Part II begins on this page. Click below to view:
Part I - Overview and Background:
Introduction to Part I
Jesus as High Priest
Temptation as Trial
Jesus as the Second Adam
Jesus' Use of Scripture
Jesus as Representative of Israel
Footnotes for Part I
Part II - The Temptations:
Introduction to Part II (this page)
The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread (this page)
The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple (this page)
Footnotes for Part II (this page)
The Temptation to Glory and Power
Conclusion and Summary
Copyright and reprint information.
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A Bible Study of: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13
by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy
Language note: In a few cases below the original vocabulary of the New Testament is discussed. In such cases an anglicized spelling is given.
Matthew and Luke list three specific temptations of Christ in the wilderness. But nothing in the texts limits the temptations from being more numerous than those listed here. Mark and Luke suggest that there were temptations during the forty days leading up to the three that are mentioned (Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2). Such other details as the different order in Luke's gospel, the fact that Mark doesn't list them, and our knowledge of the craftiness of Satan, all suggest that the three listed in Matthew and Luke were only representative of the temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness. Further, Luke's gospel states that afterwards the devil "departed from Him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). This suggests what the author of Hebrews states, that Jesus was tempted in many ways during His earthly life (Hebrews 4:15). Certainly most of these would have been more subtle than the temptations offered directly by Satan in the wilderness. It is reasonable to believe, however, that these are representative of the more significant temptations that Christ endured in the wilderness, if, in fact, He was tempted by more than were listed in the Gospels.
One of the questions that might be asked concerning the temptations is the wilderness is how, if Jesus was alone, others learned about them so that they came to be included in the Gospels. The answer to this question has to be that Jesus told His disciples about them either in the time before His crucifixion or as the resurrected Christ prior to His ascension. In any case, if we were tempted to doubt them, it is important to notice that all of these temptations were present in the life of Christ prior to His crucifixion, and He did not give in to them. If He had, Christ would have had a radically different ministry, and would never have gone to the cross.
The "wilderness" Jesus lived in during this period of time was not a desert as we often think of it, a place filled with drifting sands, but a barren area of rocks, little vegetation, and, as Marks reminds us, "wild beasts," probably snakes and scorpions among other wildlife.
It does not stretch the facts to say that this was preparation for a lonely ministry on the part of Christ, a ministry that no one would fully understand and support until after His resurrection. For in the wilderness there were no props. There was no human support whatsoever. The loneliness would have been intense. There was also no audience - except God, Satan, and Christ Himself.
Under these conditions, the suggestion of Satan that Jesus turn rocks into bread would seem to most of us to be a thoroughly reasonable use of Christ's power. If it could have been said that the "wrong message would have been sent," it is also true that there was no human audience to know. Jesus could have provided for Himself in this manner without misleading anyone that this was to be His form of ministry.
But, if we look at Satan's temptation in this manner, we entirely forget the context of the temptation and the invitation that was actually given. Satan is appealing to Jesus' hunger, but he is appealing to Christ to use magical means not just to satisfy the hunger, but to prove that He is the Christ. If Christ had succumbed here, He would have set a precedent for using His power to benefit Himself throughout His entire ministry.
Christ was not "anointed" of the Holy Spirit to do His will, but the will of His Father. John records Jesus' declarations, "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me . . . For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me . . . And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (John 5:30, 6:38, 8:29; Matthew 7:21, 12:50).
Jesus' reference to Deuteronomy involves the context of the quote in addition to the quote itself, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4). Luke does not include the second part of the quote. The quote is taken from Deuteronomy 8:3, "man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God."
In Deuteronomy, this verse is part of an explanation of why God led the Israelites into the wilderness, which also relates strongly to the goal of the book of Deuteronomy. The great lesson God was seeking to instill upon His people was dependence upon Him. There was no food in the wilderness, so the people were dependent upon the manna God provided from heaven. There was little water in the wilderness, and the water that could be found was often unsuitable for drinking. Therefore, Israel was dependent upon God for water. The same God who spoke and creation came into being spoke in the wilderness and His people were provided for. But they were provided for as God saw fit, not as they demanded.
