Christ's Temptation: Would he live by faith?

The life he lived, he lived by faith in God who loved him and gave the Holy Spirit to him.

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness furnishes us with clear evidence that the life he lived he lived by faith in God. He trusted in the God who was able to help him in his time of need (Heb. 2:13). Jesus had to live the life of faith in order to bestow upon us the gift of faith. As the second Adam, Jesus rectified Adam's first sin. And what was Adam's first sin? Unbelief, not pride.

In Luke's gospel account he speaks of the Holy Spirit filling Jesus in preparation for his temptation against Satan in the wilderness: "...and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil..." (Lk. 4:1-2).

Adam was tempted in the Garden, but Jesus was tempted in much more difficult circumstances: the wilderness. Luke clearly has this in mind. In his genealogy, Christ is connected to Adam. Unlike Adam's temptation, however, there was an element of suffering and humiliation for Jesus. While Jesus was led (driven) by the Spirit, he went freely, not coerced against his will. If anyone might be exempt from the trial of temptation surely it was Jesus. But he went freely, courageously, and unwaveringly to the place where none of us could go, nor would want to go.

In the wilderness temptation we may say that Jesus actually confronted Satan than the other way around. From the devil's perspective, he wanted to get Jesus to fail to depend upon the Holy Spirit, and thus fail to maintain an attitude of service in his state of humiliation. The desire for his Messianic glory - Jesus is the Son of God - had to be attained through suffering. Turning the stones into bread was not the path of suffering, but glory. Depending on God was (v. 4, 8, 12) an act of faith. The life of sight (glory) was yet to come.

Satan wanted Christ to give up his dependence upon and trust in God, just as he wanted Adam to give up depending upon and believing God. Likewise, Satan wants us to give up our dependence upon and trust in God when we are faced with temptation. We must not fail to depend upon the Holy Spirit, especially in times of temptation. 

The "First" Temptation: Deuteronomy 8:3

In the first temptation the devil said, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Lk. 4:3). Remember, Jesus had not long before been baptized where his Father had publicly declared that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, in whom he is well pleased. Jesus needed to believe those words, not perform a miracle at the behest of the devil in order to be assured of and demonstrate his identity as God's messiah.

Jesus answers the temptation with words from Deuteronomy 8:3, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone'" (Lk. 4:4). 

In Deuteronomy the Israelites were being taught that God supplies their needs, apart from natural processes. The contrast does not have in view spiritual food (God's Word) versus natural food. Rather, Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to hunger and be humbled (see Deut. 8:3). Would he live by faith or by sight? Would he live by the omnipotent hand of God or depend upon his own resources?

Here, by patient endurance, Jesus was learning obedience through suffering in the context of the life of faith (Heb. 5:8). This suffering was not only the prospect of humiliation and hunger, but also ultimately the danger of starvation. Little wonder then that Angels came to minister to Jesus (Mk. 1:13).

The "Second" Temptation: Deuteronomy 6:13

In this temptation the devil promises to give Jesus authority and glory over all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus worships the devil (Lk. 4:5-7). Jesus responds, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (Lk. 4:8).

This temptation was not as well disguised as the other two temptations. Jesus was tempted to engage in Satan-worship. Would Jesus be God's Messiah or Satan's Messiah? Here the temptation must be highlighted plainly: would Jesus be God's Messiah by going through the path of suffering, even death on a cross? Or would Jesus be Satan's Messiah by simply bowing down, and not having to die on a cross? There can be no doubt which was easier to do. 

The path to glory for the Christian is the path of suffering. It is the agonizing way, the narrow gate, which leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). The temptation to glory by the easy way is the devil's lie. This lie was proposed to Jesus; it will be proposed to those who belong to Jesus. But our worship of the Lord our God and our service to him must be on his terms, not ours. It was this way for Jesus. It will be this way for you. 

The "Third" Temptation: Deuteronomy 6:16

The Old Testament context of Deuteronomy 6:16, 9:22, 33:8 and Exodus 17 shows us that tempting God involves trying to "prove God." The besetting sin of the Israelites was wicked unbelief (see Ps. 95; Heb. 3-4). In Massah (meaning: testing) they did not believe that God would ultimately bring them to the Promised Land. They had the audacity to ask, "Is the LORD among us or not?" (Ex. 17:7). 

When Jesus was taken to the pinnacle of the temple, the devil again tempted Jesus to cast himself down in the expectation that God will provide angels to guard Jesus (Lk. 4:9-11). But Christ's response - "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Lk. 4:12) - highlights that he would be committing the same sin as the Israelites if he were to do that. Jesus does not wish to test or prove God. 

Not even the Son of God may experiment with God. Indeed, hypothetically speaking, I doubt very much that God would have commanded his angels to protect Jesus if he had cast himself down. Of course, the outcome was not in question, but the point remains: God cannot be tested under any circumstance. 

The account of Christ in the wilderness should prove definitely that God desires that his people know him and trust him by faith, not by sight or self-reliance. This is always the temptation that we face each day: will we commit ourselves to the Lord, trusting him for all things? Or will we commit ourselves to that which we can see, thus trusting ourselves and others besides God to take care of us? Jesus was faced with these temptations because he had to be tested in every way that we are (Heb. 4:15). And he succeeded where we have miserably failed.

Pastor Mark Jones is so thankful for the greatest believer who ever lived.