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Why was Jesus Tempted? Meaning and Significance of the Temptation of Christ

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. -Mark 1:12-13
Updated Oct 09, 2023
Why was Jesus Tempted? Meaning and Significance of the Temptation of Christ

The Temptation of Jesus in Scripture: 

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he 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.’” Then the devil took him 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.’” 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 himMatthew 4:1-11

Was Jesus Tempted?

Some people question whether Jesus was actually tempted or this biblical account is simply a metaphor. Greg Laurie, as transcribed in the video above, explains why he believes Jesus was tempted:

Jesus, according to the Bible, was tempted. He was tempted. You might say, "Wait a second, how could God be tempted? Doesn't the Bible say God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does he himself tempt any man?" Yes, it's true. The Bible says that. But yet the Bible also clearly teaches that Jesus was tempted. We read about it in Luke four. You remember that after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and the spirit of God came upon him in the form of a dove and the father said, "This is my beloved son and whom I'm well pleased." 

We read this spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And there, after a 40 day fast, Jesus faced this onslaught of attacks from Lucifer. Remember Lucifer started out by saying, "If you're the son of God, why don't you turn this rock into a piece of bread?" And Jesus, of course, refused that temptation and said, "It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Satan also took Jesus to the pinnacle of the edge of the temple and he said, "Why don't you jump off of here, because it is written", and the devil quotes scripture. And in this case he quoted Psalm 91, "His angels will have charge over you to keep you in all of your ways." And Jesus came back and said, "It is written. You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

So Jesus clearly was tempted. But listen, he did not have that inward vulnerability to give in to the temptation. Because the Bible says a man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and he is enticed. You see, the temptor needs cooperation with the temptee. That would be us. And for that temptation to work, we have to desire and want the thing that's being offered to us. And so the devil knows it's now Jesus does not have that inward vulnerability, that combustible, sinful nature that we have. Therefore, we might protest and say, "Well then he wasn't really tempted," because if he didn't have the ability to fall, then that temptation was not genuine. Well I don't think that's true. He basically resisted it.

Let me ask you a quick question. How many of you have ever been tempted to sin? Raise up your hand. Okay. How many of you have given in to those temptations? Thank you very much. Okay. Now, if there was a... How many of you have ever been tempted and you've resisted the temptation? Raise up your hand. Oh, good. I'm glad to see that. Listen, when you resisted, dos that mean that you were not tempted? No. It means that you made the right choice, right? Jesus resisted it. No, he did not have the inward vulnerability give in to it, but at the same time he felt the pressure and presence of temptation.

So Jesus was tempted as we are. But why? Why did he even go through this? Here's the answer, Hebrews 2:17. It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers, his sisters. So he could be our merciful and peaceful high priest before God. Since he himself had gone through temptation and suffering, he is able to help us when we are being tempted. 

So listen, Jesus knows what walking in your shoes is like. So don't say, "No one knows what I'm going through right now. No one has ever suffered like I'm suffering right now. And no one has ever faced the kind of temptations I'm facing right now", because someone has and it's Jesus. Though there may be no one else who can say I know exactly what you're going through, Jesus did, or has and now he is here with you in your times of temptation as well.

When and Where was Jesus Tempted?

In dealing with the time of the temptation there are three significant words. Matthew opens the story with the word "then" Mark uses in this connection a characteristic word of the Gospel, "straightway." Luke opens with the word "and." These words "Then," "Straightway," "And" show the connection of the temptation with what had preceded it, and thus mark with great distinctness its time. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit." When? Immediately after the baptism, with its Divine attestation of satisfaction. "And straightway the Spirit drove Him forth." Here the emphasis is yet greater upon the fact that the temptation followed immediately upon the baptism. "And Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness during forty days." The "and" here marks continuity. Thus, the first act of the new phase of service was that of the testing of the Servant, and His perfect victory over the foe, Satan. God had sealed, as approved, the first phase of the work. The anointing Spirit had indicated His preparedness for the future. His forerunner, John the Baptist, had recognized in Him the King of Whose coming he had spoken to the gathered crowds, on the banks of the river. The whole circumstances of the baptism must have been full of satisfaction to the heart of Christ, and now in the conscious strength of victory already achieved, He passes into the gloom and loneliness of the wilderness, that He may be tested, and through the testing prove His strength.

