The 3 Temptations of Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you, he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:1-11

After His baptism, Jesus is lead into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted. Now why would the Spirit do that? Undoubtedly during those 40 days and nights, Jesus was praying, thinking, questioning and seeking what God wanted Him to do and undoubtedly the Holy Spirit revealed to Him what He had to do. Save the world. Many of us know Jesus is the Son of God, and in our thinking, temptation "shouldn't have been a problem for Jesus", because He is 100% God and can conquer anything. Of course, we are saying this after the fact. To some of us, it might seem like an exercise done merely for our benefit to see that Jesus was indeed obedient to God, but the Holy Spirit brought Jesus to the wilderness to prepare Him for the journey to come.

The fact that Jesus is tested by the devil, reveals that He is also 100% human. The temptations are real. Jesus has the same weaknesses, struggles, doubts, fears and wishes that we have. By coming to earth as a man, Jesus humbled Himself to live and be as one of us.

Why the wilderness? Because the wilderness is void, far from any manmade civilization and distraction. Unpredictable and harsh it is a place that offers nothing but the possibility of death. As the word itself says, it is wild. To be in the wilderness is to be alone totally relying on God for survival.

Moses and Elijah also fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights in the wilderness in preparation for their work for God. Those 40 days were difficult times of intense spiritual struggle. Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days on a mountaintop before he received the 10 commandment stone tablets from God and afterwards when he saw that the people had sinned. (Deuteronomy 9:9-18, Exodus 34:28). Elijah traveled and fasted 40 days and nights through the wilderness to the mountain of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8). The importance of prayer and fasting is denying oneself and following the will of God. Fasting alone is not enough, but must go hand in hand with prayer. Jesus follows the path of Moses and Elijah to cleanse, purify and seek God's will in the wilderness.

More significantly, the 40 days and nights are also a parallel to the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering the desert because of their lack of faith in God. Their faith was tested and they failed. They never saw the Promised Land. Was this test in the desert, Jesus' Life and Sacrifice, the way that He would correct their failure? The Israelites did not see the Promised Land, but by following through and serving God only, Jesus made the way so His people could NOW enter the Promised Land.

When we read Jesus' rebuke to the devil, we imagine Him to be faithful, confident and strong. But we are not privy to Jesus' facial expressions when He rebukes the devil, nor do we hear the tone of His voice. After 40 days and nights of fasting in the unrelenting desert heat along with struggle, fear and doubt, Jesus must have been weak, frail and exhausted. Was Jesus fighting with every ounce of His strength to keep the devil away? When quoting the Scripture, was Jesus also reminding Himself of God's Word? Jesus' responses don't reveal the internal struggle He had with these temptations, but we know that He did not sin and was obedient.

In the first and second temptations, the devil challenges Jesus, “If you are the Son of God..." Though the Holy Spirit had revealed to Jesus that He was the Son of God, could it be that part of the devil's temptation was to cause doubt about Jesus' divinity? If this is true, then any doubt of who Jesus really was, might have caused Jesus to falter. The devil was hoping this would be the case.

But all of Jesus' responses declare in faith, "It is written..." The final word that the devil cannot dispute: The Word of God.

Though there were many temptations throughout the 40 days and nights, the Gospels focus on these three. Jesus was tempted by these particular temptations because He struggled with the same struggles that we have: whether to live our life our way OR to live serving God wherever it will lead.

Jesus was tempted by the devil to abandon the hard difficult road ahead and take the shortcut to power, wealth and glory. The devil wanted to stop Jesus from fulfilling God's plan and so he tempts Jesus with everything he's got, tempting Him from every angle.

You can't tempt someone with "bread" who isn't hungry. These particular temptations reveal what was at the heart of Jesus' desires and fears after His time in the wilderness. The only way He could continue with His ministry would be to conquer these temptations and put God first. His temptations were opportunities to "back out" from doing God's will and do what He wanted. These temptations were tied directly to His obedience to God.

The 1st temptation:

“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

The devil starts by questioning Jesus' divinity, challenging Him to prove His power by satisfying His hunger. After 40 days without food, Jesus was famished and the devil tempted Jesus with the first thing on Jesus' mind: Food.

But Jesus' response is: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” quoting Deuteronomy 8:1-3.

Even in weakness and intense hunger, Jesus words say that He will not live for His own appetites but will live to follow God's will. God comes first. But what would have been the big deal if He just turned a few stones into bread? He already finished most of His fasting and praying. It would have been OK wouldn't it?

All of us live to satisfy ourselves. Our earthly appetites. We seek to put food on the table, a roof over our heads and make something of ourselves. But obedience to God is at the very bottom of our list of things to do. Jesus sought the will of the Father. That is His food. His Heavenly appetite. This was what Jesus was actually hungry for: God's Word. He will not be driven by His fleshly wants, but will seek only to follow God in faith. He denies Himself.


The 2nd Temptation:

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 

Here the devil takes Jesus to the top of the Temple of Jerusalem and quotes Psalm 91: 11-12, challenging Him again to prove His divinity and test God by jumping off the top. Now why such a bizarre test? Why would Jesus even be tempted to jump off the top of the Temple of Jerusalem?

Perhaps the devil was beckoning Jesus to test God with an ultimatum to force God to prove Himself and clear up any doubts He had- “If you are truly the Messiah, God will protect you with angels and you will know He is with you, but if you are wrong, then you will die in your folly and escape this path He is leading you to."

