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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole

Lecture 3 of 23

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus by Dr. C. D. Cole

These two events are closely related both in time and meaning. Putting the Synoptic accounts together, we find that Jesus was tempted of the devil for forty days, and after that by a special temptation while in an exhausted condition. And these temptations followed His baptism immediately. No sooner anointed by God than assaulted by Satan.

The mission of John was to prepare the way for the Messiah and announce His coming. What was done for oriental kings was done for Jesus by John. For an oriental king a highway would be prepared over which he would travel, and a herald would travel, and a herald would go before and announce his approach to the city. What was done for political kings in a physical sense was done for Jesus in a moral and spiritual sense. John’s business was to get people ready for the Saviour, Who was to be a spiritual King.

John’s message and baptism corresponded to His mission. To get people ready for the Saviour he preached repentance and baptized those who repented. He turned all others away, saying, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,” (Matt. 3:8). Repentance implies two things: sin carrying judgment, and grace bringing salvation. If there is no sin unto judgment, repentance is not needed, if there is no grace unto salvation, repentance is useless.

John baptized those who confessed their sins as indicative of their repentance, refusing to baptize those who wanted baptism on the ground of their relation to Abraham. John preached judgment in order to produce repentance. He would make men conscious of their sins and put the fear of God in their hearts that they might realize their need of a Saviour, the Saviour Who was already at hand.

John’s baptism is called the baptism of repentance. He said. “I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis) repentance,” (Matt. 3:11). Does this mean that baptism is in order to repentance, or because of repentance? In other words, was John’s baptism a sacrament producing repentance unto salvation, or a symbol-declaring one had repented? Pity that such a question should ever need to be asked!


According to the Encyclopedias sacrament is not a Bible word at all. In classical usage it was a military term to designate the oath of obedience taken by soldiers, and it was also a sum of money deposited by two parties to a suit which was forfeited by the loser and appropriated to sacred uses. The word “sacrament” occurs often in the Latin Vulgate (the work of Jerome in the 4th century) as a translation of the Greek word musterion (mystery). This word musterion occurs 27 times in the Greek New Testament and is translated “mystery” in every case in the King James Version.

Although the word “sacrament” is not a Scriptural word, the idea of sacramental salvation is being propagated by the sacramental translation of the preposition eis. This Greek preposition has the general meaning of “with reference to”, the context determining what the reference is, and also whether it looks forward or backward. The preposition itself may either be translated “in order to” or “because of.” One example where the meaning can only be “because of” is “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here,” (Matt. 12:41), where the men of Nineveh repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah. This can only mean that they repented “because of” and not “in order to” the preaching of the prophet. And so John baptized in water unto (eis) repentance, that is, because men had repented. Phillips, an Anglican, translates Matthew 3:11 thus: “I baptize you as a sign that your hearts are changed.”



One day when John had baptized all the people for that day, Jesus arrived from Galilee and requested baptism at his hands. The Baptist demurred at first, saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matt. 3:14). John had been given a sign by God by which he would recognize the Messiah when he had baptized Him. “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost,” (John 1:32-33). But before the sign was given, John seems to have at least been suspicious that Jesus was the Messiah or Christ who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. At least he felt that Jesus was better known than he. He was baptizing those who confessed their sins, and he could not think of Jesus as a sinner. And so John hesitated until Jesus said, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” (Matt. 3:15). The question is, How could John’s baptism of Jesus fulfill all righteousness? This could not have been true of the baptism of any other man. It seems obvious that the baptism of Jesus did not actually and literally fulfill all righteousness. And yet in some sense it did fulfill all righteousness. The question is, “In what sense?”

Now let us go back a little in our thinking. Jesus in His mediatorial office came to this world to fulfill or provide righteousness for the unrighteous. And so He is said to be made by imputation wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, to the believer. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). Righteousness is based upon obedience. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:8). And it is by His obedience that we become righteous. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:19).

Now since the obedience of Christ unto death was the actual fulfillment of all righteousness for His people, it follows that His water baptism fulfilled all righteousness only in a typical and prophetic sense. It was a prophecy and pledge and type of the cross. Christ’s water baptism looked forward to Calvary, just as ours looks back to Calvary. It was by His baptism of suffering on the cross that He actually provided all the righteousness needed by His unrighteous people.

