In this post we will consider the account of the temptation of Christ as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Please take the time to read Luke 4:1-13 before progressing to the comments in this post.
The primary point of Luke’s passage is to teach us about Jesus Christ’s qualification to be the Messiah. Jesus was qualified to be Messiah because of His unswerving loyalty and obedience to God the Father. His loyalty and obedience are demonstrated within the narrative framework of His temptation. Though Jesus was led into the wilderness and tempted by Satan, He remained loyal to God the Father.
The English word “tempt” translates a Greek word which can either mean to test or to tempt. James 1:13 says that God cannot tempt anyone. Therefore, Luke shows us that Jesus was tested by God. However, Satan does tempt and therefore, Jesus was tempted by Satan, and those temptations were very real.
Before we launch into this section, we need to consider a pertinent issue. Sometimes we make improper assumptions from our reading of the Bible. For example, some have made the assumption that since God commands men to repent of their sins that human beings have the native ability to repent. However, that is a wrong assumption. A person cannot repent of his sins unless the Holy Spirit illumines his mind (1 Cor 2:14). The point is that the presence of a command does not necessarily suggest the native ability to perform the command. Similarly, God commanded the nation of Israel to keep His Law. But the command does not imply the nation’s ability. In fact, God gave His commands to show the nation its inability.
We can make a similar interpretive error with regards to Jesus’ temptation. Some have assumed that since Jesus was tempted to do wrong, that He could have done wrong if He had so decided. This has fuelled a theological debate about whether Jesus, as a human being, could have sinned.
The short answer is “No, Jesus could not have sinned as a human being, because Jesus was/is also 100% God and God cannot sin.” Therefore, this passage isn’t about whether or not Jesus could sin. This passage is about the fact that Jesus did not sin. He was completely obedient to the Father. He could not be anything but obedient to the Father.
This narrative begins by describing a trip which Jesus took into the wilderness immediately following His baptism by John. In this passage Luke introduces a literary transition – John the Baptist disappears and Jesus takes center stage.
Trip into the Wilderness (vv. 1-2).
Verses 1 and 2 describe Jesus’ obedience and Jesus’ temptation.
Jesus’ Obedience (v. 1).
As we begin with verse 1 we find that this entire narrative is connected to the previous account of Jesus’ baptism. That is significant in light of previous comments regarding Jesus’ inability to sin. Those who believe Jesus could have sinned are faced with a problem. According to Luke 3:22 God the Father said about Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Those who believe that Jesus could have sinned during this temptation will have to conclude that appraisal of His Son was merely temporal and subject to change.
Since, Jesus could not sin, and since God’s appraisal of Jesus was eternally accurate, we must understand the temptation of Jesus: did not demonstrate whether Jesus was worthy of God’s approval, and did not determine if He would continue to be worthy of God’s approval. Rather, the temptation demonstrated why Jesus had the Father’s approval. Jesus had the Father’s approval because of His complete obedience to the Father.
Jesus’ obedience is emphasized through two phrases in verse 1. First, “Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.” Jesus was filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Being controlled by the Spirit, he returned from the Jordan.
Secondly, verse 1 continues: “and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Because Jesus was controlled by the Spirit, He followed into the wilderness. That tells us that God the Father, through the Spirit, directed Jesus into the wilderness for the purpose of the test. From His baptism onwards Jesus was continually filled with the Spirit – because the path of obedience would prove to be difficult, He relied upon God’s power through the Holy Spirit for the strength to obey.
His Temptation (v. 2a).
Verse 2 tells us that Jesus was “being tempted for forty days by the devil.”
Jesus was “tempted…by the devil.”
This tells us that the whole 40-day period was filled with temptation from the devil. Though the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, the devil tempted him in the wilderness; this shows that the temptation by Satan fell within God’s purposes (since God led Him into the wilderness). The devil is described as one who goes against God’s plan and will by trying to turn Jesus away from His path.
The period in the wilderness was “forty days” in length. Jesus’ temptation is probably parallel to Israel’s experience after the Exodus. According to Exodus 4:22-23 and Hosea 11:1, Israel was called God’s son. Israel was led into the wilderness by God. Israel, as God’s son, failed the test. Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus is the counterpart to Israel. Jesus is the perfect Son of God. He obediently followed into the wilderness for testing. He conquered temptation by relying upon God’s strength.
