The Temptation of Jesus


     The two greatest challenges the devil has ever had are recorded in Genesis 3 and Matthew 4. They involved the temptation of Adam and Eve and of Jesus, the sinless Son of God. In both cases, the rewards of success would be great for the devil, having far reaching consequences. Hence, Satan employed every possible means available in both cases. He appealed to the woman alone (Gen. 3: 1-6, he often seeks to isolate us). He persuaded Eve to sin through the lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life (Gen. 3: 6). The consequences of Eve's sin were great and gained a definite victory for Satan (Gen. 3: 14-24, compare Rom. 5: 12-21). The devil also approached Jesus by means of the same three avenues of temptation (Matt. 4: 3; 5, 6; 8, 9). However, in Jesus' case, the devil failed. As a result of the devil's failure, there are many advantageous spiritual consequences that potentially and in reality affect all men (Rom. 5: 12-21).

     Some do not believe that Jesus was tempted in the same way as Eve and Adam. "God cannot be tempted with evil and since Jesus was God in the flesh, Jesus was not really tempted," they reason. It is true that God cannot sin and that Jesus was God (Jas. 1: 13, Heb. 1: 8). However, Jesus was also man (I Tim. 2: 5). Scholars have for aeons been attempting to reconcile the fact of Jesus' deity, his manhood, and his temptation. "Could Jesus have actually sinned had he chosen and being God, was Jesus even able to elect to sin?" are theological questions that pose good mental exercise. Some suggest that "tempted" in the case of Jesus is only used in the sense of test (Matt. 4: 1, "tempt" does have a dual meaning capability involving tests and the inward solicitation to commit evil, see Jas. 1: 2-17. In the latter sense, God does not tempt man, Jas. 1: 13, compare with Gen. 22: 1). If Jesus, as a man, could not have elected to sin, then where would the test be and what would be the victory for overcoming (see addendum)?

     A closer look and examination of Jesus' temptation. We are interested in a careful study of Jesus' temptation for two principle reasons: We want to learn all we can about Jesus and since all men sin, we want to see exactly how Jesus overcame the devil (see I Pet. 2: 21, 22). Consider the temptation:

     "1: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2: And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3: And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4: But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5: Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6: And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7: Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8: Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9: And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10: Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11: Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him" (Matt. 4).

     "The devil said." We cannot appreciate Jesus' temptation without understanding the modus operandi or approach of the devil. First, the devil said certain things to Jesus (Matt. 4: 3, 6, 9, cp. Gen. 3: 4). The devil is very articulate and uses speech to deceive people and teach false doctrine (see Acts 15: 1, 5 and associated context). As is the case, what the devil said to Jesus was contrary to the scriptures (see Matt. 4: 3, 4; 5-7; 8-10). The devil continues to very effectively use the tongue of man (Jas. 3: 1, 2).

     The devil is seen as resourceful. The verse that introduces the devil says, "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the lord God had made…" (Gen. 3: 1, cp. 2 Cor. 11: 3). The devil, then, is a formidable opponent, not to be taken lightly. As noted, the devil made full use of all the avenues of temptation in both the cases of Eve and Jesus. It will also be appreciated that in the case of Jesus' temptation, the devil did not stop with the lust of the flesh (Matt. 4: 3-5). When the appeal to the flesh failed, the devil then resorted to the pride of life (Matt. 4: 5-7). He then made use of the resource of the lust of the eyes (vs. 8-10). The devil is persistent up to a point (vs. 11).

     The devil has some manipulating ability. I am not sure how far to press this point but based on verses five and eight, it would appear that the devil may have some manipulating ability in general (I recognize that the situations of verses five and eight involve the miraculous). The devil may be behind certain climate settings, such as "evil companionships" in which he tempts men (I Cor. 15: 33, ASV). As seen, though, the devil is not invincible or irresistible (Jas. 4: 7). The devil is really the fool because God "uses" the devil in order for God to test his people (I Cor. 10: 13, Jas. 1: 12).

     Based on the temptation of Jesus, it appears that the devil has some authority regarding the kingdoms of man. We read: "…the devil…sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, all these things will I give thee…" (vs. 8, 9). Did the devil lie or did he possess some delegated authority? Based on such teachings as are found in Ephesians 2: 2 and 6: 12, it would appear the devil did not lie in his basic offer to Jesus (scholars are not sure as to the extent of influence Satan has in the regal affairs of men, cp. Rom. 13: 1-7). There is little doubt that the devil often exerts his influence in the political realm. Abortion and other matters would be examples of Satanic influence in governmental matters that can and do pose special circumstances for individual temptations.

     The devil seeks man's worship. It is evident from the temptation of Jesus that the devil desperately solicits and needs men's worship (see vs. 9). The scriptures present a battle between God and Satan. While Satan desires man's worship, God also demands man's worship (Jn. 4: 23, 24, Acts 17: 23). The essential nature of true worship is that it is singular and will not allow compromise. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," Jesus said (Matt. 6: 24). God seeks our worship both publicly and as individuals (Acts 2: 42, Heb. 10: 25; Phili. 3: 20).

