The Temptation of Christ
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” (Matthew 4:1-11)
As soon as our Lord was baptized, as soon as he began to publicly identify himself in this world as the Son of God, he was tempted of the devil. While he stayed in the carpenter’s shop, chipping away at wood, the devil was undisturbed. But as soon as he began to lay the axe to the root of Satan’s kingdom, our Lord was tempted by the devil. The very first thing that is recorded concerning our Lord’s public ministry is his temptation.
Notice the order of things. Our Lord was baptized. He was owned to be the Son of God. He was anointed by the Spirit of God. Then he was tempted. Here is a fact of life, from which there is no escape in this world – If you are a child of God, if the Spirit of God is in you, you will be tempted of the devil.
The Temptation of Christ is a subject so deep and mysterious that no sensible man would imagine being able to understand, much less explain the facts that are clearly revealed concerning it. It is a subject shrouded in mystery. In fact, mystery is a vital aspect of all divine truth. Any doctrine that is not mysterious is not divine in its origin. That which God has revealed about himself in Holy Scripture is infinitely beyond human conception and comprehension. The infinite God cannot be comprehended by the puny mind of finite man.
So, when we come to meditate upon, think about, and discuss the temptation of our Lord, we must begin with an acknowledged inability to comprehend the things we have before us. No man can understand what occurred in our Savior’s heart when he was tempted. But there is much revealed in the Book of God that we do not understand. Who can explain how sin originated in the sinless heart of Adam, how the eternal God can be one God in three distinct persons, or how our Savior can be both the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God and a man in a physical body that needed both rest and nourishment, and from whom some things are hidden? Yet these things are plainly revealed in the Sacred Volume.
The basis of our faith is not our understanding of God’s Word, but the Word of God itself. Because the Bible is the Word of God, we recognize that it is infinitely superior to human reason. Therefore, we gladly submit our reason to God’s Revelation.
This much we understand – Our Lord Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are, so that he might be touched with the feeling of our infinities; but he never succumbed to the temptation – He never sinned. There are five things that we need to learn from this passage of Holy Scripture.
First, learn this – Satan is a real adversary to our souls. — “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (v. 1). Matthew understood that the devil is real, a personal adversary, a mighty foe with whom we must do battle continually. The fiend of hell is not afraid to assault the very throne of God, or the Son of God! In these eleven verses we are told three times that Satan attacked the Lord of glory. Our Savior was “tempted of the devil.”
It was the devil who brought sin into the world in the beginning. It was he who vexed Job, deceived David, and caused Peter to fall so miserably. The Word of God calls him a “murderer,” a “liar,” and a “roaring lion” (John 8:44; 1 Pet. 5:8). The world is ruled by the wicked influence of Satan (Eph. 2:1-3). Unbelieving men and women are taken captive by the devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). His goal is the everlasting destruction of our souls. He ever seeks whom he may devour. His malice is unrelenting. His hatred against us never abates. For nearly 6000 years he has been trying to destroy and draw into hell those men and women he was created to serve. As it was with our glorious Head, so is it with his members. No sooner is the work of grace wrought in the hearts of God’s elect than all hell is up in arms.
We must constantly watch and pray that we be not taken by his devices. His cunning and subtlety are greater than we can imagine. The prince of darkness often transforms himself into an “angel of light” and his ministers into “preachers of righteousness” (1 Cor. 11:13-14). Satan is with us wherever we live. He goes wherever we go. He never tires. He never sleeps. He never quits. If he can, he will destroy our souls! If we would be saved, we must crucify the flesh and overcome the world; but we must also “resist the devil.”
Second, we see in this passage the fact that the Lord our God rules all things absolutely. We know that God cannot be tempted to do evil and that he will never tempt any man to do evil (James 1:13-15). But everyone who reads the Bible with understanding knows that God rules even in the temptations of his people (Ps. 76:10). Neither the fall of Satan nor the temptation and sin of our father Adam took God by surprise.
Notice the language of verse 1. Our Lord Jesus was led (Mark says “driven” - 1:12) into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit “to be tempted of the devil.” Why? Because we need a tempted Savior, one who can be and is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was tempted of the devil because, as a man, he needed to be tempted, that he might perform the work of perfect righteousness for us, faithfully doing the will of God in the face of temptation, thereby fulfilling all righteousness as our Representative and Mediator. And he needed to be tempted, as he entered his public ministry, that he might learn obedience by the temptations he endured. Martin Luther wrote, “Three things make a preacher: meditation, prayer, and temptation.” Therefore, our Redeemer was led into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
Our Savior’s temptations were also necessary on our account. “For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). This account of our Redeemer’s temptations in the wilderness is specifically recorded for our comfort. Not only does our blessed Savior know what our temptations are, his personal knowledge of them by experience was such that he now knows both what we feel when we are tempted and how to minister to us the very help that will exactly suit our case and circumstances.
As his temptations were in complete accordance with the will and purpose of our God, so are ours. The Lord our God is in control of our temptations just as fully as he is in control of everything else in this world (1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Thess. 5:16-24). Robert Hawker made the following observation in commenting on our Lord’s temptation. — “What a sweet thought is it, that the Lord Jesus was in all points tempted as his people are, yet without sin! Precious Lord! Was it not intended to prompt thy redeemed to come to thee with more confidence from fellow feeling?”
