The Testing of the Son and the Sons
Matthew 4; Deuteronomy 8.
At the outset of this meditation let us link together the two
following fragments of scripture.
"Man shall not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth
out of the mouth of the Lord shall man live" (Matt. 4:4).
"I am the Bread of Life" (John 6:35).
No one will imagine that there is a contradiction in those
statements for the second one swallows the first. While the first
refers to the bread which is transient, and passing, temporal and of
the earth, and is not the sole basis of man's life as life is
according to the mind of God, not what man calls life, the Lord
Jesus is the Bread which is that Life, and is Himself as the Bread,
and as the Life, the Word, the living Word by which man shall live.
Now this wonderful account of the Lord's temptation in the
wilderness is constructed upon that basic fact. You notice that He
has come up out of Jordan, symbolically He has died, been buried,
and raised from the dead. That is set at the outset of His ministry,
and upon that everything proceeds, and out of that everything arises
in life, in word, and in deed. We know that He is specifically
"declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from
the dead"; that that resurrection in His baptism symbolized,
typified, and foreshadowed, is the ground upon which the heavens are
opened and the voice of the Father is heard announcing "This is my
Beloved Son," the sonship on the ground of Resurrection, and the
principle of that sonship the Resurrection Life which has proved
triumphant over death; that Life resident within Himself as the Son
to become the basis of all future triumphs, and that Life to be
imparted as Bread to all who are in that faith union with Him of
which He speaks: "He that believeth into Me shall never hunger. He
that is believing shall never thirst." That is the background or the
foundation of this thing. It is well to be perfectly clear as to
what it is that is behind this temptation in the wilderness. Now it
is a remarkable thing and full of significance that this has been
foreshadowed in every detail in the life of Israel in the
wilderness. You break up the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy and the
fourth chapter of Matthew and what have you.
In the second verse of
the former you have, "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord
thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness."
In the chapter of Matthew -
"Forty days and forty nights in the wilderness."
In the former, 3rd verse -
"He suffered thee to hunger."
In the latter, 2nd verse -
"Afterward, He hungered."
In the former, 2nd verse,
"To prove thee."
In the latter, 2nd verse -
"To be tempted (or tried, or proved, the same word) of the devil."
In the former, 5th verse -
"Thou shalt consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his
son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee."
In the latter, 3rd verse -
"If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."
In the former, 3rd verse -
"He fed thee with manna."
In the latter, 11th verse -
"Angels ministered unto Him."
Life-Union with the Lord
Now you see the relationship of these two things. It is only a study
of marginal references so far as the material is concerned, the
inner secret the Lord must unfold. You see the principles lying
behind both these accounts are the same. Israel has come out by the
mighty hand of God from Egypt through the Red Sea - "baptised into
Moses in the cloud and in the sea," and raised as from the dead -
Israel now called Son. Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1. Israel now "Son"
on the ground of Resurrection. Israel now in Life Union with the
Lord of Life in victory over the lord of death who was defeated by
the sprinkled blood, and robbed of his prey. Israel delivered from
the destroyer - out on resurrection ground, sharing typically and in
figure (not actually) that Life triumphant over death in
sonship, and on that basis Israel was tested, tried, proved. "He
suffered thee to hunger - He tried (proved) thee that He might make
thee know what was in thine heart whether thou wouldest keep his
commandments" (His word). "That He might make thee know that man
shall not live by bread alone, but by every word (the living word)
that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord shall man (not exist),
but live." This life, you see, is going to prove itself through
testing; this life is going to manifest its marvellous properties as
the thing which is triumphant in the presence of a deep trial.
Israel on that basis, and then the spiritual administration of
divine sustenance in a wilderness, God coming in in the barrenness
by - shall I use the word? I am afraid of it - a mystic Life, a
secret Life in the manna. "What is it?" The mystery of their
sustenance: "what is it?" they said, when they saw the manna, that
mystic sustenance, the basis of their survival in temptation.
Now forty years in the wilderness. Forty a compound of five and
eight. Five - Grace. Eight - Resurrection. Forty always in the Bible
is the number of testing, and triumph; chastisement, discipline, and
glory resultant. Israel there forty years. In the case of the Son,
on Resurrection ground, possessing the Divine Life - "Though He was
a Son yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." He
suffered being tempted. Here is probation; here is Son-training;
Son-discipline, Son-testing, but all that that secret thing, that
Life, that mystic Life, which is not drawn from earth, but drawn
from above might be demonstrated through faith in the universe in
the power of this mighty triumph.
