The Temptation of Christ

As we broach Luke 4, we should not forget what has just happened in the life of Jesus. He has just visited the Jordan river (hence, 4.1 – “he reutrned from the Jordan”) where the Baptist baptizes him. He has had the endorsement of heaven as the Spirit descends upon him and the Father pronounces that “this (Jesus) is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And now, filled with the Spirit (more of the Spirit theme in Luke), he is led into the wilderness (see Matt 4.1, cf. Mark 1.12). Riding on what would seem to be a spiritual high, the roller coaster now crests the peak and we head downward into the realm of Satan, the devil, who is going to try, test, and tempt Jesus, the perfect man, to get him to crumble and buckle and forfeit his Sonship and ultimately mankind’s only hope of salvation. Can He do it and withstand the onslaught?

Forty Days of…

Luke tells us that Jesus is out in the wilderness fasting for forty days. I assume that is when the temptation concerning turning stones into bread came – that is, when he was hungry. I like what one commentator wrote on this subject: “Another contrast is the one implied between Jesus as ‘hungry,’ i.e. physically empty, and yet as ‘full of the Spirit.’ Our own experience is usually the reverse.” I think that is a fair assessment – while we are almost always physically full up, we too often are empty spiritually and that is when the temptor loves to pounce. Take note, though, that there is a marked difference between being a “spiritual pauper” and being spiritually empty; one is a state of dependence upon the Father and the other is a state of dependence on something (anything) other than the Father.

But don’t leave verse 2 too quickly; there is something very interesting in the first part. Notice that Jesus was in the wilderness “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Literally, the duration of not only the fast but also the tempting was forty days. This is supported by the Greek text which says he was “being tempted” for the forty days. Jesus appears to have gone through forty days of tempting. Why? Jesus is in the wilderness for a specific purpose and that is to become our example. Do not think that this is divine intervention or that Jesus had some kind of uncanny powers that made him resistant to temptation. If this were true, Jesus could not our example and our helper in times of temptation (Heb 2.18; 4.15; 1 Peter 4.1). We all have the opportunity to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passion just as the Savior does in his temptations. We need merely acknowledge the power source we can plug into, namely the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had the Holy Spirit to empower him to overcome temptation, we have the same promise of the strengthing in the inner man (Eph 3.14-17). God has not left us to our devices to overcome sin and temptation but has left us his Spirit to teach us how to live and think and to give us hope and help us in weakness (see Rom 8). Indeed, Jesus teaches us the necessity of depending not on human means but on the divine power source God has given to each Christian.

One thing we should note when it comes to the temptations is that when Satan tempts Jesus and says “If you are the Son of God…” he is not making a doubtful conjecture. Satan knows this is God’s Son. A better English translation would be “Since you are the Son of God…” which is literally what Satan is saying in the Greek. This is positive affirmation from the spiritual realm, even the kingdom of darkness, concerning the identity of Jesus.

The First Temptation

The scene with the stones to bread temptation is always first in the records we have. Why this one first? Why record this one? I’m not sure but I can venture a guess. As was demonstrated by the Greek, Jesus has been tempted by Satan for forty days, so how many temptations there were, we don’t know. But we do know, based on the temptations we have recorded, they were temptations fit for the Son of God, the Messiah. It would seem that these temptations are recorded because the gospel writers saw fit to record them and the other temptations (if there were other temptations and I would say there were) did not need to be recorded.

This temptation attacks his divine ability. Jesus, as the Son of God, has the ability to turn these stones into bread simply pulling away his humanity and revealing his divinity. But to exercise this ability to would be to negate his humanity and also demonstrate that his dependence is not in the Father but in himself. God’s will is not for him use his powers for himself in a selfish way but to learn dependence upon the Father, thereby teaching mankind the same thing. “When God wants me to eat, he will feed me.” As one commentator wrote, “The issue, therefore, is not one of allurement to perverted self-gratification but a challenge to act apart from faithful dependence on God.”

Jesus does not mince words words nor are many words necessary. He quotes Scripture. Jesus is in the wilderness to fasting, demonstrating dependence on God and drawing closer to God in the process. He is focused on God. But Satan is trying to divert his focus, get him off track. Satan will do the same thing to us today. We should be striving to draw closer to God, focusing on God, but the devil is going to use whatever he can (food, drink, TV, etc.) to get our focus off of God and on something else. We would do well to learn from the Lord how to stay focused on God.

The Second Temptation

Having attacked the body, now Satan is going to attack the ego and esteem of Jesus. But he still appealing to human side of Jesus. Satan is saying, “I can make you king.” The cross can be bypassed if Jesus will but heed Satan and worship him. But inn the process, human salvation and redemption will be lost at the same time. Also, there is coming a time when “all authority in heaven and on earth will be given to Jesus.” The Messiah must suffer and die before he can “enter his glory” (see Luke 24.26).

Jesus has his priorities straight: God first. God is the only one man should worhsip and all other worship to anyone or anything else is wrong. Jesus is going to make God’s will first in his life in all he does. Our example has taught us yet again concerning our priorities and what should take precedence. Is it our will first or God’s will?

The Third Temptation

The last recorded temptation of Jesus in this episode is the temptation to “test” the Lord. There is a difference between tempt and test. When Jesus is tempted, it is Satan appealing to his humanity to disobey the word of God. He will use any means he can, even misusing Scripture, to make someone fall. God does not do this. But people can test God by provoking him through unreasonable demands contrary to faith. When the Scribes or Pharisees or Sadduccees test Jesus, this is what they are doing – it is in reality a sign of “unbelief, masquerading as extraordinary faith” (Liefeld, Luke, 865). Thayer says it this way, “to tempt God by exhibitions of distrust, as though they wished to try whether he is not justly distrusted…to challenge him, as it were, to give proof of his perfections” (Thayer 498). This is what Satan wants from Jesus and Jesus hits the root of the weeds of Satan. God has already addressed this in the past with Israel.

If Jesus were do this, being at the highest point of the temple, there would no doubt have been people to see him exercise this great feat. But this would have produced a glory that Jesus does not want. He wants the glory to come from the Father because of his obedience and trust in Him. We too have the same warning of not tempting or testing the Lord, specifically Christ (see 1 Cor 10.9). God has already exhibited his goodness and perfection and we have no need to distrust Him nor his faithfulness. The question is really will we be faithful?

All this temptation from Satan took place and then he left for a time. Satan was not inactive during this time; perhaps he was behind the Pharisees and Sadduccees and Scribes as they tested Jesus. He did ask to sift Simon as wheat (Luke 22.31) and entered Judas. So Satan was at work and will always be at work against the church in some form or fashion. Learn from the Lord, draw close to God and store up His word in your heart so that when the fiery darts of Satan come you will be equipped to extinguish them.

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