The Temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-13)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Life is filled with temptations. These temptations can be small and they can be substantial. Temptation that you experience may be a real trial for you, but for others it may be merely trivial, and vice versa. What is it that causes such a struggle within us when it comes to temptation? It would be easy a natural tendency of people is to shift the blame away from themselves. We may blame the environment we are in, the upbringing we had or even our personality type. The problem with doing this is that we are wrongly diagnosing the problem therefore don’t receive the biblical solution. The reality is that there is a deeper and more potent source causing the lure to temptation. What is it? James 1:14 states “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”. Though there may be various means that bring about the occasion of temptation, “Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before” in the words of John Owen.

This brings me to Luke 4:1-13. In this passage Jesus goes into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. We learn however that Jesus does not yield to temptation, but instead displays perfect triumph. How does this passage fit into the overall message of Luke? In the previous chapter the Father publically declared, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (3:22). This temptation in the wilderness is the proof that Jesus is well pleasing. Satan could fire all the fiery darts he pleased, but there was no way any of them would penetrate Jesus for He is the sinless Son of God. Jesus will be the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners because He is the sinless Son of God.

At the end of chapter 3 there is a reference to Adam. The purpose of this passage is to show that where the first Adam failed, the last Adam succeeded. The first Adam was tempted in paradise, whereas the last Adam was tempted in the wilderness. The first Adam could eat of any fruit except for one, whereas the last Adam was fasting. The first Adam failed, and brought ruin to humanity, whereas the last Adam succeeded and brings redemption to His people. 

When we read this passage we are to be aware that the intensity of these temptations are unique to the Christ, but the nature of them is something we will regularly experience. In this passage Satan employs three strategic temptations that are designed to attack God’s character and appeal to the flesh. This is true of all temptations. There will always be an attack on God’s character and then there will be an element of appeal. The point of temptation is for us to move away from God and focus on ourselves. The difference between Jesus and us is that though the temptation was fired at Him, there was nothing inside of Him that could be lured by this. The passage begins, 

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

1.        TEMPTATION 1 (4:3-4): An Attack on God’s Provision and an Appeal to Pleasure

Satan begins by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (4:3). This is not a question of doubt, but rather it is designed to be a statement used to question the goodness of the Father. The temptation to sin is not eating bread, nor is it working a miracle. Eating can be done to glory of God and Jesus later only works a miracle and feeds the hungry with bread. The temptation to sin is for Jesus to operate in a way that is independent of the Father’s will. It is a temptation to deny God of His goodness and pursue personal pleasure.

This temptation calls into question the Father’s provision for Jesus. Satan is seeking to lure Jesus away from trusting His Father’s provision, and to satisfy His independent pleasure. Consider carefully with me the attack on God’s character that is built into this temptation. Satan is attacking the goodness of God. God has promised to provide for His Son, so Satan is calling that into question because Jesus is hungry. Now look at the appeal Satan is offering in this temptation: “command this stone to become bread”. Satan would have Jesus think that he is not cared for, so He should care for Himself. Instead of resting in God’s goodness, Satan would have us be consumed by looking after our selfish pleasures.

Jesus responds with a pointed and powerful rebuke. He said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone’” (4:4). Jesus responds to this temptation by taking as His weapon the Word of God by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. There is where Adam and Eve failed and this is where we often fail. A temptation appeals to our own pleasure, and instead of trusting God and standing on His Word we seek to please ourselves. 

Jesus made it clear that trusting God is more important than pleasing yourself. Jesus will not use His Divine abilities for purpose outside of the Divine plan. Satan tried to attack God’s goodness and appeal to pleasure, but this did not work on Jesus because His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him (John 4:34). If Jesus bought into this lie, His entire mission would have failed.

We are not going to face the temptation to turn stones into bread. But we do get tempted to not rely on God’s provisions and to pursue our own pleasures. We can be tempted to not be grateful for what we have and to seek after things that appeal to our pleasures. We can be tempted to think that that God owes us because we are His people, so we try to appease our cravings when we don’t have what we think we should have. 

2.        TEMPTATION 2 (4:5-8): An Attack on God’s Priority and an Appeal to Power

Satan now fires his second fiery dart at Jesus. He takes Jesus up to a highpoint and shows Him the kingdoms and glory of the world (4:5). After showcasing worldly glory and power, he says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (4:6-7). Satan’s temptation is, “You can have the crown without a cross! You can have power without pain. You can have honour with holiness”. All Jesus has to do is bow down and worship Satan. Despite Satan’s promise, there is no crown without a cross. The Father has promised Jesus rule over all kingdoms (Psalm 2), and a part of His mission is to go to the cross so that He will redeem His people and bring them into His future kingdom.

