The Temptation of Jesus
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
And, “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Jesus was thirty years of age when He began His public ministry. When He was baptized in the River Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended on Him and an audible voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the desert, where He endured a period of intense temptation that lasted for forty days.
Imagine an office building with hundreds of computers all linked on a network. If an enemy decided to sabotage the entire building, he could simply devise a deadly computer virus, which once loaded into the server, would transfer itself to every machine on the network. The virus would gradually corrupt the programs on each computer in such a way that, although some parts might work reasonably well, nothing would work as it used to.
The computer geeks would be called in. But if nobody could find an antidote for the virus, the whole system would be destroyed from within. The enemy would not need to personally sabotage every terminal in the building, because the network would spread the virus for him. One virus would corrupt every terminal, because all the machines are networked together.
But suppose one computer is not linked to the network. While all the other machines in the office are corrupted, the one stand-alone machine remains free from the destructive power of the virus. If the enemy wants to destroy this machine, he will have to attack from the outside what he could not corrupt from the inside.
No Virus Found
The computer that is not connected to the network can help us to understand how Jesus is fully human and yet free from the corrupting power of sin that affects every other member of the human race. He had no propensity toward sin in His nature.
This raises the question of whether the temptations of Jesus were real. We are enticed by our own evil desire (James 1:14). But since Christ did not have a sinful nature, how could He know our struggle?
We already know from the Bible story that it is possible to be sinless and to be tempted. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, temptation did not come from within them but from outside through a direct assault by the enemy. And that’s how it was in the temptations of Jesus.
The Spread of the Virus
When we looked at Satan’s attack in the garden, we saw that he used three strategies: creating confusion, provoking presumption, and arousing ambition.
If this were just an ancient story, it wouldn’t be worth our interest. But what happened in the garden has a direct consequence in your life and mine today. As the apostle Paul wrote, “By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19).
Human beings are not like pebbles on a beach; we are like leaves on a tree. The disease flows from the root, and the blight of sin appears on every leaf. We are not disconnected units; we are one family, and we are descended from one stock.
Some years ago my home country of Great Britain suffered a massive outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. As soon as the disease was found in one cow, the whole herd was destined for slaughter.
This is the tragedy of the human race: “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Adam sinned as the head of the human race, and his sin brought death to the whole herd. To change the analogy, through Adam’s sin a virus has entered into the human network and communicated itself to every terminal. And there is no firewall.
Stalking the Enemy
God always takes the initiative. In the Garden of Eden, Satan came looking for Adam and Eve, but the Spirit of God led Jesus into the desert to confront the enemy and to triumph where Adam had failed (Matthew 4:1).
Satan’s strategies in the desert were the same as those he had used in the garden: confusion, presumption, and ambition.
First, Satan attempted to create confusion in the mind of Jesus about His own identity: “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3) the tempter began. “Are You really sure about that?” Satan was asking. “If God is Your Father, He doesn’t seem to be taking very good care of You. Take matters into Your own hands—turn these stones into bread.”
Then the enemy switched tactics and used an alternative argument. Instead of questioning Christ’s identity, he now affirmed it and attempted to use Christ’s security as the divine Son as the basis for a second temptation. “Given that God is Your Father, You can be confident that He will take care of You in every circumstance. You can attempt things that other people wouldn’t dream of. You could even throw yourself off this temple, and God’s angels would float You to the ground. So go ahead—do it!”
The third temptation revolved around how costly it would be for Jesus to obey the will of His Father. “Think of what this will cost You! There must be an easier way. I can give You the kingdoms of this world, if only You will worship me.”
Satan knew that Christ had come to crush him, so he did what any general would do when faced with overwhelming opposition: he offered a truce. He would gladly have settled for a world filled with the teaching of Jesus, so long as Christ did not proceed with the Father’s plan and go to the cross. But Jesus was not negotiating.
Facing Temptation’s Full Force
Although Christ had a sinless nature, the temptation He faced was greater than we will ever know.
Imagine three airmen flying jets over enemy territory during a war. They are shot down, captured, and then taken by the enemy for interrogation. One by one they are brought into a darkened room.
The first airman gives his name, rank, and serial number. They press him for information that he knows he must not give, but he also knows that the enemy is cruel and eventually they will break him. So why go through all that? He tells them what he knows.
A second airman is brought in. He also gives his name, rank, and serial number, and they begin to pump him for information. He is determined not to give in. So the cruelty begins. Eventually it overwhelms him. He breaks and tells them what he knows.
Then the third airman comes in and gives his name, rank, and serial number. “You will not break me,” he says.
“Oh, yes we will. We have broken every man who has ever come into this room. It is only a matter of time; you’ll see.”
The cruelty begins, but he does not break. It is intensified, and still he does not break. So it is intensified again, until it becomes unbearable, but still he does not break.
Finally, there comes a point when they have tried everything they know. “It’s no use,” they say. “He is not like any other person we’ve had in this room. We can’t break him.”
Now, which of these three airmen faced the full force of the enemy?
The only one to know the full force of the enemy’s assault is the one who did not break. So don’t ever think that Christ’s temptations were less than yours. Only Christ knows the full power of temptation, because only Christ has withstood the full force of the enemy’s assault. Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, but He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Plugging into the Network
Just as we are all descended from Adam by nature, and in that way are networked to him, so it is possible by faith for men and women to be “networked to Christ” or, as the Bible puts it, “united with him” (Romans 6:5).
Just as the consequences of Adam’s failure flow to us through our union with him, so through our union with Christ the consequences of His triumph will flow to us. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
The first man sinned in the garden, and the result was the condemnation of the whole human race. But God did not leave us there. The Son of God took our human flesh and became “the second man” (1 Corinthians 15:47). This second man confronted our enemy. And just as the first Adam’s failure spelled death for all his family, so the last Adam’s triumph spells life for all who are His (1 Corinthians 15:45).
The Power of the Network Principle
Human history revolves around two men: Adam and Christ. The whole human race is networked to Adam, and so we all suffer from the disease called sin, which leads to death. If God had left us there, we would be without hope: “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
But God decided to build another network—a network of those who are united with Jesus Christ. They are joined to Him not by physical birth, but by a new birth through the Holy Spirit.
Just as the consequences of Adam’s sin run through his network, bringing corruption and death to all his descendants, the consequences of Jesus’ righteousness run through His network, changing the eternal destiny of all who are joined to Him. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:22).
God’s “network principle” is devastating when we consider Adam’s sin, but it is wonderful when we consider Jesus’ righteousness. God’s network principle means that one man’s triumph can open the door to everlasting life for many, on the single condition that they are joined to Him.
You and I are both in Adam by nature. Are you in Christ by faith?
When we come to Jesus in repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit joins us to Him. We are still in Adam—we fail in many ways, and one day we will die. But when you come to Jesus, the most important thing about you is that you are in Christ. And that means you will share in His triumph.
The Bible makes it clear that Christ was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The difference between the Jesus’ temptations and ours is that sin resides in us, and we are tempted by our own evil desire (James 1:14). Christ’s temptations were not less than ours; they were greater. Christ stood against everything the enemy threw at Him—and triumphed. When you are united to Jesus by faith, you will be able to overcome the power of the temptations you face.
- What evidence do you see that the human race has been infected by the virus of sin?
- Can you identify a time when you were tempted? How did you deal with it?
- In your own words, how would you compare the temptations you face with the temptations that Jesus faced?
- What are some of the effects of being “networked” to Adam? How about Jesus?
- How do you think a person gets “networked” to Jesus? Why?