“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry” (Luke 4:1–2).
Christians believe Jesus was tempted like us, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). But sometimes we wonder, “Did He really endure the same intensity of temptation as I do? He wouldn’t sin. I can. It doesn’t seem to be the same.”
Perhaps a second look at Jesus’ temptation will correct us. Jesus abstained from food for forty days. Jesus was in a wilderness. Jesus was alone. And Jesus had the devil’s undivided attention upon Him. Think about all that. When I do, I conclude my puny temptations are nothing like the full assault brought upon Jesus. His temptations were radically more intense than mine. Jesus endured. He made it through. He succeeded. The devil departed from Him, waiting for an opportune time. Jesus had resisted the devil, and the devil had fled.
Let us consider four great protections against temptation, all from Jesus’ victory over it in the wilderness. The first protection comes from the fact He won, while the next three come from His example in it.
1. Jesus Won For Me
There is a comparison to be made between the temptation of Christ and the temptation of Adam. At his time of testing, Adam could eat nearly everything in the garden, save one tree. Jesus, on the other hand, ate nothing for forty days, bringing His body to the point of starvation. Adam lived in paradise, but Jesus was in desert wilderness, but also a world riddled with sin. Adam was strong and healthy, but Jesus was weak and hungry. But in his perfect paradise, Adam failed. Jesus triumphed.
This contrast between Adam and Jesus Christ gives us our first great protection against temptation. Jesus Christ won where Adam couldn’t. Jesus Christ won on my behalf. Before I ever attempt to overcome temptation, I must know He overcame temptation. He won and then went…to the cross where He substituted Himself for me. He made a way for me, through faith, to depart from Adam and enter into Christ. I am no longer in Adam, the one who failed temptation, but Christ, the One who won.
His victory has been deposited into my account. His victory helps me now as I lean into His Spirit to overcome the current battles within. I will not find the power to overcome in my own flesh. No, I must tap into the newness that is mine in Christ.
I am a new creation in Him. As I abide in Him, His life becomes more my own, and I find the strength to overcome. He won on my behalf and now wants to continue to win on my behalf. The strength is not mine but His.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
Part of the grace we find is His power in us to overcome. He won for me.
2. There’s More To Me
There were times Jesus would miraculously generate food. He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 this way. At first glance, Satan merely tempted Jesus to use this power. Yet there were differences.
In those stories Jesus made bread from bread, not bread from stone. In those stories Jesus was motivated by compassion, not the devil’s challenge. But perhaps the greatest difference is this: In those stories Jesus did the work for others, not for Himself. This bread, the bread Satan tempted Him to make, would have been solely for His own need.
Jesus, as He did with every temptation, combatted the devil with the Scripture. Every Scripture He used came from Deuteronomy 6 and 8. He used, “…The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” to overcome (Ephesians 6:17).
Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone'” (Luke 4:4). He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. There, God told Israel they would “not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Luke doesn’t record this fuller quotation. Matthew does. But Luke’s partial quote might give us a clue as to what Jesus emphasized at this point.
It seems simple. There, under the most intense temptation any soul has ever endured, Jesus was thinking upon the Word of God. It feels strange to talk of it this way, but He was studying the very book He wrote. As a man, He thought on God’s word.
It almost reads like this to me: “I’ve been looking and reading and studying the very book I wrote. I am trying to learn in My humanity what it even means to be human. And I have discovered that man does not live by bread alone! We live by so much more! There is more to me than my hunger, my need for bread!”
This leads us to our great protection, the knowledge there is more to us as humans. Jesus stated it, we must believe it. We don’t live by bread alone. There is more to us than our bodily needs and appetites. We are spiritual creatures. We survive with the Word of God. Without it, we experience less than we were designed to experience. If we only live in the physical realm we are missing it. There is more to us.
The knowledge there is more to me, more to the human life than the material and physical realm, is a great protection against temptation. Much temptation seeks to pull us into baser human desires. These desires aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they aren’t what make us fully human. When you are tempted, remember there is so much more to you. That temptation, fulfilled, will not satiate. Like bread that satisfies only for a moment, you will be hungry again. But when we embrace our complexity, that we are more than the sum total of bodily appetites, we begin to see behind the temptation. There is more to me.
3. There’s Only One For Me
In Luke’s account Satan then took Jesus up and (in a vision) showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. His offer was simple. If Jesus would worship him, Satan would give the authority and glory of all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s ability to give these kingdoms, likely because man had given dominion to Satan. God, of course, is the Sovereign, but Satan had become “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). His power was limited, but he offered it to Jesus.