     The devil quotes scripture. Another fact emerging from Jesus' temptation is that the devil can and does quote scripture (Matt. 4: 5, 6). It is interesting that the devil quotes verbatim from the Septuagint translation regarding Psalms 91: 11, 12. While the devil correctly quotes the scripture, however, he does not correctly apply the teaching contained in Psalms 91: 11, 12 to the circumstances at hand. Hence, just because scripture is quoted does not necessarily mean the truth is being taught. Some quote I John 1: 7-9 regarding confession of sin and spiritual cleansing from Jesus' blood and apply it to the non-Christian. They thus teach that all the alien sinner must do to be saved is simply confess sin. They correctly quote scripture but like the devil, they misapply it. I John 1: 7-9 does not apply to the non-Christian. Teachings found in Mark 16: 16, Acts 2: 38, and Romans 10: 9, 10 refer to the circumstance of the alien sinner and salvation (see 2 Cor. 11: 14, 15).

     Jesus quoted scripture to combat the devil. Both the devil and Jesus quote scripture, but the important difference is seen in the fact that Jesus both correctly quotes and applies scripture (Matt. 4: 4, 7, 10, see Deut. 8: 3; Deut. 6: 16; and 6: 13, respectively). Jesus had a standard of authority that he both recognized and used to determine right and wrong, the word of God. He did not respond to the devil by saying, "I feel in my heart," "it is not popular," or "I simply do not agree." Jesus presented scripture and allowed the scripture to determine the right course of action. It will also be appreciated that Jesus used scripture to prove that Psalms 91: 11, 12 was being misapplied by the devil. After a similar fashion, Hebrews 5: 8, 9 can be used today to prove that John 3: 16 is not teaching salvation by faith only or lack of obedience to the gospel.

     The tempter came at the most opportune time in Jesus' life. A verse that sets the stage for the great temptation involving Jesus is verse two: "And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred." We immediately read, "And when the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" (vs. 3). The devil looks for the best time to tempt you and me. It may be when the Christian is without a job, is having family problems, or the local church is experiencing difficulties that the devil makes his appearance and appeal.

     The devil appeals to the immediate. Based on verses 3, 8, 9, the devil appeared to Jesus regarding the immediate without any regard to the future. "Go ahead and tell a lie," "if it feels good, do it," are all rationale that attempt to justify sin in the present situation. Some are like those described by the apostle Peter when he thus wrote: "He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off…" (2 Pet. 1: 9). "Sin now and pay later," is the saying of some. Man must realize, however, that present deeds have future consequences. The young girl who gives in to the selfish sexual demands of her boy friend may be facing bringing a child into this world alone and struggling to provide an upbringing. Jesus did not simply look at the present, he could and did see long range.

     Beloved, we have only briefly examined some of the lessons and truths contained in the record of the temptation of Jesus. The record of Jesus' temptation is preserved not only to exemplify the victory of the Son of God (vs. 11, I Pet. 2: 21, 22), but also to serve as a pattern for you and me. In the temptation, we can observe how the devil worked and how Jesus victoriously responded. Hence, we can learn the weakness of our archenemy, the devil. The devil cannot abide scripture and the truth. After Jesus offset each appeal and argument introduced by the devil by his use of scripture, "Then the devil leaveth him…" (vs. 11). Such a use of scripture is certainly involved in, "…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jas. 4: 7).

     Addendum: God can and does make use of a situation to try and test without himself providing the condition or stimulus of sin (see 2 Cor. 12: 7-10, compare with James 1: 13). The notion that Jesus was God in the flesh in that he had "two spirits," a divine and human, is not seen in the scriptures. Jesus was God who had a pre-existence (Jn. 1: 1 ff., 2 Cor. 8: 9). Jesus, the Word, occupied a body of flesh (Heb. 2: 6-18, 10: 5, Col. 2: 9). "If you deny that Jesus had two spirits and that he was fully tested, you must admit Calvinism," some maintain. What they mean by this is that if Jesus did not have a "human spirit," then any proclivity or influence to sin would have to originate in the flesh or body. Hence, the doctrine of "sinful flesh" (the Calvinist's definition of sarx). From this line of reason has evolved the teaching that the flesh not man, sins; hence, man can be saved even while his flesh is sinning. While the scriptures do not define "flesh" as does Calvinism and exempt man from responsibility, certainly the body does exert influences that would not otherwise be experienced. For instance, the spirit ("mind") apart from the body would not know hunger or thirst. Without the body, there would be no desire to procreate, etc. All I am attempting to say is that Jesus (God) being in the flesh did pose a situation for temptation that the Word did not know. I believe, then, in this sense that Jesus was not "accommodatively tested" but was fully and really tested. The presence of the body offered the stimulus for the lust of the flesh (Matt. 4: 3, 4).  (For more about Jesus in the flesh, click on "A Study of the 'Flesh'")