On His last trip to Jerusalem, Christ informed His disciples of His approaching death under the figure of a baptism. When the mother of James and John asked Him for places of prominence in the kingdom, Christ said to the sons “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able,” (Matt. 20:22). In Luke 12:50 a long time after His water baptism, Christ said, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”

The baptism of Jesus by John was His initiation into His Messianic work. For this work He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He knew that He was to fulfill His Messianic mission as a Mediator Who would be made perfect officially through suffering. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings,” (Heb. 2:10). And Satan seems to have known this also. The Divine plan is for Jesus to be tested by Satan to prove His qualifications as the Fulfiller of all righteousness by His obedience unto death.


The temptation of Jesus was Satan’s response and challenge to God’s announcement: “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17).

The literal meaning of the word “tempt” is to try, to test, or to prove. It is used in the Bible both in a good and in an evil sense. The moral character of the testing depends upon the object in view and the means employed. If the object is to entice or incite to sin the testing is evil. In this sense God never tempts and cannot be tempted. But when the object is to prove or improve the character of a person, then the testing is good. And if the means used is lawful then the testing is also lawful. In the good sense God tempted or tested Abraham, and in this good sense God allowed Satan to tempt Christ to prove that He was the sinless Son of God. Of course Satan always tempts in the evil sense, he tries to get one to do wrong.

Our Lord endured many temptations. He said to His disciples: “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations,” (Luke 22:28). But we are now to be occupied with the temptations which immediately followed His baptism.

In thinking of the temptation of Jesus we face the problem of His peccability. Was it possible for Him to sin? If so, then it was possible for Him to fail as the Saviour. Perish any thought of His failure as Saviour! On the other hand, if He could not sin, then how could He be tempted? If we think of His human nature in itself, apart from His deity, this human nature like the sinless Adam was capable of sinning. However, this human nature was owned by a Divine person, and as a person He could not be tempted or induced to sin. He had a human nature which was peccable, but this nature cannot be separated from the Divine person, and as a Divine person, as God manifest in flesh, He was impeccable. In being tempted Christ could suffer but could not sin. “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted,” (Heb. 2:18). “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4:15). Matthew says that after His fast of forty days He was hungry. Mark and Luke say that he was tempted of the devil forty days. The nature of this temptation is not stated, but He must have been so occupied in mind that He was not conscious of any hunger.

Matthew and Luke describe the threefold temptation at the end of forty days. Whatever he had been doing during the forty days, Satan now changes his tactics and attacks Jesus when He is in a state of starvation. He is tempted not only as a man, but as a man with a mission—the mission of human redemption. To redeem sinful men, He must be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. If Satan can break His will to obey God, he gets the victory, and there is no human salvation.

In the first temptation we have faith versus disobedience, or the temptation to under­ confidence. “And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread,” (Matt. 4:3). Jesus was where the Spirit had led Him, and the issue was whether He would trust God to keep Him from starving, or take matters into His own hand and provide for Himself something He had power to do as the Son of God.

In His reply Jesus said “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4). “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live,” (Deut. 8:3). As a man He must keep the commandments of God. Jesus suffered hunger, but with no desire to feed Himself and thus distrust God.

In the second temptation we have faith versus presumption, or temptation to over confidence. “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee,” (Matt. 4:5­6). Satan was quoting “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,” ( Ps. 91:11), as proof that no harm would come to Him. Satan deletes from this Scripture the words “to keep thee in all thy ways”. “Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” (Matt. 4:7). Jesus was quoting “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God,” (Deut. 6:16). This means that one must not experiment with God to see if He will keep His word. Testing God to see if He will keep His word is doubt rather than faith; presumption rather than trust. If God had commanded Him to leap from the temple it would have been faith to do so. When God says “Prove or test me by doing thus and so” it is faith to do what He says. But to needlessly rush into danger to prove that God will take care of us is wrong. We must not presume where God has not promised.

In the third temptation we have faith versus compromise, or temptation to other-confidence. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me,” (Matt. 4:8­9). The issue is, Who shall be supreme: the true God or the Usurper? And the further question is, whose Messiah shall He be: God’s or Satan’s? Here is an effort to turn Jesus from His purpose to go to the cross. He can have the kingdom on easier terms. Quoting “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him,” (Deut. 6:13), where all idolatry is forbidden, Jesus summarily dismisses the tempter, saying, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” (Matt. 4:10). Jesus was tempted objectively, but there was no inner conflict in resisting the temptation. Men yield in temptation to escape the pressure, but Jesus faced the pressure without any desire to do what He was asked to do. He suffered, but He would not yield. He wanted food, and protection, and dominion, but not at the cost of disobeying God. Truly our Saviour could say, The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me,” (John 14:30).

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