The Temptation of Christ
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” (Luke 4:1-13)
In order to save us from our sins the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not only became a man so that he could die for us as our Substitute; but he humbled himself as a man. I am certain that we cannot fathom the depths of his humiliation. And I am equally certain that we should not try. In fact, everything I have heard or read by men attempting to explain the various aspects of our Lord’s humiliation, though done with the desire to honor him, has appeared to me to be a desecration of that which is most sacred.
Instead of trying to fathom the unfathomable, let us rather simply bow before the revelation of God in Holy Scripture and worship that One who, though he was rich, yet for our sake, became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich.
In order to redeem and save his people, the Lord Jesus Christ had to live in perfect obedience to God, while enduring all the consequences of sin, triumph over Satan and suffer the wrath of God to the full satisfaction of justice, and thereby bring in everlasting righteousness as a man.
One great part of our Master’s obedience was his temptation in all points as a man and his overcoming temptation, his triumphing over Satan in temptation, that he might be for us a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God. This is what we have before us in Luke 4:1-13.
Immediately after his baptism, Christ was harassed with the temptations of Satan. — “He suffered being tempted;” and he “was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 2:18 4:15). He was tried and tested with all sorts of temptations, just like we are. Yet, he had no sin and did no sin.
Satan tempted him, but not by stirring up some corruption, or provoking some lust in him, as he does when he tempts us to evil. David is an example of the way we are tempted. He was tempted, like we are, when Satan stirred up the lust of pride and vanity that was in him to number the people. But there was no sin, no corruption in Christ to be stirred. The old serpent found nothing in him with which to work.
Our Lord was not tempted by Satan putting any evil into him, as he put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray his Lord, and put it into the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira to lie unto the Holy Ghost.
And Satan got no advantage over the Lord Jesus by any of his temptations, as he so often does us. Oh, no! Our Savior triumphed over his adversary and ours in all things. The devil was forced to leave our Lord after these temptations in the wilderness, just as he was in the garden of Gethsemane. And, at last, our great Redeemer crushed the serpent’s head in complete victory at Calvary, and bound the dragon of hell in the chain of his omnipotence, that he should deceive the nations no more.
Thank God, he who is our tempter, our adversary, our accuser, he who is far too cunning and powerful a foe for us has been bound by our Savior. Our adversary the devil still goes about, walking up and down in the earth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But he is a bound lion. His fangs and claws have been removed. In so far as God’s elect are concerned, all he can do is roar (John 12:31-33; Revelation 12:10; 20:1-3).
Yet, we must never fail to remember that these temptations of Christ were real. Our Lord Jesus was tempted in all points, just like we are. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:16), by which he got advantage over Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and by which he still deceives and overthrows many, are the very weapons Satan used against our Master.
Obedient, Yet Tempted
The Lord Jesus was tempted “when he was full of the Holy Ghost” (v. 1). Luke tells us that our Lord was filled with the Holy Spirit when he was tempted. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that he was led of the Spirit into the wilderness of temptation. These things are not written to fill up space. They are written for our learning. They tell us plainly that nothing shields a believer from Satan’s temptations. Nothing will prevent us from temptation, but the will of God. Nothing we do can keep the tempter away. No matter how fervent we are in prayer, no matter how completely we may walk in the Spirit, no matter how sensitive and submissive we are to the Spirit’s leading, we will still be tempted of the devil to do evil.
In fact, Matthew specifically informs us that “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” In other words, the temptations to which we are subjected are, like all other aspects of the believer’s life, according to the will of God and designed by him for our good. Like our Master, God’s people learn obedience by the things we suffer, even from the hands of our adversary the devil.
Our Lord’s temptations came in the wilderness. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the temptations took place in the wilderness, where there was no one and nothing to support him. Mark tells us that he was there exposed to the wild beasts. Matthew and Luke tell us that his temptations came after he had been miraculously sustained by God through a period of forty days and nights of fasting. This, too, is important. Our Master’s temptations came at a time when he was physically weak and hungry. Satan is a cunning, crafty adversary. He suits his temptations to the constitution of our nature, the circumstances we are in and the situations in which we are found.
Our Savior was tempted just after his baptism. He had just come from a time of solemn worship and deliberate, consecrated obedience. He had just been baptized, in order to fulfill all righteousness (symbolically), as a pledge of his determination to obey his Father’s will unto death as our Substitute. Our Lord had just been highly, publicly honored as the Son of God, in whom the Father is well pleased. He had just experienced the miraculous power of God in sustaining him in life without any natural means. He was sustained not by bread, but by the word (the decree) of God.