Now take these three temptations, and you will find that they have
their illustration in Israel's history here. In Deut. 8 you have the
first temptation: "He suffered thee to hunger."
"Afterward He hungered. Then the tempter came and said if thou be
the Son of God command that these stones become bread." He answered,
quoting from this scripture, "It is written, Man shall not live by
bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of
God" (Matt. 4).
Faith, Sonship, and Sense
What is the nature of this temptation in Israel and in Christ? "He
suffered thee to hunger" - "He hungered." He is in the wilderness;
they were in the wilderness; cut off absolutely from every earthly
resource, bereft of everything upon which to place any fleshly
confidence. Think, forty days and forty nights in the wilderness,
undoubtedly in a state of severe spiritual pressure, a time of real
spiritual anguish, and anguish which was of this character I am
quite sure - "you are left alone. God has left you, everything else
has dried up. God is not with you; there are no evidences whatever,
no proofs, no demonstrations, you are alone, you are forsaken."
Everything outside spoke of desolation, and that desolation was
seeking to envelop His spirit. He was cut off; He was deliberately
led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. You know
Israel's temptation all along that line - "you have been trapped,
ensnared into this wilderness, you have been ensnared out here, and
now you are left with nothing: you were fairly safe when you were in
Egypt, you could see where your next meal was coming from. However
difficult it may have been, there - at any rate - were all the
apparent resources of sustenance and maintenance, a world of sense."
Out here there is nothing, and everything around Israel shouted
desolation, and everything around the Son of God was shouting
desolation, forsakenness, nothingness.
Now what is the basis of triumph? The devil gets right at it, he
disputes the innermost reality, the sonship. He challenges that and
disputes that - "If thou be the Son of God..." "This does not look
very much like Your being a beloved Son, does it?" He is trying to
throw doubt upon that. What is the answer? The answer which brings
defeat to the enemy on that count is the answer of faith in the
inner reality. There is something more than external demonstration,
something infinitely superior to that. The fact of sonship exists
when everything outside has dried up. The Life remains within, even
in a wilderness, in the desert, cut off: all demonstrations, all
proofs, all feeling, or sight, everything that would give some
assurance to the flesh cut off. And then the devil comes down and
says in the presence of all that death and desolation, "You are not
the child of God. God has given you up. If you were the child of God
do you think He would allow this? Do you think He would let you
suffer like this?" You see the cruelty; but the victory comes by
taking up the position upon a bedrock fact which exists in spite of
no feelings and no appearances, "I have been raised together with
Him, having been crucified with Christ." "Joined with Him in the
likeness of His death, I have been raised together with Him." I am
on Resurrection ground, a child, a son on the basis of that Life. It
is deeper than feeling, deeper than outward sense and proofs and
demonstrations: it is a thing which exists deeper than my own soul.
This is the effect of it. "It is written that my life as a son of God
is not the life which depends upon this temporal bread of outward
sense, my life exists upon the basis of a life union with God which
is obedient by faith when there is no outward sign to encourage that
obedience, or strengthen that faith." That is the ground of triumph.
Sonship, Life on Resurrection ground by Resurrection union, but
deeper than all our sense.
If, beloved, our life consists in the bread which satisfies our
emotions and our reason, our lust for activity and enterprise and
work and service, the devil will score sooner or later, for the
works will come to an end. The heats of our emotions will die, our
minds will get to an end of everything, then the test of sonship
will arise, and the enemy will come in upon us. What have you been
living on? Have you been living upon religious excitability and been
kept going by the many activities of religious life and work? If you
have been upheld by the stimuli of religious emotions and
atmospheres they are destined to be brought to an end, and the enemy
will come in on that point and say. "God has given you up." Mark
you, God sees to that. "Then was He led up of the Spirit." God takes
the initiative in this thing to lay the foundation of His great
eternal mission, and that foundation is laid in His spirit in a
Sonship which is deeper than all the rest.
Now you follow that through His life. If Christ for the
accomplishment of His eternal work in the three and a half years had
been dependent upon the popular applause, the outward success, the
signs and demonstrations, He would have had a very chequered career,
and when that day came when the shouting and applauding gave place
to another which said, "Away with Him, crucify Him"; when the
disciples forsook Him, walked no more with Him; when the innermost
circle slumbered in the hour of His deepest need of fellowship; if
He had been living upon that, He would never have got through, but
He had a deeper basis than that which carried Him through when
everything outside fell away. He triumphed on that thing and got
through to the end, right through the Cross, and although the dark
moment came of necessity with Him when He had to cry, "My God, why
hast Thou forsaken Me." He got through that and finished up,
"Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit." There is triumph in the
end because the Spirit of Sonship was the basis of everything, but
He was tested on that. "To try thee, to prove thee whether thou
wouldest keep His commandment, or no."
