THE WILDERNESS TEMPTATIONS

LUKE 4:1-13

One of the most desolate places on the face of the earth is the arid desert wilderness between the mountains of Judea and the Dead Sea. The elevation drops over 3000 feet from the mountains down to the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet. This is not an ordinary desert of sandy dunes, but rather a broken and twisted mass of rocky gorges and jagged limestone cliffs. The shimmering heat of day turns it into a burning oven while the freezing night drives shrieking winds over the fractured ravines.

So terrible was the parched land that the Jews of the ancient world called it by the name YeShimon, "Place of Desolation." This contorted nightmare of jagged ridges and narrow defiles was to be the scene of one of the greatest battles of all time. Against the backdrop of the wilderness, isolated and remote, two figures would come to do battle.

On the one side was his royal highness, the prince and power of the air, the ruler of this world whose name is Satan.

On the other side came Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God and promised King of Israel.

This is the first time in thousands of years that a man has stood upon the earth who is without sin. Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satanís claim to the earth and all of her inhabitants has been undisputed. Since the days when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, Satan has reigned over the earth.

Adam

The Second Adam

Created by God

Supernaturally conceived by God

Created without sin

Born without sin

Created in the image of God

God manifested in the flesh

Tempted and fell into sin

Tempted but was victorious over sin

Battled Satan in a garden

Battled Satan in the wilderness

The battle will take place on Satanís ground. Here in a land that shows the full fruits of Adamís sin, these two will engage in a titanic struggle. The conflict will not take place in a garden, but in the desert wilderness. It will not take place when Jesus is filled with the fruit of many trees, but after He has fasted for 40 days. The surroundings of Jesus are to His disadvantage, but even so, He will win the victory.

 

THE SETTING FOR THE TEMPTATIONS

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. (Luke 4:1-2).

In the previous chapter we saw the baptism of Jesus. Now He moves out from the Jordan River into the wilderness. One event follows immediately on the heels of the other. No sooner does Jesus come out of the water and receive the affirmation of His Heavenly Father, then He is instantly led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He will be tempted. What is the significance of this?

The baptism of Jesus launched Him into His public ministry. Up to this moment, He has been living quietly in Nazareth. The world has been virtually unaware of His presence. It almost seems as though the spiritual world has been lulled into a sense of complacency.

Suddenly Jesus appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with Johnís baptism. It is not a baptism for repentance, for Jesus has no need to repent. It is a baptism by which Jesus identifies Himself with the ministry and the message of John. As He comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit of God descends and a voice from Heaven announces the Fatherís satisfaction. This must have been a high point in the life of Jesus. It was a great spiritual experience.

Now Jesus moves out into the wilderness. He will be alone. He will contemplate the work that is before Him and meditate upon all that is going to happen. It is at this time that Satan comes.

This is how Satan works. When a person is not actively engaged in the work of God, Satan will often leave him alone. But when that person begins to have an active ministry, then Satan soon comes upon the scene.

Notice something else about Satanís tactics. He is a great counter-puncher. His attack invariably comes after you have experienced a spiritual high. Immediately after that moment of spiritual victory, you can expect Satanís attack.

It has been said that in order to defeat an opponent in warfare, you must anticipate his tactics. We are involved in a spiritual war. Our enemy is Satan. We need to be aware of his tactics.

In this chapter we shall see Jesus in combat with Satan. We shall see the weapons that Jesus uses to defeat His opponent. We shall become aware of the strategies of Satan.

1. The Sovereignty of the Spirit: Jesus...was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness (4:1).

It was the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the wilderness. God Himself brought about the setting for the confrontation. Though God did not do the actual tempting, He allowed it to take place and set the forces into motion that would bring Jesus and Satan face to face.

Why? I think that it is to prove that Jesus could not be made to sin. It is as if God is saying, "Satan, do your worst. Bring your greatest temptations forward. They will not avail."

The first Adam was tempted and succumbed to that temptation. The Last Adam shall now be tempted and He shall not yield.

2. The Time of the Temptation: For forty days (4:2).

Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. This number seems to carry a special significance within the Bible.

In each of these examples, the number 40 seems to imply a time of testing, a probation or a trial. This was also the time of the testing of Jesus.

