The importance of the temptation scene in Luke 4 cannot be overstated. This is a showdown between Jesus and Satan. This is a moment where everything is at stake. If Jesus fails, everything is lost and Satan succeeds. If Jesus fails, the hope for humanity is lost because we need a Savior to redeem us from our sins. At this moment, Satan is bringing a full force assault on Jesus because this is his best way to win his battle against God. Revelation 12 reveals the picture of Satan, as a dragon, ready to destroy Jesus in any way possible.
As Luke begins to record the narrative, his emphasis is on the human nature of Jesus. Jesus is placed in a time of distress and weakness. Jesus is not facing Satan during good times. Jesus is not sitting on a couch in an air conditioned home, watching television after a Thanksgiving day feast. Jesus is in the desert. Jesus is fasting. Jesus is very hungry. Satan is throwing his temptations at Jesus in a time of vulnerability. We are expected to read this event with concern because the conditions are not ideal. This is not like when Satan came to Adam and Eve in the garden where everything was paradise and perfection. Jesus is in the desert. Jesus has been fasting and now Jesus is quite hungry.
Further, Luke gives us a detail that we miss from the Matthew account. Jesus has not been fasting for 40 days and now Satan comes to Jesus at the end of those 40 days. Rather, the Greek is in the present participle which means that Jesus was tempted for the entire 40 days. Most of the major translations reflect this participle properly, like the NKJV does. “…and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil” (NKJV). These three recorded temptations either are the culmination of the temptations or are representative of the temptations Jesus faced. Forty days of Satan throwing all that he has at Jesus. Forty days of Satan causing Jesus problems, not leaving him alone, tempting him over and over again. How we can feel the weight of a temptation press us hour after hour, day after day! Jesus endured that also. Now Satan continues his attack on Jesus.
Temptation #1 (vs. 3-4)
It is important to understand what Satan is doing in these temptations statements. I believe I have misunderstood the devil’s words. Satan is not saying to Jesus, “I don’t really believe that you are Jesus. Prove it to me. Turn this stone into bread.” The devil knows who Jesus is. In fact, that is the reason why the devil is attacking Jesus with these temptations. The temptation attack is not for Jesus to prove himself. The attack is far deeper and far more intense than that.
The first temptation questions God’s provision and care. The temptation looks like this: “If you are the Son of God, then God does not want you to starve in the desert. You are too important for that to happen. So meet your basic needs.” The devil is not doubting that Jesus is the Son of God. Satan is actually affirming Jesus as the Son of God and using that truth as the point of attack. “You have been fasting for forty days and you are in the desert with nothing to eat. You are the Son of God. That must mean that God does not want you to starve in the desert. So meet your own needs by your own power.”
The temptation is for Jesus to act independently of God. Satan presents a challenge against God’s provisions. The temptation is to no longer depend upon God to take care of him while in the desert. “You need to look out for yourself and not trust in God.” The devil is making the suggestion that God was abandoning Jesus and, therefore, Jesus needed to look out for himself.
Same temptation for us. We are tempted strongly in the very same way. Satan is always coming in during our difficult times, encouraging us to rely upon ourselves, trust in ourselves, and accept that God is not providing for us this time. We fall into this temptation all the time. We lose our job and Satan tells us that we have to take matters into our own hands because God is not with us. You are suffering and God is not going to take care of you. We hear this thinking come out in our language. We ask, “Where is God?” when things are difficult. The money is tight, so give up on God. We think that we cannot trust God to provide. This is the temptation that Satan is giving to us and if we are honest, I think we will admit that we repeatedly fail when presented with this temptation. We are independent Americans who rely upon no one but ourselves. God is the first one that gets the boot when times are challenging. Satan says the same words to us that he said to Jesus. “God doesn’t want you to be unhappy.” “God does not want you to be in poverty.” “God wants you to have things in life.” “God does not want me to be lacking anything.” So we go after things in life on our own, thinking that we can keep God as our companion while we pursue the pleasures and riches of this world.
