The Temptation of Jesus
Heb. 2:14-18; 4:16
by Robert J. Young

We have not studied the temptation of Jesus, but temptation is one great fact in life of Christ and every Christian. What happened at the temptation? What is the significance? Mt. 4:1- 11; Lk. 4:1-13. Continue to study great events in life of Christ. Interesting, arrest attention, learn, grow, develop, mature. Challenge, rewarding. Little is said in church today about temptation, and we have not studied, and thus we do not understand, either Jesus' temptation or ours.
In fact, temptation has a sinister, threatening connotation today which was not always attached to it. Originally, the word was neutral, meant to put to the test or proof, to test the quality of. While God cannot be tempted, God was tested by Israel's distrust, as if people were challenging God to show his perfection (Ex. 17:2; Ps.78:18; Heb. 3:9). Obviously, Christ is tempted as a human. This is the proof of his character, quality. So originally, there was no evil implied in temptation. Temptation in the Bible has the possibility of holiness as well as of sin.
This temptation of Jesus is under the direction of the Spirit, Mk. 1:12; Mt. 4:1. This was not sought by Christ, but neither was it feared. Even we are not tempted above our ability to respond (1 Cor. 10:13); and as with Paul, his grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:8-9).

I. The Context
Geographically, it is the lonely place, wilderness, desert. Up from the Jordan (Matt.) And going back to Galilee (Luke). After his baptism, thus relating to the purpose. It was probably on a mountain (up from the Jordan). God has often dealt with man from mountains--Moriah, Sinai, Nebo, Gerizim, Ebal, Sermon on Mount, Mt. of Olives, mountain to pray, transfiguration, ascension, etc.

II. The Purpose
This was after Jesus' baptism. At his baptism, Christ received confirmation of his task, his role, his identity, his Messiahship. Here is the greatest concept to enter the human mind and leave it sane. Now how will this work be carried out? This question is the focal point of the temptation. Here are the principles that will govern the work of Jesus. What does a Messiah do? How? By this conflict in the temptation, Jesus came to decisions about what the character of his ministry would be.

III. The Result
The result was Jesus' preparation for ministry, Lk. 4:15. He came down from the mountain in the power of the Spirit, he spoke and ministered powerfully.

IV. The Details
Jesus was so intensely absorbed in these events that he did not eat. Nothing ascetic or ritualistic is here in the text.

  • 1. The first temptation was not to doubt his identity as Messiah, if you are the Son of God. Better, since.... There is no doubt in Jesus' mind that he is God's anointed. Nor is there doubt in Satan's mind. This is no temptation to prove himself to be the Messiah. The point is, How are you going to act since you are the Messiah? What will be the process and power of your ministry? That is the point of all temptation, how will you act since you are a Christian? It is testing with the possibility of victory as well as defeat.
    The first temptation was to depend upon self more than God. Here is self-reliance. Here is opportunity to call attention to self. The temptation is to run ahead of God, to be selfish, to refuse the succor and nourishment of God. Jesus has the power to miraculously fulfill his appetite. He can use the power of God for human whim, but will he depend on God. Does he know God will not let him perish. God can provide bread in his own way at his time. Christ will not run ahead of God nor misuse the power and authority that is his. He will not use that power to help himself, for personal gain.
    In this refusal is his sharing with humanity. There is a whole set of temptations that turn on the fact that there are occasions when things right in and of themselves are not right. There are times when we do not exercise our power or liberty or authority. It is a principle of his life and must be of ours. The church is not self-serving; we are not consumers or Christianity, nor spectators. The Church is itself call to be servant. We are here to do, not to be done for, Matt. 20:28. This is the first temptation.
  • 2. The first temptation proved Christ a man of faith, not running ahead, not impatient for God to prove himself. The second is to be spectacular more than spiritual. The second asks him to prove faith by putting the promise to God to the test in a spectacular test. This is a temptation to fanaticism, the destruction of many a useful servant. Christ does not yield. This desire to test and prove God to satisfy our human desires is the downfall of many religious persons today. This is an evil presumption that supposes God must yield to every whim of mankind, reasonable or no. Here is another principle clearly seen: Christ will not of his self-will run into dangers, but will rather avoid them except in the clear path of duty. He is no fanatic, running before God, but is led by God in paths of sanity and wisdom. Christ waited on God. This principle must govern our 20th century Christianity. We must not put God to the test.
    Have you ever talked to someone--if God would swoop down and reveal himself, if God would prove his existence to me, if I could see God. Or affirmations, I saw God, I touched God, God spoke to me. God will do something special for me. God is not to be put to the test in that way.
  • 3. Third temptation is desire for shortcuts, to success and power without service. It is in itself a right instinct, and the natural and proper wish is to avoid difficulty and pain, but it would be a compromise. The offer is evil, for it is changing the basis of his kingdom from the spiritual to the external, and the means would defeat the end. This is a third principle: Jesus will serve God only, and God is served in righteousness, without shortcuts. He is seeking righteousness, and only the means God approves can be used. Only moral and spiritual means can lead to moral and spiritual victory. Here is a life-death struggle with the forces of darkness.

    V. The Applications
    This struggle is not literal, Satan hardly took Jesus from place to place. There is no mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. This is about what it means to us. Another set of three principles, things we can learn.

  • 1. The nature of the temptation. If you were tempting Christ, what temptations would you use? These? Others? What? At what point does sin enter in and why? What tempts you?
  • 2. The scope of temptation. 1 John 2:15ff. Temptation is the incitement of natural desires beyond the bounds set. Desires, being natural, are given of God. They are not in themselves sinful when gratified and used as God intended. But the temptation is incitement to go beyond what God intended.
  • 3. The reality of temptation. The temptation of Jesus was real. This is difficult for some. Was he really tempted? There is no drawing toward an object unless the object seems desirable. Notice that in each case the appeal was a real appeal to a perfectly innocent natural instinct or appetite: hunger, faith, power as a means to establish righteousness. Christ did not prove that he could not be tempted, but that he could overcome the tempter. Not until there is response is there sin. Adam and Eve heard and responded, Christ heard and said no. God was not to be called upon to do stunts.

    Christ is our example, even in temptation. He fought and triumphed. Christians do not have to sin. We ought not to seek temptation, neither should we fear it. Out of temptations emerge principles to govern and guide life:

    These are ever the questions before us in temptation, and God will help us deal with that temptation, 1 Cor. 10:13.
    These things are true for the Christian, but for those outside of Christ, no power for overcoming temptation exists. Thus it is imperative that you let God free you from sin, and be a part of keeping you free from sin, through the continually cleansing of his blood, and through the power to deal with temptation. Mark 16:15-16; Romans 6.

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    Last updated November 11, 2002.