LUKE, Part 1


The Three Temptation of Christ, Sandro Botticelli, 1481-82. Web Gallery of Art.

Jesus Overcomes Temptation

This very vivid narrative is found in both the Gospel of Matthew and that of Luke, while Mark devotes an entire two verses to the incident, essentially barely mentioning it. Matthew and Mark give us the same information, although Luke’s account is probably logical,  Matthew probably gives us the temptations is a chronological order. This way of presenting the facts of the life of Jesus was Luke’s habit; he often grouped teachings and events, not necessarily in the order they occurred, but in an order that would present them in the most dramatic, dynamic, and powerful way possible for the reader.

There are two important theological themes presented in the story of Jesus’ temptations: our Lord’s divine Sonship and His Messiahship. All of Satan’s temptations were directed against these two aspects of Christ’s Person.

1. The nature of the temptation

Whenever we study this incident in the life of Christ, somebody invariably wonders, “Could Jesus have sinned?” Before we even begin to answer this question, we need to understand that Jesus Christ was both God and man; He was wholly God and wholly man, both at the same time; one Person with two natures, divine and human; both perfectly integrated into one perfect Person. It was His human nature that was tempted, not His divine nature. Satan is no fool; he surely knew that God could not sin! Therefore his only hope of tricking the Son of God into sinning was to tempt His human nature.

However, what Satan didn’t count on, and what we now understand thanks to the Word of God, is that while Jesus Christ was indeed a man, He was a man with a difference. His heart was not hardened, as all men’s hearts are. His soul was not as cold as ice, as all other men’s souls are. Jesus Christ was the perfect man, sinless, just as Adam was originally created to be and to remain. Adam lost that perfection when He sinned, Jesus did not. Jesus was able to accomplish what Adam couldn’t.

To fully answer the question of whether or not Jesus could sin, we need to understand exactly why Jesus was tempted in the first place. That answer is found in Hebrews 2:17, 18—

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

That last sentence is the key to our understand the nature of Christ’s temptations: “he himself suffered when he was tempted.” Jesus was not simply out there in the desert “going through the motions,” acting like He was being tempted; He was literally agonizing as He fought back the Satanic attack to sin. Jesus’ temptations to sin were every bit as real as ours.

Still, there are those who would acknowledge that the temptations were real enough, but that Jesus knew He wouldn’t give in to them. In other words, Jesus knew long before Satan came and tempted Him that He would not fail; that He would not and could not yield to Satan, even if Satan himself didn’t know that. The problem with that reasoning is that it makes the temptations a farce; one big joke that makes Hebrews 2 an even bigger joke; His so-called suffering, if He suffered at all, was for no good reason. Another important Scripture in this regard is Hebrews 4:15, which states:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

If Jesus was tempted like we are tempted “in every way,” then Jesus must have been tormented in His conscious mind just as we are when we are undergoing a temptation to sin. It is true that as the Son of God, He was completely omniscient—all knowing. But remember, when the Son of God became the Son of Man, He willingly laid aside some of His divine attributes to make that possible. When we read the Gospels, there are numerous examples of Jesus having limited knowledge and having to ask questions and to learn.

Think about this for a moment. In becoming a man, Jesus Christ gave up, for a time, much of what made Him God, yet remaining God in His essential being. How humbling and humiliating that must have been for our Lord; having to ask questions! having to learn and grow! And, more to the point, having to face and fight the temptation to sin—without the benefit of knowing how it will end.

So, could Jesus have sinned? The answer probably lies beyond our ability to comprehend it, like so many Biblical doctrines. We as finite human beings, with out puny brains, want to understand everything; we don’t like a mystery without a solution. But how could you and I ever hope to plumb the depths of God’s soul when we don’t even understand ourselves?

2. The temptations

Filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus spent some 40 days in the desert area around the Jordan River, being led by that same Holy Spirit. During these 40 days Jesus fasted—He did not eat or drink, so He must been famished when His time of fasting drew to an end. Satan knew this; it was the perfect to tempt Jesus; our Lord was worn out, physically and mentally tired.