Without any negotiation, Jesus holds up the shield of faith and blocks the fiery dart. He then pulls out the sword and says, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’” (4:8). This is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:13. This reply makes it clear that God alone is worthy of worship. Again, Satan is seeking to remove Jesus form the pathway that leads to the cross. Jesus is resolved and unmoved in His commitment to be about His Father’s business. Jesus must go to the cross, and after this He will ascend to Heaven, and at the appointed time He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. 

We face this kind of temptation when we seek to follow a pathway that offers us honour without holiness. We need to beware of anything that offers us a cheap thrill in contradiction to the Word of God. 

3.        TEMPTATION 3 (4:9-12): An Attack on God’s Protection and an Appeal to Presumption

Satan now issues his final fiery dart at Jesus. He has clearly picked up that Jesus has responded each time with Scripture, so this time Satan tries to get in first. He takes Jesus up to Jerusalem and set Him up on the pinnacle of the temple. He then said, 

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (4:9a-11).

Standing at this height, with a cliff below it, making it a 137-meter drop, Satan challenges Him to jump. Then in his devious and deceitful way, he quotes Scripture to make this sound like a Biblical proposal. It is interesting that this time Satan quotes Scripture to Jesus. Satan is very familiar with the Word of God but he will only use it to serve his purposes. This is what he does through false teachers. They may claim to teach and preach from the Bible, but they are twisting it to say what they want it to say. Here Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 with the purpose of tempting Jesus to jump and then experience God’s protection. He is calling for Jesus to presume upon God’s protective grace. 

Jesus replies to this ridiculous request by saying, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (4:12). Jesus is not going to presume upon the Father by testing His promise to protect His own. Such conduct is selfish and is not about God’s honour.  

The sin of presumption is something we are all tempted with. A person may desire to marry an unbeliever and presume God will save them after they marry through their influence. A person may pray that God save their children, but they themselves do not teach their children the gospel. A person may ask God to bless them, but they themselves do not spend time walking with God. The presumptions could go on. We daily presume upon God and in temptation, we can very often misquote Scripture to justify our sin.

When we choose to follow our own agenda, rationalize it, quote Scripture for our purpose, we are committing the sin of presumption. This is buying into a lie of the devil and does not bring honour and glory to God. God is kind. He often in His grace will clean up all the mess we cause, but we must not presume upon Him. We are to be courageous for the Lord, but always in the confines of His will as found in Scripture. 

We are told when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (4:13). This reminds us that the attacks from Satan in the wilderness were not the end of his deliberate and despicable darts aimed at Jesus. Throughout His earthly ministry he will take shots at Him. Scripture also warns us, that as the people of God he will scheme against us (Eph. 6:10-18).

CONCLUSION

These three temptations are deigned to have Jesus seek after pleasure, power, and presumption. The ultimate purpose was to derail Him so that Jesus would not fulfill His mission. Satan used these same strategies against the first Adam and he succeeded. However, he tried these against Jesus and Satan failed. Every fiery dart was extinguished by the holiness of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to do the will of His Father and nothing was going to get in the way of His Divine mission. If He deviated in one small way, He would not qualify as the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners, and we would be without any hope. As I bring this message to a close, here are some important lessons to take away with regards to temptation.

Temptation will often occur after a time of joy

This particular occasion of temptation happened right after a time of joy and privilege. The Father had publically declared, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (3:22), then Jesus was led into the wilderness and was confronted by Satan. In the words of JC Ryle, “From great privilege to great trial there will often be but a step”. We are to be aware, that after times of great triumph will be times of great trying. 

Temptation will often occur when we are alone

These temptations occurred while Jesus was alone in the wilderness. Often when we are by ourselves, we can be prone to wander and the attractiveness of temptation will be more obvious. Without the accountability or the support of others, we can very easily be overcome by temptation.  

Temptation will often occur when we are weak

Jesus had been fasting for forty days and at the end He was hungry. The temptation to please Himself would have been more intense in His moment of physical weakness than in a moment of physical strength. In times of spiritual or physical weakness, or in times of sickness, we can be more easily impacted by temptation.  

Temptation is defeated by looking to Christ

Even though we must strive to be aware of these things, the reality is we will struggle and even fail in times of temptation. What are we to do? We are to know that Jesus Christ alone can overcome temptation perfectly. One of the reasons He came into this world as a man and was exposed to temptation was so that He would be able to sympthise with us. We are told that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). It is for this reason that we can confidently go to God’s throne of grace in prayer and ask for help in our times of need (Heb. 4:16)! When Satan tempts us and we are overwhelmed, what should we do? Listen to the beautiful words of the hymn Before the Throne of God Above:  

“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”