The Temptation Of Christ


As Christians, we all often face temptations, they come at us from all directions and in different forms. The devil loves to dangle in front of us things he knows will be seriously attractive to us. Even though he knows some things won’t tempt me, he knows exactly what will tempt me.

In the temptation of Christ, we see the devil tempting Christ in various ways, with various things, but the good news is Christ resisted all those temptations, Hebrews 4:15. We must remember that this event wasn’t the only time Christ was tempted, Luke 4:13 / Luke 22:42 / Matthew 26:39 / Hebrews 2:18.


The English dictionary defines the word temptation as ‘the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.’ Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the word temptation as ‘solicitation to that which is evil’. What the English dictionary calls something ‘wrong’ or ‘unwise’ the Bible calls ‘evil’. Let’s be clear here, the temptation is powerful enough to lead us into sin.

Temptation And Test

We should note there is a difference between the word ‘temptation’, and the word ‘test’. Satan is the tempter, not God, Genesis 3:1-6 / Matthew 4:1-11 / James 1:13, he tempts us to sin and lure us away from God and to bring out the worst in us, but testing is done by God, to draw us closer to Him and to bring out the best in us, Genesis 21:1 / Genesis 22:16-18 / James 1:2-4.

The Greek word for tempt, ‘peirazo’ is the same Greek word for test but we can understand the difference when we look at the context and what the motivation is. Satan ‘tempted’ Jesus in order to draw Him away from the Father, but God allowed Jesus to be ‘tested’ in order to allow Jesus to exercise His free will. His choice was to follow His Father’s will or follow Satan’s will.

‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ Matthew 4:1

Jesus had just been baptised by John and the ‘Spirit of God descending upon Him’, Matthew 3:16, and so now after receiving the Spirit Jesus is now preparing to go about His mission. This is the way it should be for all Christians, when they receive God’s Spirit at baptism, Acts 2:38, they must be willing to get on with the mission of God in sharing the Gospel with others, Matthew 28:19-20.

It’s interesting that when God is preparing people to begin a mission, those people usually end up in the wilderness, we see this with Moses, Exodus 3:1, John the baptiser, Mark 1:4, Paul, Galatians 1:17, and here we find Jesus being led into the wilderness.

When most people think of the word ‘wilderness’ they often think of a barren place where nothing grows, however, the word ‘wilderness’ often means a place where wild beasts live.

When we read that the ‘Spirit led Jesus’, we’re not to understand this to mean that the Spirit was going to tempt Him, because we know that God doesn’t tempt anyone, James 1:13. This simply means that the Holy Spirit led Him to the place where He was going to be tempted.

In Luke’s account, he tells that Jesus was ‘full of the Spirit’, Luke 4:1, which is a reference to receiving the Spirit at His baptism by John, Matthew 3:16. This also tells us that when He received the Spirit, He was fully equipped to do the work God had prepared for Him to do, Philippians 2:6-8.

The reason for Jesus being led into the wilderness was to be tempted by the devil. Remember the devil was thrown out of heaven because he wanted to be God, Jude 1:6 / 1 Timothy 3:6. He is the Christian’s enemy, Matthew 13:28 / 2 Timothy 2:26, but his power is limited, 1 Corinthians 10:13. He is the accuser and deceiver of all men, Matthew 13:19 / Luke 22:31 / Ephesians 6:11 / 1 Thessalonians 2:18 / 1 Peter 5:8-9 / Revelation 20:7-10.

‘After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.’ Matthew 4:2

Jesus is one of only three people in the Scriptures who are recorded to have fasted for forty days and forty nights, the other being Moses, Exodus 34:28 and Elijah, 1 Kings 19:8.

It’s not surprising that Jesus was hungry after eating or drinking nothing for forty days and nights, and it’s not surprising that Satan would come to Him now when He’s at His most vulnerable.

