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The Temptation of Jesus

INTRODUCTION: Matthew and Luke provide the most detail about the temptation of Christ, with some variation between them. There are a few interesting viewpoints that can be gleaned from the brief mention of the temptation in the gospel of Mark, while John does not record the temptation in his gospel. This brief study is intended to highlight only some points that may then stimulate prayer about these temptations and how they may relate to our own lives.

NOTE: Bible passages are from the World English Bible.


Matthew 4 "1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 When he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry afterward."

Mark 1 "12 Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving him."

Luke 4 "1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. He ate nothing in those days. Afterward, when they were completed, he was hungry."

COMMENTS: From previous verses in all three of these gospels, we know that when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God came upon him in the visible form of a dove, and the voice from heaven declared him to be "my Son:" thus involving all three persons of the Godhead. All three passages above state that Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Mark tells us Jesus went into the wilderness immediately after the baptism. There are two different Greek terms, and an Aramaic term, used in the three accounts for led or driven, and together they underscore a sense of urgency for what was to follow. Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and that he fasted for forty days and forty nights, and was hungry afterward. Mark concludes his very brief coverage of this entire event by saying that Jesus was with the wild animals in the wilderness, and the angels were serving him. There is no mention of any people near this wilderness area, and Mark may be emphasizing that fact with his reference to wild animals. Mark does not describe the temptations by Satan. The gospel of John has no mention at all about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan.


Matthew 4 "3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'"

Luke 4 "3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." 4 Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

COMMENTS: The first thing that I will mention here is that Satan was aware that Jesus was in the wilderness fasting, and he used it as an opportunity to attempt to defeat the purpose of God in Christ. Satan's desire had been thwarted some thirty years earlier when King Herod failed in his attempt to kill the infant king who had been born in Bethlehem. At that time the infant Jesus was completely dependent on God the Father and on his human parents for his safety. Since Satan had direct access to tempt the very Son of God with no interference from the Father in heaven, I must be aware that the spiritual forces he commands can certainly have influence on me for temptation, in addition to the earthly desires already inherent within me.

Whereas the children of Israel who had been brought by God's power out of the captivity in Egypt did not have the supernatural power to satisfy their hunger in the wilderness, Jesus did have that power as indicated by the miracles he performed later to feed thousands. Jesus had chosen to set aside his ability to satisfy his own hunger so he would place full reliance on God the Father for this physical need. This is another example in his life as the last Adam, to perfectly fulfill the law as our representative, and to live out in the flesh the things he later taught for those who follow him by faith.

The passage in Deuteronomy explains that it was necessary to humble those who were unable to meet their basic need by natural means, so they could see that God can supply even supernaturally. This was to emphasize to them that as chosen ones of God, they must actively believe that there is more than the physical realm, and that everlasting life comes only from God. Deuteronomy 8 "3 He humbled you, and allowed you to be hungry, and fed you with manna, which you didn't know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh."

John's gospel tells us that the Word of God became flesh to live among us and display his glory. John 1 "14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth." Just as faith in God was more necessary to life than food for the physical body before the appearance of Christ, Jesus became a physical representation of that Word that came down from heaven to provide everlasting life. John 6 "47 Most certainly, I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." John 6 "63 It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life." Matthew 6 "31 "Therefore don't be anxious, saying, 'What will we eat?', 'What will we drink?' or, 'With what will we be clothed?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore don't be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day's own evil is sufficient." Jesus demonstrated his complete dependence upon the heavenly Father as he operated in the flesh in our behalf. Our dependence therefore must be on the Lord for everything in this life, as we also use the gifts he has given to us; and we must trust him for the everlasting life to come.


Matthew 4 "5 Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 'He will put his angels in charge of you." and, 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you don't dash your foot against a stone.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "Again, it is written, 'You shall not test the Lord, your God.'"

Luke 4 "9 He led him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, 'He will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you'; 11 and, 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest perhaps you dash your foot against a stone.'" 12 Jesus answering, said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"

COMMENTS: It should be noted that in Luke's account, this is listed third in order in the temptations, but I have placed it here for more direct textual comparison. Various commentators have offered explanation for the different order in the two accounts, but I choose not to entertain that pursuit. My purpose here is to compare the descriptions, and I am satisfied just to know that the Holy Spirit directed both authors. Now we see power demonstrated by Satan as he somehow moved Jesus from the wilderness to Jerusalem, and set him upon the highest point of the temple for the purpose of using scripture as a temptation. Satan only referred to verses 11 and 12 as he quoted. Psalm 91 "9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge, and the Most High your dwelling place, 10 no evil shall happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. 11 For he will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, so that you won't dash your foot against a stone." Satan did not threaten to throw Jesus off of the temple, but asked him to voluntarily jump off to prove that he is the Son of God. But if the LORD God has become the refuge and dwelling place for eternal life, the dangers of the present world are indeed temporal. However, taking any action that will tempt or test God to see if he will fulfill His Word is not for the one who trusts in the LORD for refuge in an everlasting dwelling place.

