The Temptation of Christ… Now there’s a juicy topic! Seriously, though, it may not be as exciting as the Hollywood flick, The Last Temptation of Christ, but it is still an interesting topic of study. It’s got drama, it’s got the struggle between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. I don’t know about you but there is something very calming and at the same time frightening about the whole thing. I love that Jesus understands the struggle I face when I am tempted. It is also horrifying to me that in a single instant, Jesus could’ve blown his mission (and my salvation) for all eternity.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this incident in their Gospels. Matthew and Luke are almost identical. The only real difference is the order in which the temptations occur. Mark barely mentions it all so I am opting for a version that gives details. Last time I picked Matthew’s account so this time I’ll pick Luke.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The first lesson that comes to mind is that right after we make a life change toward God, Satan often steps in to try and wreak havoc in our spiritual lives. Do you want to know what Jesus did right before he was tempted? He was baptized. He made a public commitment to God and the next thing you know he is being tempted by the devil. Isn’t that the way it seems to go? I don’t think it’s by chance that the Gospels are ordered this way. I think it’s actually how it happened, Jesus was baptized, then he was tempted.
Here’s something that can be troubling if we don’t understand what it means. Notice Jesus didn’t just accidentally wander into the desert. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (v. 1) The Holy Spirit led him there! Does this mean that God leads us into temptation? I thought he was supposed to, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” (Matthew 6:13), not deliver us to the evil one. In Matthew’s account it says that Jesus was, “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matthew 4:1) So what’s that all about? Well, the answer I believe is in the word that is translated “tempted”. In Greek, the word for tempted also means tested. My Bible adds a footnote to this effect and I’m not sure why they just don’t have it written as he was led to be tested. It makes more sense that way in my opinion. Especially in light of James 1:13, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” So I think it means that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. This test was God allowing Satan to tempt him in his humanity.
Something else that bothers me is the boldness of Satan to confront Jesus himself. Simply put, that took balls. Did Satan really expect Jesus to cave in and commit sin against himself or was he just having a bit of fun trying to frustrate Jesus with something he knew he had the power to do but not the authority to do? I don’t think Satan really expected Jesus to sin but it points out something quite obvious: if Satan is bold enough to tempt Jesus, what makes us think that he isn’t going to tempt us? In fact, it’s when we are at our weakest, that he uses our weaknesses against us. That’s dirty pool! But no one ever said Satan is fair.
The first temptation
There is lots of fascinating stuff going on in this passage. Not the least of these is the first temptation of hunger. Is it a sin to be hungry and want to eat something? No. But it would’ve been sin for Jesus to eat something while he was supposed to be fasting. It’s not clear if Jesus fasted for a literal forty days or if the number is symbolic. Regardless, the idea here is that Jesus had been in the desert practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting for a long time and he was hungry and his time of fasting was not over. In simplest terms, if God is telling you to fast for a period of time and you eat during that time, you are sinning. And so this is what we see here. Satan comes to a hungry Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread,” (v. 3). Note, he never says, “If you are hungry…” He’s not calling into question Jesus’ hunger; of course, he’s hungry. Satan is instead questioning Jesus’ authority to turn the stone into bread. There is a difference. I don’t know about you but when I am tempted it is almost always an issue of authority. In other words, it’s my decision to control what I do, not God’s. In Jesus’ temptation Satan basically says, “Since you are the Son of God (and have the authority) you have the ability to eat, so eat.” It’s a compelling statement and I’m not sure that Jesus did have the authority to sin. I think that’s how Satan is trying to trick him into sinning.
So how does Jesus resist the devil? He doesn’t pray for help. He doesn’t even tell the devil no. He quotes Scripture. Jesus uses God’s own word to refute the devil. This is why studying and knowing the Scriptures is so vitally important! Not only does it tell us how to live and love; it gives us power over Satan… but only if we know it. There is a reason why we are told to meditate on Scripture. Read this passage from Psalm 1:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. (NIV)
You could read it like this,
You will be blessed by not sinning when you delight in the law of the Lord, when you meditate on it day and night. (My Version)
So let’s take a look at what Jesus says to Satan. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:2-3: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Ok. So he only quoted the last part of verse 3 but I wanted you to see the context of his answer. Yes, physical needs are important but not as important as spiritual needs. We need God, and we should hunger and thirst after Him. Instead we find all kinds of stuff to try to replace God. We decide that we know what’s best for us and we forget God.
Next time, we will look at the next two temptations. In the next two the devil raises the stakes and we will see how Jesus responds. Spoiler alert: Jesus wins!