By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, he became hungry. The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread. And Jesus answered him, “It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word of God.”
The devil led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and the devil said to Him, “I will give you all this domain and its glory, for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is written, you shall worship the LORD your God and serve Him only.”
And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself from down here, for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You to guide You’, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash Your foot upon a stone.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, you shall not put the LORD your God to the test.” And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”
- Luke 4:1-13 (NASB)
The temptation of the Lord Jesus was a real event, told to His disciples by Him, and later recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and here in Luke. No doubt, one or more of the apostles verified this incident. The devil, first described in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 23:11-19, had been the instigator of the events that brought down Adam and Eve in Eden (Genesis 3:15), and had at one time been the chief archangel of heaven. Due to self-developed pride to the point of attempting to overthrow God and establish himself as the ruler of heaven, was thrown out of the heavenly realm by the LORD. He and his followers, one third of the angelic host, were cast to the newly formed Earth, forever establishing Lucifer and his demons as the sworn enemies of God (Matthew 4:6; Mark 1:13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; Revelation 13;14; 19:20; 20:7-8; Philippians 2:9-11).
The goal of the devil was to use the coming temptations to try and accomplish three goals to prevent the Lord Jesus from accomplishing His mission of redemption. The first goal was to attempt to get Jesus to abuse His power by satisfying His flesh. The second goal was to attempt to get Jesus to abuse His power by attempting to gain the world without the sacrifice of pain and the mission of redemption of fallen humanity.
The third diabolical goal was to try and get Jesus to abuse His power by spectacular, attention -grabbing deeds to attract followers such as being escorted by the angels down to earth and allowing the adulation of the people. They would proclaim Him as the Messiah. Before the details of these temptations are further examined, attention needs to be given to the beginning of the event when the Lord goes out into the wilderness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The southeastern area in what is now the nation of Israel is known as the Wilderness of Judea, which is barren, dry, rocky, little plant growth, and perpetually hot, with temperatures rising easily to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and plunging to freezing temperatures at night. It is a certain fact that any attempt at long-time survival is nearly impossible, but yet it is the wildernesses that God sends His chosen vessels into in order to prepare them for the calling that God has placed upon their lives, such as Moses and Elijah, the first used by God to liberate Israel from the bonds of Egyptian slavery and the other who called the apostate nation of Israel to repent and return to God (Exodus 3; 1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1, 2).
Deserts are both literal and symbolic. Deserts and wildernesses make up a large area of what is referred to as the Middle East. One half of what is now the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a barren area known as the “Rub-al-Kahli” or “empty quarter” where no one lives. To be stranded in that area is certain death if one is not quickly rescued or properly supplied with the right equipment. The symbolic foundation of the desert refers to that time of solitude between oneself and the LORD to grow spiritually and to be refreshed in the things of God through the study of the Scriptures, times of prayer, and the setting of goals and objectives designed for a closer walk with God.
There are those times when the LORD will place you in either a literal wilderness or a time where you are “placed on the shelf”, which is a type of desert, for an indefinite period and are not being used by Him nor receive any impression of what to do. He doesn’t have to tell you why it’s happening, either. It may be a time where His silence is used as a means of getting one’s attention and eliminate anything that would be a hinderance or cause of stumbling. He uses this time so that a compromising situation or a time of stubbornness against His clear will and direction can be confronted, addressed, and reconciled. The goal is to get the believer to turn all issues and problems over to the LORD and to submit one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ before the believer can be put back into service again.
In the case of the Lord Jesus, it is the actual desert where He will commune with the Father, be strengthened for the coming tasks ahead of Him, and to contemplate the serious nature of what He came to earth to do in terms of rescuing His people from the bondage of their sins and reestablishing a relationship between fallen man and holy God. Jesus knew that his enemy, who had been trying to kill Him and His bloodline ever since the Fall of man, would attempt to thwart the plan of God by getting Jesus to succumb to the will of the flesh. At this time, He is weak from hunger and his throat is parched from a lack of available water.
