How Does Satan Use the Bible?

Last week, we read about the first temptation that Jesus experienced in the wilderness and we saw that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the particular reason of being tempted, which was fitting to fulfill all righteousness (we talked about what this meant two weeks ago). This week, we will read about the second temptation that Jesus experienced in the wilderness. As we read, we remember that this is a work of God by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1), and we remember that this work is being done through the Devil that Jesus would fulfill all righteousness.

Matthew 4:5-7

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command His angels concerning You’;

and

‘On their hands they will bear You up,

So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Continued fulfillment of Israel

In our study up to this point, we have seen that Jesus isn’t only the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel, He is the fulfillment of national Israel. In all the ways that Israel failed to meet the conditions of God’s covenant, Christ meets those conditions on behalf of His chosen people. This is how Christ fulfills all righteousness. In the previous temptation, we saw that where Israel failed to rely on the sustaining power of God’s word alone, Jesus fully trusted in God’s sovereign providence. In this temptation, where Israel failed to find refuge in God alone, Jesus would trust in God’s providence not only for sustenance by the word but also for His security according to God’s will alone. Jesus would continue to fulfill all righteousness on behalf of His people.

The devil’s use of Scripture

Jesus responded to the first temptation by quoting the Old Testament in order to show why it was right for Him not to transform the rocks to bread. By this we see that to abide in the word of God alone is to read the Scriptures while honestly evaluating our own lives and ministries in light of the inspired text.

Satan then quoted from the Scriptures in order to try and convince Jesus that He needed to do a certain thing in a certain way. Immediately, we see a difference in the way Satan used the Scriptures. While Jesus was abiding in the word as a result of His faith in the Father (which He has from eternity), Satan was using the word to insist that if Jesus didn’t prove Himself, then He could not be the Son of God. There will be a similar statement in Matthew 27:40. Where Jesus began with the identity of the person, Satan began with works. So, if we say that one must do something in order to be a child of God or in order to prove one’s self, then we preach the Scriptures in the same way that Satan did here in the temptation account. If however, we preach that regeneration precedes faith precedes works and that it is all “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 1), then we use the Scriptures as Jesus did. Satan’s Gospel, as evidenced in this text, would be repeated through the centuries and was present even from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5, also see my book You Can’t). The Gospel of Jesus is completely opposite. Both versions, though they are opposite, ‘use’ the Scriptures. Only one is a proper understanding of God’s inspired word. Jesus will get at this in His “Sermon on the Mount” through chapters 5, 6, and 7, finishing His exposition by describing the two different foundations.

In this temptation, Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11-12. Here, we will do a simple exegesis of Psalm 91 to see if Satan is presenting a correct interpretation of the text and to see if he is rightly applying it.

Satan’s apparent interpretation: The person of God will not be harmed because God is his refuge.

Satan’s application: You, or others, can only be sure of your status if you are not harmed. So, test God.

This is precisely how prosperity preachers and faith healers interpret and apply the Scriptures, only using different terms. Let’s look at Psalm 91 together and see what the Scriptures say.

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,

My God, in whom I trust!”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper

And from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with His pinions,

And under His wings you may seek refuge;

His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,

Or of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.

A thousand may fall at your side

And ten thousand at your right hand,

But it shall not approach you.

You will only look on with your eyes

And see the recompense of the wicked.

For you have made the Lord, my refuge,

Even the Most High, your dwelling place.

No evil will befall you,

Nor will any plague come near your tent.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,

To guard you in all your ways.

They will bear you up in their hands,

That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and cobra,

The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;

I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

“With a long life I will satisfy him

And let him see My salvation.”

We will walk through the psalm simply. In verses 1-4, the psalmist describes what it means that the Lord is a shelter and refuge. He describes that this applies to the one who abides in the shadow of the Almighty. God is the one who receives all glory and all attention is on God. The purpose of God’s faithfulness to those who seek refuge in Him is that He might be known and that His people might dwell in His shadow. There is, then, no sense in which any person could be properly instructed to “prove” him or herself in any way from this text. God is the refuge, and He is the deliverer. There is an irony, here, too. Verse three explicitly states that God delivers from the snare of the trapper, which means that, according to the very passage Satan chose, God guards His people against exactly what Satan is doing.