The First Temptation

‘The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Matthew 4:3

The devil is well aware that Jesus is hungry and needs to eat and so he’s about to tempt Jesus in the same way he tempted Eve in the garden, Genesis 3:1-7, he’s now going to offer Jesus the lust of the eyes and flesh, and the pride of life, 1 John 2:16.

Notice that the tempter uses the word, ‘if’, the devil knew who Jesus is, He is the Messiah, and so, he uses the word ‘if’ to try and place doubt in Jesus’ mind as to who He was. Coffman in his commentary has an interesting thought concerning this verse.

‘The tempter appeared in this passage as the Lord’s antagonist in three different guises, giving rise to the impression that Satan too has a triune nature. Three names characterise Satan in the book of Revelation. He is called the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, Revelation 20:10. He appears in three guises, as a serpent, Revelation 20:2, as a lion, 1 Peter 5:8, and as an angel of light, 2 Corinthians 11:14.’

‘This same triple pattern is seen in the temptation of Adam and Eve, through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, 1 John 2:16. It is noteworthy that the temptation of Christ followed this same three-phase pattern.’

Because the tempter knew that Jesus was hungry, he asks Jesus to turn some stones into bread so that he can have food to eat. The temptation here was for Jesus to perform a miracle so that Jesus could meet one of man’s most basic needs, which is hunger.

The tempter wanted Jesus to perform a miracle for Jesus’ own personal gain, which would mean Jesus wouldn’t be relying on God to meet that basic need, Matthew 6:11 / Matthew 6:25-34, but to become self-reliant.

Jesus’ Response

‘Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Matthew 4:4

Notice how Jesus responds to the tempter, He says ‘it is written’, which is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 when Israel were reminded not to forget God and what He did for them in bringing them out of Egypt.

This is the way all Christians should respond when they find themselves being tempted; we should respond with the Word of God, Acts 20:32 / 1 Thessalonians 2:13 / 2 Peter 1:3.

Jesus came to give us not only life, but life to the full, John 10:10, and whilst we understand that physical life is important, our spiritual life is far more important.

We know we have to eat physical food to help us grow and become healthy people, but we also must feed our souls with God’s Word in order for us to grow into healthy Christians, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 / Hebrews 5:11-12 / 2 Peter 3:18.

The Second Temptation

‘Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Matthew 4:5-6

The place where the devil took Jesus next was the holy city of Jerusalem, Luke 4:9 / Nehemiah 11:1 / Nehemiah 1:18 / Matthew 27:53. Jesus stood on the highest point of the temple, although no one knows exactly where this is located in the temple, we do know that he was facing the Kidron Valley.

The point here is that this place was high enough for someone to jump off to their certain death unless a miracle prevented them from dying.

In order to prove that Jesus was God’s Son, the devil asks Jesus to ‘throw Himself down’. Notice again that the devil asks Jesus to perform another miracle to prove who He was.

In other words, in this temptation, he’s telling Jesus that He could save Himself a whole load of time and energy in trying to convince people that He is the Messiah. If He jumps from this high point and lives and everyone sees Him, this act within itself will convince everyone that He really is the Messiah.

Notice that the devil also quotes Scripture to Jesus to encourage Jesus to jump, his quote is taken from Psalm 91:11-12.

Jesus’ Response

‘Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Matthew 4:7

Jesus once again, responds to the temptation by saying, ‘it is also written’. Notice in response to the devil’s misquotation or misapplication of the Scripture, Jesus didn’t rebuke him for doing so. The reason for this is because the words quoted from Psalm 91:11-12 actually do apply to the Christ.

Jesus didn’t reject the temptation to jump from the temple because the devil misquoted the Scriptures, Jesus rejected the temptation because it would have created an unnecessary presumption and would have been testing God, hence why Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16.

If we learn anything from Jesus’ response is simply this, we must always understand any text in its context before applying it to anything else. If we look at the next two verses, Psalm 91:13-14, they tell us that God would in His work in the life of Jesus destroy the works of Satan.

