Gospels / Luke / Mark / Matthew

Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13

Jesus is Tested in the Wilderness

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. – Mark 1:12-13

 Matthew 4 Luke 4

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

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.’”

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. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Immediately following his baptism by John, Jesus sets out for the wilderness, being led by the Holy Spirit. His baptism had shown his obedience to his father, and now the Spirit would lead him out to be tested and brought to his own personal breaking point. As Mark describes, Jesus was only accompanied by the wild animals for these 40 days until after the tempting when the angels came to attend to him. Note that Jesus was sent to wander the wilderness for 40 days, alluding to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Both Jesus and the Israelites were led by God to the wilderness, and both were severely tested. We must understand that even in our wanderings God is there. He has not abandoned us but in fact placed us in the wilderness to refine us through testing.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. – James 1:12-14

Oppositely from the Israelites, there is nothing written about Jesus grumbling or complaining to God about being in the wilderness. Jesus perfectly loves the Father and though thoughts of temptation may have come to him, he never gave in to them as we would do. Each time we have a thought that says something like, ‘just go do what you think is good’, or ‘why are you wasting your time on this?’ it is a temptation to take matters into our own hands. When we act on those temptations we sin. Satan is not making us sin, though he likes to give us cause to. We do the sinning all on our own. It is no different than what happened to Eve in the garden when the serpent asked, “Did God really say that?”.  Just as he came to Eve, Satan comes to Jesus.

The first is a base temptation: food. It is the same temptation Satan presented to Eve. If you are hungry, why not just eat? For Eve all she had to do was reach out and take the fruit. For Jesus (being that he is God) all he had to do was turn stones into bread. Eve replies with God’s words but adds an embellishment ‘we must not touch it’. She has already begun to take matters into her own hands at this point. Jesus also responds with God’s words from Deuteronomy 8:3. His reply is in context to the situation he is in. In this passage from Deuteronomy, God is recalling His care to the Israelites just before they are to enter the Promised Land.

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Jesus uses scripture as his weapon against Satan – not only to combat his enemy but also to strengthen himself in what God has promised. The verse is literal as well as figurative. God’s word is literal bread for strengthening, and it figuratively shows that the food of this world will not bring eternal life. In his first try, Satan tempts Jesus to ignore God and do something for himself, in his own power. If Jesus would have turned a stone into bread he would have literally declared that he didn’t need God for sustenance, and that he was able to be his own god.

The second and third temptations are also like the temptation given to Eve. Satan says to her, “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (see Genesis 3). He tempts her to see what will happen by eating the fruit. He says just the right thing to make her start thinking about what might happen if she did eat the fruit. Maybe I will actually live and not die. Maybe I really will be like God. Surely God will not kill me for taking one bite. How amazing it would be to know all things, just as God does! 

For Jesus, Satan takes him to the top of the temple in Jerusalem – a place that Jesus longed to see purified and worshiping the true Living God. Satan tempts Jesus with salvation from death. Jesus knows that he has come for a certain purpose – to die and be raised to life for the salvation of many. What Satan does here is quite interesting. He uses Jesus’ humanity against him. As a human, our natural instinct is to protect our lives from harm. Knowing that Jesus was scheduled to die, Satan says ‘let’s get it over with now.. you don’t have to actually die.. God would never let that happen’. It’s like he offers him an escape from the death that is coming by tempting him to jump and test to see that God will save him now, just as he would then. But it’s not the same, and Jesus knows it. He again combats Satan with scripture in context.

Doing a search on BibleGateway.com or a similar site you will find that the word ‘test’ is pretty common. What is sin besides testing the Lord? If He has given us every good thing then why do we push the limits to see what He will do? It is in our nature to be obstinate and rebellious. God may test us because He knows how we are. He tests us to reveal our own hearts and motives to ourselves. God does not need to be tested because He is pure. There is no evil in Him. If there is a test then there is a right and a wrong answer. The right answer comes through love for God (available through Christ’s death & resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit). The wrong answer is easy and made each day by every person on the planet (available through our need of self-reliance) and earns death.

Satan takes Jesus to another place – where he can see all the kingdoms of the earth. Satan again tempts him to skip the death and resurrection of his body that will result in Jesus’ Lordship over all creation, and just go directly to that Kingship now. But Jesus didn’t come to rule as King in an earthly sense. He came to rule the hearts and minds of those who are His. Not only that but he will rule in judgement over each person who has ever lived. To accept Satan’s offer would have been in direct disobedience to God’s plan, and an acceptance of Satan’s. Thank the Lord that he alone has the power to conquer sin and death!

Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. – Deuteronomy 6:13-16


Take away:

  • What is going on in your life right now that you need to place under God’s direction?
  • Do you find yourself trying to take the easy way out instead of doing it the way God has intended?
  • Who do you turn to for answers? Yourself? God?

We are so privileged to have God’s word at our fingertips each day. He gives us His love freely, and all we have to do is admit we are sinners and ask for His help. He is gracious in His forgiveness and ready to bless you more than you can imagine.

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