Since Jesus used another scripture to refute the purpose Satan had by using that quotation, we should be careful to compare scriptures especially when we believe there may be a deceptive intent by the one quoting scripture. Jesus quoted scripture that should remind us that complete faith in God does not need to test him to see if his Word is true. It also tells us that God is not pleased with those who put him to the test. Deuteronomy 6 "16 You shall not tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him in Massah. 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he has commanded you." The Hebrew word that is translated as tempt can also be translated as test or prove.

Not long after they had been brought out of Egypt, the children of Israel showed their lack of faith in God's ability to complete what he had started as they were in the wilderness. Exodus 17 "2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?" The apostle Peter made a similar point to the Jewish believers when they hesitated to accept Gentiles as Christians without their adherence to Jewish law. Acts 15 "7 When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News, and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are."


Matthew 4 "8 Again, the devil took him to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. 9 He said to him, "I will give you all of these things, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus said to him, "Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.'"

Luke 4 "5 The devil, leading him up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 The devil said to him, "I will give you all this authority, and their glory, for it has been delivered to me; and I give it to whomever I want. 7 If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "Get behind me Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.'"

COMMENTS: Here is another example of unusual power possessed by Satan as he took Jesus from the temple in Jerusalem to an extremely high mountain, and somehow (without our so-called advanced technology) showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, in a moment of time. Then Satan offered to give Jesus all of those things in exchange for worship. An interesting thing to note is that in Luke's account we are told that Satan said those things had been delivered to him. These then are things that Satan cannot claim to have by his own authority, and as the deceiver, there is no reason to trust his ability to give them to anyone in any lasting manner. Later, as he taught, Jesus said the following about Satan. John 8 "44 You are of your father, the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and doesn't stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks on his own; for he is a liar, and its father." Desiring those things that are only of the world should never be more important to us than our desire to first seek the kingdom of God. Jesus answered Satan, and provided the answer that we must hold in our heart, worship belongs only to the true and living God. That which was given through Moses has not, and will not change for those who place complete trust in the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 "13 You shall fear Yahweh your God; and you shall serve him, and shall swear by his name. 14 You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples who are around you; 15 for Yahweh your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; lest the anger of Yahweh your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth." Jesus also taught that there is no material gain that comes close to the precious gift of life in Christ. Matthew 16 "25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will render to everyone according to his deeds."


Matthew 4 "11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and served him. 12 Now when Jesus heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,"

Mark 1 "13 He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving him. 14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.""

Luke 4 "13 When the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until another time. 14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. 15 He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all."

COMMENTS: When Satan had completed his temptations without success, he left Jesus. From Matthew and Mark we learn that angels then came to minister to Jesus, but we do not have any detail of what they performed for him. None of these three gospels record Jesus returning to John the Baptist at the Jordan before John was put into prison. Luke says Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. It is also not clear what is meant in Luke's record that Satan left Jesus until another time. There may have been very subtle temptations as Jesus walked among men, or another time may have been in the garden before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus cautioned his disciples before they went with him out to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives for the final time. Matthew 26 "41 Watch and pray, that you don't enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Jesus became our faithful and enduring high priest who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4 "14 Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold tightly to our confession. 15 For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need." Our foremost need is that we remain steadfast in our trust for the everlasting life to come, even though we may face great suffering in this life. Paul draws our attention to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 2 "5 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

The apostles had many things to say about resisting temptation as their letters speak to us even today. 1 Corinthians 10 "13 No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." Paul spoke of our old nature and the influence of godless spiritual forces. Ephesians 2 "1 You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; 8 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast."

We must be very careful not to rely on our own resources to escape temptation that is beyond our strength. Ephesians 6 "10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole Armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Peter agreed with Paul that we have a battle in the spiritual realm, and we need the Lord on our side. 1 Peter 5 "8 Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."


Lord, I now have so much more to take into my thoughts about the wonder of your great love that you demonstrated as you came to live among us in the flesh from your infancy to your adulthood. Even though I cannot even begin to understand how this was accomplished as the one who was, and is, and is to come, willingly left heaven to become a faithful high priest touched by the feelings of my infirmities. You placed yourself in the wilderness with a long period of fasting, and allowed the affront of Satan as he used a representative group of temptations in an attempt to destroy the saving work you came to complete for everyone who will worship you alone. Help me, Lord, to use those three temptations as a memory mechanism to be watchful for any of these areas that will bring temptation before me. Help me also, Lord, to remember the essence of your responses so that I might keep them actively waiting in my thoughts to thwart temptations when they come. You are the Bread of Life as the Living Word, and without you all food for the body has only temporary worth. If your protection for me does not keep me from physical harm, I know that your guarantee of an everlasting refuge is totally dependable and of far greater value than sustained comfort in this life. Help me, Lord, not to tempt you with any unbelief. I also trust your Word that the greatest treasures that could be obtained in the world cannot compare with the everlasting life you have promised to me because I have accepted that gift in Christ. I want to praise you with my whole heart, my Savior and my God! Amen.

Published 12 February 2014