The Third Temptation

‘Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Matthew 4:8-9

Notice the three places these temptations took place, first, there was the wilderness, then there was the temple, and now we have a very high mountain. It appears that the devil tried to tempt Jesus in three different places and in three different ways.

You will also notice that the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and he took Jesus up to the holy city. This tells us that Jesus purposely permitted the devil to take Him to these places to be tempted because Jesus knew this was the will of God, Luke 22:39-46.

How the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour is unknown. McGarvey suggests the following.

‘Christ, in some way unknown to us, was transported through Satanic power to a great eminence where the devil made all the kingdoms of the world to pass in review, as it were, before the mind of Jesus. If they were presented only to his mental vision, it might have been accomplished by a vivid description, such as Satan is capable of, aided by the excited imagination of Jesus as he looked abroad from the top of the exceeding high mountain.’

The devil tells Jesus that he will ‘give Him all these kingdoms’. The temptation here is that Jesus can rule the world with the devil but Jesus knows that that the Father had already given all things into His hands, John 13:3 / John 17:2 / Mathew 28:18, and that Jesus knew that He was to be King of kings and Lord of lords, 1 Timothy 6:15. When Christ returns He will then hand over His present kingdom reign to the Father, 1 Corinthians 15:26-28.

It’s important to note that the devil is the father of lies, John 8:44, and here, he clearly lies to Jesus because the devil has no control over the kingdoms of the world, although he may use deception to try and rule over them, Luke 4:6.

We know if Jesus had given in to this temptation then Jesus wouldn’t have won the kingdoms of the world, but the devil would have won them and God’s plan to save the world would have failed just as quickly as it began.

Jesus’ Response

‘Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ Matthew 4:10

It was after the devil’s third temptation that Jesus commands him to get away and notice that Jesus calls him Satan. The reason why Jesus calls him Satan is seen in His response where He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, Jesus takes that passage of Scripture and includes the worshipping of Satan.

In other words, Jesus was telling him that it’s not only sinful to worship men or women, Matthew 2:11 / Acts 10:26, but it’s also sinful to worship Satan and his angels, Revelation 19:10, only God is worthy of our worship, Revelation 4:8-9.

‘Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.’ Matthew 4:11

Jesus commands the devil to go away and he obeys, but this wasn’t to be for long, he would come at Jesus again very soon, Luke 4:13 / John 14:30. As the devil leaves, angels come to attend to Jesus, they came to attend to His physical needs after fasting for forty days and nights.

The devil’s proposal to change stones into bread was as unnecessary as it was sinful. Jesus who is introduced to us in the very first verse of the New Testament is introduced as ‘the son of Abraham,’ Matthew 1:1.

Abraham if you remember on Mount Moriah when he was going to sacrifice his son Isaac said, ‘the Lord will provide!’. Genesis 22:14, and the Lord certainly provided for Christ by sending His angels to Jesus to provide for His physical needs. The father was always with His Son, always there to help Him in His hour of need, Matthew 26:53 / Luke 22:43.


We should be encouraged in knowing that Jesus experienced temptation as we all do, and so He is more than capable of emphasising with us when we face our temptations, Hebrews 4:15.

We should also be encouraged in knowing that He overcame those temptations, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and we too can overcome our temptations, 1 Corinthians 10:13.

We must remember that it’s not sinful to be tempted, it’s sinful when we yield to those temptations. Doing what pleases God, as Jesus did when He was baptized, doesn’t exempt anyone from temptation but Satan often intensifies his efforts when a person begins to serve God.

Knowing the Scriptures is really important for the Christian because we hear all kinds of texts being taken out of context to promote some kind of theory or belief. We must be aware of what the Scriptures actually say when someone comes along and tries to teach us something ‘new’, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 / Romans 16:17-18 / Revelation 22:18- 19.

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each victory will help you or some others to win
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus and He’ll carry you through.

Hymn by Horatio R. Palmer