The Temptation of Jesus

Immediately after the baptism of Jesus we are told the Holy Spirit led (or compelled) Him to go into the desert to be tested by the Devil. He went from hearing the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son” to Satan taunting Him with the words, “If you really are the Son of God . . . “

Why was it necessary for Jesus to face this test? It was not the only time Jesus was tempted. Why this specific encounter with the Devil himself? Since Jesus was God in human form, was it even possible for Him to sin? We’ll examine those questions and look at what we learn about facing temptation from our Lord.

Before we do that, let’s establish a foundation. David Platt reminds us that there are six truths that we must keep in mind.

  1. There is a spiritual world. The Bible talks about angels, demons, and a heavenly host. It says God is Spirit. There are vast numbers of beings we do not see that are present.
  2. We are involved in a spiritual war. Satan and His armies are fighting against the Lord and His angelic host.
  3. Our enemy is formidable. Satan however, cannot be everywhere and does not have all power; he still needs God’s permission to act. It is likely that most of us will never be tempted by Satan himself. Satan relies on his demons to do most of the tempting.
  4. The stakes in the spiritual war are eternal. It is the difference between heaven and hell.
  5. The scope of spiritual war is universal. Everyone is involved in the war and everything is impacted by it.
  6. Our involvement in this war is personal. It has a personal impact and it comes at us in personal ways. This is not a fairy tale. It is real and it is dangerous.

Let’s look at the account itself in Matthew 4.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

It seems the Lord is drawing a contrast between the Garden of Eden and the test of Jesus in the wilderness. The first Adam failed. The second Adam, Jesus, did not.  The setting of the wilderness also reminds us of Israel out in the desert. They professed to be God’s people, but, in the time of testing, they failed over and over again. Jesus faces similar tests but with a vastly different outcome.

One commentator writes of Satan,

His meanness consists especially in this, that he first tempts a man into sin. Then, when the tempted one follows his advice, the tempter becomes the accuser! Moreover, he will even continue to accuse the fallen one after the latter’s sin has already been forgiven (Zech. 3:1–5; Rev. 12:10).[1]

So why did God send Jesus to face the Devil? It is because we Are made new by works – the works of Jesus! His righteousness is credited to our account. He had to obey the Law of God before He was qualified to serve as our substitute. Jesus battled these temptations to qualify Him to be our substitute.

The question: Could Jesus have sinned? That is a question with no easy answer. It was possible for the human side of Jesus to sin but the divine side of Him would never let it happen. So, why the temptation? It seems that Jesus is redoing the temptation of Adam and Eve. This “second Adam” (as Paul calls him) set a different path for those who would follow Him. He was tempted in every way but He never gave in to sin. (Hebrews 4)

Now that we have introduced the passage, let’s look at the temptations themselves.

During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

‘People do not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

TEMPTATION ONE – The Appeal to appetite.

Adam and Eve were tempted in a lush Garden. Jesus was in the desert. The Serpent came to Adam and Eve when their stomachs were full and their needs were satisfied. Jesus was confronted when He was in the midst of profound hunger from his fast. Adam and Eve had each other to lean on. Jesus faced His temptation on his own. Adam and Eve were tempted at a time when no one else had sinned. Jesus was tempted when sin was commonplace and no one else had resisted.

Satan began by taunting Jesus, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD (as the voice said at your baptism), then prove it by turning these stones into bread.” Satan knew that Jesus could do this because He is God. There is nothing sinful about eating bread. However, there is sin in letting our appetites rule our life instead of the Lord. It is the temptation to fulfill God-created desires in a way that excludes Him.

This is a common tactic of Satan. If you are hungry, he will tempt you to overeat. If you are thirsty, he will tempt you to drink until you have had too much to drink. If you are tired, he will tempt you to laziness and apathy and sometimes even a foul temper. When you find yourself with sexual desires, he will tempt you toward infidelity, lust, pornography, and other sexual sins. Ultimately, when we go to these extremes we are saying “God is not providing for me adequately, so I will seek the fulfillment of my needs apart from Him.”

It is no secret that the times of greatest temptation are when we are alone.

  • The businessman or woman away from home.
  • The student off at college.
  • The person sitting in front of the computer late at night in the dark quiet house.
  • The financial person in need, who has access to lots of cash at work.
  • The hurting person, who nurses their bitterness and resentment by playing it over and over in their head.

Satan loves to whisper in our ear, “No one will know.” He pushes us to act in an area where the desires are very real.

Look at how Jesus responded: Jesus reminds himself and declares to Satan that there are things that are much more important than satisfying our physical desires. Jesus knew that the only way to truly satisfy our deepest desires (which are for significance, love, peace, strength and the knowledge of God), is by listening to the Word of God.

In each of these temptations, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. When we are facing this kind of temptation, we would be wise to quote the Bible, like Jesus did. The time Jesus spent in the desert could have made him more vulnerable but instead, He used that time to strengthen himself by the Word of God. He was ready. In Matthew 6:33 we read: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” Jesus was ready to trust
God to meet His needs in His timing.

Let’s move to the second temptation

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.

And they will hold you up with their hands

so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’

TEMPTATION TWO – The Taunt to Prove God’s Promise

There is debate about whether Jesus physically was standing on the roof of the temple looking at an enormous drop into the Kidron Valley, or whether this was a vivid vision. I don’t think it matters.

Once again Satan taunted Jesus with: “If you are the Son of God – prove it!” What Satan does is turn a promise of God into something He never promised. We call this “reading into the Scriptures” something that is not there. Commentator R.C. Sproul explains what Satan is doing and what often happens,

God never speaks a lie, and His Word is coherent and unified. God never contradicts Himself. Therefore, what He says in the book of Judges can never contradict what He says in Ephesians. If we set one part of Scripture against another part of Scripture, we violate the most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation, and that is exactly what Satan was doing.