Then as to the place of the temptation, again notice the threefold description. Matthew says, "Into the wilderness;" Mark, "forth into the wilderness; " Luke says, "In the wilderness." The common thought is that the temptation was experienced in the wilderness. The meaning of this in relation to the mission of Christ deserves special attention. Jesus now stands as the second Man, the last Adam. Here let this Scriptural statement be specially noted and remembered. Too often He is spoken of as the second Adam. Scripture does not use the expression. It speaks of the "last Adam." The first Adam was the head of a race. The last Adam is the Head of a race, and He is the last, because there will be no new departure, no other federal headship, and no other race. The last Adam, then, passing into temptation, went to the wilderness, into single and lonely combat with the enemy. No foe other than the captain of the hosts of evil is opposed to Him there, and no friend other than the God in Whose hand His breath is, and Whose are all His ways, is with Him. The wilderness is the place of immediate dealing with evil. All secondary things are swept aside.

Was it Satan Who Tempted Jesus?

As to the agent of the temptation, Matthew says, "To be tempted of the devil"; Mark, “Tempted of Satan"; Luke, "Tempted of the devil." The emphasis here is upon the fact that in the wilderness experience Jesus came face to face with the prince of the power of the air, with the god of this world, with Lucifer, son of the morning, fallen from his high estate of the first rank of heaven, and now leader of the hosts of darkness.

There have been many attempts to account for the temptation in other ways. It has been suggested that some man or company of men visited Him in the wilderness, and voiced the suggestions of evil; some even holding that the tempter was a member of His own family, who followed Him into the wilderness, and, with motives not unmixed with concern for Him, yet became the voice of evil. As all this is pure imagination and has not the slightest warrant in Scripture; it must be dismissed at once as false.

The more serious error is that the temptation arose from the natural operations of the mind of Christ. This is as unwarranted as is the other. As evil was presented to the first man, Adam, from without, so also was it to the second, Christ. But no time need be taken with these futile attempts to discount the actual accuracy of the scripture narrative. One of the chief values of this account of the temptation lies in the fact that Jesus here dragged Satan into the light and revealed the fact of his existence and the method of his operations.

Meaning and Significance of the Temptation of Jesus

With regard to the significance of the temptation, refer to the gospel accounts. Matthew writes, "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit;" Mark expresses it, "The Spirit drove Him," while Luke declares He "was led by the Spirit." The one fact announced in these varied ways is of supreme importance to keep in mind if the true significance of this temptation is to be understood. A Divine plan was being worked out. It did not — to use a common expression — "happen" that Jesus met Satan and was tried. Neither is it true to say that the devil arranged the temptation.

Temptation here is in the Divine plan and purpose. Jesus went into the wilderness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find the devil. My own conviction is that if the devil could have escaped that day, he would have done so. It is a very popular fallacy that the enemy drove Christ into a corner and tempted Him. But the whole Divine story reveals that the facts were quite otherwise. God's perfect Man, led by the Spirit - or as Mark in his own characteristic and forceful way expresses it, driven by the Spirit - passes down into the wilderness, and compels the adversary to stand out clear from all secondary causes, and to enter into direct combat. This is not the devil's method. He ever puts something between himself and the man he would tempt. He hides his own personality wherever possible. To our first parents he did not suggest that they should serve him, but that they should please themselves. Jesus dragged him from behind everything, and put him in front, that for once, not through the subtlety of a second cause, but directly, he might do his worst against a pure soul.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He was tempted of the devil during forty days, during the whole of which period He was still led by the Spirit. The Spirit took Him to the place of temptation, and was with Him through the process of temptation. Not in His Deity did He resist, but in His perfect Manhood. Manhood is however never able to successfully resist temptations of the devil save when fulfilling a first Divine intention, that, namely, of depending upon God, and thus being guided by the Spirit of God. Thus the Man Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and was led by the Spirit through all the process of temptation.

Adapted from The Crises of the Christ, Book III, Chapter X, by G. Campbell Morgan.

Photo Credit: Pexels/Jeswin Thomas

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