This was a shortcut, the world without the cross. Yet it would never work. This insidious temptation to gain the kingdom without redemption would have led to an artificial kingdom. Jesus came for something genuine and internal. He was after the heart of man. He wanted reconciliation between God and man. He came to mediate to that end. What Satan offered was a counterfeit.
Here, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13-14. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” This passage had come on the heels of Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
If we’ve already seen there is more to us, here we discover who we need. There is only One for me, and He is God. He is the only one who can satisfy the spiritual side of man. We are made for Him. He completes us. We have a vacuum for God within us.
In the face of temptation the believer must declare, “There is only one for me!” I cannot be satisfied with anyone lesser than God Himself. Other people might be a blessing, but they will collapse under my worship. Only God completes me. Only God is for me. I am for Him, and He is for me.
The Corinthian church could’ve used this understanding when they began flirting with sexual immorality. Some in the church used an argument from culture: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (1 Corinthians 6:13a). The comparison, to them, was simple. My stomach is satisfied with food; food is for my stomach. Likewise, my body is satisfied with sex; sex is for my body. Food is needed. Sex is needed. Paul instructed them, however, “The body is…for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13b). Their analogy didn’t work. Food is the for the stomach, but your body is for the Lord. Sex isn’t your “need,” God is. You don’t need your girlfriend, your children, your spouse, or your friends like you need God. He is the only one for you.
Only the Lord can hold preeminence in our hearts. When reminded of this, everything else falls into place. Jesus saw how inappropriate it would’ve been for him to worship Satan. As a man, His worship could only go towards the Father. We must see this as well. There is only one for me.
4. He’s Been Good To Me
Before this temptation, at Jesus’ baptism the Father had said, “This is my beloved Son.” All Satan’s temptations against Jesus were designed to test that sonship. “If You are the Son of God” was his constant whisper.
He repeats that attack here, this time twisting Psalm 91 to do so. He quoted: “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Luke 4:10–11). The idea was simple: if you are really God’s Son then He won’t let you hurt. Throw yourself down and we’ll see if He’ll protect you.
This line of temptation is deadly, and we experience it often. “If God loves me, if I am now His adopted child, then why am I enduring such pain? Why this sickness? Why this trial?” It is the temptation to believe God is not good, that He has withheld from us.
This line of temptation forgets the gospel message. It is there we find ultimate protection from sickness, sorrow, pain and trial. In other words, God chose to embrace the pain Himself through the cross in order to make a way out of our suffering. But that way of escape is future, not in the here and now. Someday, I will be set free from all this junk. Now, however, God watches over my life and strengthens me through this shipwreck we call earth.
Jesus’ battle agains this line of temptation by quoting, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). The fuller quote continues, “As you tested Him at Maasah.”
Maasah means “the place of testing.” It had gotten this name because Israel had tested God there. It happened after coming out of their captivity in Egypt. God had done much for them up by the time they arrived at Maasah. They’d seen a lot in the previous six months. The ten plagues. The Passover. The pillar of cloud and fire. The parting of the Red Sea. The healing of the waters at Marah. The manna from heaven.
But here, facing another water crisis, their question was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7).
The shortsightedness of Israel would be laughable if it weren’t so present in our own hearts. After all God had done, they had begun to doubt His goodness towards them. “Is He with us or not?” That was their question.
But Jesus would not go there. He would not ask that question. He did not need to throw Himself down from the temple to see a display of God’s goodness. He would not test the Lord like that. He already knew the Father was with HIm.
He trusted the Father. Israel could not look back and see God’s faithfulness, but Jesus could. He knew He and the Father are one. He knew He had no need to test for the goodness of His Father. He was convinced of it already.
To know of God’s goodness is a great protection against temptation. Temptation has embedded within it the idea God is holding out on us, that He hasn’t been entirely good. But when we are able to look at the cross and declare, “He’s been good to me,” we are in a healthier place. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). He’s been good to me.
“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).
With that, Satan fled. Clearly, he came back in the Garden of Gethsemane and perhaps before. But here he fled. His resources are limited. Jesus had resisted, and the devil had fled (see James 4:7).
Giving into temptation can be costly, sometimes gravely so, but it is always giving into a lie. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life are all insidiously trying to convince us these baser desires will actually satisfy. But they cannot. They won’t. Let us remember there is more to us, only one for us, and that God has been good to us.