“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness 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.” (v. 4:1-3).
Temptation is a fundamental desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment, that threatens long-term goals. In the context of some religion, temptation is the inclination to sin. Temptation also describes the coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act, by manipulation or otherwise of curiosity, desire or fear of loss.
The significance of Jesus’ temptations, especially because they occurred at the outset of his public ministry, seems best understood in terms of the kind of Messiah he was to be. He would not accomplish his mission by using his supernatural power for his own needs (first temptations), by using his power to win a large following by miracles or magic (second temptation) or by compromising with Satan (third temptation).
Jesus had no inward desire or inclination to sin, for these in themselves are sin. Because he was God he did not sin in any way, whether by actions or word or inner desire (2Co 5:21; Heb 7:26); 1Pe 2:22; 1Jn 3:5). Yet Jesus’ temptation was real, not merely symbolic. He was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15).
Jesus’ forty days in the desert echo Israel’s forty years there. Like the people of Israel in their exodus from Egypt, Jesus is out in the wilderness, hungry and tempted. “If you are the son of God,” the devil says, “command these stones to become bread.” In other words, if you really are either royal or divine, prove it by using your power to your own benefit. What kind of god sits around listening to his stomach growl instead of showing off his power and feeding himself? What kind of king ever goes hungry?
In the final temptation, the devil promises to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus will worship him. The implications are stunning. The devil assumes that all authority in the world belongs to him, to give to others as he chooses. But Jesus orders Satan to leave, saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Deuteronomy 6:13).
Jesus has come not to rule Satan’s kingdom, but to proclaim and to bring the reign of God. After the resurrection, Jesus will receive all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), but it will be God’s gift, not Satan’s.
“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (v.11). The wilderness tests of the Temptation account are not a one-time ordeal to get through, but they are tests of preparation for the choices Jesus makes in his earthly ministry. Finally, Jesus as the one who remained faithful in temptation became the model for all believers when they are tempted. God surely tests his people, but it is the devil who surely tempts to evil.
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