In verses 5-13, we see some promises made to the psalmist regarding physical safety. We see the clarification in verses 11-12, the very verses that Satan quotes in order to tempt Jesus. Satan skips the second part of verse 11 because it doesn’t fit his agenda. The reason God gives His angels authority concerning the elect on this earth is so that they will guard the elect in all their ways. Elect is the term that Jesus would later use in Matthew 24:24 to describe the fact that many false teachers (or trappers) will try to mislead the elect if that were possible. The simplest reading of this psalm, then, suggests that God sends angels to guard the lives of His elect children so that they will not bring harm to themselves by their own ways.

In verses 14-16, God makes the promise that He will be with His elect in times of trouble. He will ultimately rescue His elect. He will deliver His elect and let them see His salvation. In the conclusion of the psalm, it is revealed that God’s promise for security explicitly involves the fact that the elect will be “set securely on high” because they know the Most High. The psalm grants that there will be times of trouble and speaks to a final restoration from that trouble and ultimate satisfaction. So, the harm that the elect are guarded against is more spiritual and eternal than anything else (though God does guard His people physically in many ways). Through the trouble, God’s elect are satisfied in God alone. He is our refuge and the one who receives all glory.

Biblical interpretation: God guards the elect from the snares of the trapper, from unintentional self-harm (primarily spiritually), and ultimately delivers those who take refuge in Him securely to salvation on high.

Right application: God is our only refuge and we cannot prove our status. God is the only one who safeguards His elect.

This is completely opposite of what Satan made the Scriptures out to say and is entirely contrary to the application that Satan made. Don’t be like Satan. Read the word for what it is and don’t skip the inconvenient parts because they don’t fit your argument. What Satan did is called eisegesis today. Many atheists do this to try and discredit the Scriptures. Many ‘christians’ do this to try and make God’s word fit into their self-defined religious boxes. This is, in my opinion, one of the most pervasive problems in the church: People don’t know what God has actually said. They might know what people have said about what God has said or how people have used what God has said to support some doctrinal teaching, but they don’t take the time to know what God has said. This is partly the fault of the people, but mostly the fault of the church. We have too often failed to simply teach God’s word in context as it is without adding to or taking from it.

Jesus’ use of Scripture

In reply to Satan’s temptation, Jesus replied by quoting Scripture again to explain why He could not do what Satan was tempting Him to do. The statement Jesus made also meant that Satan was himself under the sovereign will of God and subject to God’s very providence. In fact, the section of Scripture that Satan quoted from necessitated that Satan could not do anything that the Father had not sovereignly and providentially worked together. Even in Matthew 4, we see that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This narrative has everything to do with God’s providence and God’s working together of all things. We saw that last week as well.

For those who teach, there is a necessary application we draw from Jesus’ example. If I teach with the intention to tell others what is wrong with them, I am guilty of using the Scriptures as Satan did. If I start by studying the word and being convicted by the word, then I teach from God’s conviction through His word in my own life. This is the only proper way to present God’s word. Similarly, if even if I am teaching something that I believe I am familiar with, I should go back and be sure that I’ve done a proper exegesis of the text. There are many times that we, as teachers, need to be slow to speak because we haven’t done a recent exegesis of a current passage of Scripture. We should do what we can to avoid accidentally misrepresenting God’s word.

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test [as you tested Him at Massah].” In Deuteronomy 6:16, God, through Moses, is referring to an incident that was recorded in Exodus 17:1-7,

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

In Exodus, the Israelites said that if God was God, He would have not done this thing. They took it upon themselves to counsel God. Jesus will not commit the same sin that Israel did. Where Israel failed, Jesus would fulfill all righteousness by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). So, the right place of people, especially the people of God, is having God alone as their refuge. When we take it upon ourselves to counsel, or “test,” God, we commit the same blunder as Satan and as national Israel.

Thank the Lord for His mercy and grace. Thank Him for guarding His people according to His will. Let us be as faithful as we can be according to the ability that God has given each one.

Questions:

    1. What do you think it means that the devil is under God’s authority and subject to God’s sovereign will in all things?
    2. What comfort does this bring us today?
    3. How important is it for us to check every teaching according to God’s word alone?
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