The Temptation of Christ -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:492 (Oct 1966)
Article: The Temptation of Christ
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


The Temptation of Christ

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Department Chairman and Professor New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Against the backdrop of the wilderness, with its “wild beasts,”1 two solitary figures wrestle for a gigantic prize, the kingdom of God and the souls of men. One is subject to the Spirit of God, the other is the infernal spirit, Lucifer himself. The one, the Last Adam, must retrace the history of Adam the first. Paradise lost must become paradise regained. It was Augustine, following Paul, who said that the entire moral and spiritual history of the world revolved around two people, Adam and Christ. The temptation is a decisive movement in that history.

The circumstances of the temptations of the first Adam and the Last Adam are in sharp contrast. For example, Adam was tempted in a garden, while Christ was tempted in the desert, “that great and terrible wilderness,”2 as Moses described it. Adam the first was well prepared for the tempter physically; he was strong and food was plentiful. But Adam the Last, having fasted for forty days, was weak and hungry. Finally, Adam the first was the object of Satan’s initial seductions in the history of men, but Christ was attacked after His opponent had had four thousand years of practice. The odds were all on the side of a fall.

Many questions crowd in upon us as we meditate over our Lord’s conflict in the desert. They are theological questions, and they cry out for discussion and solution. The principal question is this one: Is Jesus Christ impeccable? We are not asking: Is He sinless? This is generally admitted. The holiness,

however, of the God-man is more than sinlessness. The question is: Was He unable to sin? Was He not only able to overcome temptation, but also unable to be overcome by it? We cannot debate in detail this question; its discussion is far beyond the limits and purpose of this brief paper. The answer, however, has to be “yes.” It must be that He non potest peccare (not able to sin), not potest non peccare (able not to sin). There are some things that God cannot do, and Jesus was God (cf. Heb 6:18; James 1:13).3 There is something higher than the choice of the good; it is beata necessitas boni, the happy necessity of good. This belongs to the divine nature of the Messiah.4

As a matter of fact,...

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