This was not, however, what most of the Israelites had in mind! The record of the exodus from Egypt is a record of complaints. They complained when Pharaoh chased them with chariots before they crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12), they complained when they found bitter waters at Marah (Exodus 15:23-24), after which they complained because they were hungry (Exodus 16:2-12). They complained about water again at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7), they complained because they liked the food of Egypt better than the manna God provided (Numbers 11:1-34), and they complained because there were adversaries in the Promised Land (Numbers 14:1-35). It was because of this last complaint that the people were told that their generation would not enter the Promised Land.
After this, Korah and others rebelled against the established priesthood (Numbers 16:50). When those who took part in the rebellion were punished, the people complained against that! Later, the people complained again, "And the people spoke against God and Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food' " (Numbers 21:5).
If the Israelites had learned the lesson of dependence upon God early on, they would have passed quickly into their inheritance, the Promised Land. Instead, they stayed in the wilderness. Deuteronomy makes clear why the lesson of dependence upon God for material needs was so important. The lesson of dependence upon God that began with physical necessities prepared them for dependence upon God for moral and spiritual guidance. The two were quite inseparable.
Every complaint against God is an accusation that God is untrustworthy. Each refusal to trust Him expresses the belief that God is less than good. Man is dependent upon every "thing" that comes forth from the mouth of God because it doesn't matter whether we are speaking of His speaking to provide us with sustenance or security or whether He is speaking to give us a commandment to live by. In both cases, dependence upon God is an affirmation of His reality and goodness. The "word" of Matthew 4:4 is probably more correctly translated "thing," which the meaning of the Greek word ( rhema) allows. However, no violence is done to translate it "word" since what comes from God's mouth can always be considered a "word." Certainly, God's provision is seen in John 1 where Christ is described as the eternal "word" (in this case logos) that proceeded from God.
To drive this lesson home, material blessings and faithfulness to God's Law were bound together for ancient Israel in a manner that is not true for any other people or nation then or afterwards, not even the Christian church. This is not to say that God does not provide for His people. But there is not the direct relationship between obedience to God and physical provisions for safety, health, and prosperity that were true for ancient Israel. In Deuteronomy, God makes specific promises about His actions that are dependent upon the actions of Israel. The latter history of Israel shows God's application of these promises for both good and ill as Israel is faithful to or rebellious against the Lord. But, by and large, Israel never achieves the level of faithfulness that the Law was meant to guide them to except in Jesus. As God says through Isaiah, "I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face" (Isaiah 65:2-3). The earlier part of this verse from Isaiah is quoted by Paul in Romans 10:21 to describe Israel in his day.
Even the best of Israel's leaders failed to rely fully upon God's providence at some point in their lives. Abraham had a son by Hagar rather than wait upon God's promised provision by Sarah (Genesis 15:1-6, 16:1-4). The young Moses sought to bring justice for His people rather than to wait upon God's plan (Exodus 2:11-15), and later sought to bring water from a rock with His rod rather than by dependence upon God's Word (Numbers 20:7-13). David took Bathsheba as a wife even though this constituted adultery (II Samuel 11:1 -12:23 Psalm 51).
It should not be thought that this implies that the people of Israel were any worse than any other people of the world. There is no cause for boasting by anyone, since Israel, in her rebelliousness, represents all other people and peoples. The lesson is, if Israel would not respond to the Lord, with all the advantages given to Israel, no one else would either.
Jesus, then, as God's anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, rejects rebelliousness and chooses obedience and submission. His submission to what God provides for Him under trying circumstances matches His reliance upon the Father's guidance for His mission. Jesus cannot and will not use His power as magic is used in pagan religions. He will use it only when spiritual and moral circumstances make it appropriate to do so.
