Devil tempts Jesus with tattered tricks

December 7, 2015

Those who have experienced a conversion to Christ know that they enjoy a brief honeymoon period. Then the tempter sets in, zeroing in on one's weaknesses and seeking any angle to divide the bright-eyed new Christian from God.

So it was with Jesus. Although Christ was sinless and in the process of authoring a new creation, the devil was pleased with the old creation, a culture without God.

At his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and anointed the long-awaited messiah. "And then the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness" (Mark 1.12).

What sort of messiah would Jesus become? The devil had a clear notion of the messiah he wanted Jesus to be. Fortunately, Jesus had a radically different view.

Fortunately too the devil has little imagination for he sent the same temptations Jesus' way that he had tried, with greater success, on the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering the desert.

The first temptation: Less than two months after being liberated from slavery, the Israelites were already complaining about the lack of food. They complained to Moses and Aaron: "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exodus 16.3).

People need food, so the Israelites received God's gift of manna from heaven.

The angels ministered to Jesus after he rebuffed the temptations of Satan.

The angels ministered to Jesus after he rebuffed the temptations of Satan.

Eventually, Moses was able to tell them, "The Lord your God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna . . . in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8.3).

The second temptation: Then at Massah, the people complained of the lack of water. "The Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'" (Ex 17.7)

Back to Moses: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah" (Deut 6.16).

The third temptation: Nearing the end of their time in the wilderness, the Israelites are warned not to turn to the gods worshipped by the inhabitants of the lands they will conquer (Ex 34.11-16).

Again Moses provides the remedy: "The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow any other gods" (Deut 6.13).


The devil makes Jesus relive those temptations from the days of Moses. He is tempted to use his power to meet his own material needs or the needs of the people. He is tempted to put God to the test by a melodramatic dive from the top of the Temple in which God (it is supposed) will miraculously save him. He is tempted to gain power to impose a reign of peace and justice on the whole world if he will pay homage to Satan.

Jesus could have done that. But Jesus did not come to be the magic fixer, the combination all-powerful social worker-movie star-benevolent dictator who wipes away all problems and makes everybody feel good.

Jesus' path is the path of humility, the path of solidarity, the path of the Spirit. He did not come to restore the Garden of Eden. He came to give us each a share in God's eternal life. He came to do the will of the Father, not his own will. He prevailed not by miracles, but by long-suffering endurance.


Jesus resisted Satan's temptations. "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time" (Luke 4.13).

It may sound as though the devil waited until Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane before he returned. In fact, the devil was often nearby during Jesus' ministry.

Whenever the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, it was a repeat of the second temptation. When the sons of Zebedee sought the top positions in Jesus' kingdom, they were afflicted by the third temptation. When Peter rebuked Jesus for saying he would have to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and scribes, Jesus recognized the rebuke as satanic.

The temptations we face are similar - desires for material security, glamour and prestige, and the power to control our own and the world's destiny.


Our responses ought to be the same as those of Jesus. To the first temptation, we give God's Word priority over our own comfort. To the second, choose the path of humiliation over the path of glory; do good deeds for those who exclude you or diminish your accomplishments. To the third temptation, choose not worldly power, but rather the way of adoring and serving God.

Real conversion is not about winning material prosperity or enjoying a spiritual high, but about trusting totally in God's will and providence.

The tempter will always be around. Ignore him; follow Jesus. Do not pursue wealth, honours and power. They do not provide eternal life, only a temporary fix. If God is real - and he is - then he comes first in everything.