22–23).
4.0 DEALING WITH TEMPTATION
Eve’s response to Satan’s temptation, which is often like ours, was initially appropriate: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 3:2–3). So far, Eve is telling the truth. But her mistake was to set her sights on what God had commanded not to do rather than on what God had blessed them with (i.e., all the other trees in the garden). This often happens to us when we are tempted: we focus on what God has commanded us not to do rather than on all that he has already bestowed upon us as his children (Ephesians 1:3). So, Eve exaggerates what God had forbidden: “Neither shall you touch it, lest you die” (Genesis 2:17, 3:3). Yet, knowing enough of what God was like, Eve should have responded, “This is Eden. God made it, and it’s very good. It’s unthinkable that we should even challenge him. If he says not to do something, then it is for our good. Get out of here!” Eve’s response, however, entertained the possibility of standing in judgment over God, which leads Satan to challenge what God had said by telling her, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Now, as a result of the deception, Eve has doubt in her mind and has fallen into unbelief.
The temptation of Jesus by Satan (Luke 4:1–13) is counterpart to that of Adam and Eve and gives us insight in how to respond to temptation. Just as Jesus was tempted, so temptation will also come to those who follow him (Matthew 18:7). And the way we overcome temptation is by looking to the one who has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
After Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was filled with the Holy Spirit when he returned (Luke 4:1, 14). The way Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation was not by denying God’s Word but by relying on it to defeat Satan in his temptations (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture, saying to him, “It is written,” which has the force of or is equivalent to “that settles it.” Jesus understood that the Word of God was sufficient for this. Jesus also faced temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed about his impending crucifixion, “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). Nevertheless, he overcame it by committing himself to the Father’s will during the same prayer (Luke 22:42–44).
The good news is that we don’t face temptation alone, for we have a Saviour whom we can go to and who has fought and struggled with temptation yet was always victorious (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15–16). Jesus’ life of obedience and faithfulness is an example to us when we face temptation since we have the same resources that he relied on to fulfil his ministry: the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 5:18, 6:17–18).
Jesus had the right attitude toward Satan and Temptation: He wanted nothing to do with them. Temptations are inevitable in human life, even for Jesus, but his reaction was unequivocal: “Get away, Satan!” he said, and immediately angels come to minister to him.
Adam and Eve have a more … complicated response. They consider the devil’s lies as being on a par with God’s truths. God said the food would killer — Satan said it would give her wisdom. She sees the fruit on Satan’s terms, eats it changes the course of her life. Instead of angels ministering them, they get angels.
When temptation comes, the first thing we usually do is deny or convince ourselves that there will be no consequences. The first denial of God’s words in Scripture was to deny God’s judgment. Often when Satan begins a fresh attack on biblical revelation, we first doubt whether there is judgement or not. For example, because of the idea of inherent human goodness in our society, today people often say, “God surely wouldn’t send innocent people to Hell, would he?” Once you get rid of the idea of judgement as a consequence of our disobedience toward God’s commands, then you can entertain anything (racism, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage,” gender neutrality, covetousness), because people believe there are no consequences to their actions (Judges 17:6, 21:25), particularly if it’s arbitrarily assumed someone’s good deeds can outweigh their bad (which Scripture makes clear is impossible; see Isaiah 64:6 and Romans 3:28).
There are always consequences when we give into temptation, as Adam and Eve found out (Genesis 3:13–19). Although once naked and without shame, after they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and became ashamed. In that shame, they were alienated from God (Genesis 3:7). Eve gave in because she saw that the tree was (1) good for food, (2) pleasing to the eye, and (3) desirable for gaining wisdom (Genesis 3:6). These temptations correspond to John’s description of the things of this world: “The desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). This is a pattern of sin that runs through Scripture: (1) start listening to the creature instead of the Creator; (2) follow our own impressions instead of God’s instructions; (3) make self-fulfilment the goal. The prospect of these things seems good to life when in fact it leads to death. If you rebel against the God who gives life, what else is there but death?
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12).
To sum up, in the Garden Adam and Eve believed the serpent and became rebellious children of God, suffering a symbolic death as a result. In the wilderness Jesus passed the test and refused to believe Satan’s lies; he was indeed the Son of God. The similarities and contrasts between Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 are striking:
- Both start with temptations to do with eating, but occur in entirely different settings: one in the plenty of the Garden, the other in the scarcity of the wilderness.
- Both scenes concern the truth and goodness of the word of God. If Adam and Eve deny what God said and succumb to temptation, Jesus affirms the sufficiency of God’s Word and stands firm.
- Both scenes reveal the identity of the ones being tempted. Adam and Eve are known by God intimately and personally as his children but doubt God’s paternal goodness. Jesus, on the other hand, affirms his trust in his Father and proves himself to be God’s faithful and obedient Son. Significantly, the scene immediately preceding the temptations of Jesus in Matthew is the baptism of Jesus, which climaxes with the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
- Both set the pattern for two different versions of what it means to be a human being. One, following Adam and Eve’s example, leading to death, as God had warned; the other set the course for a new humanity leading to life.
Perhaps, conceptually, the word satan has been so misinterpreted to align itself with pagan mythology rather than with the Word of God, that it is incomprehensible to those who have been inculcated with years of superstitious teachings and ‘doctrines of devils’ to believe in the simplicity of Christ. Let me give you a comparative example of how the Bible says the same thing in two different ways. “For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). And then we read the same premise just three verses prior, “He was manifested to take away our sins.” It shouldn’t be too hard to comprehend that it is our sin nature, which the Bible says is the only thing in the world (that should be of concern) and it is: the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is these three things that tempted both Eve and Jesus, not a vicarious supernatural agent in lieu of God. We are further told in James 1:14 that “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Again, no mention of any supernatural being. That should give any casual reader pause for reflection.