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Christ used scripture to counter adversary

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"And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Matthew 4:3-10

At some time in our lives, we will all encounter Satan's insidious web. It will probably not take on the same form as the Savior's temptations in the wilderness, but it will nevertheless be just as real, and just as potent. It is therefore instructive to examine how the Savior responded to His temptations, so that we might use His example as we experience our own encounters with the adversary.

For each of the temptations that Satan proposed Jesus responded with scriptural passages. The lesson for us is clear: We should never underestimate the power of the scriptures to counter the adversary. Paul described for the Ephesian saints the armor of God that is essential for us to fight against principalities, powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Included in that arsenal is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:11-17.)

This lesson from Christ's temptations is critical, but also readily apparent to even the casual reader. Perhaps we can identify some lessons that are not so immediately recognizable as we examine the biblical source from which the Savior chose His scriptural refutations. After all, Jesus did not disarm Satan with just any pastiche of scriptures. Rather, He specifically chose passages from the book of Deuteronomy.

In the first temptation, Jesus responds to the enticement to turn stone into bread by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Ancient readers who read this temptation would not only have heard the rebuke but they would have been reminded of its greater context in Deuteronomy chapter 8, which describes God's testing of Israel in the wilderness and His miraculous provision of manna. God can certainly do what Satan required; He had already proved that as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. The whole point of that 40-year experience of relying on the Lord for manna was, according to verse 2, to humble the children of Israel, to prove them, to know what was in their hearts, and to see whether they were committed to keeping God's commandments.

Unlike Israel, when He was at the point of one of His greatest physical depravations (the Atonement being the other point) the Savior did not allow His physical cravings to overpower His thoughts of God. Thus He fulfilled all righteousness in the first temptation because He remembered God by keeping His commandments. Likewise, if we are to disarm Satan we must not only give lip service to this principle, we must actually live it.

Jesus' responses to the second and third temptations come from Deuteronomy 6. This chapter emphasizes the need for Israel to give exclusive allegiance to their God. When Satan asked Him to jump from the pinnacle of the temple so that angels could come and bear him up, Jesus responded with "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

In Deuteronomy the verse continues with, "as ye tempted him in Massah." (Deuteronomy 6:16.) This additional phrase reminds us of the time in the wilderness when the children of Israel, thirsty for water, complained to Moses. These complaints stemmed from feelings of insecurity over whether God was really with them on their journey. (Exodus 17:1-7.)

Christ's commitment to God stemmed, at least in part, from His assurance that He was indeed God's "beloved Son, in whom [He] was well-pleased." (Matthew 3:17.) The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that one of the characteristics needed for an individual to "exercise faith in God unto life and salvation" was to have an actual knowledge that that course of life which He is pursuing is according to [God's] will." (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, 3:2-5.)

The final temptation to worship Satan was clearly the boldest. It is a temptation that all temptations ultimately lead to. Jesus' response, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10) again hearkens back to Deuteronomy 6, where Jehovah implores Israel to refrain from seeking after other gods.

If there is something for us to learn from these passages it is that we can only truly ward off Satan by giving our love and our loyalties to the Father. If that was necessary for the Savior, it is essential in our lives.

We have now examined Jesus' scriptural rebukes in their specific contexts in Deuteronomy. In addition, there is also an important lesson to learn from the broader context of Deuteronomy as a whole. This book is unique in the Old Testament: the entire text is a covenant renewal ceremony. All of the words which Moses spake to the House of Israel as they prepared to finally enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness were designed to help Israel remember the covenant that they had made with God at Mount Sinai and also to renew it; to recommit themselves to the God of Israel.

Christ's appeal to Deuteronomy during His temptations, therefore, teaches us that being true to our covenants with God is essential to dismissing Satan from our lives.


Sister Strathearn is an instructor of ancient scripture at BYU.