There is often only a step from great privileges and blessings to great trials and troubles. We must never forget this. Even in our most solemn frames and at the times of our greatest usefulness, we must “watch and pray.”
“So it often is with his members; that as he was tempted, after his baptism, after the Spirit of God had descended upon him, and filled him with his gifts and graces without measure; and after he had had such a testimony from heaven of his divine Sonship: so his people, after they have had communion with God in ordinances, and have had some sealing testimonies of his love, fall into temptations, and fall by them; as the disciples of Christ after the supper, who, when tempted, all forsook him and fled, and one denied him.” (John Gill)
Three Great Evils
All that is in the world, all our troubles, all our trials, all our temptations, all our rebellions, all the misery we bring to others, and all the woe we bring upon ourselves are the result of three great evils, as John describes them: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” These were, as I have already said, the ruin of Adam and Eve, and of our race in the Garden of Eden. And these are the areas wherein our Master was tempted of Satan. They have to do with unbelief, worldliness and presumption.
Three times we see our Savior tempted of the devil, assaulted by the fiend of hell, as he cunningly attempted, with feigned politeness, to draw the holy One of God into sin. Each assault was the work of one who is a master in deceit. We will be wise to carefully observe both the subtlety of the serpent and the wisdom of our Savior in each of these temptations.
Lust of the Eye
First, Satan tempted the Lord Jesus to unbelief, to the lust of the eye.
“And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (vv. 3-4).
Here Satan tried to get the Lord Jesus to distrust his Father’s care, the care of him who had sustained him for forty days and nights without food. Our Savior was hungry and weak. But he had just received a public declaration, by which his Father owned him as the Son of God. So the hissing serpent offers him a very “kind, sensible” suggestion. The sense of it is this: — The devil picked up, or pointed to a rock and said, “Since you’re the Son of God, and you are hungry, why don’t you just turn this rock into a loaf of bread and have a bite to eat?”
Why should he wait? Why should the Creator of all things sit still and starve? Why not command the stone to become bread? What possible evil could there be in that? The answer is found in our Lord’s rely. Being familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, the Master resisted Satan and escaped his snare by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. — “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
Our Lord refused to turn the stone to bread, because he refused to live by carnal reason. He refused to walk by sight. He was determined to live by faith, trusting the word of God. He would not turn the stone into bread, because it was not his Father’s will that the stone be turned into bread.
Though our Lord performed countless miracles for the benefit of others, he never performed even one for his own benefit. He preferred to remain hungry than to violate his Father’s will. With the hunger pangs and physical weakness of going forty days and nights without food, the Lord Jesus in effect said to Satan, like Job of old, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
If we would honor God, we must follow Christ’s example. Let us ever choose trusting him, believing him, walking by faith, rather than leaning on the arm of the flesh. Our Father’s will is always best; and he will provide everything we need as we walk in his will, in his way, trusting him.
There is another, obvious reason why he refused to turn the stone into bread. He was living on this earth as a man, as our Representative and Substitute, and you and I are not able to turn a rock into a loaf of bread. If he would live and die for us, as our Redeemer, he had to live and die as we must, as a man. If he would be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, he had to feel what we feel in the same circumstances.
I cannot help thinking that he may have had a third reason for refusing the devil, though he was terribly hungry. — He refused to make sport for and entertain the fiend of hell. He had nothing to prove to himself or to the devil. He was and is the Son of God. He knew it. His Father had just declared it. And, though pride would jump at the chance to prove it by displaying it before the prince of darkness, our Master refused to gratify him. But the heart of the matter is this. – Satan tried to get Christ not to trust his Father’s wise and good providence. When Apollyon persuades us to walk by sight, by the lust of the eye, rather than trust God’s providence, we have fallen victim to his devices.
Lust of the Flesh
Second, Satan tried to entice the Holy One into sin by the lust of the flesh, by worldliness. He tried to get the Lord Jesus to grasp worldly power by compromise.
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (vv. 5-8).
The devil took the Lord Jesus by his permission up on top of one of those high mountains surrounding Jerusalem, and offered him all the kingdoms of the world, if he would just fall down and worship him.
