1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’”
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. – Luke 4:1-13 ESV
This well-known passage, containing Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil is familiar to most of us, but there is an important aspect of this dramatic encounter that is often overlooked. The immediate context is essential if we are to understand all that we see happening in this story. Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. And in his gospel account, Mark records:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. – Mark 1:9-12 ESV
Mark gives the impression that Jesus was somehow driven by the Spirit as if He had to be forced. But Luke paints a different picture, describing Jesus as being “led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1 ESV). The intensity of Mark’s language seems intended to convey the speed with which Jesus departed and the feeling of strong compulsion He felt from the Spirit of God. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul describes the incarnation of Jesus in terms designed to emphasize the radical nature of this change in status.
…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… – Philippians 2:-7 ESV
Jesus emptied himself. The Greek word Paul used is kenoō, and it comes from a root word which means “to empty.” But what is Paul inferring here? Did Jesus become any less God when He came to earth in human form? Did He empty Himself of His divine character or capabilities? It seems that the best way to understand Paul’s words is to keep them within their context. He states that Jesus was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped or clung to. While He enjoyed His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, He willingly relinquished His rights and regal role, choosing instead to take the form of one of those He had created.
Jesus left behind the glory of heaven where He was worshiped daily by the angels and enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God the Father, and took the form of a helpless infant. He became dependent upon others to care for Him. He set aside His divine rights and privileges in order to accomplish His Father’s will. And during His earthly life, Jesus subordinated Himself to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, operating under His direction and by His power. He was no less the Son of God. He had not given up any of His divine powers or prerogatives. But during the time He lived on this earth in human form, Jesus chose to do so as a man, completely dependent upon the Spirit of God in every way.
And notice what Mark records God saying to Jesus immediately after the Spirit descended upon Him after His baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God confirmed the identity of Jesus. His humanity had not changed His identity. He was still the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He was still fully divine and “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). He was God in human form. His name was “Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23 NLT).
But why is this important? What difference does it make? The answer lies in what immediately happened after Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. He had been led there by the Spirit of God, and yet, he found himself being assailed by Satan himself. For 40 days, Jesus had fasted from food and water, leaving Him in a severely weakened condition, both physically and emotionally. He was drained of energy. His humanity was running on fumes. And notice the words Satan spoke to Jesus while in this weakened and vulnerable state: “If you are the son of God…”
Satan began by questioning the identity of Jesus. Forty days earlier, God had proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” Now, after more than a month of complete isolation from human contact and total abstinence from any source of nourishment, Satan raised doubts about Jesus’ identity. Was He really the Son of God? Is this the way God treats His own? In His emaciated and weakened condition, did Jesus even remotely reflect the image of God?
But Jesus’ physical condition did not alter His identity. He was no less the Son of God in His famished and dehydrated state than He had been as an infant in the manger in Bethlehem. Jesus knew who He was, and He knew why He had come. He was fully aware of His identity and His purpose. So, the temptations of Satan proved ineffective. And notice the nature of the three temptations the enemy used.
The first one involved getting Jesus to use His divine power to turn stones into bread. Could Jesus have pulled this off? No doubt about it. But it would not have been within God’s will. And Jesus was aware that Satan was attempting to get Him to use His divine rights and privileges for purely selfish reasons: To meet His own needs. So, Jesus rejected Satan’s offer, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 1:4 ESV). It’s interesting to note what Jesus said to His disciples on another occasion when they offered Him food to eat, and He responded, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (Luke 4:32 NLT). When they questioned whether He had already eaten, Jesus simply replied, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (Luke 4:34 NLT.
Satan was trying to get Jesus to place His own physical needs ahead of His Father’s will for His life. But Jesus wouldn’t take the bait because He knew who He was and what He had come to do.
The second temptation involved Satan’s offer to give Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for His worship. What’s the problem with this scenario? As the Son of God, Jesus already had authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. Paul reminds us, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16 ESV). Satan was offering Jesus power He already possessed. In His weakened state, it could have been easy for Jesus to question His own power. But He didn’t. Instead, He responded, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8 NLT). Jesus wasn’t tempted by Satan’s offer of power because, as the Son of God, He was all-powerful. Jesus saw Satan’s offer of power in exchange for worship as what it was: idolatry.
The final temptation features Satan taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. And, once again, he questions Jesus’ identity, saying, “If you are the son of God…” Then he challenged Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle, so that God would send angels to rescue Him before He ever hit the ground. What’s going on here? Again, it is a direct assault on the identity of Jesus, but also an attempt to get Jesus to violate that identity. Satan was giving Jesus a different purpose than the one God had given Him. As Jesus Himself state, He had come “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). He came to die, not to be rescued. And the manner of His death had been pre-ordained from before the foundation of the earth. This was a temptation to live outside the purpose given to Him by God the Father. And it was a temptation to trade obedience to the will of God for prominence. But Jesus wasn’t interested because He knew who He was and what He had come to do.
So, what’s the point? How does this apply to you and me? Take a look at Philippians 2:3-5. Notice what Paul says to the believers in Philippi as they struggle living out their faith amid conflict and persecution. They are under direct attack by the same enemy who accosted Jesus in the wilderness. And Satan is using the same tired tactics to get them to forget their identity in Christ. He is offering them pleasure, power, and prominence in exchange for their worship. He wants them to think about themselves, to focus on their own needs, to seek immediate relief from their problems by turning their backs on God. He is offering them what they already have in exchange for their denial of who they truly are. But Paul reminds them:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 3:3-5 ESV
Have the mind of Christ. Think like He does. See life from His perspective. He knew who He was. He was confident in His identity. And we should know who we are. We are sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, redeemed, forgiven, righteous, holy, saints of God, heirs of the Kingdom, citizens of heaven, ambassadors for Christ, ministers of reconciliation, members of the body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and as Peter puts it, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). It is when we forget our identity that we fall prey to the attacks of the enemy. Recognizing who you are and why you are here, your identity and purpose, is the key to living for Christ and like Christ. A Christian who is unsure of His identity will always seek it in pleasure, power, and prominence.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.