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Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Part 5

Dec 12, 2013

Luke records Jesus’ third temptation in the wilderness in Luke 4:9-11,

9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone’.”

The third temptation involves the temple itself and would have spoken directly to Theophilus, the former high priest. The temple itself was a fortress, and on its east side was the high wall of the city itself. On the north side was the Citadel, which King Herod renamed the Antonia Fortress in honor of his early patron, Mark Antony. It is probably on the highest tower of the Antonia Fortress that Jesus was led for the third temptation.

It is described as follows:

“Now as to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple; of that on the west, and that on the north; it was erected upon a rock of fifty cubits in height, and was on a great precipice…. (T)he tower of Antonia itself was built upon to the height of forty cubits…. And as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its corners; whereof the others were but fifty cubits high; whereas that which lay on the southeast corner was seventy cubits high, that from thence the whole temple might be viewed….”


No one can say for sure which was the tower of the third temptation, but it seems to me that the 70-cubit tower of Antonia, overlooking “a great precipice” is most fitting. It was high enough for the Roman guards to see the temple grounds clearly and to watch for any signs of trouble.

It was from this Citadel that the Roman guards rescued the apostle Paul in Acts 21:31, 32, as the people were beating him after a rumor was spread that he had brought a Greek proselyte into the inner court reserved for Jewish men only.

The Citadel also housed the special robes that the high priest wore three times a year during the feast days while ministering in the temple. The Romans had taken charge over the robes as leverage over the high priest and the religious system itself.

Why might the devil lead Jesus to the high tower of this Citadel? First, it overlooked the temple. Second, it was next to a great precipice. Third, as a fortress, it represented safety and security, which formed the backdrop for the temptation itself. Just as the Roman soldiers were given charge over the temple and the high priest, so also is it said that “He will give His angels charge concerning You to guard You” as the true High Priest.

The devil quoted from Psalm 91:11, 12, but Jesus’ response showed how the devil twisted the Scriptures. Luke 4:12 gives Jesus’ response:

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ [ekpeirazo].”

Jesus responded to the temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16,

16 You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.

Jesus quoted the commandment of Moses, who in turn was referencing an event at the encampment at Rephidim in Exodus 17. The people had run out of water, and the people were threatening to stone Moses. In that context, Moses tells them in Exodus 17:2, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

God then provided water from the rock in verse 6. Exodus 17:7 then says,

7 And he named the place Massah [“test”] and Meribah [“quarrel”], because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

When things seem to go wrong, men naturally assume that God has forsaken them, or that they have somehow taken a wrong path and have forsaken God. But God often hides Himself to test the faith of the people and to see if they will believe His promise never to leave or forsake us.

When men test God, they also quarrel with Him. In other words, they disagree with God’s leading. They think God ought to lead them always in smooth paths in rose gardens. They think God must always prosper them, without realizing that difficulties in life are the things that mature us spiritually. We should learn to be an Amen people who are in agreement with God, regardless of where He leads us. Instead of quarreling with God for leading them to a place with no water, they should have inquired to know how God would provide for them and what they ought to do next.

When men tempt God, the sin is in their disagreement with God. When we disagree with God, it shows the extent that we are not yet conformed to the image of Christ. God tests us in order that we might experience a breakthrough to achieve a higher level of faith and maturity. When men test God, it exposes their level of disagreement.

So the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tempted Jesus to tempt His heavenly Father. But Jesus never disagreed with the Father, for He said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” The sense here is not to say that they were the same Person, but to tell us that they had the same viewpoint and had no disagreement, even as sheep hear and follow the voice of their shepherd.

The implication of Jesus’ answer, then, is to say that He had no quarrel with the Father and certainly felt no need to test the Father’s desire or ability to provide Him with security. Note also that Moses was in danger of being stoned, whereas Psalm 91:12 says that the angels of God “will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

The third temptation involves the spirit, even as the second is a temptation of the soul, and the first is a temptation of the flesh. For that reason, we may connect the third temptation of Jesus to the third temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden, where the tree was desirable to make one wise and to “be like God.” This is the “boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16) that makes men think they are as wise or wiser than God.

Job himself learned this lesson when he encountered difficulties. In the end, God spoke to Job about the pride of man, saying in Job 38:4, 16, 17, 18,

4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding… 16 Have you entered into the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18 Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.

Job had to admit “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee?” (Job 40:4). Job learned a universal lesson that man is not God, nor should we tell God what to do or how to govern the universe. God’s plan may seem evil to those who find themselves in trouble, but they ought not to tempt God by disagreeing or disputing with Him.

The devil tempted Jesus in this spiritual way, trying to get Him to jump off the pinnacle to force the Father to take action. The root of this temptation lay in the idea that Jesus should force the Father to catch Him in order to allow the divine plan to continue. But it was not the Father’s will that Jesus should jump off this pinnacle. Jesus did only what He saw His Father do. To do otherwise would show disagreement and manifest the pride of life in humanity, whereby men think they can boast of being wiser than God.

Luke 4:13 concludes,

13 And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time [kairos].

When was the “opportune time” that the devil might return? Was there still another temptation ahead? Perhaps Luke was setting up his readers for a greater temptation in the garden of Gethsemane in the Mount of Olives in Luke 22:39-44. It occurred when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, and Jesus admonished His disciples to pray with Him, so that they "may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:46).. This is an admonition to the entire body of Christ, which was soon to experience its own persecution. Yet we find in verse 43,

43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.

In the previous temptation, the devil had claimed that the angels of God would keep Him from harm. But in this final temptation, the angel came to strengthen His resolve to fulfill His divine mission. It also implies that the angels of God were to strengthen the Church in order to overcome all things. But that story is for a later time.

This is part 5 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