Jesus’ Battle Of Temptation
Key Verse 4:4
“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Right after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, God spoke from heaven: “This is my Son” God said, “Whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (3:17). It was God’s declaration that Jesus is the One God had chosen to redeem the human race from our ancestor Adam’s terrible failure in the garden. Adam disobeyed God and plunged us all into sin and death. Jesus, the Son of God, would now lift us up from this grave, and set us on a course different from the one Adam had set us on. Jesus would set us free from sin and death. And he would do so by living a life of submission and obedience to God. After his baptism and God’s declaration, it was now time for Jesus to battle with temptation in order to defeat the devil at the very place where the devil had defeated our ancestor Adam. Adam was tempted by the devil. He did not resist it. He did not fight it. He simply submitted to it. Jesus now would have to face the devil, be tempted and then claim victory over temptation.
In history, just like our ancestor Adam, no human being was ever able to overcome temptation on their own. King David gave in to the temptation of lust and went on to scheme to get another’s man’s wife. The Prophet Elijah gave in to the temptation of despair and begged God to end his life. In history, people simply bowed their head to whatever temptation came their way, and found it difficult to resist its power. Even for the greatest of men and women of God, most temptations ended in defeat. Then Jesus came and had his day with the devil. He became the first one in history to overcome the devil’s temptation. And because of his victory, the world changed! God’s people changed with it as well. There had been a time when there was no hope for anyone facing the devil’s temptations. But because of Jesus’ victory, all of us who believe in him have hope that we can overcome temptation in our own lives. Jesus’ victory did something great for all of us! We would rise above our own frail humanity and are able to withstand the devil’s temptation whatever they may be.
For the first generation of Christians, even the great apostle Peter yielded to the temptation to deny Jesus, and he did so three times. Then, with a great sense of his own failure, he was also tempted to doubt the love of Jesus for him. Then suddenly after the coming of the Holy Spirit into his heart, he fought all kinds of temptations like a lion. Together with him, hundreds of early Christians were also martyred because they refused the devil’s temptation. They were once weak. But through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit into their own lives, they were strengthened. They were able to resist the devil’s temptation even while their bodies burnt on the cross. Quite honestly, they weren’t any more courageous than any ordinary man or woman. They simply knew how to wield the weapon Jesus himself used in his struggle against the devil’s temptation. And they became witnesses to us that the word of God is mightier than any devil’s temptation, for that is exactly what the Lord Jesus used in his struggle with temptation. So see what this passage tells us about that struggle that changed the world and our lives forever.
The Holy Spirit had just descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and filled him with the glory and power of God. And so the Holy Spirit also enabled him to begin his difficult mission as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. We can imagine what a moment of glory it was for Jesus, like a Prince being inaugurated by the King to being his reign! And so his mission should have begun with great acts of power to reveal how great he was and what great things he had come to do. But our Lord Jesus’ shepherd life didn’t begin with a display of human power and glory! Actually it began with a journey into a miserable desert, where he would be tempted! Humanly, this was the most unlikely place for the King of Glory, the good Shepherd Jesus to begin his life as a servant of God. The desert was a terrible place for anyone to go to in preparation for their life of faith and mission. But it was what God had willed for Jesus. It was also God’s way of preparing many of his servants for their lives of service to God. Moses went through it. Elijah did too. John the Baptist spent a lifetime in the desert. Jesus accepted this discipline also as God’s will.
Look at verse 1. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to go through unimaginable hardship and suffering. He led him to fast and pray and then, when he was at his weakest point to also fight the devil’s temptations. It seems that God led Jesus to begin a life of suffering. Why is this so important for us to know? Because sometimes there is a false belief among some Christians that the Holy Spirit is in the business of leading people to delight and to ecstasy. The Christian life itself is blissful simply because of our union with Christ. But what the Bible teaches us about it is true! It teaches us that the Holy Spirit often leads the believer in the way of suffering and hardship for a good reason! He does so in order to build up the Christian inner character and to refine the Christian soul, and in that way drawing them nearer to God. (Romans 5:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3,4) When we read about the lives of Moses or David, of Peter and Paul, there’s no doubt that their lives were forged through the fires of trials and temptations. And they bore the fruit of their disciplined lives of faith and holy mission. Sadly many Christians today search for a happy-feel-good places with as little struggle as possible and a whole lot of Holy-Ghost-Happy-Time. Some even think they are being led by the Holy Spirit! But they are actually being led by their sinful nature. The they become enemies of the cross. They want to follow their sinful desires while imagining they are high on the Spirit. That too is a dangerous temptation of the devil who wants to confuse the leading of the Spirit with the leading of the sinful nature.
But why did God lead his Son Jesus to this dreadful desert to endure suffering? Because while Holy-Ghost-Good-Time ends up forging weak and emotional Christians, suffering and hardship ends up forging strong and faithful Christians— Christians who can actually fight the spiritual battle side by side with their Lord Jesus.
Jesus’ struggle with the devil wasn’t easy! We know that Jesus is both 100 percent God and at the same time he is 100 percent Man. We may have the idea that Jesus fought the devil as a God. But he did not! Jesus fought him as a man, a human being like you and me. So, it wasn’t easy for Jesus to do so because he was standing there before the devil only as a man— as a weak and helpless human being facing the great power of temptation. Jesus fully realized how intense this battle would be. But still, he was willing to go through it. He was willing to go through it because he wanted to teach us how we too can win the victory in the face of all our temptations. That’s what the Bible tells us! It says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) The Bible also tells us this: It says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) The Bible is talking about Jesus. Jesus decided to engage in this struggle with temptation to help those who actually want to overcome their own temptations. Those who don’t want to overcome, or those who are too despaired to even try, will lose. But those who actually want to overcome temptation, Jesus shows us that here’s the way. It just takes a decision of faith. You have got to decide like Jesus to take a stand and fight.
Look at verse 2. “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” To prepare for great work of God ahead, Jesus needed to fast and pray. After forty days of fasting, as we would imagine, he was drained and exhausted. He was hardly in any shape to stand against the devil and to fight temptation. But it is at this very time of weaknesses that the devil came to tempt him. The devil usually doesn’t come to tempt in the time of one’s strength but as we can see, he does so in our weakest hour. That’s why we need to always be bound to Jesus, united with him in his death and resurrection. When we are bound to Jesus, our weakness is his strength.
Look at verse 3. “The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” The devil knew that Jesus was hungry. He knew that at this time, Jesus needed something to eat just to stay alive. So he tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread and eat. What kind of temptation was this? It was the temptation to use any means within your reach to survive. For Jesus it meant that he should use his power as the Son of God to change stone into bread. How does this relate to us? That’s the temptation to do everything and anything we can to survive— to stay alive. Actually it sounds reasonable! But to use any means to survive is wrong! Why is that? Because God himself promised to sustain us in our time of need. We really need not use any means to sustain ourselves. There’s another reason why this is wrong as well. It is wrong because your and my priority in life should not be to solve our physical need problem— that is, our financial problem, or our economic problem, or any other problem that seems to threaten our lives. But our priority should be to trust God and to serve and honor him alone— even in our time of dire need. Ultimately those who sell or give up their spiritual dignity for a piece of bread or for a little material comfort— these do not know the will of God. God wills that we depend on him in all circumstances, even if the circumstances are life threatening.
However, the bread problem is indeed serious enough for us that Satan thought he could tempt Jesus with it! How so? Because the security problem is the agony of all people. Once when we were in God’s paradise we had no bread problem. We didn’t worry about our security. But when sin came into our lives, the security problem became misery to us. Ever since then, people forgot that they had a soul, and began living as if they only had a body to take care of. We did everything just to survive and to satisfy the desires of body. We ignored our soul until our soul shriveled and died. Today, most people care little if they have a soul or not. They are plagued with survival always trying to solve their bread problem. Most children are taught that flesh is everything and that their success depends on what they grab on to and acquire in this world. For this reason young people no longer seek God. But they only seek to make it in the world. They want to have things. They want to be comfortable. They want to survive big time. They would love to have the power to change stone into bread or to gold! Sometimes even those who grow up in Christian homes are quick to sell their faith and their soul in exchange for some worldly comforts and for some future security and for tastier bread.
Read verse 4. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus did not listen to the devil’s temptation. He perfectly knew that man needs bread in order to stay alive. But Jesus did not agree that the body is everything. He knew that we are more than our body— that we are also a soul. And as a living soul, we must also eat the food of the soul! Why? So that our soul might live and not starve to death. What then is the food of the soul? It’s God’s word! Without the word of God that nourishes our soul, we die not once but twice over— we die once in life and then we die again in death. Jesus overcame this terrible temptation to reduce himself to nothing but a body in need of only bread, and he did so with the word of God. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” What Jesus was saying is that our life— yours and mine— is much more than just bread for survival. You and I are a soul that needs God’s word a whole lot more urgently than we actually need bread to sustain our bodies. Jesus taught us this great truth. He affirmed it to the devil. Jesus teaches us to live by the word of God— which is the only truth and way to overcome Satan’s lies and temptations.
Look at verses 5 and 6. Satan now also tried to use the word of God to tempt Jesus. “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. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” What kind of a temptation was this? It was a temptation to give up God’s way of salvation which God had entrusted Jesus with. God gave Jesus the mission to sacrifice his life on the cross in order to free sinners from the power of sin and to give them eternal life. It was a difficult mission. It was an agonizing mission! So the devil tempted Jesus to take the easier way. He tempted him to abandon God’s way. He even used a Bible verse to show Jesus the easier way. “Take the easy way,” Satan said. “You don’t have to follow God’s way of salvation! Just throw yourself down, the angels of God will lift you and the whole world will know that you as the Savior.” But God’s will for Jesus was to show himself the Savior through the way of suffering. An example of this would be this: God called you and I to serve his purpose even if it calls for painful sacrifice and hardship. There’s no easy way to do this! There is no easy way to live the Christian life. There is no easy way to serve God. Any easy or easier way is most probably the devil’s temptation to us to take the easy way.
Again, Jesus did not fall for the devil’s temptation. Look at verse 7. “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus knew that the way of the cross was God’s will for him and for all who would follow him. To deny the way of the cross or to question it, or even to find an alternate way is to question God’s will— or to test God. We don’t have the right to question God’s will and purpose in our lives— especially God’s desire for us to take up our cross and to follow him! (Mk.8:34) The life of selfless sacrifices— the life of sincere faith and devoted work for the Lord are all the undeniable truths of the Bible. We should not only study these casually, or learn them superficially, but we should engrave them on our hearts. These fundamental Christian truths must become the conviction of our hearts and lives. If we don’t do that, we will fail as a Christian. The devil who didn’t hesitate to temp Jesus to test God, will not hesitate to tempt us to test God at every corner of our spiritual lives. And he does, because he hates God’s truth. He loathes the fact that we have been given such a high honor to be God’s holy children and the right and privilege to walk in the footsteps of Jesus the Son of God. This was Jesus’ own personal conviction— that God sent him to suffer the cross for the salvation of mankind. Even if the devil quoted Scripture to confuse him, he couldn’t be confused. Why? He had the word of God and God’s absolute will engraved upon his heart. So, Jesus said to the devil, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
But the devil did not give up. Look at verses 8 and 9. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” What kind of temptation was this? This is none other than the temptation to pride and to vain glory. The devil tried to tempt Jesus with power and instant success. He tried to convince Jesus that human power and authority are justified in doing the work of God. But the truth is that God called Jesus to bring people to God in a different way than power and success and fame and authority. He called him to bring us to faith in God through love, through sacrifice and through the humility of a servant’s life. And Jesus had to give up all worldly power and authority if he were to do that. He had to deny his pride and the human desire for success. The devil’s idea was like this: “Take power and authority,” the devil said: “Give up this useless and unnecessary way of humility. And I will give you enough power to make you greater than person who ever lived. And if you are all these things, then you can use your power and authority to lead the whole world back to God. Isn’t that a good plan?” It might have been! But it was not God’s way nor his will for his Son. When the devil said: “If you will bow down and worship me” he meant, “If you would only compromise your faith a little bit and acknowledge that my way is good and effective.” The devil again tempted Jesus to compromise the way of suffering, the way of love, the way of selfless service. How does the devil do it today? He does it today by urging many Christians by saying: “God never intended you to suffer— to have hardship and difficulty— to be such a humble lowly servant— so why suffer at all? I will give you fame and fortune, success like you’ve never seen before. I will even bring thousands to your church to honor and admire you. Just acknowledge that you need my help to serve God.” Compromise attracts many people and tempts them to give in to the devil’s temptation. They have no idea how easy it is to become a devil worshiper. We must fight this temptation!
Look at verse 10. “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Jesus knew that God never promised wealth or power or a life of success and glory in this world. Instead, Jesus knew that God trusted us to live a humble selfless life free from selfish ambition and self-seeking. The Lord trusts you and me to live by his teachings in the Bible no matter how hard these teachings may be. He trusts you and me to give our lives in the cause of expanding his kingdom rather than striving to build our own little comfortable kingdoms, even if these kingdoms look like a church or an institution serving God. When Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,” it was clearly Jesus’ decision of faith to ever be faithful to God, to live by faith, and to serve his God given mission with humility of heart.
We cannot but see that when Jesus depended on God’s word from the beginning to the end, he overcame the devil’s temptations. Jesus had faith in God’s word. He had faith that God’s word was powerful enough to overcome the temptations of the devil. So he overcame the devil’s temptations with the word of God. The devil had never lost before, but he lost this time to Jesus— completely. And this victory isn’t only for Jesus, but for all of us who are tempted and who in our temptation look to Jesus for help and deliverance. To those, Jesus gives the word of God. And to those, the word of God becomes the weapon of victory. We know how destructive the way of compromise is to the soul and we know how our emotions lead us astray so often. But how wonderful it is that we have been given the Bible to study— to learn the powerful word of God— to keep it close to our hearts— so that we may defend ourselves against the devil’s temptations. The Psalmist says: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11) May God cleanse and fortify your hearts through the word of God. Amen.