Satan and the Original Temptation
We could sum up the origin of mankind with these words from Ecclesiastes, “God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). God made man at the pinnacle of all His creative work, as the crown of creation, but we fell into a pit of entire corruption. God made us to be kings and queens, noble, glorious, righteous, wise, and holy. But man threw himself off his throne and bound his hands and feet in eternal chains – all by listening to a liar instead of obeying God.
To study Satan’s temptation and the fall of man, we turn to the third chapter of Genesis. Genesis 3 is perhaps the most momentous chapter in the whole of Scripture. It is rightly called the black chapter of evil because it records the entrance of sin into the world, the red chapter of atonement because it attests the first proclamation of the coming Messiah and Savior, and the white chapter of hope because it contains the first saving confession of faith.
Our understanding of Genesis 3 affects our understanding of all the rest of biblical revelation. It forms our view of our own lives, our radical depravity, our desperate need for the only Savior, and the nature of our daily experience in a fallen world.
The problems people have about Christian experience often derive from a failure to understand the implications and reality of the fall and what it means to live not in the world as God made it, but in the world spoiled by sin. So many today try to live as though we did not fall. Few grasp the depth of the tragedy, or why it was so serious in its effects, both immediate and long term. Consequently, few understand their dire need for a Savior.
In treating the temptation and fall of man in Genesis 3, I will address five main points in three editorials: the tempter, the temptation, the trouble, the trial, and the triumph.
The Tempter to Sin
Where did sin come from? In a beautiful and perfect world, a beautiful and perfect man and woman live unashamedly before God in a flawless marriage, blessed of God, and charged with a great task. And then sin enters. How? Why? Sin enters the world through Satan in the guise of a serpent. The New Testament makes it amply clear in Revelation 12:9 that this serpent was no mere reptile: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
But where did Satan come from? The devil and his demons were once holy angels created by the triune God (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7; Col. 1:16). Ezekiel 28:11-19 implies that the devil was once one of God’s brightest and most beautiful angels. But his “heart was lifted up” through pride and ambition (v. 17) and he became corrupt and was cast down out of heaven.
Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”
Five times in this passage, Satan says, “I will,” setting his will against God’s will and seeking his glory above God’s glory.
The New Testament also describes this angelic rebellion. Second Peter 2:4 says, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” Similarly, Jude 6 says, “The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”
So Satan rebelled against his dependence and subordination as a creature of God. He sought nothing less than to take God’s place. And here in Genesis 3 we learn that this enemy of God comes to man, speaking smooth and flattering words. Mankind has a deadly enemy, and he approaches us as a tempter. And today, Revelation 12:9 tells us, he deceives the whole world. How does Satan deceive us? This brings us to consider the second point.
The First Temptation to Sin
What is sin? Genesis 3 teaches us that sin is rebellion against the Word that God has spoken. The serpent aimed to produce this very thing in the hearts of Adam and Eve: rebellion against the will of God made known to them by the mouth of God. He comes with the same kind of pressures today. Genesis 3 traces the pattern of Satan’s work of temptation in four stages.
Doubting God’s Word
Genesis 3:1 says, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
In saying to the woman, “Hath God said” – that is, “Did God indeed say?” – Satan is calling into question the truth and trustworthiness of God’s Word. At the very beginning of his attack on Eve’s mind and heart, he insinuates that God’s Word is subject to man’s judgment. It is a perilous thing when we allow Satan to move us to question God’s Word, because that is how he gains his first foothold in our minds.
This is why the battles waged in the church so often focus upon the authority of Holy Scripture. The whole area of the supremacy, sufficiency, infallibility, and inerrancy of Holy Scripture is cardinal to our spiritual well-being. Satan knows that, even if we are often inclined to forget it. That is why he begins with his question: “Hath God said?”
Satan attacked God’s Word by questioning its goodness and credibility. Did God prohibit eating from any tree? He is asking with a touch of cynicism, “Is this something that you can really believe God would say?” The implication is that God’s Word is overly restrictive; God must be distant and uncaring. Throughout the rest of Genesis 2-3, God is called “the LORD God,” literally, Jehovah God, using God’s covenant name, the name by which He joins Himself in faithful love to His people. But the serpent simply calls him “God,” the mighty Creator, suggesting a distant, uncaring, untrustworthy deity.
When you encounter this kind of questioning in your spiritual experience, take warning: you are on the battlefield, and the enemy of your soul is seeking to destroy you. The only way to defeat him is to use the very Word of God that he is trying to make you doubt. That is how Jesus resisted in all three great waves of temptation He encountered in the wilderness – “It is written ... it is written ... it is written.” That is how we should resist Satan as well.
1. Distorting God’s Word
Genesis 3:2-3 says, “And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
Already the evil one has begun to produce in Eve’s mind a distortion of the Word of God. She disparages her privileges by misquoting the terms of God’s provision. Compare what Eve said to God’s words in 2:16, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (emphasis added). Eve said only, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden.” Her statement is technically accurate, but she fails to mention how lavish and generous God’s provision is. Indeed, she fails to mention God as the giver.
I want to press this truth upon you. There is no defense against Satan more effective than a heart that is overwhelmed by the bounty of God’s gracious provision. And correspondingly, there is no heart more open to Satan’s wiles than one possessed by a grumbling, ungrateful spirit. Just as a whole generation of Israelites destroyed their relationship with God by their murmuring against Him, so today, if you are possessed by a bitter spirit, then you have left the door wide open for Satan.