Faith, Sonship, and Divine Non-intervention
The second temptation. "Satan taketh Him up to the holy city and
setteth Him upon the wing of the temple. 'If Thou art the Son of God
cast Thyself down, for it is written, He shall give His angels
charge concerning thee: and on their hands they shall bear thee up,
lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.' Jesus said unto him,
'Again it is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'" Where
is it written? It is written in the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, 16th
verse, "Ye shall not tempt the Lord thy God as ye tempted Him in
Massah," and that takes you back to Massah in Exodus 17:-
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Pass on before the people, and take
with thee of the elders of Israel: and thy rod wherewith thou
smotest the river, take in thine hand and go. Behold, I will stand
before thee there upon the rock in Horeb: and thou shalt smite the
rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may
drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he
called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the
striving of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the
Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?"
"It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God," quoting from
Deuteronomy and Exodus. What is this temptation? "Is the Lord among
us, or not?" You see the similarity of this thing, what the enemy is
after in this wilderness, in this desolation, this apparent
aloneness, this apparent God-forsakenness. The battle of the Cross
is being pre-fought, and what the enemy is after is to get Him to
act in a way that calls God into question, as to whether God is with
Him, to involve the Lord by an act of unbelief. If He did this it
would be acting to test whether the Lord was with Him, moving out to
put it to the test whether the Lord was with Him; and that puts up a
big question, is the Lord with us, or is He not? Here is the test of
the basic Sonship, basic life.
Oh, my dear friends, the Lord does want to get us well grounded on
this thing, the nature of our union with Him, the only kind of
relationship that is going to be triumphant. Is Christ in you, the
hope of glory? Is the Lord amongst us, or no? Have you a faith in
the fact that if you are really born of God, born from above, joined
to the Lord, one Spirit, the Lord is in you. He is not external to
you, He is in you, and that fact has got ultimately to be
demonstrated in the midst of death. Why does the Lord take us into a
wilderness, into barrenness, into death, into desolation, down where
it seems that nothing will survive? Just to demonstrate the
principle of survival when there seems to have been an engulfing of
death that He, Who is the Life, the Bread of Life has been taken
into the very constitution of this New Man, and though the outward
man perish that inward man is being renewed day by day, and God is
allowing us, nay, causing us by His Spirit to go down into the
wilderness, and to have everything cut off of our natural life and
natural resource in order to raise up in the midst of death the
testimony of His Resurrection. Now that has got to be true in
You see He was pre-fighting the battle of Calvary, because in
Calvary He had got to descend into Hades. It is not simply the
laying of His body in a tomb - "He went and preached to the spirits
in prison which were sometime disobedient," "He descended into the
lower parts"; He became wrapped about by all the powers of darkness,
the hosts of evil they swirled upon Him. Oh, but the testimony of
Jesus is that God raised Him from the dead: that He survived hell;
He survived the whole Satanic hierarchy; He survived the whole range
and realm and power of universal sin from Adam onward. How? By that
Sonship with the Divine life which could not be holden of death.
That is the Testimony of Jesus. We shall never have to go to that
depth, and to that extent, but we shall share that kind of
suffering. These are the sufferings that we may share. That is why
Paul puts the spiritual order thus, "That I may know Him, and the
power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings,
being made conformable to His death." - The fellowship of His
sufferings on the ground of the power of His Resurrection.
The Lord may take away everything in which we trust as men; the Lord
may take us in our natural man right into the realm of death; the
Lord may allow our spirit to be wrapped around by death and
something of hell and the powers of darkness, in order that, there
in death, the testimony of the power of His Resurrection might be
established. That battle was fought out in the wilderness in the
case of the Lord Jesus. Beloved, we are called to share in the
"forties" in that testing unto that victory. We never get into the
forties until we have got out on to Resurrection ground, thank God!