Greed is one sign of a false prophet (II Peter 2:1-3, 10, 13-18, Jude 4, 11-12, 16, I Peter 5:2). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul quoted the Old Testament to underscore the truth that religious leaders and teachers have a perfect right to make a living from their work (I Timothy 5:17-18). Jesus, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, subjected Himself to deprivation, and the temptation that stems from deprivation, for a period of a little more than forty days and forty nights - some people seem to expect ministers to do this for their entire ministries! Surely a person doesn't have to deny legitimate human needs in order to prove that person's devotion to God. In fact, for them to do so is to imply that sin somehow resides in human flesh rather than in the spirit, and to deny the goodness of what God has created. It would also make God a monster who delights in the suffering of His own people - which could not be farther from the truth. In his letters, Paul wrote again and again against those who would impose an ascetic lifestyle upon others (I Timothy 4:1-11, Colossians 2:16-23, I Corinthians 10:23-33, Romans 14:1-23). However, Paul goes on to point out that there are "men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness (religion) is a means of gain (I Timothy 6:5). Jesus deplored the moneychangers, men who profiteered from people's piety, and drove them from the Temple, saying "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer;' but you are making it a robber's den (Matthew 21:13, Luke 19:46).
God condemned the religious leaders of Ezekiel's day as seeking their own interests rather than the interests of God's flock, the people of Israel. Through Ezekiel God promised to Shepherd the people Himself (Ezekiel 34:2-16). Jesus was the fulfillment of this promise (Luke 19:10, John 10:11, Matthew 18:10ff., 15:24). If Jesus had given in to the temptation to self-indulgence rather than dependence upon God, He would have been like the shepherds condemned in Ezekiel, and would have failed to have performed the ministry God sent Him to do.
Jesus' enemies accused Him of being a "gluttonous man and a drunkard" (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34) because there were times when He dined with those who had wealth. But few except His most radical critics believe that Jesus really lived that way. Most of Christ's life was characterized by sacrifice and even poverty. Jesus once remarked that "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58). Christ's compassion for five thousand people who came to hear Him teach caused Him to multiply a few fish and loaves so that the entire group could be fed. This miracle was not hidden. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that many would want to follow Him just for easy provision of their physical needs. He firmly rejected those who followed Him in this manner, seeking to win their loyalty for spiritual reasons (John 6:1-59, Philippians 3:18-19).
The greatest temptation for Jesus to use His power for His own interests came in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal. Jesus said, ". . . the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). He prayed for a way out if His mission could be accomplished any other way. But His decision, here as in the wilderness, was to do His Father's will, even at the cost of His life.
The second temptation in Matthew's account, and the third in Luke's, was for Jesus to make a public display of His identity by committing a reckless act and forcing God to rescue Him publicly.
The exact spot at the Temple or its grounds that Satan invited Jesus to is not important. Nor does it really matter whether Jesus and Satan actually traveled there or simply considered the prospect, standing as if there and considering Satan's proposal in their minds. It seems unlikely that they left the wilderness, however, both because a spiritual journey would have been inconsistent with Christ's temptation as a man, and because the Temple was a very public place at which they surely would have been seen by the public during the day and by guards at night.
It was the public nature of the Temple, along with the spiritual importance of the Temple to the Jews, that caused Satan to suggest it as the site of this event. Satan was not simply challenging Jesus to prove Himself before Satan, He was challenging Jesus to prove His identity to all Jews; through a public act at the one central point in all of the world where Jews believed they could truly come before their God.
To make his temptation more persuasive, Satan quoted from the 91st psalm. This psalm is a beautiful piece of literature that describes the sufficiency of God's protection of His people. God is referred to as the "Most High" and "the Almighty" to underscore His sovereignty over all creation.
The place of security is "in the shelter of the Most High" and "in the shadow of the Almighty" (v.1). This strongly suggests a picture of the innermost room of the Tabernacle or the Temple, the Holy of Holies, where the Shekinah glory of the Lord resided above the cherubim mounted on the top of the ark of the covenant. Beneath the cherubim was the mercy seat, and beneath that the ark. Underneath the ark was the shadow of the Shekinah glory. Into this room the high priest entered only once each year on the Day of Atonement. Anyone else who entered would die. But the shadow of the Almighty, beneath the ark, was a safe place, sheltered from God's glory which man could not see, and yet protected by God's presence from all the evil forces of the world. This protection is compared to the protection of a mother bird for her young.
