On the heels of Jesus publicly announcing His identity as the Messiah and starting His ministry He heads off into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt. 4:1 NIV).
As I mentioned in my previous post, the wilderness East of the Jordan river was a place of deep historical and spiritual significance to the people of Israel. It was there that their ancestors doubted God and His plan to give them the land He had promised and had, instead, wished to return to slavery in Egypt. As a result, they were punished - forced to wander that wilderness for 40 years, until the doubters among them had perished. Only two members of the “doubting generation” survived to see the Promised Land: Caleb and Joshua - which again, is the same name as “Jesus” - because they were the only two who didn’t give in to temptation.
So, once again, Jesus is reenacting the history of Israel, putting on the role of His namesake Joshua by allowing Himself to suffer temptation in the Wilderness. Like Joshua, Jesus doesn’t go to the Wilderness in punishment for His sin, but rather out of solidarity with the people He came to serve. Just like us, Jesus was tempted - made to endure the worst the devil had to offer. Unlike us, He resisted it.
As He leaves the Wilderness, having proved His ability to resist temptation, Jesus sets about to fulfill His mission as the Anointed One. The people of Israel had a very clear idea of what this Messiah would accomplish - they expected the Messiah to be a general who would lead the armies of God to victory. He would build a new kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. God would finally be with His people, and the evil rulers of this world would lie defeated.
And yet, as Jesus emerged from the desert, He doesn’t lay siege to cities. He doesn’t swing a sword or demolish walls. Jesus doesn’t gather and train an army for war. Instead, He finds a few followers, teaching them what being the people of God was all about. The Messiah commands these chosen first disciples, not to slay the infidels, but merely to “follow me.”
In short, the Messiah’s battle strategy didn’t involve any bloodshed. The kingdom He set about to build didn’t have walls and guards to keep people out, but “fishers of men” to draw them in. His tool wouldn’t be the sword, but words; His tactic persuasion, not coercion. Rather than promise to change the world to save His people, He sought to change His people so that they could be sent out to save the world.
Jesus’ strategy was controversial then; it still is today. Followers of Christ throughout the ages have been presented with the same old temptation that our Master rejected in the wilderness all those years ago - that we can have the whole world, if only we would compromise and bend the knee to the devil and his tactics. Sadly, many are drawn in - driven to use politics, bloodshed and shows of power as a shortcut to the hard work building the Kingdom. But such attempts always fail. The Kingdom of God cannot be forged with tools borrowed from the enemy.
But when we have faith, not just in the Savior, but in His gospel and its truth - we still have the power to catch souls for Him. And one redeemed life at a time, we can once again start to build a Kingdom that will glorify Him.