Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert 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” …
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 …”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (verses 1-3, 5-6, 8-9)
The background to this story is crucial. Jesus, at his baptism, has just been fully embraced in his identity by the Father. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). With the voice of the Father ringing in his ears, Jesus is rooted in the intimate security of divine relationship.
Further, the Spirit has descended upon him, anointing him with his presence, equipping him with power, and has now led him decisively into a season of fasting in the desert’s loneliness. As he experiences the intensity of temptation from the devil, Jesus knows he is enveloped in the presence and purposes of God himself.
Part of that purpose is to highlight his faithfulness as Son, in contrast to the failing experience of God’s people, Israel. As Moses told them, “The Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to 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 …” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).Time and again, Israel failed the test, rebelling and grumbling and disobeying, revealing the true condition of their hearts. Jesus, instead, displays his faithfulness as Son.
The devil, knowing Jesus is famished after 40 days, tempts him at a basic human level, urging him to abort the season of fasting and rely on himself for provision instead of the Father. Jesus brushes it aside. Confident in the Father’s embrace, he quotes from the same passage in Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The devil switches tactics. He quotes scripture back at Jesus, implying that if he truly trusts the Father’s word, he will throw himself from the temple’s pinnacle to demonstrate the scripture’s promise: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands” (verse 6). Jesus, undaunted, doesn’t need to test the Father. He simply trusts. He refuses to jump.
Finally, the devil goes for the jugular. Knowing Jesus has come to seek and to save what was lost, he offers Jesus the “kingdoms of the world.” Ironically, he focuses on “their splendour,” when Jesus is simply interested in the heart. His sights are set on redeeming human hearts by sacrifice – he keeps his own aligned with the Father, worshipping and serving him only, submitting only to him. He commands the tempter: “Away from me Satan!” (verse 10).
And so, “the devil left him” (verse 11), though Luke makes it clear it was only “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). No matter. Jesus lived in continual awareness of his position with the Father. He walked constantly in the enveloping presence of the Spirit. And he knew with certainty the promises of Scripture, trusting and obeying the Father’s word. He was sustained – battle-hardened.
Oh, may I “arm (myself) with the same way of thinking” (1 Peter 4:1). A child of the Father. Filled with the Spirit. Grounded in the Word. In Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have been tempted in every way, just as I am, yet without sin. Strengthen me, to follow your lead, grounded in you.
Father, thank you that I, too, am embraced as your child. Spirit, thank you that you dwell within me. Equip me to stand firm in the time of temptation. Amen.
Reflect: Temptation comes in many forms. Prepare yourself by allowing these three truths to capture your mind afresh: I am in Christ. I am loved as the Father’s own child. I am indwelt by the Spirit.
Photo by Bernd Dittrich on Unsplash