The three temptations that Satan levied upon Jesus, recorded in Matthew 4:4-11, were not so different than those we believers regularly face. In that case, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan. As it is in believer’s lives, and as it was in the situation of Job’s struggles, the Lord allows temptations to come upon us from Satan to test our faith and make us stronger in endurance. Jeremiah speaks to this when he recorded this bit of truth:
“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5).
We are told by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that “God does not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to endure,” which tells us that He is in control by His sovereign power.
We must remember that Jesus was being tempted as a man, brought there by the Holy Spirit for that purpose. In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul writes this, which explains why it was so for Jesus to be tempted—tested on His commitment to live the life of a human being who would live perfectly and qualify as their Redeemer:
“…Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
The temptations do follow the same pattern as those used on Eve by the serpent, recorded in Genesis 3, and their basic identification by John in 1 John 2:16:
“…For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
And we know who the prince of this world is, do we not? But in that temptation testing that Jesus endured was something else. It was the supernatural God-man whom Satan was tempting. This one was not of the lineage of Adam; He was not the same as others. This One was from eternity, not created from the dust of the earth.
He had never fallen for the deceptions of that evil one, and consequently, what happened that day in the wilderness has eternal significance that is not restricted by the limits of time. That is, those tests and the answers given are not something of the past, to be looked at then turned from for something future.
In Matthew 4, when Jesus was challenged, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread,” He had been fasting for forty days and was hungry. Yet, His answer sets a standard for us that we can’t ignore. He did three things in that response:
He showed us a tool that we can use, even today, to defeat the onslaughts of the devil and even our own cry of the flesh. He quoted Scripture to the enemy—“It is written….” He could have said, being the living Word, “Get behind me, Satan,” as He did to Peter later on (Matthew 16:22-23), but this way we have what is available to every believer—the written Word of God—to combat the enemy. In that context, the Psalmist wrote this:
“How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word…. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9, 11).
He shows us that quoting the Word of God is effective in that warfare—if it worked for Him, it will work for us.
But deeper than that is the quality of the answer and the solution it shows us for that same temptation that makes our flesh one of the enemies of our soul. That incessant cry of our old Adam nature for self-indulgence no matter what the cost!
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3).
That says so much more than just physical survival. It tells the tempter that our ultimate source of life is God Himself and not the indulgence of the flesh. That is why, no doubt, that fasting is often a vital part of deeper and more personal and intimate prayer with God. It is echoed in the contrasting purposes of evil versus godliness by Jesus in John 10:10:
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
The second temptation listed in Matthew’s account has to do with “pride of life,” of power and popularity, of control and dominance. It is the temptation to want to be worshipped, as Lucifer desired and dreamed of with such mighty intent in Isaiah 14:12-15:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.”
It is interesting to note how this temptation trips up those who have solved the issue of wealth and its nagging drive to accumulate “things.” They often, then, seek political office where power and influence seem to dominate with many there. That temptation, too, like the dream of Lucifer, may contribute to the fact that “few who are rich enter the kingdom of God,” as Jesus told us. But Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16, “Youshall not tempt the Lord your God.”
The third temptation tries to get Jesus to delight in His own kingdom, His “things” that His eyes fall upon, that “lust of the eyes.” The cost is heavy, however. For this, He must bow down to Satan and worship him!
Again, Jesus quotes Scripture for the answer that turns away the tempter. Once more, Jesus shows us that submission to the one and only true God is the supreme answer for our lives, not just and only for the rejection of temptation: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shallserve.’”
In all three of these temptations, the devil is testing the resolve of Jesus not to draw upon the resources of His deity to thwart the efforts of the enemy. Why? It would destroy the purpose of His coming as a man—to show mankind that one who is not from the fallen race of Adam can live a life of victory over evil. But we all are born with the heritage of Adam!
Yes, but remember the new birth that Jesus told Nicodemus about, that “You must be born again?” That is how we can escape the Adam race and become adopted sons of God and joint heirs with Christ!
To recap the lessons from the temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11:
Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. It was a God-controlled situation to establish His commitment, as a man, to God’s service;
All three of the temptations follow the same pattern the devil used in the Garden and throughout the lives of believers since then—lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Thus, believers can know what to be wary of every day of their lives.
In every instance, Jesus refuted the tempter by saying, “It is written…,” thereby showing believers a way to refute the tempter as well—quoting the written Word.
In all three episodes, we are drawn back to honor God in our hearts, to worship Him only, and to put Him first in our total lives, just as Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Temptations, when allowed by God, are like His chastisements—they test our resolve to be pleasing to God, sometimes to bring us back to reality, as well. It seems that as we often think we have this thing (the victorious Christian life) whipped, like having it tied up with a tug rope and a downhill pull! Then, a well-placed temptation comes along, and there goes our resolve, and our victory!
Remember this: God knows our weaknesses, and He wants us to know it, too, for “when we are weak (and we know it), He can then be strong for us.” Look at 2 Corinthians 12:9:
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’”