How did Satan tempt Jesus in the wilderness? Does Satan tempt us is similar ways? What lessons can we learn from the way Satan tempted Jesus?
Does God Tempt Mankind?
The short answer is no, God does not ever tempt us. We are carried off into sin by our own temptations and that is because we don’t resist them like Jesus did in the Wilderness when He was tempted by Satan. James 1:13-15 clarifies this point, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” First of all, temptation comes to us all and when we don’t resist, we are “dragged way” by our own evil desires and then this desire takes root and results in sin. Sin leads to death unless it is repented of (Romans 6:23). James gives us the best advice when we are tempted by the Tempter, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b). Resisting the Devil is easier when we “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). We must be “self-controlled and alert” because the “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8) and this way we “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).
Jesus in the Wilderness
No human has or ever will be tempted like Jesus was in the wilderness by Satan. If we were, we could not have resisted Satan’s temptations. Let me explain. We are most tempted to sin when we are tired because we have little resistance to temptation. We are also more vulnerable when we get hungry or when things do not go well. Perhaps the greatest times of temptation come when we are successful. The Bible is full of examples of those who had just achieved great success but then became prideful and thought more highly of themselves than they should. These same times of vulnerability were used mightily by Satan when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Here is what happened. First of all Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and it could have been with the express purpose of being tempted or tested (Matthew 4:1).
Tired and Hungry
After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:2-4). Here is one of those times when temptation can be greater; during times of hunger. During times of hunger we are more prone to make bad decisions, snap at friends, family, and co-workers. We can become easily irritated and say things that we will later regret. We are also more tired when we are hungry or fasting. Fatigue makes us inclined to have more accidents and the frequency of accidents increases when we are both hungry and tired. What did Jesus do to thwart this temptation? He quoted Scripture back to the Devil and reminded him (and us) that we need the “Bread of Life,” the Bible, to resist temptation. David said that he hid God’s Word in his heart so that he might not sin (Psalm 119:11).
Testing God in Trials
Next, the devil took Jesus 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.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:5-7). God permitted Gideon to put down a fleece to test God but God is not pleased when we test Him. During times of trials or tests, we are often prone to make bad decisions and tempted to take the easy way out. Jesus told the Devil (and tells us) that we are not to put God to the test for He is not pleased when we do this. It shows a lack of trust and faith in God when we overextend ourselves or try something that common sense tells us not to. Once again, Jesus quotes the Word of God to resist the temptation of the Devil. Even the Devil can’t argue with God’s Word. Did you notice that little word “if” that Satan used? He said if you are the Son of God. This is a blatant attempt at calling Jesus a liar. Surely the Devil knew Who Jesus was and that Jesus is the Son of God. What an insult from the enemy! Satan used the same tactics in the Garden of Eden against Eve but with great success when He accused God of lying. He told Eve, “surely you won’t die” if she took of the fruit from the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:4). We all know that Eve and all of her children since then have been dying, even though we now can inherit eternal life in Christ Who reversed the curse.
Pride and Short Cuts
“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.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew4:8-11). Here, the Devil tempted Jesus to take a “short cut” and simply bow down to Satan and He could have the kingdoms of the world. It was the Devil’s way of enticing Jesus in order to avoid Calvary but Jesus understood that without His going to the cross, we would all perish in our sins. Jesus uses the Word of God again and quotes Scripture to thwart this temptation and actually rebukes the Devil this time. When we see ways that are easier to get to our goals without actually doing things the right or honest way, we compromise and that is a powerful tool that the Enemy uses in tempting us to sin. Pride is also a stronghold because who among us could resist ruling all of the world’s kingdoms for simply bowing down to Satan? There is not one human among us, I believe, that could resist this.
Jesus used the Word of God to resist temptation and so should we. There is real power in the living Word of God, the Bible. During times of hunger, severe tests or trials, or when pride hits us, we must fall down on our knees and pray to God and remember that the words of life are in the Good Book, the Holy Bible. Satan used all of these to try and bring down Jesus Christ but he could not. Jesus resisted temptation and He relied on the Word of God by quoting it and using it as an offensive weapon against spiritual attacks from the Enemy. Can we do anything less than what Christ did to hinder the Devil’s temptations? We would do well to notice that our greatest times of temptation will come when we are tired, hungry, going through a trial, have a chance for compromising our values, and are being too lifted up with pride.
It is no coincidence that just after this temptation in the wilderness, Jesus chose His disciples. He had just fasted, He had just quoted the Word of God, and He had just overcome the greatest time of temptation that anyone has ever experienced. This might explain why the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) led Him into the wilderness. Jesus gives us all an example that we can overcome temptation by hiding God’s Word in our heart. Christians can not live by bread alone but must learn to live by every word of God and every word of God is contained in the Bible. Feed on that and you can more easily resist the Devil and he will flee from you.
Resources – New International Version Bible, The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblca, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide; YouTube “Ten Thousand Angels”.