Beware the Triple Threat of Temptation & Sin

It has long been discussed whether a biblical doctrine should be based on a single Scripture. It’s a dangerous practice to be sure. Two passages would give more assurance, but still it’s in that danger zone, particularly if one were building a central doctrine related to salvation or the work of Christ. Three passages and we’re beginning to stand on solid ground. With three passages of Scripture, we can begin to see patterns which crystalize the development of Scripture’s teaching. Such is the case with what I’m calling the triple threat of temptation & sin. By triple threat, what I’m referring to is the pattern of Satan to bring temptation in three consecutive attacks or strikes in order to wear down his opponent, namely believers. Years ago, we looked at how Satan utilizes the Fabian Strategy, and we might do well to classify this particular triple threat operation under that particular heading. There are three well known passages where Satan utilizes this strategy, with mixed results.

First, on the heels of our Lord’s baptism, He is ushered into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, and Mark 1:12-13 record for us Jesus’ wilderness experience and temptation from Satan. The first two passages, from Matthew and Luke respectively, are more detailed. Seizing opportunity, Satan finds Jesus in the wilderness in which He had been fasting and was tempted for 40 days. In the first of these recorded temptations, Satan comes to Him and says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Satan’s first temptation was an appeal to the weakness of the flesh, i.e. hunger, attempting to take advantage of Jesus’ physical condition resulting from fasting. As we know, He responds to the temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. Next, Satan appeals to the eyes of our Lord by showing Him kingdoms of the world. The following captures the temptation offered up by Satan

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”

Luke 4:5-7 NKJV

Satan, the father of lies, is true to his nature here in offering what actually isn’t his to deliver. Jesus responds with a quote from Deut. 6:13 commanding worship is reserved for the Lord God alone. Finally, in a third temptation, Satan appeals to the humanity of our Lord’s “pride of life”, that is expecting Him to be susceptible to showing off the power and authority that He had been given through His relationship with the Father by throwing Himself off of the pinnacle of the temple. In this temptation Satan utilizes another strategy by incorrectly quoting/applying Scripture (Psalm 91:11-12) thereby bringing doubt to God’s Word as He did with Eve in the first garden. Our Lord seeing the misuse of the Word cites another passage from Deuteronomy, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Deut. 6:16 In closing out our first example of the triple threat strategy of Satan, we ought to note that, “he departed from him until an opportune time.” In other words, it closed this particular battle, but another was reserved for later.

The next example finds our Lord with His disciples, this time not in a wilderness, but in a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew 26:36-46 Jesus has already instituted the Lord’s Supper, coinciding with the celebration of Passover, prophesies about Peter’s denial, and takes Peter, James, and John with him into the midst of the garden to pray. He leaves the three behind in order to pray on His own and commands them to watch with him or to literally stay awake. After going off and praying, Jesus returns and upon finding the three asleep offers the following rebuke:

And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26: 40b-41

Again, Jesus leaves to pray on His own concerning His impending death and again upon returning He finds the three sleeping. A third time He leaves to pray and for the third time returns to find His disciples sleeping, offering another rebuke, “Sleep and take your rest later on.” As we know, immediately after this those who were coming to arrest Jesus, including His betrayer Judas, arrive. For our purpose here of observing the triple threat strategy of Satan, we need to note how our Lord first instructs them to watch, then to watch and pray in order to avoid falling into temptation, and finally to take their rest later, a likely reference to the final, eschatological rest, a sure rebuke of their submitting to their flesh in a time of need (Matt. 26:41). Three times He warns his disciples within the context of temptation, three times He finds them sleeping as they fail to heed the warning and fail to follow their Lord’s victory over Satan during His own wilderness temptation.

Our third passage is introduced just prior to the Gethsemane temptations, as Jesus rebukes Peter of pride and warns him of his pending thrice denial, “Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Matthew 26:34 After Jesus’ arrest in the garden and subsequent inquisition, Peter followed along and waited outside in the courtyard. He is first confronted by a servant girl who questions whether he had been with Jesus, an accusation which Peter denies by essentially playing dumb. Next, Peter is confronted by a second servant girl who accuses him of being with Jesus. For a second time, Peter denies His Lord, this time with an oath. Third, and finally, Peter is confronted again this time by onlookers who accuse him of being with the Lord on account of his accent. Peter again denies any association with Jesus, invoking a curse upon himself and swearing that he didn’t know Jesus. Immediately the rooster crowed after his third denial.

Three passages of Scripture describing the exact same strategy of Satan. Mere coincidence? It would seem not, nor should it be dismissed on the basis of an isolated encounter. Instead, on three separate occasions each recorded for us in God’s Holy Word, Satan utilizes the triple threat. Once it is effectively defeated and twice it is succumbed to in weakness. Here, we’ve seen just one of Satan’s strategies and we ought to remember he has many and doesn’t always utilize the same ones with the same people. Additionally, we need to remember the example of from our Lord’s temptations when upon being denied his third attempt at temptation, Satan left only to look for a more opportune time. So resisting the triple threat isn’t an end to the war, only the battle. At the end of the day, let us be reminded that we too ought to watch and pray, guarding ourselves against temptation. We too ought to have God’s Word, the Sword of the Spirit at the ready, particularly those applicable fighter verses. Finally, we too ought to seek the Lord in our time of need and resign ourselves to the grace of God who supplies it in our time of need.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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