The Temptation of Jesus Shows Us How to Live
The first thing Jesus did following His baptism was to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Many of us know the story but I wonder if we realize that Jesus was giving us guidance about how to live as His followers. His words in response to the temptations teach us how to live in a world under the Devil’s power.
It would appear at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus that He was making a statement about the conflict between the two kingdoms — the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Notice that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the king of darkness. This was not an accidental meeting or even one to be avoided. The Holy Spirit placed Jesus into a challenge situation with Satan. He led Jesus at the beginning of His ministry into direct conflict with His enemy.
John the Baptist had been preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). Days later, after His baptism by John, Jesus was preaching the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). The King of the heavenly kingdom was led by the Spirit into a desolate wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. The two kings of the two kingdoms would meet. The challenge was on. This battle will not end until Christ brings the end to every rule, authority and power that opposes His kingdom (1Cor. 15:24). This battle was not just about Jesus and Satan but involved the holy remnant of God’s people who were about to be set free from the power of the evil one.
So Jesus showed His future followers how to fight this battle against this enemy and win. First the enemy challenged Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). The reply of Jesus was simple, direct and very revealing: “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v. 4). Jesus did not debate with Satan about His identity — He knew who He was. He simply stated a simple kingdom truth — I am hungry, yes, but I only live by the words of my Father. What the Father tells me I do, nothing more, He implied. This is like the later statement by Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
Jesus was showing us how to deal with the enemy and His tactics. All kinds of temptations and desires will arise but we are called to reject them in favor of the words of our God. Many Christians dismiss this truth as if it were only for Christ and that we are incapable of such devotion. Adam and Eve failed because they ignored the words of God in the garden. Because they listened to the lies of the serpent and believed them over the words of God they sent the human race into a tailspin of spiritual destruction. Any problems the church faces today or any day stem from listening to Satan and the world’s message instead of hearing God and doing what He says.
Next the Devil tried another tactic: He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matt. 4:6). So, Satan quoted from Psalm 91 since he saw that Jesus was serious about the words of God. Jesus responded “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7). Satan could quote scripture but Jesus didn’t just quote it but lived by it.
Here, Jesus is telling His enemy, and us indirectly, that God’s word is sacred and is not to be manipulated for selfish reasons. Paul warned us of the people who see godliness as a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:5). They manipulate God’s word to make it say what they want. No doubt this was what angered Jesus when He saw the money changers and others trying to profit from the temple ministry and the gullibility of people who fall for their tactics. Satan was using Psalm 91 to try to sell Jesus on using God and His word for a selfish gain and He would have none of it. We are putting the Lord to the test when we try to fool His people into doing things out of a selfish motive. The Gospel is to set people free from the power of sin not to use it for our fleshly desires.
It is true that God promises that His ministering spirits, the angels, will watch over us and protect us but we only call upon them in the will of the Father for His purposes and they only respond to God’s commands on our behalf. We understand that God’s word is sacred and beyond the reach of human exploitation.
But Satan is stubborn and persistent. So he tried a third time: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8, 9).
This may be the most powerful argument of Satan. Indeed, he does own all the kingdoms of the world and everything in them and uses it to barter with humans for their soul. Adam and Eve forfeited all of this including their own soul in the Garden. Because of their disobedience Satan is now the god of this world system (2 Cor. 4:4).
We humans have our desires. There are things we want to possess and our flesh craves them. Food, sex, clothing, houses, properties, money, cars, traveling, and much more dominate much of our thinking and actions. People have a bucket list of things they want to do and possess. Time and again Paul speaks of our natural tendency to seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Rom 3:14; Gal. 5:16, 17, 24). The flesh, our fallen sinful nature, wants things and sometimes the desires of the flesh can be overwhelming. Satan knows this weakness of our flesh since he created it and has fashioned it in his image. He has a lot of worldly junk to offer us in exchange for our devotion to God. Many have sold their soul to him for the promise of worldly pleasure and riches. To the extent that we pursue these things, we are stymied in our ongoing journey with Christ.
At this point Jesus had had enough. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” When it comes to this place of bargaining with the devil regarding our devotion to God Jesus simply reminded him who really has authority on earth. He dismissed Satan from His assignment with a clear declaration of His devotion to His Father. Jesus was the Creator of all things and as the Son of God could call upon legions of angels to do His bidding but as a man He had nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). He did not go after desires of the flesh. His entire ministry on earth was only doing what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19). He was committed to the will of God in all things.
“Yes, but that was Jesus” some will respond. “He was perfect and was able to live in that kind of victory.” To answer that I would say we are called to seek to be like Him. Paul puts it this way:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”(1 Cor. 3:18). We who are in Christ are being spiritually changed from the inside out into the likeness of Christ. We are destined to be like Him and that isn’t something that is fulfilled only when we get to heaven. It is a promise to us that truly following Him results in the transformation of our souls to the point that we become like Him even now.
Paul also wrote, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1Cor. 15:49). Our destiny is to bear the image of Jesus, the heavenly man. No doubt this is what Paul meant when he wrote these amazing words:
… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Eph. 4:13–15).
Individually we are no longer to be tossed around by the charlatans of our age but progress together until corporately we grow up into Christ. This is why Paul could say that the body of Christ is “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). We are to be like Him individually and as a corporate body.
Lastly we must realize that Christ has given us the authority He received from the Father. His last earthly words to His followers were: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18, 19). We have authority to go forth in His name with the message of His eternal kingdom.
At His temptation Jesus was showing us how to live — how to win the battle against the god of this world. We win by realizing that His word is sacred and cannot be manipulated for our selfish benefit and that nothing the enemy or his system offers us in this world is worth our redeemed relationship with the King of the universe. Let us learn to live accordingly.