The nature of the test.
The forty days gave Jesus a period of undivided communion with God. Jesus fasted in order to devote full time to God’s business and God’s presence rather than devote time to satisfying his personal needs. Ministry and devotion took top priority over physical hunger and self-satisfaction. The devil’s temptations were designed to break Jesus’ fellowship with the Father.
His Test (v. 2b).
In the latter part of verse 2 we are told: “And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.” That certainly doesn’t mean that only after the 40 days Jesus became hungry. The point is that when hunger was at its height the devil tempted Jesus particularly.
In the following verses Luke describes three areas.
Temptation #1: Exercise Power Apart From God’s Will (vv. 3-4).
Verses 3-4 describe the first temptation – to exercise power independent of the Father.
The Temptation (v. 3).
The devil said, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
The reader needs to understand that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God. Jesus’ incarnation did not involve the loss of His divinity. His incarnation involved the voluntary restraint of His divine attributes in submission to the Father. Therefore, Satan’s appeal was made based upon Jesus’ natural desire for food. He tempted Jesus to take control of the situation, to exercise His divine attributes, in order to satisfy His hunger.
Jesus was tempted to use His power as Son of God independently of His Father’s wishes for his own ends. Satan tempted Jesus to express His Sonship in independent authority rather than in filial obedience. Satan’s temptation reflects his desire to turn Jesus aside from his messianic task by striking at His relationship to the Father.
Perfect Response (v. 4).
Jesus replied by quoting Scripture: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ ” Jesus’ point was that the most important aspect of life is not food, but rather obeying the commands of God. Man does not live simply by consuming the physical necessities, man lives by submitting to the commands of God. It is more important to obey God, even if obedience results in physical hunger.
Daily we are bombarded with choices. Often times those decisions require us to decide what our priorities in life are. The priority of our lives ought to be to obey God, which means we spend time reading His Word and communing with Him in order to obey Him. Unfortunately, we often decide to neglect our walk with Him for hundreds of less important reasons: I have to eat, I have to go to work, I have to look after the children, etc. Unfortunately we prioritize our lives in such a way that we unfortunately, exert our energies in obtaining or maintaining the necessities of life to the detriment of our walk with God. Our walk with God ought to be our primary concern, above any other legitimate and good concern.
Do you try to exercise your will/power apart from God’s will? You need to regularly (daily) read God’s Word so that you can find out His will and so that you will submit to and obey it.
Temptation #2: Rule through False Worship (vv. 5-8).
Temptation (vv. 5-7).
Visual impact (v. 5).
In verse 5 the devil “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” This description is a geographic impossibility – as high as He might ascend, He would not have seen all kingdoms because of the shape of the earth (globe). There might have been some visionary aspect to this whereby Jesus was able to see all earthly kingdoms.
The offer (v. 6).
The devil offered: “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” First, the reader must be aware of the fact that the devil offered that which was Jesus’ by right. The kingdoms of the world, by right, belong to Jesus. However, the Father’s plan involved Jesus acquiring the kingdoms, through a path of pain and suffering. Satan’s temptation, therefore, offered the kingdoms without the pain of the cross. To bypass the crucifixion would have been truly tempting, especially since the Kingdoms properly belong to Jesus in the first place, and the pain of death properly belongs to mankind.
However, there was a catch to this attractive offer.
The condition (v. 7).
Satan said “if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” The condition upon receiving all the kingdoms apart from physical suffering was that Jesus would need to offer worship to the devil, yet worship properly belongs to God alone.
The temptation in verses 5-8 involved Jesus’ achieving His rightful power, through a pain-free channel, by simply worshipping God’s rival. By accepting Satan’s terms, there would be no suffering or death for Jesus, but also no atonement and forgiveness for mankind.
Perfect Response (v.8)
Jesus again rebuked the devil through an appeal to Scripture (Dt 6:13; 10:20). Jesus rebuked Satan and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Jesus would maintain His relationship with the Father, and worship only the Father, and continue to be obedient to the Father, even if it meant His own physical harm.