The devil is tempting Jesus by telling him that God will protect Him from injury or death if He is truly the Messiah, but underneath this harmless temptation is the real reason the devil wants to lead Jesus: to tempt Him into self glory.

By jumping off the top of the Temple and floating down on the wings of angels, all the Jewish Temple worshipers would behold Jesus descending from Heaven, as they would have expected the Messiah to arrive. It would have been an amazing spectacle. People would have immediately worshiped Him as their King. His life from then on would have been of power, authority and glory. But isn't that why Jesus came to earth, to lead His people? The Jews were seeking such a Messiah that would come to save them. A strong mighty leader who would descend from Heaven and set up God's Kingdom on earth. But that is not why Jesus came. He didn't come for His own glory, but to be a humble servant to do the purpose of God. And that purpose, was to be a sacrifice for mankind. Again, He is taking a step back from His own will to instead do the will of God.

The devil disguises this true temptation for what it will lead to.
Like a person who sins, the devil says, "Don't worry about it, it will be no big deal. Nothing will happen to you." But one sin leads to another and another. This is how an innocent sin leads to a greater evil. By asking Jesus merely to test if God will protect Him, the devil is setting Him up to prove who He was, offering quick adoration without the pain and suffering to come. A shortcut to glory.

But isn't he quoting Psalm 91:11-12? Yes, even the devil quotes Scripture. But the devil twists the meaning of the Scripture (which he still does today) prodding Jesus to misuse the true intention of the Scripture. The Psalms speak of God's protection to those who trust Him, but the promise is not to be used as a way of testing God. It is much like some Christians today who quote Mark 16:17-18, intentionally handling poisonous snakes to test God and prove to themselves their spiritual ranking.

But Jesus understands that we are to serve God only. Not vice versa. It all goes back to the will of God. It is not about what we want, but what God wants. By having the ability to CONTROL God, one would have great POWER. But Jesus humbles Himself and denounces Satan's temptation.

“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 which was related to Exodus 17:1-7, when the Israelites complained to Moses about taking them out into the desert saying, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" By complaining they displayed their lack of faith in God and a demand for proof. "Is the LORD among us, or not?"

In the same way, so many of us today want God to give us a sign, answer our prayers or ask God to prove Himself by some miracle before we will have faith. Faith alone and the promise of God is not enough for us, so we test God.

This temptation was a test of Jesus' faith. Did it also go through Jesus mind that the Lord brought Him through this journey just to die? Did Jesus also want a confirmation that God was indeed with Him? The devil played on Jesus' doubts with an offer of an easy out and a reward of power and glory.

But Jesus' humbleness and faith wins out. He knows that God is indeed with Him. Jesus again denies Himself.


The 3rd Temptation:
Here the devil finally lays it all out to Jesus.

“All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me.”

The devil takes Him even higher to the top of the mountain to show Him the earth's offerings. This temptation was the biggest one of all. The be like God. He can have wealth, possession, glory and power, but the cost is an exchange. Instead of serving God, He would have to serve the devil.

Jesus rebukes his final offer, calling him out by name, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord God, and serve him only.'"

He gives up this greatest temptation: To have it all.

As Christians we all believe that we reject Satan, but how many of us work to get what Satan offers: money, recognition, authority, glory and possessions? Our lives are dedicated to serving ourselves rather than God. As Jesus would later say in His ministry, "You cannot serve both God and mammon." -Matthew 6:24

In order to succeed, many business people will do and say anything to advance to the top, trampling on many along the way. They also sacrifice so many important things like family or friends, honesty, morality or integrity because their business comes first. It is their god. As Jesus says in Matthew 16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"

The devil can only offer the temporal worldly treasures that will pass away, but Jesus seeks God's eternal treasures that the devil cannot offer.

Jesus answers the devil with Exodus 20:3, "You shall have no other gods before Me." Jesus will serve only God, turning down this offer to have everything. Jesus denies Himself for the third time.

The devil finally left after this...there was nothing else he could offer. He had offered Jesus EVERYTHING...and Jesus turned him down.


Each of the temptations of Christ are the same temptations we all face daily:

1. Seeking to satisfy ourself instead of God.

2. Manipulating God to attain our goals of power and glory.

3. To BE as God. To have it all.

By denying these 3 temptations Jesus denies this earthly life. His food is to serve God, not Himself. And that was  Jesus' great struggle: to live His life for God instead of Himself.

Passing these 3 temptations, Jesus has surrendered Himself for God's use. He was now prepared for the great work of God to come. By denying Satan, He was ready to follow God in total obedience, resulting in the greatest gift to the world: salvation and reconciliation of humankind to God. He died so we could return to fellowship with the Father.

That is why the angels ministered to Him when the temptations were over. Rejecting these temptations was the final obstacle for Jesus. He denied Himself for our sake. He could have had a king's life of earthly satisfaction, power and wealth, but instead His short life on earth was for the purpose of saving us.

His temptations lasted up until the end, even in His final hour at the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus struggled with His temptations to escape from God's will. His emotions are real. His fear is real.

They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them,  "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." - Mark 14: 32-36

His last words say it all..."yet not what I will, but what You will."

It was His great love for God and us, His people, that He sacrificed His own life for our sake. The Cross was the ultimate sacrifice. He died so that we could live to enter the Promised Land with Him. THAT was God's will: to reconcile God and man back together in His great love.

Praise be to Jesus, our lover, our friend and our Savior!


© 2009, 2014 Edrick

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