Jesus tells Satan that if He were to jump off the temple to prove that the Scripture is true, He would be violating the very Scripture that forbids Him from doing it. Besides that, Jesus knew who He was. He did not have to jump from some great height to know that the angels had been given charge over Him, nor did He have to worry about dashing His foot against a rock, because He knew that angels were protecting Him.[2]

Satan still uses this tactic to undermine a believers’ faith. Let me give you three commonly misused examples,

  • Psalm 37 promises that if we delight in the Lord he will give us the desires of our heart, Satan whispers, “if God hasn’t given you what you desire – He must not really exist.” All you have to do is look at the first part of the promise, to see what is wrong with this interpretation. The condition on the promise is that we “delight in the Lord”. When we delight in the Lord our desires will be the same as His desires. We will long for the things that bring honor to Him.
  • Various passages tell us about miraculous physical healings. If we are ill and are not “healed” Satan whispers, “God’s promises don’t work!” Yet the Bible also tells us to rejoice in suffering. It tells us that complete healing will come at the time when evil has been judged, sin has been purged, and Christ rules on earth in His Kingdom.
  • Philippians tells us, “God will supply all our needs.” So, when there is a relationship that ends, a job that is lost, an opportunity missed, Satan again whispers, “God cannot be trusted”. We must remember that God’s definition of need, and ours, is different. God never said he would meet our needs immediately (like a vending machine). God’s timing, once again, is perfect.

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.

Temptation Three: Bargain with the Devil

We don’t know how Satan showed Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world. A vision could certainly make this possible.

Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to the goal of ruling the earth. It is as if Satan was saying, “Look Jesus, you don’t have to go through the pain and agony of the cross. You don’t have to face the wrath of God to save mankind. All you have to do is give me your worship.

Satan will often lead us to take a shortcut to a good end.

  • To manipulate others instead of motivating them.
  • To grab the blessing instead of waiting for it.
  • To compromise the truth of the gospel to draw a crowd.
  • To build a Kingdom to yourself rather than to build His Kingdom.

Satan told Adam and Eve that they could “be like God” by simply eating the forbidden fruit. He made it sound noble, expedient, and beneficial. However, Jesus saw it clearly: Any attempt to take a shortcut is to worship the blessing rather than the One who gives the blessing. Any attempt to take a shortcut is to fall into the trap of a scam.

The seduction of the people who steal from others with a phone call is this same tactic. They offer health that comes in a bottle; a vacation that costs you nothing; or financial security with a ‘sure fire’ investment. They dangle things that are desirable and tell you there is an “easy way” to get these things. It was a scam then, and it is a scam now. It is a temptation to put your trust in something, or someone, other than the Lord. It may come from a popular minister or a kind voice on the other end of your phone. But here is the defense: God will provide all our needs. Any shortcut is really just a decorated road to Hell.

Preparing to Withstand Temptation

Let’s get very practical here: What does Jesus teach us about withstanding the temptation that comes into our lives?

Frist, we must be prepared. Jesus used the time of fasting to draw close to the Lord. It is a good idea to find quality quiet time to spend with the Lord. Perhaps you would benefit from a time of prayer and fasting. The only way to stand against the assault of the Devil and his army is to be fully clothed in the armor of God. An untrained soldier is a danger to his unit. An unprepared Christian is a danger to himself, his family, and his church.

Second, study the Word of God. The value of weekly worship where the Bible is taught systematically, Sunday School, Bible Studies, and youth groups, is that these things help us to see the Bible in context. Jesus could defend Himself against the deception of Satan because He was immersed in the truth.

Here is a very simple principle: anything that requires you to ignore the Word of God is sin! There is no exception! God does not contradict Himself. Arm yourself with the knowledge of His Word and you will be equipped for battle.

Third, know you points of vulnerability.  If you know something is a temptation to you run away, don’t play with temptation. Let me illustrate,

  • If you have trouble with spending, don’t get on, don’t wander through malls, don’t watch shopping channels.
  • If you have a problem with lust don’t watch programs that incite lust, don’t watch videos that promote immorality, don’t flirt with others! Put your energy into loving your spouse or being faithful before the Lord.
  • If you know you can’t resist juicy tidbits of gossip, then stay away from those places where gossip is King. Avoid those conversations and the people who promote them.
  • If your anger leads you to compromise the message of the gospel – remove yourself from things that will provoke angry outbursts (discussions of politics, sports, debates about various social issues). Remind yourself that no issue is worth compromising your testimony.

Fourth, put your trust in the One who has been tempted in every way, yet did not give in to sin. The book of Hebrews reminds us that because Jesus was tempted in every way, He is able to those who are being tempted. In order to stand with Christ in the time of temptation, you have to make the decision to trust Him NOW! We must train ourselves to follow Him in the little things so we will more naturally trust Him in the big things.

We must make the decision today that we will trust the Lord and His Word over EVERYTHING ELSE. We dare not trust our feelings, our friends, or even our desires. We cannot even trust the fact that “we have peace;” sometimes peace comes from a deadened conscience rather than from the Lord. We must trust His Word and hold on to it with all the strength we have. This much is sure: Satan is going to hit us with everything He has and he is going to do it again and again. Our defense in not found in great resolve, it is found in a deeper walk with Christ.

[1] William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 225.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (2013-02-28). Matthew (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (Kindle Locations 830-834). Crossway. Kindle Edition.


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