“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:9-12, ESV)
We learn some things about Satan’s tricks from this passage. First, we see how he operates in the realm of the mind. Francis Schaeffer rightly said that the spiritual battle is lost or won in the mind. Satan’s subtlest appeals are not those of the flesh or the spirit, but of the mind. Rather than tempting Jesus to forget God, Satan tempts Jesus toward a false understanding of God’s character. He would have us believe in God, if we would only believe in him wrongly.
We see how religious Satan is. He was the “anointed guardian cherub” on God’s holy mountain (Ezek. 28:14); he doesn’t mind taking Jesus to the temple. He is perhaps more at home there than in the desert. Religion doesn’t intimidate the devil. It is as if Satan points around him to the heights of the holy place, in “the holy city,” in the “holy land,” and quotes the holy Book—in an unholy way.
We see too that Satan exploits the text of Scripture to his own ends. He quotes two verses to confirm his point, both from Psalm 91. Logically, if God’s angels would not allow you to strike your foot against a stone, then surely they would not allow God’s Son to fall to his death.
Jesus was able to beat this temptation because he knew his enemy. He was not distracted by the trappings of religion. He was not impressed by architecture or rhetoric. He stayed his course, and did not forget the word that the Father had spoken before he was led into the wilderness.
Ironically, if Satan had continued Psalm 91, he would have found in the very next verse:
“The serpent you will trample underfoot.” (Psalm 91:13, ESV)
This very promise, that Jesus would step on the serpent, is fulfilled in one sense when Jesus refuses this third of Satan’s devices. Satan begins the psalm; Jesus finishes it. Satan has the first word in their battle; Jesus has the last.
Jesus, I pray that you would give me discernment between true and false religion. Make me know my own heart, that religion itself would be less than nothing to me, except as I know you, the one true Reason for religion, and the central Character of all Scripture.