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Praying with Jesus: "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" (part 1)

There is a lot of speculation among Bible scholars and teachers, and there are many questions one could ask, e.g. does the Lord tempt us? It sounds here as if we are praying for the Lord not to tempt us. Is it the Evil One (as the NIV suggests) that we need to be delivered from, or is it evil (as in the KJ)? What is the relationship between ‘temptation’ and ‘evil’ or ‘the Evil One’? There is a lot of confusion in the body of Christ about the whole concept of Satan (the devil, the ‘evil one’) and his relationship to us, and the evil that is without and within us.

Jesus refers to the Evil One as the "father of lies." Jesus draws the juxtaposition between his Father and the father of lies. (John 8:42 & 44) If you do not have a clear understanding of God as your Father, the Father of grace and truth, you will be subject to be inappropriately related to the father of lies. One of the reasons that you see so much of the church consumed with the devil, is because they are not properly consumed with their Father in heaven. They have misunderstandings, they are not related completely or properly to their Father in heaven—the Father who loves us, who is full of mercy, grace and truth. If you practice the presence of your Father in heaven you will be less inclined to practice the presence of the father of lies.

What do these words of Jesus mean? Who is this Satan, this Evil One? The term satan in the Hebrew Bible speaks of someone who opposes or obstructs – he is an adversary, accuser. This term satan can be used of human beings. Balaam is hired out as a prophet to curse the Israelites, and his donkey perceives what he as a human cannot perceive – that the Angel of the Lord is standing in the way and so the donkey refuses to go ahead. Num. 22:32 – the Angel of the Lord appears to Balaam and says, "why have you beaten your donkey three times? I have come to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me." In the Hebrew it says literally, "I have come here to be a satan to you." So the term satan is not intrinsically negative in the Bible. It refers to someone who opposes, someone who accuses, someone who is an adversary. It can be used of a man, of the Angel of the Lord, and of course it can be used of fallen angels.

Where in the gospels do Jesus use the term satan – not in a demonic sense of the devil, but in the sense of someone who is opposing or obstructing his purposes? At Caesarea Phillipi he says to Peter, "Satan get behind me." Jesus is not calling Peter the devil. What he is saying is, "you are obstructing, you are my adversary—you are seeing with the eyes of the flesh, not with the eyes of the Spirit. God has a purpose with this, do not obstruct it." That is why he says of John the Baptist, "blessed are those who hear this of me and they don’t stumble on account of it." So the term satan can have this normal context of an adversary or someone who obstructs. Or it can have the more supernatural connotation of an evil angelic being who obstructs. You see this in Job and Zechariah. In 1 Chron. 21:1 Satan incited David to take a census in opposition to God’s instruction. This is the first example where we can use that well-worn phrase: "the devil made me do it." But in the NT we see more often the term - ‘the evil one’, e.g. Matt. 13:19 - the evil one snatches away the seed… Eph. 6:16 ... protect you against the flaming darts of the evil one. Here we have this kind of ambiguity — on the one hand Satan can be a human, on the other hand Satan can be an angelic demonic evil power. In the NT this ambiguity continues. The word ‘evil one’ is ambiguous. Does it refer to a title –the Evil One; or does it refer to a spiritual power at work within us? The answer is: both.

It seems to be deliberately ambiguous. E.g. in Matt. 6:13 you have two different renderings of this term in Greek. It can be as in the KJ – "deliver us from evil." Or as in the NIV – "deliver us from the evil one." There is a whole history of debate within the historic church. The western church (the Catholic church) has preferred the concept of evil – deliver us from evil. The Eastern Church (the Byzantine church) prefers the concept – deliver us from the Evil One. So you have both venerable conditions within Christendom. Which is it? Are we to be delivered from evil, or are we to be delivered from the Evil One?

I suggest to you that if you take a Hebraic approach to the text, that the answer is – both. There is truth in both. In this prayer this is exactly what Jesus is doing. First of all, when he says "LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION" he is referring of all to the evil within us. When he says "DELIVER US", he is speaking to the evil outside of us – "deliver us from the Evil One." And so both aspects of evil must be confronted when we pray this prayer with understanding and intention. Outside of us in terms of angelic demonic powers, and inside of us evil is working. The connection between these two is very, very intimate.

* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

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