January is finally over. Hopefully the bitter cold will disappear with it. As you may know, we cancelled church on January 20 because of the bad weather. That Sunday’s sermon was to have dealt with the Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1–17). I had titled the sermon that I prepared for that Sunday, Tempted. With the bitter cold that followed, I must admit that I was tempted to ask for some vacation time and run south to warmer weather.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:12–13 (ESV)
The Temptation of Jesus is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew (4:1–11), Mark (1:12-13), and Luke (4:1–13) and is not mentioned in the Gospel of John. After being baptized by John the Baptizer, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the desert. Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him. Jesus rebuffed each temptation. Satan departed and Jesus returned to Galilee and began his ministry. The only hint of this encounter, in the Gospel of John, is found in John 14:30. Here, in the English Standard Version (ESV), Jesus comments on Satan as being “the ruler of this world” saying, “He has no claim on me.” Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews refers to Jesus as having been tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)
Matthew, Mark, and Luke make clear that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. Matthew and Luke differ in the timing of when Jesus began to be tempted. In Matthew, Jesus was tempted at the end of the 40 days, “he was hungry. And the tempter came”. Matthew 4:2b–3a (ESV) In Luke, Jesus was being tempted during the forty days and then the devil came to him. Mark appears to agree with Luke in when Jesus temptation began.
for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”Luke 4:2–3 (ESV)
And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:13 (ESV)
Matthew and Luke differ in their order of the three temptations. In Matthew / Luke, Jesus is tempted to:
- “command these stones to become loaves of bread” / “command this stone to become bread” to relieve his own hunger
- “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down”/ “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” – both Matthew and Luke have the devil quoting Psalm 91:11–12.
- “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” / If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
In Luke, the second and third temptations are reversed. These details are missing from Mark.
Using Matthew’s order, Jesus answers each of these temptations citing Scripture:
- Temptation 1 with Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV),
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
- Temptation 2 with Deuteronomy 6:13 or 10:20 (ESV),
It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.
- Temptation 3 with Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV),
You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
Much of the story of the Temptation of Jesus harkens back to the Old Testament with the Great Flood when it rained for forty days and nights, with Elijah and Moses in fasting for forty days and nights, with the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and with Elijah, who was fed by ravens paralleling Jesus being ministered to by angels.
and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Matthew 4:11b (ESV)
There are some interesting questions that come to mind while reading about the Temptation of Jesus. Here are just a few:
- Where exactly was the pinnacle of the temple?
- What mountain was Jesus taken to so that he could see all the kingdoms of the world?
- Was there any real risk that Jesus would have chosen differently?
- If there wasn’t, was he really tempted?
Having gone through all this, what can we take home with us? I recently came across a concise answer to this in Abraham Mutholath’s Jesus Overcomes Temptation. “The Biblical meaning of temptation is ‘a trial in which man has a free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God’. Satan encouraged Jesus to deviate from the plan of his father by misusing his authority and privileges. Jesus used the Holy Scripture to resist all such temptation. When we are tempted, the solution is to be sought in the Bible.”1
Yours in Christ,
1 Mutholath, Abraham. “Jesus Overcomes Temptation“, St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, February 11, 2018