The Spirit of the Lord had come to anoint the Son of God in a special and powerful way. After Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit led Jesus away from the Jordan and the bustle of ministry that surrounded John. Jesus was compelled to go out to the wilderness and to the silence of utter nature. For forty days, Jesus fasted and prayed to His Father. It was a time of sustained, intense communion as He prepared to start His ministry. At the end of that time, He was hungry. Imagine how weak His body must have felt.
When Satan, the great enemy of God, saw Christ in this state, he thought it was a chance to seduce the Messiah away from His God.
His first attack was to question Christ about whether He was truly the Son of God. He said that if Jesus really was God’s Son, He could take the stones at their feet and turn them into bread. Jesus knew that Satan had no right to question Him or His relationship with His Father. He did not give power to the words of the Tempter by defending Himself. Instead, He turned straight to God’s Word:
“‘Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’”
These words were taken from Deuteronomy 8:3. In that part of the Bible story, God had been providing the nation of Israel with the bread of manna every day for forty years. As they sat on the edge of the Land of Promise and complained, Moses repeated God’s commands to Israel, challenging them to put their trust in the God who had proved so faithful. Food is important, but trusting that God will provide it is even more important.
The Lord Jesus had gone forty days and forty nights with no food, and yet when Satan came to tempt Him, He had the power to resist. He lived in dependence on His Father, and He did not need to prove His identity or feed Himself in a way that was outside of God’s will.
Satan tried to tempt Him again. This time he took Jesus to Jerusalem and brought Him to the very top pinnacle of the Temple of the Lord. It was the highest place in the city. The Devil said to Him:
“‘If you are the Son of God throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will give his angels charge concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up. Lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’”
Now Satan was quoting Scripture, too, except he was twisting the perfect words of God to pressure Jesus to disobey. It was a very clever temptation, too. How did Jesus know He was the Son of God? How could He be sure? He was born just like every other person on earth. If He did throw Himself from the roof of the Temple and the angels caught Him, surely the people of Israel would believe! It was a fast and easy way to convince the Jews that He was the Messiah. But Jesus wasn’t about to respond to God’s enemy. He responded only to the Spirit, and this was not God’s plan. A much longer, more difficult road lay ahead for Him. He said:
“‘On the other hand, it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Once again, Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy. This time it was from chapter 6, verse sixteen. It was also from the time when Moses was preparing God’s people to enter the Promise Land. The only problem was, throughout their history, the nation of Israel did put their God to the test. Once again, where the nation of Israel failed, the Lord Jesus proved that He could stand in perfect obedience to the Word of God. He didn’t need to test His Father to believe in His protection and love. He was sure of it already.
Satan came at the Lord one more time. This time he took Jesus up to a high mountaintop. From there he showed the Lord the mighty kingdoms of the earth in all of their majestic power and glory. He said,
“‘All of this I will give to you, if you will bow and worship me.’”
Ah. Now we see the heart of this evil serpent.
It is true that the Devil is the prince of this world. When Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and mutinied against God, they gave Satan great power over the human race. The nations and kingdoms of this world are under his foul dominion. His rule is the source of all the toxic pain and suffering. He has a lot of power. We have to ask ourselves: Why would he offer it to Christ? What great, magnificent, glorious thing could be worth giving up so much control?
Well, Satan knew that the human before him truly was the Son of God. Christ’s infinite worth and power is far greater than everything in the entire universe put together. If Satan could destroy God’s Son while He was in the weakened form of a man, if he could get Jesus to bow down to him and break His allegiance to the Most High God, it would be the ultimate coup…a total, final victory.
But Satan was not offering Jesus anything the Father had not already promised to give Jesus. Satan was offering a false short cut. The road Jesus would have to take in obedience to His Father was through the path of unimaginable suffering and perseverance. Yet the kingdom He would establish through God’s plan was a far more glorious kingdom than anything the Devil had to offer.
As a human, Jesus might have been tempted. Here was an easier way! He could use this power to stop all the suffering, end war, and bring in a time of peace. Some might suggest that this would have been a far better plan than the one that the Father had for the life of Christ. Satan certainly thought so. Would Jesus put His whole trust in His Lord? Or would He fall into the same doubt and rebellion that seduced Adam and Eve?
Jesus rejected Satan’s offer with a single, simple statement of ringing devotion:
“‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written:
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
This may have been a quick and quiet moment between the two beings in the wilderness, but it was a great and mighty moment in the history of humanity and in the halls of eternity. It was like a stupendous, universe-shaking thunderclap of truth. As a weakened human, Jesus felt the full pressure of need and temptation with the full force of God’s most powerful enemy coming against Him, yet He stood firm in obedience through it all. He won a victory for humanity that humanity could not win for itself.
It is interesting. Adam and Eve were in a perfect Garden when they met Satan’s schemes. The only thing they couldn’t do was eat from a single tree in the midst of a glorious garden. Their sin brought the dreadful curse. Jesus stood against the power of the curse in the midst of all the temptations of the wicked world and turned it on Satan’s head. The terrible failures of the nation of Israel in their forty years in the wilderness were now redeemed as a shining triumph in the forty days that the Lord Jesus spent there living perfectly in the presence of God. He was filling out all of humanity’s failures with His perfect righteousness!
This time, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 to refute Satan. Do you see how the Lord tied everything He did to the covenant God made with Israel? And He grounded His strength in the battle against God’s great enemy through the truth of Scripture.
When the Devil heard Jesus’ rebuke, he left. He knew he was defeated for the moment. But he plotted his return. He knew that his battle against the Most High God would be lost or won in the person of Jesus Christ, and there was still time to work his destruction.
After Satan left, angels came from Heaven to minister to our weakened Lord. All of God’s heavenly Kingdom must have been watching with bated breath as Jesus defeated Satan through His perfect obedience. They all knew that mighty things were at stake. They also knew that the battle wasn’t over. The book of Luke records that Satan would return at a more suitable time to stop God’s epic rescue plan through his Son.
What a perfect helper and priest Christ Jesus would be to sinners. He felt the highest and deepest power of temptation and overcame it! How compassionately He would understand the trials and struggles of broken men and women! How valiantly He cleared the path of victory over sin for us all.