We will look at this question in two parts. First, we’ll start with Satan trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross. He started this way before Jesus was born—back in time to Adam. In the beginning, Adam was perfect too, holy. Satan, however, got Adam and Eve to distrust God’s word and fell into sin. So, when Jesus came on the scene, I can imagine Satan thinking to himself:
Ok, no problem, I’ve seen this before. I made the sinless Adam fall into sin; I’ll get the sinless Jesus to fall into sin. Besides, I’ve had a few thousand years to perfect my methods.
Furthermore, compared to Adam, Satan was likely far more motivated to get Jesus to fall into sin.
[Discussion: Compared to Adam, why was Satan more motivated to get Jesus to fall into sin?]
Not only in Genesis chapter 3—when Adam and Eve plunged humanity into sin—God promised a redeemer but also in verse 15 God said the redeemer would strike a fatal blow to Satan. Thus, if Satan wanted to prevent this fatal blow, he had to stop him. This was a life and death matter to Satan and he didn’t waste any time.
Adam and Eve had two sons, potential redeemers. Satan got one to kill the other. Luckily for us, Adam and Eve had other children.
Fast forward a few chapters to Genesis 6:1–8 describe how Satan executed a very evil plan to plunge humanity into such extreme wickedness God decided to wipe out everyone by flood. Game over right, no redeemer? No, there was a small group of people who remained faithful to God, Noah and his family. Satan struck out again.
Not much later, Satan got some good news. He became aware of God’s promise to Abraham that a redeemer will come from his bloodline. Now, Satan could focus his disqualification and extermination attempts to one bloodline, the Jews, who descend through Abraham’s son, Jacob a.k.a. Israel. That’s where the nation of Israel got its name.
Have you ever wondered why Jews and the nation of Israel have experienced such systematic persecution and attempted genocides from the Old Testament times up until Hitler? Here’s your answer: Satan worked hard throughout history persecuting and attempting the genocide of Israel. In some cases, God allowed them as punishment for Israel’s disobedience, for example during Babylonian captivity, but God never permitted their extermination.
The Bible is filled with various foiled plots: Esther and Naham, Pharaoh’s ordering the killing of all newborn Jewish males, Jewish captivity in Babylon, and King Herod’s killing all the babies in Bethlehem—the city where the redeemer was to be born. Satan identified Jesus as a potential redeemer, because his attacks on Jesus showed he thought he could disqualify Jesus as he had every potential redeemer.
[Discussion: After which event does Satan ramp up his attacks on Jesus?]
In the third chapter of Matthew, Jesus went to be baptized by John. Immediately after his baptism we read in verse 17:
And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The significance of this announcement wasn’t lost on Satan! So, do you think that Satan attacked Jesus right after his baptism, after which Jesus was probably on a spiritual high, feeling pretty good? Of course not, Satan was smarter than that! He waited until in the next verses when Jesus went to fast in the wilderness. After fasting for 40 days, when he was mentally exhausted and starving, guess who paid him a visit?
Mat 4:3, And the tempter [Satan] came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Satan was up to his old tricks. He tempted Eve in the garden by appealing to her physical senses with the fruit that was “good for food”. Now, after Jesus had been fasting for 40 days, Satan tempted the physical senses of Jesus by trying to get him to turn stones into bread and use his powers outside of God’s plan for him. Any deviation from God’s plan—disobedience—would have been sin. This would have disqualified Jesus as the spotless sacrifice for our sins—Satan’s objective.
This is something for us to keep in mind as well. We should be careful about temptation when we are sleep deprived, hungry, or exhausted. That’s when the missiles of temptation are likely to come at us hard. God wisely commands us to rest every seven days, so don’t burn yourself out, keep alert, and minimize the chances of falling into temptation.
Lest anyone doubt Satan’s capabilities of temptation and deception, remember, that before Adam and Eve, Satan convinced a third of the holy angels, who were in the presence of God, to rebel against him (Rev. 12:14). That couldn’t have been an easy feat to pull off but the master tempter did it.
Unlike one third of the holy angels, and unlike Adam, and Eve, Jesus held strong and walked away victorious from every battle with Satan, which must have been quite disappointing to Satan. The second Adam had successfully resisted the temptations that made the first Adam fall. Satan didn’t relent though, as each minute brought him closer to the ultimate defeat God announced in Genesis 3.
As time was running out, Satan was likely getting increasingly desperate. But just when things looked very gloomy for him, he got presented with perhaps his best opportunity yet.
Jesus was arrested on the day before his crucifixion. Shortly before his arrest, he warned Peter that Satan had demanded to attack him, Peter, —to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31)—and God granted this request. However, some verses later, we discover that God apparently had also granted Satan a special permission concerning his Son. When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, listen carefully what Jesus said to them in Luke 22:53:
When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
This brings us back to the second part of our first question from the introduction:
Why did Satan change his strategy from preventing Jesus from going to the cross to getting Jesus on the cross?
[Discussion: Why do you think Satan changed strategies from preventing Jesus from going to the cross to getting him on the cross through Judas?]
Earlier on, Satan had tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross by killing or disqualifying any would be saviors right from the days of Adam, trying to annihilate the Jews, then while Jesus was still a baby, trying to get him killed by Herod.
Then, Satan tempted Jesus to be disobedient to God’s will, but that didn’t work either. Through Peter (Matt. 16:23), he tried, unsuccessfully, to keep Jesus from going to the cross. But now, it appears that God may have permitted the enemy a specific time period (“this is the hour”) and power to attack Jesus. Perhaps certain limits on what could be done to Jesus were deactivated for a fixed amount of time (this hour).
What these limits were we do not know other than, at a minimum, it was now possible to kill and torture Jesus. Consequently, it appears that Satan now thought that he would have the best odds of defeating Jesus, if he could get him on the cross. With apparently only a fixed amount of time at his disposal, he’d better act fast. The clock of God was ticking.
Stay tuned for the 3rd part.
 Also compare to Job 2:6: “So the Lord said to Satan, ’Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.’” New American Standard Bible.
Joh. 7:30, 7:44, 8:59, 10:31, 10:39; Luke 4:29–30.
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