Sometimes when temptations come our way, we tend to think something is terribly wrong with us or with our relationship with God. Based on the time when Jesus was tempted, this is not necessarily true. Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Matthew’s telling says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Now let’s clarify one thing before going any farther. God or the Holy Spirit are not doing the tempting here. The scripture only says that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. In fact, James reminds us that God does not tempt us because “temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:14).
The first thing to notice here about the temptation of Jesus is that it comes immediately after Jesus is completely obedient to God’s will through baptism. Jesus knew he needed to be baptized, and even though John protested, Jesus insisted. God said that he was well pleased with his Son. I was young when I accepted Christ, so I don’t remember all of my feelings, but I do remember occasionally thinking that I should be automatically able to overcome any fear. Of course that didn’t happen. Likewise I also wasn’t able to overcome every temptation, nor did the temptations stop coming. Temptations don’t even always come when we’re spiritually empty, though that’s not to say that they won’t come then; temptations can also come when we’re spiritually full. The difference is that when we’re spiritually empty, the temptations seem grander because they’re harder to fight. Jesus was spiritually full, yet he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. God used this time of temptation to bring glory to himself. Luke tells us that immediately following this time of temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee, where people were curious and praising of him (Luke 4:14-15).
Now let’s turn to the three ways that Jesus was tempted. All of these are temptations of the flesh. 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us that we should not love the world and what it has to offer.
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (vs 16).
- The first thing Satan says to Jesus is, “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread” This is a temptation for physical pleasures. Jesus had been fasting so food probably sounded really good. His response was that people don’t live by bread alone. He knew that God’s will is greater than our natural needs. When we’re tempted to want the next big gadget or a bigger house or car or whatever earthly possession tempts us, we should stop to consider how we can use that thing as a tool to bring glory to God or to share God’s love. That should always be our primary goal when acquiring more “stuff.”
- Secondly, Satan told Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump,” This is the temptation to take pride in our achievements and possessions. Satan tempted Jesus to do something miraculous and call on the angels. It was true that angels would protect him if he called on them, but Jesus knew that Satan wasn’t doing this to bring glory to God. By doing this feat, Jesus would only be showing off and thus falling prey to the temptation of pride. It’s okay to acknowledge that we have done something or are able to do something, but we need to be sure that we firstly acknowledge that God gave us that ability. God has to receive the glory first or it’s prideful.
- Finally Satan shows all the kingdoms to Jesus and says, “I will give it all to you if you will kneel and worship me.” This is the craving for everything we see. This is a Lion King moment when everything is shown to the Son, except this time it’s not the Father showing it to the Son. Jesus knew that he already had all of the kingdoms and did not need to worship Satan in order to gain glory. Likewise, we have so much through our relationship with God and don’t need to give in to the world’s offer of riches and wealth.
In all of these, Satan always began by questioning Jesus’ identity by saying “if you are the Son of God.” Satan does this to us as well when he puts lies in our heads about our relationship with God. He makes us wonder if God is even real or if God cares about us. Satan knows that if he can get us to question our security and identity, we will be Play-doh in his hands. This is why we must be grounded in the truths that God says about us.
Also in each of these temptations, Satan uses God’s Word to tempt Jesus. He twists the scriptures very subtly so say what he wants them to say. Jesus knew enough about God’s Words to refute Satan. Our strongest tool to resists Satan’s temptations is scripture. We must make sure we know the Words of God well enough so that when scripture is used to try to convince us to sin, we can point out the flaws in that thinking.
Temptations are meant to humble us and test us. They remind us that we are fragile and easily persuaded without the strength of God. They also prove our commitment to God by proving our obedience to his commands even in tough situations. James 4:7 reminds us to “humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” On the contrary, the next verse says to “come close to God, and God will come close to you.” We choose who we’ll follow, so next time temptations come your way, resist the devil and come close to God.