Forty days; the Church's probation was after His Resurrection: forty
days of the Lord's probation was after His symbolic Resurrection
from Jordan; forty years of Israel was after their emergence from
the Red Sea. Forties follow the Resurrection, and the Resurrection
is demonstrated through the forties, the probation and testing time,
always issuing in the glory. The issue is certain because already
the thing has been done. When did the Lord give Canaan into the hand
of Israel? Long before ever they put a foot inside of Canaan it was
done. "I have given, Go in and possess." Potentially the Lord has
got it all a long way ahead. The conclusion is the proof of what has
already been done, and the demonstration of faith in a thing that
Well now, the enemy is seeking to raise a question in the presence
of death. The Lord is seeking to raise a testimony, as we have put
it, that, in the midst of death we are in Life.
Faith, Sonship, and World-Dominion
Third temptation. "The devil taketh Him up unto an exceeding high
mountain and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory
of them: and he said unto Him, All these things will I give thee, if
thou will fall down and worship me." And the answer: "Get thee hence
Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and
Him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth Him; and behold
angels came and ministered unto Him."
"It is written." Where does that throw you back to? Deut. 6:12,19.
"Then beware lest thou forget the Lord which brought thee forth out
of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear
the Lord thy God, and Him shalt thou serve, and shall swear by His
Name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples
which are round about you; for the Lord thy God in the midst of
thee, is a jealous God; lest the anger of the Lord thy God be
kindled against thee, and he destroy thee from off the face of the
earth.... That thou mayest go in and possess the land which the Lord
sware.... to thrust out all thine enemies."
You see what the enemy was after. Well what is the meaning of this?
World dominion! Yes, that is Christ's quest. That is what He has
come for. He has come for the kingdoms of this world, and the devil
knows it. It is the Son's. The devil knows quite well, "Whom He
appointed Heir of all things. By Whom He made the worlds"; and He
knows the Son is the Heir, and He has said, "Here is the Heir, let
us kill Him." How can we do it? Get Him to compromise and to worship
in another direction and God will be compelled to destroy Him. That
is what Deuteronomy says, "Thou shalt not worship the gods of the
other peoples, lest the anger of the Lord be kindled and He destroy
thee." The Lord destroyed all the nations because they would persist
in their allegiance to false gods; not to idols, they were only the
outward expression of the spiritual system behind. The system behind
here is the "other god" and if the Lord Jesus can by any means be
switched over to divide His allegiance with God and to just
recognise the "other god" and the other gods, God will be compelled
to destroy Him. He will not get the kingdoms of the world.
So what is the lesson? It is this world dominion on a basis of
utter, absolute allegiance to God demonstrated under the fiercest
trial. "Not unto the angels did He subject the inhabited earth to
come whereof we speak, but one in a certain place has testified
saying, What is man that thou shouldest make mention of him, or the
son of man that thou shouldest put him in charge." We are called to
share the dominion, the sovereignty. Called to share the throne of
the Son; "if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him." "He that
overcometh, I will give to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also
overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne." You see we are
called into the partnership of world dominion. The enemy is
launching his fiercest attacks upon us to get some compromise, some
acceptance of his bait, some doubt in us about God; and the Lord
allows us to come into the wilderness where we are subject to that
in order that we might learn how to reign, and when you have learned
to reign in Life by the One Man Jesus Christ you have attained to
the state to reign over the inhabited earth to come.
Now His temptation is our temptation - we share that in a limited
sense. The enemy, beloved, is out to rob us of the kingdom, the
dominion, and in times of trial the Lord does not prevent the enemy
from coming with all his cruelty trying to press the thing beyond
the measure of endurance, so that in some way we shall cry out
against God; deny God, question God, doubt God, take back our
allegiance from God, withdraw our faithfulness, become bitter
Godward, and any of these simply give ourselves into the hands of
the enemy and give him a hold upon us. When he has done that he has
robbed us of the dominion, of our joint heritage with the Heir of
all things. You see what we are called into, and you see how the
enemy does it. This dominion is upon a basis of undivided loyalty
established at the utmost extremity of trial.
In closing let us point out that this testing and proving was the
basis of the great work which Christ came to do. He did a unique
thing in which we can and need have no share, but there is a work
out from that into which He calls us. Every bit of God's work in
union with Christ is upon the same basis, and the most deeply proved
will always be the most greatly used. There is that in the Sonship
of the Lord Jesus which is exclusive in the Godhead, to which we
cannot attain; but there is that in the begetting of God which makes
us vitally one with Christ in a common life and fellowship unto the
"God dealeth with us as with Sons."
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Mar-Apr 1929, Vol. 7-2.