Third, our Lord’s example in this passage teaches us that the best defense we have in times of temptation is the Word of God. Three times Satan tempted our Lord with great offers that strongly appealed to his human nature. But three times our Lord foiled Satan’s temptations by asserting some portion of Holy Scripture as his reason for not doing as the devil suggested. This is just one of many reasons why we ought to make ourselves intimately and constantly familiar with Holy Scripture. It is not enough to have a Bible. Read it! It is not enough to carry a Bible to church. Make yourself familiar with its contents. Seek to understand its doctrine (2 Tim. 1:15; 3:16-17).
J. C. Ryle wrote, “Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition. It can only be got by hard, regular, daily, attentive, wakeful reading.” You cannot fight the good fight of faith if you cannot use the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). You cannot walk in the King’s highway if you do not walk by the light of His Word, which is “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway” (Ps. 119:105). If we would know the way of salvation, let us seek to know the Word of God. If we would live in this world for the glory of God, let us seek to know his Word. If we would escape the temptations of Satan, let us bury ourselves in the Word of God and the worship of God.
Above all else these eleven verses are written to teach and assure us that we have a great High Priest in heaven who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). The sympathy of the Lord Jesus with us is a truth which ought to be peculiarly precious to every believer.
Here is a treasury of consolation for tempted souls! We have a great, almighty Friend and Advocate in heaven, who intercedes for us in all our temptations, is touched with our infirmities, and enters into all our spiritual troubles and fears. Are you ever tempted by Satan to distrust God’s providence? So was Christ! Are you ever tempted by Satan to presume upon God’s promises? So was Christ! Are you ever tempted by Satan to some act of evil for worldly gain? So was Christ!
The Lord Jesus Christ is just the Savior that tempted people need! Let us flee to him for help and spread our troubles before him. You will always find that his ear is ready to hear, his heart is ready to feel, and his arm is ready to help. He understands our sorrows, temptations, and troubles!
Though he is exalted to heaven, this Man, who is God our Savior, still possesses “the tongue of the learned” and knows how “to speak a word in season to him that is weary” (Isa. 50:4). For this purpose he is wakened every morning throughout the ages of time with the ear of the learned. Yes, our dear Redeemer is a Son who has learned obedience by the things he suffered. He has learned what it is to wrestle with Satan’s temptations and assaults. He has learned what it is to endure malicious slander. He has learned what it is to be bereaved of a loved one. He has learned what it is to be betrayed by a friend. He has learned what it is to be made sin! He has learned what it is to have a broken heart. He has learned what it is to be forsaken of God! He has learned what it is to die! And he has learned what it is to be raised from the dead! He is able to comfort and help his tempted people, because God has given him “the tongue of the learned…“to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” He can speak a word in season to our weary souls, because he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. How thankful we ought to be to know that he who is God our Savior was once “led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
Certain questions are constantly asked by men when discussing the temptation of Christ, which I suppose I should answer. Some ask, “Was it possible for our Savior to have sinned?” The answer is “No. Absolutely, No!” He was without sin and without the ability to sin (Isa. 53:0; John 8:46; 14:30; 2 Cor. 5:21: Heb. 7:26). When that is stated, the question is raised, “If it was not possible for the Lord Jesus to sin, was the temptations real?” The answer is “Yes. Absolutely, Yes!” (Heb. 4:15). He heard Satan’s voice. The things Satan tempted him with were things he desired: food, divine protection, and dominion over the world. But there was no inward urge or desire to disobedience and sin!
Satan tempted our Lord to four things. He tempted him (1.) to an act of unbelief, to distrust God (vv. 3-4). C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “A true son will not doubt his father, and undertake to provide his own bread. He will wait to be fed by his father’s hand.” And our Savior, as a true Son, trusted his Father. May he give us grace to do the same.
Then the devil tempted him to (2.) an act of presumption and to (3.) suicide (vv. 5-8). The devil even sought to justify the temptations from scripture and talked freely about angels, about God, and about grace.
Then the prince of darkness tempted our blessed Savior to (4.) an act of idolatry (vv. 8-10). Imagine that ¾ Christ at the devil’s feet. That is like the church and gospel of God being supported and promoted by theatrical performances and bingo games rather than the naked truth of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Should we ever hunger and be in poverty, as our Lord was, we must never yield to the temptation to do wrong to gain wealth, honor, or even a pressing need! Though we may have to endure seasons of apparent barrenness, the church of God must never seek to advance Christ’s kingdom by any means other than simple gospel preaching after the pattern of the New Testament!
As our Lord Jesus was tempted so we shall be. Satan will not treat us better than he treated our Master. Believers often find evil thoughts rising in their minds, which they truly hate, doubts and sinful imaginations against which we honestly revolt, and there is in us an ungodly nature that yearns for the very things we hate and revolt against.
Our greatest temptations will usually come after times of greatest privilege, communion, and usefulness. So it was with our Lord. Ever be aware of your weakness in the flesh and your tendency to evil. Ever keep in mind that our peace and comfort is in Christ our Substitute, not in some imaginary, inward, personal goodness. He who was tempted and triumphant for us will also cause us to be triumphant over the tempter and his temptations (John 10:27-30; 17:15; Rom. 8:35-39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:24; 1 Cor. 10:13).