Jesus’ response is very important. Please notice that Jesus’ response is not an affirmation of Satan’s teaching. Jesus does not agree that the Christian life is about being happy, having things, being wealthy, and serving God. Carefully examine Jesus’ answer. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The context of this quotation is Moses calling on the people of Israel to depend on God’s faithfulness in delivering his promises. Consider the meaning of the quotation.
Life is defined by doing God’s will and depending on God, not in personal satisfaction or living independently. To put the quotation into common words for today: Life is not about the physical, but the spiritual. We fall into the same trap as the people of Israel in the desert. They repeatedly did not trust God to provide for them, complaining about their food and water conditions on the way to the promised land. To us, this physical life is everything. This is the temptation Satan presents. “You are going to die out here in the desert.” Jesus responds that the word of God is life. Spiritual life is what matters most. This is the response to the attack of Satan. When things are falling apart in this life, realize that our life does not consist of this world. Life is in God, not in the things of this world. Jesus is telling Satan that his hunger is not important. It doesn’t matter. The word of God matters. I need to look to God in my difficulties and trust him, realizing that our troubles are a small thing to what we are looking forward to with God. Trust God to provide, understanding that these provisions are not what life is all about. These provisions are God’s temporal blessings to assist our worship of God until we can be with him. Satisfying our physical yearnings is not as important as trusting and obeying God.
Temptation #2 (vs. 5-8)
The second temptation is Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to abandon his loyalty to God. Satan is offering Jesus a shortcut. Jesus can leave behind the rejection and the suffering that is going to come and be the promised king. Satan again is not questioning if Jesus is really the Son of God. Satan is saying, “If you are the Son of God, then you should not have to suffer to receive the kingdom in power. Take a shortcut and avoid the pain. Worship me and I will give you the kingdoms and their glory.” How powerful this temptation must have been! Jesus could avoid the suffering and become king. “Have an easier, more comfortable life. Abandon your loyalty to God and worship Satan.”
I know this temptation is powerful because we succumb to this temptation for far less. We worship our idols just so that we can sleep in, have a little more money, have a better job, have more things, or be more comfortable. Jesus was offered the kingdoms of the world and their glory. We are offered sitting on the couch tonight, or an extra few hundred dollars.
Before we evaluate Jesus’ answer, consider what Satan says about what he can offer. Satan says that the authority of the nations has been given to him and that he can give that authority to Jesus. Many think that Satan is lying when he says this. However, if Satan is lying, then this is not a temptation. You can tempt me to leave God for ten million dollars if I know that you do not have ten million dollars to give. If Satan cannot fulfill this offer, then Jesus would not have been tempted and would simply respond, “You do not have that power.” But this is a powerful temptation because Satan could give Jesus these things, offering him the chance to have glory and avoid the cross. Satan is called the ruler of this world (John 12:31). We need to get it into our minds that Satan has power in this world and that is why things are the way they are. This is why the world is evil. This is why there is suffering. This is why life is difficult. Satan has authority here. Satan is roaming about in this world.
Jesus’ response is instructive again. We only can worship God. We have a mentality that we must avoid suffering at all costs. We think that things ought to be easy for us in this life. When things do not go the way we want or think they should go, we are confused. But this shows that we are worshiping someone or something other than God. God alone is worthy of our allegiance. Avoiding suffering cannot be our idol. Our work cannot be our idol. We cannot worship our children, by making sure they are always happy and giving them everything they want. We want to bypass the difficulties of life that come from serving God. But seeking the things of this world shows that we are idolaters. We worship our health, thinking it is the most important thing. We think we need to stay alive as long as possible because it is so important to us. We think and are often taught that as long as God is number one, we can have all of these other idols in our life. We might say, “What about our family?” We do not make our family number two, as if it were another idol! We love our families because that is part of what it means for God to be number one. God is number one and that is it. Everything we do in life is because it is our worship to God (Romans 12:1). God alone is worthy of our allegiance. We must have no other gods or idols. So if I am called to suffer in this life, so be it and I will worship God in my suffering. If I am called to poverty, so be it and I will worship God in my poverty. If I am called to lose my family, so be it and I will worship God in my loss. If I must go the difficult road, I will still serve my Lord and serve none other. This is the mentality we need to fight Satan’s temptation to worship our idols to receive material, physical benefits now.