3. The Fact of the Temptation: Jesus...being tempted by the devil (4:2).

The statement that Jesus was tempted brings us to a crucial question. How can we say that Jesus was tempted when the Scriptures plainly state that "God cannot be tempted by evil" (James 1:13)? If Jesus was God in the flesh, then how could He have been tempted?

The Greek word which is translated "tempted" in this passage can have two possible meanings:

To solicit to sin

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5).

I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (James 1:14).

To put to a test.

This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. (John 6:6).

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10).

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

I want to suggest that it is the first usage which is in view here in Lukeís account. We can see this by observing what Satan is trying to do. I think that it is obvious. He is trying to get Jesus to sin.

However the temptation of Jesus had one fundamental difference from any temptation that we have ever experienced. It was not a temptation from WITHIN.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:1-15).

Here is the difference. When you are tempted, that temptation may be originated by Satan, but he uses your own lusts and sinful desires to bring you into sin. Jesus had no sin (Hebrews 4:15). Temptations were thrown at Jesus, but could not find a single weak spot in that Righteous One.

Were the temptations real? I donít think that there can be any doubt but that they were very real. But there was nothing sinful within the nature of Jesus that would answer to any sinful temptation. Jesus was more than just sinless. He was righteous.

Adam

Jesus

Was in the Garden in an untested innocent state with the possibility of falling into sin

Lived with complete and eternal righteousness that did not entertain sin

 

THE FIRST TEMPTATION

And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

And Jesus answered him, "It is written, Ďman shall not live on bread alone.í" (Luke 4:3-4).

Notice that right at the outset Satan freely recognizes the deity of Jesus. When he says, "If You are the Son of God," he uses a Greek form that assumes the condition to be true. We could even translated this as, "SINCE you are the Son of God..."

The Father had proclaimed the Jesus was His Son at His baptism. Satan is too smart to deny that pronouncement. His attack will be more subtle. He will play on that pronouncement. He will say, "Since you are the Son of God and since you have been given all of the authority in the universe, why are you going hungry?"

1. An Inappropriate Command: "Tell this stone to become bread" (4:3).

John the Baptist had said that God could make sons of Abraham from stones. Now Satan suggests something similar. He suggests that Jesus turn stones into bread.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Whatís wrong with that?" What is wrong with turning stones into bread? On the surface, there seems to be nothing harmful in this suggestion. But we need to look carefully at its implications.

Satan is saying, "Use Your divine power independently of God. Donít worry about the Fatherís will or that the Spirit of God has brought you here for a special purpose. Just use what You have for Your own comfort."

This is not the only time that Satan will use this temptation. We will see this temptation again at the end of the ministry of Jesus when He is about to be taken by His enemies and crucified. Throughout this time of pain and agony, Jesus will have the power to stop it with a single word. The temptation will be to avoid the cross. But He will not do so.

We have a similar temptation today. We havenít been out turning stones into bread, but we are all tempted to act independently of God. We succumb to this temptation every time that we show a lack of faith. The opposite of independence is FAITH. Satan was attacking the faith of Jesus. Jesus answers with the Word of God.

2. A Biblical Response: "It is written, Ďman shall not live on bread aloneí" (4:4).

In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul describes the spiritual weapons of the believer. There is the shield that is to be used to protect ourselves from the attacks of Satan. It is the shield of faith. We also have a sword, a weapon used both to parry the enemyís blade as well as to counterattack. The sword is the Word of God.

Jesus uses these same spiritual weapons. He answers Satan with the Word of God. He quotes from the Law of God.

"You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

"He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Do you see the parallel? Just as Israel was brought through the Red Sea, so Jesus has come up from His baptism in the Jordan River. He has been in the wilderness for 40 days. And He is being tested by a lack of food. Will He continue to rely upon the Lord as Israel was forced to rely upon the Lord?

Israel

Jesus

Was delivered through the Red Sea

Was baptized in the Jordan River

Wandered in the wilderness for 40 years

Was in the wilderness for 40 days

Tested by a lack of food

Tested by 40 days of hunger

Had to rely upon the Lord for manna

He must rely upon the Lord in his hunger

This was the purpose of Israelís test -- to teach her to rely upon the Lord. Jesus underwent a similar testing. By His answer, He demonstrated that He would continue to rely upon the Lord and not upon His own abilities.

 

THE SECOND TEMPTATION

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.

"Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours."

Jesus answered him, "It is written, ĎYou shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.í" (Luke 4:5-8).

