Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 all relate the strange case of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, which occurred at the start of His public ministry. Jesus had been led into this barren land by the Holy Spirit for this express purpose. In regard to Jesus’ Godhead, this would be a futile attempt on the devil’s part. Jesus is fully God (Colossians 2:9) and God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). Yet, Jesus is also fully human, complete with the aches and pains, needs, and limitations that we face. During His time on earth, He did indeed face real temptation.
Jesus was forty days in the wilderness without eating. This, no doubt, would dramatically increase His vulnerability to suggestions of any kind. We read that the devil attempted to sway Jesus with many temptations, yet only three are recorded.
First a direct assault. The devil came at Jesus head-on in the first temptation recorded in Matthew: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3) I’ve never gone anywhere near forty days without food, but I know the things my body craves. Satan does too. How often doesn’t the tempter urge us to use our talents, skills, and resources to satisfy our physical cravings with things that don’t satisfy? Jesus reminded the devil of the one thing needed in our lives, God’s Word. Just as Jesus did not use His divine power to provide for Himself, but served us, so we were created to serve our Father in heaven and our fellow man.
Next an angle attack. When Satan took Jesus to the top of the Temple and enticed Him to jump, the temptation was delivered with a push from Scripture. “‘He will command his angels concerning you, on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” (Matthew 4:6 ESV, quoting Psalm 91:11-12).
Since we are children of God, it is tempting to believe things are going to go the way we expect in life. Shouldn’t God see to it that my carefully laid plans come to fruition? Can’t I expect that I will be kept safe in my daily plans? Yes, the holy angels are present to “guard you in all your ways,” as the devil conveniently left out of his quotation of Psalm 91. We are not, however, to test God with our foolish behavior. Rather we are simply to trust Him to watch over us as we go about His business.
Finally, the “idol” threat. You’d think it would be easy to love God above all. After all, look what our Father has done for us. He sent His Son to live perfectly, die innocently, and rise gloriously all for our justification. He blesses us continuously in this life and has promised an incomparable life with Him in heaven. Yet, our wayward hearts would seek after other fathers and saviors. Often, when trouble comes into our lives, we seek our own solutions; when triumphant, we are too willing to accept praise for our petty accomplishments. The crass attempt of Satan to make Jesus bow down to worship him doesn’t seem so crass when we view the fickle human heart. In his fallen condition, mankind loves to build his own idols, some in his own image, but all with rules he can live with. Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
At times we may believe we are alone in our temptations, as though no one could understand the things with which we struggle. But we have One Who understands better than we know, and Who is sure to help. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Let us then go with confidence to Jesus for help in our times of temptation.