“The Wiles of the Devil” series: (post #8)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1, N.K.J.V.)
Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are tempted. I take that to mean that He was tempted to lie, cheat, covet, steal, get drunk, seek revenge, act selfishly, worship false gods, commit sexual sin, murder, etc. Is there a Bible verse or story that showcases Him being tempted with each specific type of temptation? No. But Hebrews 4:15 still says what it says, so Jesus must have faced each type of temptation at least once in His lifetime.
What the Bible does give us in regards to Jesus being tempted is the famous story of Satan tempting Him in the Judean wilderness. That story is told in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 (a barely brief summary), and Luke 4:1-13, and it involves three distinct rounds of temptation. Luke’s order for the rounds differs from Matthew’s, but that isn’t uncommon for Luke. His writing style sometimes has him presenting his material topically or logically rather than chronologically. So let’s look at Christ’s three rounds of temptation using Matthew’s order.
Round 1: Satan comes to Jesus and says, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). This temptation is particularly appealing to Jesus at that moment because He has just completed a fast lasting forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2). To say He is hungry would be a landmark understatement. Still, Jesus doesn’t yield to the temptation. He responds by quoting a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
Round 2: Playing off the fact that Jesus has just quoted scripture, Satan decides to quote some himself. He takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and says, “If You are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” The first reference is from Psalm 91:11 and the second one is from Psalm 91:12. Jesus, in turn, responds by quoting a portion of Deuteronomy 6:16: “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”
Round 3: Just as Satan and Jesus were somehow miraculously transported from the Judean wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, they are next transported to the top of an exceedingly high mountain. There Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and says, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” And what is Jesus’ answer? One more time He references the book of Deuteronomy, this time loosely paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:13-14 and 10:20: “Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'”
Now, there are all kinds of spiritual truths and principles that we can glean from this story, and so what I’d like to do here is list ten of them. Consider this list the conclusion to this post, and be sure to read each item carefully so that you can better understand not only this story but also how to resist the devil when he comes tempting you. Ready? Here we go.
- Satan’s temptations of Jesus were designed to reveal what kind of Messiah Jesus would be. Would He be self serving? Would He use His divine power to take the easy way out whenever a problem arose? Would He major on fame and minor on suffering? Most importantly, would He be willing to accept a throne that didn’t require Him to die on a cross?
- The three temptations fit neatly into the three categories that are named in 1 John 2:16. Those are “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes,” and “the pride of life.” Jesus was tempted to fulfill the lust of the flesh by turning the stones into bread for Him to eat. He was tempted to fulfill the lust of the eyes by accepting the offer to be made ruler over all those kingdoms Satan showed Him. He was tempted to fulfill the pride of life by jumping down off the pinnacle of the temple and having angels rescue Him. Such a miracle performed in the midst of a temple crowd would have made Jesus famous at the very beginning of His ministry and garnered Him a massive following.
- Satan tempts us when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. Forty days and nights of fasting made Jesus spiritually strong but physically weak. There are times in our lives when we are low physically, perhaps through sickness or perhaps through bodily neglect. That’s when Satan will place temptation in front of us. Then again, there are other times when we are low spiritually. He won’t give us a pass during those times, either.
- The role that scripture plays in helping us resist Satan’s temptations cannot be overstated. Jesus didn’t perform a miracle or call for the help of angels to resist Satan. He did it by an inner determination to obey God the Father and by quoting scripture. So, the next time you feel the tug of Satan’s temptation, quote a relevant passage of scripture to him.
- Satan himself knows how to use scripture. Satan has had thousands of years to study the Bible. For that matter, he’s been an active participant — a central character, we might say — in the Bible’s storyline. This means that he knows scripture better than you do. Because of this, you must be on guard against him twisting and distorting scripture in his efforts to convince you to do something you shouldn’t do.
- Since there is no single mountain from which all the world’s kingdoms can be seen, it’s possible that the mountain in question wasn’t literal. At any rate, it should be noted that when Satan offered Jesus all those kingdoms, Jesus didn’t say, “They aren’t yours to give.” Jesus Himself called Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, John 16:11), and the apostle Paul called him “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). How many people are right now enjoying “kingdoms” and blessings that Satan has given them because they have bowed down (either knowingly or unknowingly) to him and are doing his bidding? Furthermore, how many of those same people are foolishly attributing their success to God?
- It’s possible that Satan’s tempting of Jesus lasted for the entire forty days and nights of Jesus’ fast and that the three rounds mentioned in scripture are only three of many. This potential interpretation stems from the fact that Luke says of Jesus, “…being tempted for forty days by the devil” (Luke 4:1, N.K.J.V.). That wording leads some commentators to conclude that Satan’s tempting played itself out over the whole scope of the forty days and nights. Mark’s account might also be read that way: “And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan…” (Mark 1:13).
- Being tempted by Satan takes a lot out of you physically. Matthew and Mark both mention that angels came and ministered to Jesus following the temptation. If Jesus, in his human body, had to be ministered to after His bout with Satan, you’d better believe that you going up against Satan’s temptation will take something out of you physically as well.
- One detail that is unique to Mark’s account of Christ’s temptations involves wild beasts. Writing under the inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), Mark makes special mention that Jesus was “with the wild beasts” there in the Judean wilderness (Mark 1:13). Commentator William MacDonald floats the possibility that these animals are mentioned because they were energized by Satan to destroy Jesus. No one can say for sure why Mark mentions the wild beasts, but if nothing else it shows us that our temptations take place in a world that is dangerous. We don’t just have to do battle with Satan; we also have to do battle with a thousand other dangerous things that life throws at us.
- Even if you resist Satan’s temptation and cause him to leave you alone for a while, he will eventually come at you again. The most depressing part of Christ’s temptation is what Luke says in concluding his account of the story. He writes: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13, N.K.J.V.). Oh, beware those opportune times! Could it be that right now you are experiencing one of those in your life? If you are, you can expect Satan’s temptation to come your way soon, if you aren’t already in the midst of it.