Try to get a sense of the brazenness of the wicked one. He waved his hands, with a confident smile and, by a diabolical and false representation of things to the sight, he showed the Lord Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” alluring him with a promise that the whole world would “fall down and worship him.” Imagine that!
For Satan to promise these to Christ was hellishly impertinent. The whole world was his already! The earth is his, and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein. He made it all. He owns it all. Besides that, all power in heaven and earth is given our Lord as the God-man Mediator, to rule them, use them and dispose of them as he will. For Satan to pretend that these were his to give, that they were in his power to dispose of to whomsoever he pleased, was intolerable arrogance.
Understand this. There is nothing in this world, nothing in the universe which belongs to Satan, nothing over which he has power, except as Christ our God gives it to him. This is the same devil who, we are told in the Book of Job, cowers before God’s throne to give account of his doings, who could not wiggle his finger against Job without God’s permission. Why he could not even go into a herd of hogs, without the Lord Jesus giving him permission to do so. For him to propose to Christ that he should fall down and worship him was the height of insolence and impudence! But that is his nature. We must never expect less from him or from those who dance by his lead.
“This shows what the original sin of the devil was, affectation of Deity, and to be worshipped as God; hence he has usurped the title of the God of this world; and has prevailed upon the ignorant part of it, in some places, to give him worship: and, indeed, to sacrifice to idols, is to sacrifice to devils: but, not content with this, he sought to be worshipped by the Son of God himself; than which nothing could be more audacious and impious; wherefore Christ rejected his temptation with indignation and abhorrence; saying, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’”(John Gill)
The devil here appeals to the Master to by-pass the misery and agony of the cross. He was promised the world as the reward for his obedience unto death, the throne of universal monarchy, upon his finishing the Father’s will as our sin-atoning Sacrifice. Satan was just offering him an easier way to get it all. All he required was what appears to be a small concession. He does not require that the Master cease to worship God, or to worship him above God, or even that he worship him permanently. He only demanded the he fall down and worship him, adore him, acknowledge him once and that in private.
The concession seemed to be small. The promise was great. The way was easy. Why shouldn’t he take the easy way out? Why shouldn’t he grab such an enormous prize? Why shouldn’t we? The answer is found in our Master’s quotation of Deuteronomy 6:13. We are to worship God alone and serve him alone. The glory of God must be our dominant concern. For that, for the glory of God, we ought to gladly sacrifice anything.
Let us ever beware of worldliness – the love of the world (1 John 2:15-17; Matthew 6:31-33). Beware of covetousness, which is idolatry (Luke 12:15). May God the Holy Spirit give us grace ever to set our affection on our Savior, not on this perishing world (Colossians 3:1-5).
Pride of Life
Third, Satan tempted the Son of God with the pride of life, urging him to act in daring presumption.
“And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season” (vv. 9-13).
This time the devil quotes Scripture (Psalm 91:11). In fact, one of Satan’s favorite weapons is the Bible. He takes the Holy Book of Inspiration and twists it, perverts it, misuses it and abuses it for his own devices. Again, the Lord Jesus referred the devil to Deuteronomy 6. This time he quoted verse 16. — “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”
What a wonderful, public, undeniable proof it would be that he is indeed the Son of God and the Messiah, and a clear fulfillment of Psalm 91, if the Lord Jesus would dive off that high, high wall of the temple, with all the scribes, and Pharisees, and people watching, as the angels of God swept down from heaven and gave him a gentle landing. After all, this was the promise of the Psalms. Surely, since God had not predestined his death at this time, he could not die by diving off the wall. Could he? For him to have heeded Satan’s allurement would have been an act of self exaltation and pride, as well as an act of complete irresponsibility, tempting God by presuming upon his goodness. Our Savior did not yield. The glory of his Father was more important to him than the fickle approval and applause of men. May the same ever be true of us!
The Lord Jesus Christ is just the Savior and Great High Priest we need. — “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
As he foiled Satan in the wilderness and crushed his head at Calvary, so he knows how to deliver you and me out of our temptations; and blessed be his name, he will! — “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
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 The “word” of God, here and in the context of Deuteronomy, refers not to the Scriptures, but to the oracle, purpose and decree of God.
 This was actually the third temptation in the successive order given in Matthew 4; but for some reason not revealed to us the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to place this temptation second. Perhaps it was done just to give the goats a can to chew. Obviously, there is no significance to the fact.