This is the opportunity for the devil to set up his plan of attack. One of the lessons here is that the devil will seek to weaken or compromise your walk with the LORD. The noted pastor and author Dr. Charles Stanley said in a sermon based on these Scriptures that the enemy will hit when you are at your weakest, especially when you’re hungry, alone, tired, or restless. He will throw subtle temptations and false rationalities at you that could lead you towards dangerous situations that result in ruining you if you’re not cautious and aware of his schemes. This is where prayer and a genuine relationship with the LORD can rebuke these attacks and keep you away from the devil’s traps.
Getting back to the temptations faced by the Lord, the first one offered by the devil deals with the satisfaction of the flesh (vv. 3, 4). The situation is whether to satisfy His hunger using His supernatural abilities to gratify Himself. The problem is that it would have been an abuse of power as well as a trap set up by the devil. If Jesus had used His powers in this manner, then Satan could have accused Him of selfishness. If Jesus denied this, He would have been guilty of lying, which is something that God cannot do. Jesus instead referred to the Scriptures to rebuke the devil and thus avoided this situation (Deuteronomy 8:3). Power from God shouldn’t be used merely to satisfy physical appetites. Such abuse is self-centered, and Scripture tells us that Jesus never did anything apart from the will of the Father. Nowhere do we read of the Lord ever using His divine power to satisfy Himself. His life was centered around service towards God and humanity (Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27; John 13:5; Philippians 2:7).
The second temptation was based on gaining the ownership of the world without redeeming it. The price offered by Satan for giving Jesus the world and its kingdoms would have been to submit to the devil’s authority, and being the liar he is, would have never kept his word, but would have pulled off the ultimate egomaniacal scheme that he had planned at the beginning of time, that of the Creator bowing before the created. Jesus was tempted to be the ruler of the world without being the world’s Savior. This plot of the enemy failed and will always fail because the fact is that when the Lord Jesus does come back to rule and reign as King of Kings, the world will no longer be desolate, broken, or weighed down with sin, but He will make a new heaven and Earth, free of sin and disease, with Satan, his demons, and the wicked of all time banished to the eternal Lake of Fire for all eternity (Revelation 20:11-15).
The final temptation for now involved using sensational means of gaining attention in order to attract potential followers. Satan’s motive was to challenge Jesus to demonstrate His divine nature by leaping off the top of the temple and trusting the angels to catch Him before He hit the ground. If Jesus had agreed to this, He would have been guilty of obtaining counsel from his enemy who wanted Him dead, or at least subject to the devil, which would have torn apart the fabric of the universe itself at the most, and thwart the plan of salvation at the least. Instead, the Lord again quoted Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:16) to rebuke this time of challenge and defeat the attempts of the devil to stop the plan of salvation. Jesus would never have the Father do an act that was foolish. He will not bend to the wishes or whims of anyone, especially His enemy.
The Lord Jesus does not want followers because He could do miracles or amaze the crowd with sensational feats. That was the situation with the crowd who followed Him after He had miraculously provided food for them while hearing Him teach in the countryside (John 6:15, 25-40). This was one reason why He told those whom He had healed to not say anything. He didn’t want to be known as a miracle worker, but as Lord and God who demanded full obedience to His will and direction (Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:26, 33; John 8:31; 15:8). At the end of history, all of humanity from the beginning of time to its conclusion, whether in heaven or hell, will bow the knee before Jesus Christ and declare Him Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).
Scripture hints that this would not be the only time where the Lord Jesus would have to deal with temptation. The devil would be back at opportune times to try and prevent the mission of redemption from happening, but that will occur later in the ministry of our LORD in covert ways. We can take comfort that He knows what it is like to face temptations and trials (Luke 22:28; John 14:30; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of us, yet without sin. Thank Him for His compassion and ability to walk with us in those times where it would be easy to throw up our hands and cease from our tasks, yet He strengthens us for the journey that will soon end when He returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Amen to that.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.