God’s purpose for leading Jesus into the desert was that He might be tempted. The Greek word used here is peirazo, which means, “to make proof of,” “to test,” “to try,” and “to prove.” Clearly, while the Devil did the tempting, God did the testing. There are three kinds of “tempting” or “testing” that we should note:

  • Satan tempts people. By hook or by crook, the Devil lures people into committing sinful acts. God never, ever tempts a person sin, James 1:13. Furthermore, as if being concerned about the Devil isn’t enough, James 1:14, 15 teach us that often the temptation to sin has nothing to with the Devil at all! At those times, the temptation comes from within ourselves.
  • People tempt God. People do this to God by asking Him to do things outside His will or they place unreasonable demands upon Him. Israel did this during their wilderness wanderings, for example.
  • God tests His people. But, He does not tempt them to sin. His tests are for entirely different reasons. Even though already knows all about us, when we are tempted, the thoughts and intents of our hearts are revealed in our responses. Often it is during times of great trials and temptations that we learn the most about ourselves.

Jesus’ temptations cover the whole spectrum of human temptations and may be summarized in the following way:

(1) Jesus is tempted to satisfy the needs of His body, verses 3, 4

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone.’”

Doubt is one of the Devil’s greatest weapons in his arsenal. Notice how he planted a seed of doubt in the mind of Jesus: “If you are the Son of God.” Here Satan strikes at our Lord’s Sonship—make Him doubt the very thing the Father said to Him when He was baptized. Satan approached Eve exactly the say way, causing her to doubt what God had told her. Then Satan appealed to a very real need Jesus had: He was hungry after His 40 day fast.

There was nothing sinful in bread. Bread is, after all, the staff of life. And the human body needs food, so having sandwich after not eating for 40 days in itself was not the least bit sinful. However, it would have been sinful for Jesus to use His great powers to minister to only Himself. Jesus, hungry and tired as He was, had to practice what He was about to preach:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

This temptation was insidious; it was to act for Himself outside of depending on God. After all, it was God who led Jesus into the desert, and it was God who would sustain Him during that time. What a marvellous lesson for the modern, self-sufficient believer who thinks all of his needs can be met by his own resources. All of us need to get to that same place of humility and dependence on God as our Lord did during this temptation.

(2) Jesus is tempted to become king of the world, verses 5—8

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

This is, of course, something that will happen one day in the future, anyway:

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

The temptation here was to do the right thing in the wrong way. In this case end would NOT have justified the means! Jesus could not become the King without the Cross. But how great would that temptation have been? Imagine all the pain, suffering, and humiliation He would have avoided. Imagine how popular Jesus would have been; all the people were waiting for the king to arrive, anyway!

Had Jesus succumbed to this temptation, He could never have been our Savior. Jesus did not come to Earth to simply become a king—

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

This temptation struck at Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Anybody can become a king. But there was to be only one Messiah.

(3) Jesus was tempted to test God, verses 9—12

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

How the crowds would have been impressed with this! The essence of this temptation was reckless presumption on God and arrogantly displaying before everybody that He had some special favor with God. The Devil misquotes a passage of Scripture, misapplying it in trying to trick Jesus into sinning. Next to doubt, this is a highly effective method of Satan’s. How many well-meaning and well-intentioned Christians have used the Bible to justify their sins or false teachings? How many preachers and evangelists use Scripture for their own promotion or self-aggrandizement? Shame on any Christian who, rather than humbly, quietly seeking the will of God, barges ahead, blindly assuming God thinks their ideas are good and will bless them.

Exactly what did Jesus mean when He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 in verse 8? Just who what putting God to the test? Was Jesus speaking to the Devil? In tempting Jesus to sin, the Devil was tempting God. Or, was Jesus sort of talking to Himself? He was not to do as Satan wanted Him to do because that would be putting God the Father to the test. Either interpretation could be correct, for certainly Satan was tempting God as he tempted the Son of God to sin. And had the Son of God done what Satan suggested, then He would have been guilty of tempting God the Father.

The sin of arrogant presumption pervades the Church of Jesus Christ today to such an extent most of us don’t even recognize it. Here are some chilling examples of how, every day, we presume upon the good graces of God—

  • We pray for health, yet do nothing to stay healthy;
  • We ask God to save the souls our loved ones, yet we do nothing to share the Gospel with them;
  • We ask God to give us faith, yet we seldom attend church, seldom fellowship with other believers, and we neglect the Word of God;
  • We pray for the spiritual well-being of our children, yet we set bad examples for them to follow and we don’t raise them in the way of the Lord.

Each time Jesus was tempted, He used the Word of God as His weapon of choice. Time and again, Jesus quoted Scripture back to the Devil.

What a Savior we have! From His voluntary submission to being baptized, to His voluntary obedience to the will of His Father and the Holy Spirit’s direction when He was led away to face Satan face to face, Jesus Christ, the last Adam, demonstrated to God, to Satan, and to human beings, that He was uniquely qualified to embark on His divinely appointed mission to take away the sins of the world (John 3:16).

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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