Temptation: Wilderness Devotion

The temptation of the Lord is a study in contrasts. He was distinctly out of place, “like a root out of dry ground” (Isa 53:2)1 in the wilderness, and simultaneously in the center of His Father’s will. We too ought always to feel out of place, for our “citizenship is in heaven,” while our desire (especially in the middle of temptation) should be to “always do what pleases him” (Joh 8:29). The Lord faced Satan’s temptation on three specific fronts.

His Appetites

“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luk 4:3). In Matthew’s account both stone and bread are plural, but in Luke they are singular. One stone into bread – how awful could this temptation be? Isn’t bread good and necessary? Hadn’t God used another rock in another wilderness to provide water for another cherished son (Exo 4:22; 17:6)? Hadn’t He produced bread miraculously on the desert floor thousands of times? Indeed, He had, and in fact, the Lord’s response to Satan here is taken from Deuteronomy 8, which references those very events. In those cases, it was by the Word of God that the provision was commanded and supplied. “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mat 4:4). Patient dependence on God is better than impatient independence from God.

In the verse just prior to the one Jesus quotes, we read, “The LORD your God led you … in the wilderness, so that he might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart” (Deu 8:2). Israel failed, but the Lord resisted the temptation, prioritizing His Father’s honor over His body’s hunger. “It is better to be hungry in the will of God, than to be satisfied out of the will of God.”2  Let us say with Job, “I have treasured the words from his mouth more than my daily food” (Job 23:12).

His Acquisitions

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Mat 4:8). Luke adds that he did so “in a moment of time.” Not only are worldly temptations’ rewards temporary, but they are shallow. The very best the world can offer any of us is so shallow so as to take but a moment to display. What a contrast when we consider “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard … God has prepared these things for those who love him” (1Co 2:9). Which things excite us most?

The satanic insinuation is, “Seize the glory and skip the suffering!” However, this was not to be the Lord’s path (Luk 24:26), and neither should we seek it (1Pe 5:10). Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6, where Moses cautions the people against preferring the blessing over the Blesser, the gifts over the Giver. The world invites us to “have it all,” and with it, the power and sense of self-importance it brings. However, we will find our greatest contentment as His servants, and yes, through suffering, knowing that in a future day we “will reign forever and ever” with Him, of whose kingdom there will be no end (Rev 22:5; Luk 1:33).

The condition, in order to receive the glittering offer, was direct: “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me” (Mat 4:9). How quickly can we, who pride ourselves in being free from the worship of idols, falter before the prospect of wealth, comfort or influence. However, “no one can serve two masters … You cannot serve both God and money” (6:24).

His Aspirations

Does it surprise us to see Him tempted in such a holy place, the temple? We should expect it in the most unlikely of places. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: He will give his angels orders concerning you” (Luk 4:9-10). Here the temptation is to make something of Himself. In so many words it was, “Prove your identity – assert yourself, and be validated!” For 30-some years, He had been living in the backwaters of Galilee, and “Now,” urged the adversary, “is your time to shine!” The Lord ever derived His identity from God alone (Joh 10:30; 16:28).

“Throw yourself down.” The Lord will teach that the way down is the way up (Mar 10:44), but Satan here twists that mindset. It was not exaltation by God in His time that he urged, but greatness through self-directed attention. Satan slyly and incompletely quoted from Psalm 91, as he urged the summoning of angels to make a public display. Angels will come (Mat 4:11), but privately, as sent by God. They would be on standby before His arrest and death but wouldn’t be summoned.

The Lord responded again from Deuteronomy 6, “Do not test the LORD your God” (v16). This might well include a rebuke of Satan, but the thrust of the meaning here seems to be in relation to one who rashly dares God to act for his own benefit, as the Israelites did in the passage quoted. Am I driven by my plans for myself, or living in view of His (Eph 1:3-12)?

The Lord’s temptation equipped Him for public ministry and was necessary for His work as our great High Priest. It is also invaluable for instructing us in how to face temptation in our own human condition. John Owen wrote, “Shall this temptation … this sloth, this self-love, this sensuality, this bait of the world, turn me aside, prevail over me, to desert Him Who went before me in the ways of all temptations … for my good?”3

The devil’s attack was exhaustive4 but the dependent Son emerged “in the power of the Spirit” (Luk 4:14). If we face temptation “full of the Holy Spirit” (v1), we do so with every resource our Lord had, with the addition of Himself, who “has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin,” for “since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 4:15; 2:18).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the CSB.

2 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1 (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1989), 183.

3 John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 216.

4“Every temptation” (Luk 4:13) surely included an exhaustive range of attacks, though here unfinished.