The evil in this psalm has strong overtones of the demonic, since in the ancient world, harm was attributed to malevolent spirits and curses. The protection of God is fully sufficient, both day and night, against any force of wickedness. The Jew who read of many falling while the person who loves God is protected was reminded of deliverance in Israel's past; none more dramatic than the Passover, when the first-born of Egypt died, but the blood of the lamb on the door post signaled allegiance to God, bringing protection to God's people.
Psalm 91 makes clear that God's protection was not extended to everyone. The wicked would face judgment - recompense for their deeds (v. 8). Those who receive God's protection are those who seek Him as their "dwelling place" (v. 9), those who seek to please God and live in fellowship with Him. "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him" (vs. 14-15).
There can be no doubt that this psalm provides powerful assurance of God's provision for His people - the kind of provision Christ Himself needed to depend upon in His trial in the wilderness and in His contest with the greatest representative of the world of darkness. What was missing from the psalm was any justification for the belief that God would honor recklessness. Recklessness involves a person making his or her own plans and expecting God to bless them rather than walking in God's will.
The pagans had gods who were "respecters of persons," who made friends of people according to whim or ritual and offered benefits to their friends. God maintained a way righteousness which He demanded of His people. God's Law was clear, the benefits of His presence and His providence came to those who were loyal to Him and his ways. The result if Jesus had jumped from the pinnacle of the Temple is that Jesus would surely have died, a fact that Satan surely knew, just as he knew that eating of the forbidden fruit would cause broken fellowship between Adam and Eve and God. <>In fact, what Satan was tempting Jesus too was far more than recklessness, which would have been bad enough. Satan was recommending spectacle as a way for Jesus to give evidence of His identity as the Son of God, but what Satan was really recommending was that Jesus "tempt God." Jesus saw this clearly, rejecting Satan's temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
"Tempting God" is a very serious sin that was committed by the Israelites in the wilderness. To "tempt God" is literally to put Him on trial. The incident Jesus referred occurred when Israel camped at Rephidim and found no water. The people accused both God and Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to die of thirst. Moses warned the people that they were putting God to the test. Nevertheless, God in His mercy provided water for the people. "And he (Moses) named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, 'Is the Lord among us, or not?' " (Exodus 17:7). Moses warning not to tempt God in Deuteronomy 6:16 immediately follows a warning that God's anger would be kindled if they disobeyed His commandments, and immediately preceeds verses that encourage the Israelites to do all of God's will. God's long-suffering, exhibited at Rephidim, would not last forever if the provocation were continually repeated.
Paul warned the Corinthians against this sin in I Corinthians 10:9. In this passage Paul reminds the Corinthians of a time in Israel's journey when God did punish the Israelites for tempting Him. The Israelites had become tired of a journey around the land of Edom. Once again, they accused the Lord and Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to die. God punished them by sending serpents to bite the people, many of whom died. In the face of this menace the people decided to repent. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a standard. When people were bitten, if they looked upon this serpent in faith, God healed them. The serpent "lifted up" became a type[Footnote 3] of the crucified Christ - made "like sin" so that sinful men could look upon His work at Calvary and be saved from the consequences of their own sin (John 3:14, 6:28, 12:32, II Corinthians 5:21).
Once God has given sufficient evidence for people to follow Him, to demand further evidence is to "tempt God," to put Him to the test. Through Habakkuk the Lord declared, "the righteous shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). To live otherwise is to turn everything around - to say that God exists to serve us, not we our Creator. This is one of the great differences between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand and all other religions on the other. Had Jesus given in, He would have submitted to living by the same magical beliefs as paganism, after the religious systems patterned by Satan, and not God. He would have denied His entire mission.