We often make decisions because we see a promise of quick and painless reward. We shy away from making the best choices, which maintain our relationship with and obedience to God, because these choices involve an element of suffering or hardship. We choose to settle for simply good choices or even sinful choices, which ultimately harm our relationship with God, simply because they are pain free, or convenient.
We should be willing to make worship, our walk with God, our priority, even if in so doing we have to take a path less familiar, less comfortable, and less desirable. When we choose an easier path and sacrifice obedience to God it is because we are idolaters – we are worshipping someone else more than God – self.
Do you typically seek the easy way, the pleasurably way, the way that seems more attractive? The reason you do this is because you love yourself more than God. Loving God sincerely results in worshipping Him and doing those things which please Him, even though it might result in unpleasurable consequences.
Temptation #3: Test God’s Protection (vv. 9-12).
Temptation (vv. 9-11)
Dizzying display (v. 9).
Satan “brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.” This was probably the royal colonnade of the temple on the south side of the outer court, which overlooked a deep ravine and was high enough to cause giddiness. The sheer height had the potential to invoke a sense of fear; but the point was that if He was the Son of God He should not be fearful and should trust God.
Added to the emotional aspect of the temptation, was the temptation itself.
Temptation (v. 9b-11)
The significance of the temptation is that the tempter, who had been twice repulsed with Scripture, used Scripture, albeit out of context, to tempt Jesus.
He began with: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.” If He was the Son of God, He should have no fear – furthermore, He should have complete trust in God as demonstrated from the Scripture cited.
Satan introduced two passages with “For it is written…” (v. 10)
First, he said, ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ The quotation is from Ps. 91:11. The angels of God would look after Him.
Then he said in verse 11, “In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.” The quotation is from Ps. 91:12. The psalmist was confident that God had commanded the angels to look after him, especially preventing him from stumbling on a stony path.
The temptation, then, was for Jesus to prove He was the Son of God, by forcing the Father to decisively act in protecting His Son. While this seems like faith, it is in fact a lack of faith. To force a situation and to demand God to respond by quoting His promise is to show a lack of faith. Furthermore, it is the opposite of submission. Those who force God to act are, in effect, telling God how to act within given situations.
Perfect Response (v. 12).
Jesus answered, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” The OT condemns putting God to such tests (Dt 6:16) – it is one thing to trust God in the normal, everyday, providential situations of life, it is quite another thing to force God to act through a careless and daring act. Jesus demonstrated that He is the obedient Son. Israel faithlessly put God to test in the wilderness by demanding Him to supply. Jesus valued His relationship with the Father; He would not harm such a relationship by giving in to the devil’s temptation.
It is one thing to trust God based upon His promises; it is quite another thing to demand God to do something when we want based upon His promises. Though Job was a righteous man before God, as he began to debate with his heartless friends, he developed an accusatory spirit against God while trying to maintain his innocence. He began to demand that God explain why He allowed Job to suffer. Job’s demand for justice implied that God was unjust. For that, his relationship with the Father was harmed. In the end Job repented so that his fellowship with God could be restored.
Do you trust God or tempt God? Do you demand God keep His word according to your timing and your expectations? Or do you patiently wait for God to fulfill His promises according to His timing and His will?
Temporary Respite (v. 13).
Verse 13 says, “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” Relief from Satan’s attacks was only temporary – He would experience similar temptations throughout His life because Satan wanted to discourage Jesus from complete obedience.
Satan’s temptation of Jesus serves as the prelude to Jesus’ public ministry. The focus is on Jesus as God’s beloved Son who resists temptation and obeys God. The temptation demonstrates: Satan is God’s archenemy and is diligent in countering Jesus and His mission, and Jesus’ success in overcoming Satan’s devices was through His unyielding love and commitment to God and His commands.
The temptations teach us:
Don’t try to act apart from God’s will – make the best decisions, based upon God’s Word, even though it may cost you for your obedience.
Don’t opt for pleasure or convenience rather than obedience – in so doing you demonstrate a heart of idolatrous self-worship.
Don’t tell God how or when He must act – learn to trust God, not tempt God.