The Essential Jesus

Jesus' Temptation

Luke 4:1-12

Teaching t12282


Brief review of series theme.  Two weeks ago, we covered Jesus’ baptism as the inaugural event of His public ministry.  Yet strangely, this is not followed by immediate interaction with people.  Instead, Jesus spends the next forty days in a deserted wilderness (SLIDE?) being tempted by Satan (read Lk. 4:1,2a).  Why did the Spirit lead into this?  Why is this a fitting way to begin Jesus’ ministry?  The rest of the Bible gives us several answers to this question:

Because the real battle is between God and Satan (Eph. 6:18; 1 Jn. 3:8).  Having rebelled against God, humanity is now under the dominion of the original rebel.  Jesus is invading to liberate humanity, so it makes sense that His liberation campaign would begin by battling the rebel-ruler.

The original human (Adam) had to undergo temptation from Satan (Gen. 3).  His failure (in a garden) plunged all of his descendants under Satan’s control.  Jesus has come as the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), so He must also first be tested (in a wilderness) by Satan.

Jesus is the greater Moses (leader of God’s people) leading a greater Exodus (deliverance from bondage to sin).  So it is necessary for Him to be tested by fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, as Moses fasted on the mountain for 40 days (Ex. 34:28).  The fact that Jesus quotes from the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy) in this event suggests this parallel.

In order to come to our aid when we are tempted, Jesus had to face and conquer the same temptations we face (read Heb. 2:18; 4:15,16).  Let’s look at Jesus’ temptations especially from this angle . . .

Jesus’ specific temptations

The Greek word for temptation is peirazo, and (in the New Testament) means either to positively test someone by difficulties to strengthen his trust in God, or to negatively entice someone to mistrust God and trust self instead.  God tests; Satan tempts.  In the Garden of Eden, God tested Adam and Eve by allowing Satan to tempt them.  Something similar is happening in this event.

Let’s first look at these specific temptations that Jesus faced, and His response. 

Read 4:2b-4.  The Father has apparently directed Jesus to fast until told otherwise.  The hunger pangs of 4:2 are starvation pains.  Satan tempts Jesus to not trust His Father’s love and wisdom, and to trust Himself instead by making His own food (STONE SLIDE).  Jesus refuses to mistrust His Father’s promise to care for Him.

Read 4:5-8.  Jesus has come to ultimately liberate humanity from Satan’s control and reestablish God’s kingdom.  Satan tempts Jesus to take a short-cut to attain His goal (“worship me just this once in private”), rather than to trust His Father’s plan for this (which He knows will entail the great suffering of rejection and execution on the cross).  Jesus refuses to mistrust His Father’s plan by taking this short-cut.

Read 4:9-12.  Since Jesus has shown determination to trust God, Satan (like a judo master) tempts Jesus to prove His trust in God by misapplying an Old Testament promise that God will protect His Messiah.  Jesus refuses to trust Satan’s use of scripture, instead interpreting that scripture in light of God’s command not to take unwarranted risks and then demand that God rescue Him.

Jesus’ temptations as windows into the dynamics of our temptations

On the surface, these temptations are interesting – but they are unique to Jesus (I have never been tempted to turn stones to bread, or to take over the world, or to jump off of a building), and therefore seem irrelevant to us.  But when we look at these temptations on a deeper level, we find that they are profoundly applicable as windows into the dynamics of temptation.  Consider three such (overlapping) windows:

In 1 Jn. 2:16, God describes three main ways that Satan tempts people.[1]  Many have pointed out that Satan’s three temptations here correspond to these three avenues.

“The lust of the flesh” refers to the inordinate desire (i.e., the willingness to violate God’s will) for physical gratification.  There is nothing wrong with eating when you are hungry – unless God has asked you to wait.  Similarly, there is nothing wrong with having sex – unless you insist on having sex outside of God’s design for it (heterosexual monogamous marriage).  Turning the stones into bread would have been mistrust of God and rebellion against His will.

“The lust of the eye” refers to the inordinate desire to possess attractive things.  There was nothing wrong with Jesus desiring to rule humanity – after all, He is the Messiah.  But His Father had ordained that humanity could enter into His kingdom only after Jesus died for their sins.  Similarly, there is nothing wrong with possessing a nice car, or taking a nice vacation, etc.  But if you steal to do this, or neglect relationships (with God or people), or neglect generosity – then you succumb to temptation, and you will miss out on God’s best and eventually become a slave to your possessions.

“The boastful pride of life” refers to placing inordinate importance on human approval or praise.  There was nothing wrong with Jesus having satisfaction in having people recognize Him as the Messiah.  But to seek this by His own means would be to glorify Himself rather than His Father.  Similarly, there is nothing wrong with enjoying recognition for doing an excellent job in school or at work, or in ministry.  But if you do it in order to draw attention to yourself, or you boast about it, you deny it as God’s gracious gift and make yourself a little Satan (1 Tim. 3:6).

Another applicable way to look at these temptations is through the lens of identity.  The context of these temptations was the Father affirmation of Jesus’ true identity (3:22).  In order to fulfill His ministry, Jesus must know who He is.  His ministry flowed out of His affirmation of and focus on His identity (cf. Jn. 13:1,3).  As a result of Jesus’ work for us on the cross, God bestows this same identity on each of us who receives Jesus (Jn. 1:12).  And it is only as we learn and affirm and focus on our new identities that we can serve God fruitfully.  It follows, then, that Satan would try to get Jesus (and us) to take our identities from other inadequate sources.