The ministry of Christ included many dramatic miracles. But they were miracles meant to meet needs, often deep needs. Had Jesus failed to meet many of these needs, we would have cause to question His compassion or His ability to free men from whatever afflicted them. The miracles flowed naturally from His personality and His being. His miracles were often performed as a result of people coming to Him or "on the way" from one place to another as He touched the lives of those around Him. There was no attempt to dramatize them as a huckster might do. They were dramatic enough on their own. They conferred a gift at a moment of time, not "powers" to be repeatedly applied like pagan charms. They were neither flaunted for the sake of gathering an audience nor were they hidden as if they were acts of which He needed to be ashamed. They were completely consistent with His spiritual and moral mission.
Only once before His crucifixion did Jesus perform a miracle to draw and impress a crowd, and that was at the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1ff). When Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick, Jesus tarried until Lazarus died and was buried. Then He went publicly before Lazarus' tomb and called Lazarus back to life in front of the mourners that had gathered there. The purpose of this demonstration of God's blessing upon Jesus was so that His disciples and the people gathered would believe that He was, indeed, the Messiah (John 11:15, 41-42, 12:9-10). This was the prelude to Jesus formally offering Himself as Messiah to Israel on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. He would then drive the moneychangers out of the Temple and teach in the Temple each day until He was arrested, tried, and crucified. One generation later, Jerusalem would bring destruction upon itself in a futile rebellion against Roman authority. There was, therefore, deep significance, not cheap showmanship, involved in the raising of Lazarus.
The trial and crucifixion of Christ were not marked by the miracles that accompanied Christ's prior ministry. When taken prisoner in Gethsemane, Christ reminded the disciples that He could have called an army of angels to deliver Him, but He did not (Matthew 26:53). Herod was hoping that Jesus would prove Himself with a miraculous sign (Luke 23:8-12). If Herod actually invited Jesus to perform a miracle in return for Christ's freedom, this would have been a temptation very similar to the one Satan gave in the wilderness. But even if Herod only used provocation to try to get a miracle from Jesus, the temptation to use force or miraculous display to gain release from the ordeal was present, and Jesus refused. Hanging on the cross, He was taunted by the thieves and the crowd, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself" (Mark 15:31) and, once again, like Satan, the soldiers taunted "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" (Luke 23:37) and the passersby taunted "If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40).
There were miracles surrounding the crucifixion, to be sure, but aside from the miracle of redemption worked there, He was not involved, they were performed by the Father and the Holy Spirit. There was darkness on the land, the earth quaked, the Temple veil was rent from top to bottom to prove His work of salvation removed all separation between men and God and to witness His identity to the Jews, and the tombs of the dead were opened, the dead were resurrected and went into Jerusalem after Christ's resurrection, and those resurrected spoke of Jesus the Messiah.
Later, the resurrected Christ worked miracles to show the reality of His resurrection. But this was to faithful witnesses. To others, Christ did not reveal the spectacular, but left the quiet testimony of the empty tomb, and those who would provide a reliable, first-hand witness to His life and resurrection.
As Christ walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples who did not know that He had risen, He listened to them say, "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). They had looked for spectacle. But Jesus would not be a provider of reckless spectacle, but a strong provider of true salvation. Though God Himself, as Messiah He trusted in, rather than tempted, His God.
 When Jesus offered Himself as Israel's Messiah on Palm Sunday and the Holy Week following, He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:5) and as the Son of David (Matthew 21:15-16, Psalm 110:1, 22:41-46). He cast out the moneychangers in fulfillment of Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (Mark 11:11, 15-17). Jesus was brought before the high priest and the chief priests, the religious leaders of Israel (Mark 14:53-65) and Herod, the secular ruler of the Jews (Luke 23:8-12). When rejected, He fulfilled Psalm 118:22 (Matthew 21:42). His rejection meant that Jerusalem of His day was on a path that would lead to Divine judgment (Matthew 21:43-46, 23:29-39, Luke 19:41-44).
"The Temptation of Christ" is Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
Permission is granted to reprint "The Temptation of Christ" or any portion as long as all copyrights are included, this statement is included, the text is not altered in any way, and the text or reprint is not sold to the recipients.
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This page was last updated October 23, 1999.