Lessons From the Temptation

By Robert E. Waldron

After Jesus’ baptism He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. The account of the temptation of Jesus offers some of the richest lessons in scripture. In studying the temptation many have sought to explain why Jesus did not follow Satan’s suggestions by various, sometimes ingenious, ideas. These ideas may be true and are definitely worthy of thought. Jesus, however, knew best of all why He could not do the things Satan wished Him to do. We shall be guided in this study, therefore, solely by the replies Jesus Himself made.

The First Temptation

Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days during which time He fasted. Both Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus felt no hunger until after the forty days. “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He afterward hungered” (Mt. 4:2). “And He did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, He hungered” (Lk. 4:2). Hunger fell upon Jesus more as a blow than as something to which He had slowly grown accustomed. Mark shows that Satan hack been tempting Jesus already. “And He was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan” (Mk. 1:12). Now Satan comes again.

“If thou are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Mt. 4:3). Now we know Jesus had the power ‘to change one substance into another (see Jn. 2 where Jesus changed water to wine). We also know that several times Jesus used His power to provide food (Mt. 14; 15; Jn. 21); why not this time? Satan seemed to be tempting Jesus to prove His Sonship, but Jesus’ reply was not, “Satan, I do not have to prove my Sonship. Both you and I know who I am.” The temptation was more subtle than that. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” (Mt. 4:4). If we are to understand what Satan’s temptation was we will do so only by understanding Jesus’ reply.

When Israel was encamped in the plains of Moab, poised to invade Canaan, Moses preached to them. He said, “All the commandment which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which Jehovah swear unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or not. 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 everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live” (Deut. 8:1-3). If the Israelites had been asked to list their necessities they would have said: food and water. We cannot be critical of them without some self-examination. If someone were chosen at random and asked to list the necessities of life today, he would list food, water, and shelter. The Israelites needed to learn that their first necessity was to obey the words that ‘proceed out of the mouth of Jehovah. Oh how we today need to learn to include that necessity at the top of our list!

How, though, does this point tie in with Jesus’ refusal to turn stones into bread? Satan was telling Jesus to use the power He had for His sole benefit. It was not the Father’s will that Jesus’ power be used in that manner. Though Jesus knew He needed food He also knew one thing He needed more-to do the Father’s will. God did not give Jesus His great power so that if He had a headache He could merely wish it away, or if He became thirsty He could cause a glass of water to appear in His hand. He always used His power for the sake of others to produce faith in them. Thus it would have been contrary to the “word that proceeded out of the mouth of God” for Jesus to use His power for His benefit. Therefore He would not and told Satan why. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

The Second Temptation

“Then the devil taketh Him into the holy city; and he set Him on the pinnacle of the temple” (Mt. 4:5). If this pinnacle were the southern wall of the temple enclosure, then, according to Josephus, the wall was “vastly high” while ‘the valley immediately below was “very deep, and its bottom could not be seen.” The exact location of the pinnacle is not important. A fall from such a height would be fatal. Imagine Jesus standing there looking down into the depths of the valley below. Satan says, “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning thee’: and, ‘On their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone’ ” (Mt. 4:6). Is the true basis of the temptation here the Sonship of Jesus? What does Jesus reply? “Again it is written, ‘Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God’ ” (Mt. 4:7). Jesus knew what Satan was tempting Him to do. Satan was trying to make Jesus show a lack of confidence in God.

Jesus again quotes from Deuteronomy. “Ye shall not tempt Jehovah your God, as ye tempted Him in Massah” (Deut. 6:16). Obviously Moses was reminding the Israelites of a former occasion when they had tried God. The time to which he referred happened within the first few weeks after the Israelites left Egypt. The people were thirsty and murmured. God told Moses to smite the rock, and he did so, and water came forth. “And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tempted Jehovah, saying, ‘Is Jehovah among us, or not?’ ” (Exod. 17:7). The Israelites saw the plagues God brought upon Egypt. They saw God divide the waters of the Red Sea while His pillar of fire stood between them and the Egyptians. He had enabled Moses to sweeten the waters of Marah and had fed the children of Israel with manna, but these were not sufficient grounds for faith for the Israelites. God must needs continually prove Himself. This attitude is one of perpetual doubt. This is the attitude we see in people when they can look upon the handiwork of God, behold His providential works, have an abundance of material things, a family, health, and then say, “You know, sometimes I wonder whether there is a God or not.” Tempting God in this manner is caused by a blindness which refuses to accept the evidence God has given to support faith and which continually asks for proof. A mind like this is in a spiritual vacuum.

Satan was really attempting to get Jesus to express doubt by trying God out. “You say you are the Son of God. Well God said He would give His angels charge to guard you and to keep you from dashing your foot against a stone. Why not test God and see if He will?” Jesus, however, saw the trap and replied, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.” If Jesus had done as Satan suggested,, He would have manifested a lack of confidence in God. If He, the Son of God, had manifested a lack of confidence in God, any grounds for our faith would have been utterly destroyed.

We need to draw a practical lesson for ourselves. Let us not say, “I wish God would do something; now to show that He really is.” How can we stand on the peak of God’s revelation, see the path of redemption from the Garden of Eden until now, observe the daily operation of God’s creation, and say, “Do something, God, so I will know you are there”? “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.”

The Third Temptation

In the third temptation of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 4, ‘The devil taketh Him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto Him, `All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me’ ” (Mt. 4:8,9). Satan sought to get Jesus to worship him. If ever the bald-faced audacity of Satan was ever manifested, it was then. The very idea of supreme Deity worshipping Satan is mind-boggling.

If Jesus had seen fit to fall down and worship Satan, then surely we who are far less in power could do no less than to follow His example. As I said, the consequences of such an action would have shaken the foundations of reason itself.

What was the appeal of this temptation? God had promised Jesus the “obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10); “the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2:8). For Jesus to follow God’s way to the throne on the “holy hill of Zion” led Him to the cross. It was the hard way, the sacrificial way. Satan’s way was easy. All Jesus had to do was to fall down and worship him. If He had done that, being who He was, Deity would have been divided. Deity would have submitted to an inferior being’s power. The scheme of redemption would have been completely thwarted.

Jesus answered Satan, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve’ ” (Mt. 4:10). For the third time Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy. Moses warned the people that when they went into the land, they were not to follow after the idols. One may make a god out of anything. Satan wanted to exchange himself for God and let Jesus worship him, but Jesus refused. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.”

It will be profitable to look at a few reasons why Jesus was perfect. They are exemplified in the temptation account. We blame sin on our human bodies, but Jesus had a human body and did not sin. Sin comes from the heart. It is the heart which allows the desires of the body to become lust. Surely the divine nature of Jesus is the ultimate explanation for His complete, lifelong perfection. There are, however, two things which we may study with great benefit. One reason why Jesus never sinned is that He was not ignorant. He knew everything that was right. Many times we sin because we do not know. We have not studied and learned. The more we know of God’s way the better we will be able to walk in it. Another reason why Jesus never sinned is that He always did what He knew was right. How often do we get to the end of a day and say, “I should have done this or that,” and did not do it? We can improve our service to God without learning anything else if we will immediately begin to do more of what we already know we should do. We can then further improve by studying the scriptures more diligently. Let us be imitators of Christ and “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

Truth Magazine XXII: 24, pp. 395-396
June 15, 1978