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Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Part 3

Nov 26, 2013

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness proved that He was an overcomer prior to the launching of His ministry on earth. This forty-day period followed the pattern of both Moses and Elijah, who also fasted forty days. Moses, of course, fasted three times for forty days, but as a result, he received a revelation of the law. Exodus 34:28 says,

28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Likewise, Elijah fasted forty days, as 1 Kings 19:7, 8,

7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8 So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah then received the revelation of the remnant of grace (1 Kings 19:18) who fulfilled the promises of God in spite of the disobedience of the majority of Israelites. Paul tells us in Romans 11:4-8,

4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice…. 7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.”

Whereas Moses’ revelation was of the law that was to be written on the hearts of the people, Elijah’s revelation was a prophecy of the overcomers who would actually fulfill the purpose of God in their life time. Paul says that this remnant was “chosen” while the rest of the Israelites were given “a spirit of stupor.” The clear implication is that the majority of Israelites were not chosen. In other words, their genealogy from Abraham did not make them chosen. Faith, shown by obedience, is the evidence of being chosen.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness proved that He was chosen. The law was written on His heart, and He evidenced the faith of the remnant of grace. So it is not surprising that later, when Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah were seen with Him (Luke 9:30). Also, after His resurrection, Jesus met with two men on the road to Emmaus, where we read in Luke 24:27,

27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Jesus’ close association with Moses and Elijah from beginning to end proved that He was the Messiah who was prophesied in the law and prophets. Jesus fulfilled all of the expectations of the law and prophets, for all that they had written Jesus did. Luke focused upon this, because it was powerful evidence that Theophilus would understand.

The First and Last Adam

Before we comment more specifically on the three temptations mentioned here, we should note how Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), overcame in every area where the first Adam had failed in the garden of Eden.

The first Adam was tempted in three areas that parallel the three temptations of Jesus. Genesis 3:6 gives us the three temptations of Adam and Eve,

6 When the woman saw that [1] the tree was good for food, and that [2] it was a delight to the eyes, and that [3] the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

A summarized explanation of these is given in 1 John 2:16,

16 For all that is in the world, [1] the lust of the flesh, [2] the lust of the eyes, and [3] the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

These three things are seen in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ first temptation was to turn stones into bread (Luke 4:3), because fasting makes all food look good. The second temptation was to be given the kingdoms of this world immediately, without having to die first. The third temptation was to test God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple to force God to catch Him and thus prove His relationship with God. It is not hard to see that these three represent temptations of the body, soul, and spirit.

They may be paired this way:

The First Temptation (Body)

The tree was good for food (Genesis)
The lust of the flesh (John)
Turn stones into bread (Luke)

The Second Temptation (Soul)

The tree was a delight to the eyes (Genesis)
The lust of the eyes (John)
Taking the easier path to comfort the flesh (Luke)

The Third Temptation (Spirit)

The tree was desirable to make one wise to “be like God” (Genesis)
The boastful pride of life (John)
Tempting God so that one can boast (Luke)

The first tempts the body in its desire for food. The second tempts the soul in its lust of the eyes, for the carnal mind always desires the easier path. The third tempts the spirit, for those who have a wrong spirit desire wisdom in a prideful way. This is the wisdom offered by the serpent, who said in Genesis 3:5, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

John calls it “boastful pride.” True wisdom is humble, not prideful. The devil tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple in order that He might boast of His great exploit after God saved His life. But Jesus understood that this was tempting God. Tempting God in this way puts the will of man over the will of God by forcing God to react to us. It puts man above God in a subtle manner, thus revealing the pride inherent in such actions. Those who tempt God in this way have a spiritual problem. Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2:6,

6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.

The devil tempted Jesus to force God to catch Him and to save Him from falling off the pinnacle so that He could fulfill His calling on the cross. If Jesus had fallen for this temptation, He would have failed the humility test by grasping “equality with God” in an unlawful manner. If anyone had the right to assert the right to be equal with God, it would have been Jesus. But if even He refused to do this, so also should believers refuse.

Having shown an overall view of the three temptations, let us now look at each of them more closely.

The Body Temptation

Luke 4:3, 4 says,

3 And the devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered Him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’.”

When the devil said “IF you are the Son of God,” he was not actually throwing this fact into doubt, as it may appear in the translation. Dr. Bullinger explains in his notes that the word “if” (ei) is followed by the Indicative Mood, which means that “the hypothesis is assumed as an actual fact” (The Companion Bible, Appendix 118, 2, a).

In other words, the devil was not questioning Jesus’ position as the Son of God, but rather had already conceded this fact and was assuming it to be true. Yet he was using this fact to tempt Jesus, because as the Son of God, Jesus had the right to expect God to provide for His needs—in this case, with food for His body.

However, the purpose of Jesus’ fast was to deny Himself that which the body needed or was craving. He was giving up food for a greater purpose. Furthermore, He understood that He was in the wilderness to fulfill the law and the prophets, who had already shown that this wilderness experience was the will of God. Moses’ law made it clear that He was the second goat which was to be led into the wilderness “for Azazel” (Leviticus 16:8). Furthermore, He had to be tempted even as Israel was tempted in the wilderness before Joshua (Yeshua) could lead them into the Promised Land.

And so Jesus responded to this temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. Let us read verses 2 and 3 to get the full context:

2 And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

Take note that Israel was led forty years in the wilderness, connecting their experience to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. In both cases, the purpose was the same. It was to prove what was in their hearts and to see if they would keep the commandments or not. In other words, was the law truly written in their hearts by the action of the Holy Spirit? Or was the law still an external force fighting against the natural, carnal desire of man to be disobedient and to go his own way?

True humility is to submit to the authority of God and to obey His voice. It is easy to be obedient when God leads us into the good things in life. But the true test of obedience is when we must choose between the desire (lust) of the flesh and the will of God. So Moses says that God “let you be hungry… that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone.”

The bread of God is more important than the bread which our bodies crave. The true bread is the word of God, and Moses says we are to live by “everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” This includes the whole of Scripture and also the specific word that He speaks to us as we learn to hear His voice.

In the past, I have met some Christians who set aside Scripture and who wanted only to hear the voice of God. Others reject the voice of God and read only Scripture. But we are to live by every word that has come out of God’s mouth, whether it was spoken to men in the past (now known as Scripture) or to us personally. This includes the law, the prophets, the Psalms, the New Testament writings, and our own specific revelation. If we reject any one of these, we are failing to resist the first temptation.

This is part 3 of a mini-series titled "Jesus' temptation in the wilderness." To view all parts, click the link below.

Jesus' temptation in the wilderness

This is part 12 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones