“Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:12–13, NASB95)
The next sequential event following Jesus’ baptism is not recorded in the gospel of John, but is found in the other three gospels. Mark spoke of this event—the temptation of Jesus the most succinctly. Matthew and Luke’s accounts provided a great deal more detail. We will focus on Matthew’s account for today’s study.
“(1) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
“(3) And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ”
“(5) Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
“(8) Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.” (Matthew 4:1–11, NASB95)
Following His baptism by John and the Holy Spirit landing on Him like a dove, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a purpose, and that purpose was to be tempted by the devil. Clearly we read that this temptation was not of God, but allowed by God for God cannot tempt anyone to evil. It is against His very nature, and He cannot do that which He is not. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, NASB95)
And this is what Satan tried to do. His goal was to get the Son to take His eyes off of the Father and look to Himself for the answers to temptation. But Jesus did not come into the wilderness alone. He was not abandoned by God to fend for Himself. Luke tells us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and as such He was listening to and following the Spirit’s leading in His life. God the Father had purposed that the devil would be given an opportunity to tempt the Son, and God knew that Jesus had what He needed not to succumb to those temptations.
The tempter (the devil, Satan) was given three shots, and he was given these shots at Jesus not when Jesus was freshly coming from His baptism and newly indwelt by the Spirit. No, he was to tempt Jesus 40 days later when Jesus had fasted and had become hungry. The temptations came when Jesus was at His physical weakest and presumably the most vulnerable, giving the devil his best shot.
But as we see, not one of the tempter’s enticements proved successful to turn Jesus’ eyes. The first temptation was an attempt to appeal to Jesus’ hunger by using His power as the God-man to turn stones into water. The devil knew Jesus could do this if He chose. But Jesus’ response was to quote a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3 which in full reads, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB95) Jesus not only quoted this Old Testament scripture, but He did it in the context of recognizing that even His hunger was according to the will of His Father. God was able to provide food and He was able to withhold food, but the greater nourishment to our souls is found in His Word which Jesus used in response to His tempter.
So, with the second temptation the devil quotes Scripture himself, by quoting Psalm 91:11-12. And of course Jesus again responded with the Word. He did not challenge the correctness or the context of Satan’s words, but He gave him a contrasting response by again quoting Deuteronomy (6:6). Just because God might intervene with His angels, does not mean that we are to test Him to do so. The context of the Deuteronomy quote is that we are to worship God alone and follow His commandments. Jesus knew, even as the Son who had come at the will of the Father, that He was humbling Himself to the very will of the Father. He was not going to use His own standing as God to intervene in that will being accomplished.
The last temptation was the most nonsensical one when you really think about. Satan was given temporary dominion on earth, but even in that he was fully subject to the framing or limiting of his actions to that which God permitted. And Satan’s reign was also a temporary one, though he did not acknowledge it. God had already declared through the prophets that Satan would be once and for ever conquered at the coming of the Lord. This is the real irony, as it is Jesus who will return and cast Satan into the lake of fire and brimstone which was specially prepared for him. But Satan tried to tempt Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world. Of course Jesus responded by telling Satan to go away and quoting Scripture which again came from Deuteronomy (6:13). “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 6:13, ESV)
At this Satan left, and we read that the angels did indeed begin to minister to Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews tells us why this time of tempting was so important as Jesus began His public ministry. “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14–18, NASB95) Later in chapter 4 of Hebrews we read, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NASB95)
Our Lord understands our temptations and He is able to make us victorious in those temptations just as He proved Himself victorious without sin. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95)
Success in temptation has nothing to do with our own ability. Just as Jesus did not rely on Himself but on God and the promise of the Word, so are we to trust God as we are tempted knowing as we read in this verse that “God is faithful.”
Several years ago I wrote an amplified response to this verse, and I will close with it here.
“There is no test, no trial, no temptation to sin, no pushing, pulling, prodding, or anything else that comes my way that makes me any different than anyone else. We all experience these things, maybe in different ways and at times to different degrees, but I am no different than anyone else.
“BUT GOD…. He is always faithful in all things. With every trial, test, or temptation—no matter how big or how small; with all of these things He has set a limit to them. He will not allow anything into my life beyond which He also has not given the ability to victoriously endure. With every single test, trial, and temptation He has provided a way of escape, and He will keep me from being crushed, and He will bring me out standing on the other side. This is true whether that other side is realized in this life or ultimately in His presence. This is a certain fact.
“Therefore, I will place my trust in Him and look not to the size of the situation, BUT to the size and faithfulness of my GOD.”