Summary: Do you test God or trust God? What are the ways we try to control God in order to get our way?
To understand how the devil is tempting Jesus here in this second temptation, we first need an accurate picture of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city which was built on a very high plateau and is surrounded by deep valleys. Whenever you read in the Bible about someone going to Jerusalem you will notice that it always says that they go up to Jerusalem. Also, the city is fortified with huge walls which encircle it. At the edge of this high, walled city is the Temple area which is also the highest point in the city. The Temple itself is surrounded with a very large wall that connects to the outer city wall. When Sue and I went to Israel we looked up at the Temple wall from the Kidron Valley, and believe me it is an impressive sight. It was atop the outer wall of the Temple area where the devil takes Jesus, and as they look down from the dizzying height, the devil suggests that Jesus jump, so that all the angels of heaven would rush to his rescue.
It is interesting to note that the devil quotes Scripture here. He still quotes Scripture to people if he can distort it for his own purposes. As always he leaves parts out, twists its true meaning and suggests taking the Scripture to its illogical extreme of literalism. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” What the Psalm is suggesting, by way of poetic symbolism and hyperbole, is that the Lord will be with the person who is doing his will and trusting him. It is not a law, it is a principle that says: God will guide and guard the person who obeys him. But the devil insinuates that this Old Testament song is to be taken literally in every situation, and suggests that Jesus test God to see if he would do what he said he would do. He is saying, “If you are the Son of God, prove it. After all, Elijah was swept into heaven by a fiery chariot, surely God would do no less for his Son. Do you really trust in God and believe what is said in the Scripture? Do you really believe God will protect you? If this Scripture is true, what about the death you will have to suffer? Is the Scripture trustworthy, and can you really count on God to keep you from being hurt by me?”
The Charismatic movement made this very mistake in its interpretation of Scripture with its emphasis on healings and miracles, making them out to be the norm. And although we have learned many good things from the Charismatic movement, and it has affected the church in many positive ways, this was a particularly tragic mistake that has left many disillusioned people in its wake. There are many of those dear people who are no longer following God because they were led to believe that God guaranteed things which he never promised. Some are disillusioned because they think that since they experienced difficulty God is punishing them for something, and they have no idea what it is. Others want to know why someone they loved became ill, or died, when they had prayed and believed God for a healing. They want to know why God did not protect them from the misfortune they experienced. They gave their money and still went bankrupt. What happened? Where did they go wrong... or was it God who let them down?
The devil tempted them by saying, “If you are a Christian why don’t you believe what God said in his Word? Take every word literally and take the leap of faith. Prove that you trust in God and his Word.” What sounds spiritual is sometimes just stupid. Faith can be perverted. In fact, what may appear to be faith may not be faith at all, it may be stubborn self-will — an insistence of having your own way. What appears to be faith may in reality be pride and self-glorification. It may even be an attempt to control God.
Our temptation is sometimes similar to the one Jesus faced: We want God to do something spectacular and make us look good or prove he is on our side. The temptation is to want God to perform a miracle and save us from hard work. The temptation is to want life to be easy. We want God’s will and work to be effortless. God’s will done in God’s way still takes hard work. Even though we have his blessing and help there are few shortcuts or sweatless solutions.