Eve not only belittles God’s generosity, but she also overstates God’s restrictions by misquoting the divine prohibition. Again compare God’s words in Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.” Eve quoted God as saying, “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it.”
Eve exaggerates God’s restrictions. This is another favorite device of Satan – a very subtle one. We minimize God’s goodness and then magnify His prohibitions. As a result, we begin to believe that God’s commandments are a grievous and heavy burden.
Furthermore, Eve misquotes the divine penalty for disobedience. Her words are, “lest ye die.” But God’s words in Genesis 2:17 were, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Literally, the text is emphatic, “dying thou shalt die.” Eve’s statement allows for the possibility of death as the result of sin; God had set down the absolute certainty of death as the result of sin. When Eve cites God’s prohibitions to Satan, she exaggerates them; when she cites the penalty, she understates it. In every way, the tempter leads her to distort the Word of God.
2. Denying God’s Word
Genesis 3:4-5 says, “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
The Lord had said, “Thou shalt surely die.” But here the tempter used the same emphatic form to deny God’s Word: “Ye shall not surely die.” By substituting his words for God’s Word, the devil aimed to substitute himself for God in the hearts of mankind. And they fell for it. Jesus tells us that Satan is now the ruler of this world, and fallen men follow the devil’s ways as children walk in the steps of a father (John 8:44; 12:31; 14:30).
Notice that the very first truth of revelation that Satan denies is the truth of divine judgment. I find that of great significance. In other words, you can sin with impunity, he says. You will be able to disobey God and nothing will happen. It will be perfectly all right. He says that all the time, doesn’t he? First he lures you into sin by minimizing its penalty. But then when you have sinned, he maximizes the penalty and tells you that God will never forgive or accept you again.
We need to grasp that every sin has its penalty. Sin is a fearful thing and it carries with it fearsome results. Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Sin is a seed, and it brings a harvest of judgment. Romans 6:23 warns, “The wages of sin is death.”
In challenging the doctrine of judgment, Satan is challenging the character of God. All sin is rebellion against God and a denial of who He is. Satan denies God’s goodness, justice, and truthfulness. He says that God is a liar. God doesn’t really care about sin. Oh, how he slanders the Lord! One day God will show how much He hates sin when He curses all unrepentant sinners and casts them into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Hell will forever testify that God speaks the truth and the devil is the father of lies.
The devil also lied about who we are as men and women. He said that God was holding them back from truly being like Him, blatantly ignoring the fact that they already bore the beautiful image of God (Gen. 1:26). They were already like God, to the extent that is possible for a mere creature! But Satan said that they needed to know and experience something outside of God’s will, something forbidden by God, to become truly wise – in fact, to become as God!
Isn’t that how he tempts us today? He says, “Don’t let God’s rules restrict you. You need to taste the pleasures I offer you.” But instead he aims to dehumanize mankind, to degrade us from our high and noble calling as God’s image-bearers. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they tasted a new kind of knowledge, to be sure: the knowledge of experiencing sin in all its deadly poison. It did not make them wise, and it certainly did not make them more like God.
3. Defying God’s Word
Genesis 3:6 tells us the tragic results: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
The woman “saw” the forbidden fruit now with eyes clouded by the lies of Satan. Her natural desires became “deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22) and she broke God’s commandment.
Now we can trace Satan’s purpose of dislodging man’s trust in the Word of God. The sinister aim of the evil one is not to produce intellectual enlightenment; nor is his aim to produce a richer experience of life. His aim is solely to produce moral rebellion against the will of God in order to degrade and destroy us. Adam and Eve defied God’s command and warning, and threw themselves over the cliff of sin – falling down to be broken on the rocks of corruption, misery, darkness, and death.
The three-fold motivation for Eve’s disobedience is an anatomy of corrupt desire, corresponding to John’s analysis of the love of the world in 1 John 2:16. She believed that “the tree was good for food,” stimulating the “lust of the flesh” to gratify our bodies at all costs. She saw “that it was pleasant to the eyes,” stirring the “lust of the eyes” to seize all beautiful and desirable things and make them our own. And she thought that it was “a tree to be desired to make one wise,” viewing it with the selfish ambition of the “pride of life.”
In a word, Eve – and Adam consenting, and we in Adam – chose to make ourselves into gods and to make the rest of creation into idols. God had said to man that the whole world was his to enjoy, but God remained the center and supreme Lord. Sin moves us to say, “I am the center and supreme Lord.” The essence of sin and its horrific offense against God is that we exchange the Creator for His creation, despising the glorious and blessed God, and worshiping that which is limited, dependent, and created only for His glory (Rom. 1:21-23, 25, 28).
The hinge upon which sin turns is exchanging God’s authoritative Word for the wisdom of a rebellious creature. We have seen, step by step, how the tempter led our first parents in doubting God’s Word, distorting God’s Word, denying God’s Word, and defying God’s Word. This teaches us how to overcome the evil one: by submitting to God’s Word and having it abide in us (1 John 2:14). Romans 6:17 says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” This is why the most basic principle of the Reformation was not the doctrine of justification by faith alone but sola Scriptura: in all things we must submit to Scripture alone as the rule of our faith, worship, and obedience.