At this point, we might notice that the temptations recorded here in Lukeís account are not in the same order as they are found in Matthew. There is nothing wrong with this. Neither account is specific about an orderly arrangement. The important point is not about the order of the temptations but that Jesus was tempted and He successfully withstood those temptations.

  1. A Kingdom Offer: "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours" (4:6-7).
  2. Donít miss the implications of this offer. Satan is offering Jesus the Messianic Kingdom. He is saying in effect, "You donít need to go to the cross. Just worship me and I will give you the very thing for which You have come to earth. I will give You the Kingdom."

    Was this a legitimate offer? I donít know. Satan claims that it was given to him and that it was his right to give it to whom he wished. It is interesting that Jesus did not dispute Satanís ownership of the kingdoms of this world.

  3. A Demonic Desire: "If You worship before me, it shall all be Yours" (4:7).

Satan wants to be worshipped. He wants to take Godís place. He wants to be God instead of God.

Once again Jesus answers with a quote from the Old Testament. Again it is taken from the book of Deuteronomy, this time coming from Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20.

 

THE THIRD TEMPTATION

And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ĎHe will command His angels concerning you to guard you,í 11 and, ĎOn their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.í"

And Jesus answered and said to him, "It is said, ĎYou shall not put the Lord your God to the test.í"

When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:9-13).

Now Jesus is taken by Satan to a familiar place. It is to the city of Jerusalem. It is to the Temple. We have already had numerous glimpses of the Temple in Luke.

Now He is back. But this time He is brought to the pinnacle of the Temple. This seems to be a reference to the extreme southeast corner where a tower rose 450 feet over the Kidron Valley. Each morning a priest would come to the pinnacle where there were steps leading to the top. He would climb the steps to the top and wait at this vantage point. When the first morning rays of the sun broke over the Mount of Olives to the east, the priest would sound a trumpet, signaling that the offering of the morning sacrifices could commence.

This tower was known as the pinnacle of the Temple. It was one of the most visible places in all Jerusalem. It was a place that was in plain view of all who had come to worship. This would be the scene of the final temptation.

Once again we see the assertion by Satan that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. This temptation will be based upon that assumption. Satan wants Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. And he wants Him to do it without the benefit of a parachute. Why? Because if He jumps and is rescued by angels, then this will be such a spectacular sign to the Jews that they will have to believe.

Do you see what Satan is saying? "Give the Jews a sign that they cannot deny. Be acknowledged as the Messiah at once. Do something sensational that will make people believe. Since you are the Son of God, perform such a fantastic miracle that all will come to recognize You."

Satan had learned something about Jesus in the first two temptations. He had learned that Jesus used Scripture to resist temptation. And so Satan takes up the same tactic. Satan quotes Scripture, too. The quote is taken from Psalm 91:11-12. The quote is used to imply that such an act will have Godís approval.

Do you see what Satan has done? In the first two temptations, Jesus showed His trust in the Lord. Now Satan tries to use that same faith of Jesus to tempt Him. He is not saying, "Donít trust in the Lord anymore." Instead he says, "Jump and then have faith that God will not allow you to be hurt."

Satan backs up the temptation by quoting Scripture. There is a lesson here. Scripture quoted out of context can be used to promote anything.

Once again Jesus avoids Satanís temptation with a quote from the book of Deuteronomy.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tempted Him at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16).

What happened at Massah? The incident is recorded in Exodus 17:1-7. The Israelites had just come through the Red Sea. As they traveled southward into the Sinai Peninsula, they discovered that there was no water. They complained to Moses about the situation and finally began to question whether the Lord was really with them and why He had brought them here. It was this questioning of Godís purpose and of His intentions that brought them this rebuke.

Now the same rebuke is passed to Satan. He is questioning the purposes and intentions of God. He is implying that the purposes of God are not in Jesusí best interest. He is trying to get Jesus to act outside of the plan of God.

Temptation Stated

Satanís Offer

Old Testament Parallel

Turn stones into bread

Satisfy hunger

Manna in the wilderness

Worship Satan

Grant the Kingdom

Worship of golden calf

Jump off Pinnacle of the Temple

Provide a sign to Israel

Testing God in the wilderness

This was not the end of the temptations of Jesus. But it was the end for a time. It has been said that peace is that brief moment when everyone stops to reload. Satan is like that. His attacks sometimes cease, but that is only because he is awaiting a more opportune time.


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