So in 4:3, he calls Jesus’ identity into question and urges Him to define Himself by what He is able to do.  In 4:6,7, He urges Jesus to define Himself by what He possesses.  And in 4:9, He urges Jesus to define Himself by what others say/think about Him.  In each case, Jesus overcomes the temptation by clinging to His true identity and refusing to accept these false sources of identity.

Does this sound familiar?  Does not our culture constantly and creatively urge us to define ourselves by what we are able to do (e.g., degrees; skills and talents; etc.), by what we have (e.g., wealth; possessions; hoarding; etc.) and by what others say about us (e.g., Facebook “likes;” “in-crowd;” authority figures; etc.)?  Are not our lives set on fire by making important decisions to seek identity through these false means (e.g., neglect of relationship with God and others; corruption of self and others from addictions, insecurity, etc.)?

A third way of looking at these temptations is to distill the bad advice Satan gives in each one.

In the first temptation, his advice is: “Extreme need justifies moral compromise.”  “The fact that You are beginning to starve justifies acting independently from Your Father.”  Esau used his hunger to justify trading his birthright away.  How many times have you let extreme need or pain justify doing what you knew was morally wrong (e.g., loneliness >> poor romantic decision)?

In the second temptation, his advice is: “The ends justify the means.”  “The end of You ruling over the world justifies the means of worshipping me privately.”  Abraham used the end of having a God-promised descendant to justify getting Hagar pregnant.  How many times have you let a good end justify bad means (e.g., conversion >> manipulation)?

In the third temptation, his advice is: “Misuse scripture to use God as a Genie.”  “This verse promises that God must rescue you even if you unwisely risk your life.”  How often we see the God of the Bible mocked because His people do this (e.g., health & wealth teaching)?

So there are deep insights into the dynamics of temptation in this passage.  You have undoubtedly recognized some of the ways you are commonly taken down by temptation.  Now let’s see what lessons we can learn from this passage about overcoming temptation . . .

Overcoming temptation

Expect temptations and heed God’s warnings.  The fact that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted (4:1) means that temptation is part of God’s plan for Him.  It also implies that the Spirit warned Jesus that he was about to be tempted.  Those who follow God’s Spirit should also expect to be tempted, and He will often warn us of impending temptations.  This is why Jesus urges us to pray (explain Matt. 6:13).  This is why Paul warns us in 1 Cor. 10:12 (read).  To think you are immune from temptation is to place yourself in great peril.  Also, like Jesus, we can expect recurrent periods of temptation (4:13), and different kinds of temptation in different periods of life.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Remember that God is sovereign over your temptations.  The Spirit led Jesus to be tempted (4:1), so somehow this is part of God’s sovereign plan for Jesus.  Jesus states this truth explicitly in His word to Peter just before his betrayal (read and explain Lk. 22:31,32).  As Martin Luther said, even the devil is God’s devil.  This is why the same word for temptation (peirazo) is also translated “trial.”  This is why Paul promises in 1 Cor. 10:13 (read) – God won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your faith-capacity (duration or degree), and He will always provide a way through temptation.  This is key to prevent panic, despair, fatalism, etc.

Ask Jesus for help when you are tempted.  Although this passage doesn’t say that Jesus called out to His Father for help, He did this during another temptation (GETHSEMANE).  Read Heb. 4:15,16.  Do not try to battle Satan by will-power; he is stronger than you.  Call out to Jesus to intervene on your behalf!  But as you do this, also . . .

Use God’s Word to defeat Satan.  If even Jesus didn’t try to out-argue or out-wit Satan, even less should we.  He quoted God’s Word to combat Satan’s lies.  Eph. 6:17 applies here (read) – it is God’s Word uttered (rhema) that is the sword of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will help you recall what God says, but He will not recall what you have not installed!  Learn and memorize scriptures – then cling to and utter what God says during the temptation.  Ask others what God says if you don’t know.

Anticipate the rewards of overcoming temptation.  The same Holy Spirit who filled and led Jesus into temptation in 4:1 also empowered Him afterward for ministry in 4:14.  Read 1 Pet. 5:8-10 – after we resist Satan’s temptations, we can count on being matured, confirmed, strengthened, and established as a result!

What about when we fall to temptation?  Read Heb. 4:16 - the same Jesus who gives us “grace to help” to overcome temptation gives us “mercy” when we fall.  Don’t beat yourself, or accuse God of abandoning you, or rationalize your failure.  Draw near to Him, acknowledge your failure, cast yourself on His mercy – and then resume walking with Him.  He will redeem your failures to give you a deeper appreciation of His grace, and teach you valuable lessons about trusting Him rather than yourself, and work compassion for others into your heart.


NEXT WEEK: “Jesus’ Early Ministry – His Teaching”

SUMMARIZE steps to overcoming temptation >> QUESTIONS & COMMENTS

[1] The “world” (kosmos) refers to that system of values that entice people away from God, and whose author is Satan (1 Jn. 5:19).