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
After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.
“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT
So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV
The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV
Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV
Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV
So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV
It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).
Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.
Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT
Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV
Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT
Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.
Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.
“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT
Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV
Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.
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.