Temptation #3 (vs. 9-13)
The third attack of Satan is similar to the previous attacks. Satan is not questioning if Jesus is the Son of God. Rather, Satan is challenging Jesus because he is the Son of God. But Satan also uses the scriptures to raise the intensity of this temptation. Satan says, “If God protects his own and you are the Son of God, then you can jump and not worry.” The psalm promises the protection of God’s own.
I think it is important to observe that even the devil can use scriptures to deceive people. The scriptures can be misapplied. The scriptures can be twisted. The scriptures can be used to justify doing something that is actually sinful. This is really important to see. The scriptures can be used to bring people into sin rather than to bring people to holiness. Satan is clearly still at work with this deception when we see all of the different denominations. Everyone is using the scriptures differently, failing to realize that not all of us can be right.
Back to the thought of Luke, the temptation of Satan is to put God to the test. Test God on your terms to do what you want him to do. This temptation is also just as strongly used today. We want to cause God to do what we want to do. We want to use prayer like a stick on a pinata, thinking that God must do what we want because we prayed for it. The problem is that this attitude looks pious and holy. This idea is strongly pushed in many churches today. Many are preaching to pray to God and it will happen. Pray for a parking spot and God will give it. We are expecting God to do something for us because we are Christians, as if he was a genie in the lamp. Satan is suggesting that Jesus can show his true and full dependence on God by jumping and letting the angels protect him. We think God should prevent bad things from happening to us. We often put God to the test on our physical health, thinking that God has to heal us from our various infirmities. If God does not do what we want, we lose our faith and trust in God. We pray amiss for so many things. James 4:3 warns us of this problem that we do not receive what we are asking for because we are praying with the wrong attitude and motive. When we are praying for anything that is not for God’s glory and God’s purpose, then we are praying wrongly. We often think James is saying that we need to ask for the right things and not the wrong things. This is true, but there is more to it. The motive of our prayer is also under examination. Are we praying for something for ourselves because this is what we want or are we praying for God’s glory to be fulfilled in whatever circumstance we are petitioning? Observe the difference: do we pray for brother or sister so and so who has cancer because we just want the person to live forever, or because we cannot stand to lose them (our selfish need)? Or will we pray for God’s will to be accomplished? Will we pray that we want healing because he or she is useful in God’s kingdom? Will we praying for healing because we want this to be a tool for God to be glorified? We can pray for things wrongly simply in our motivation. We need to ask why we are asking God to do something before we pray for God to act. Are we testing God? Are we asking selfishly? Or are we praying for God’s glory and goodness to spread in what we are asking?
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 in response to the temptation. The context of that quotation is concerning the Israelites, given to them as a reminder to not test the Lord as they had done at Massah in Exodus 17. Do not test God. Trust God.
The paragraph concludes with the notification that Satan was not done. He was going to come back and try again at another opportune time. This reminds us that Satan is looking for our weak moments to strike against us. Satan does not wait for when we are strong, but in our moments and times of weakness. Then he brings the force of his temptations against us. Satan is never done. He will never give up against us. We must continue to fight his lies.
- Satan is able to rationalize, justify, and misuse the scriptures to tempt us to sin. Know the scriptures to be able to defeat him.
- The temptations are questions of our loyalty. Will we be loyal to God, even if we do not have material wealth and physical health? Will we be loyal to God even if we must suffer? Will we be loyal to God and put away our idols? Will we be loyal and not test God to conform to our will?
- Temptations reveal our lack of trust in God. Do I trust God to get me through? Do I seek after God above all else, knowing that this is true living? Or do I think that God is not going to provide for me, so I must take shortcuts, rely upon myself, and do what I want to get what I need? Satan is testing our loyalty, revealing where we are lacking trust. Learning from your weak points, the places where we fall to temptation, and grow going forward. Understand that this weakness reveals the need to develop trust in God in that area.