Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Luke 4, the first 13 verses, is among the most famous passages of the gospel. But in some ways it is misunderstood and misapplied to the Christian. Sometimes we think of it as an epic battle between two equals: God on one side and the devil on the other. Really the battle was mismatched from the beginning. Or we think of it as Jesus using a magic sword called Scripture to weaken Satan until he went away. Neither works. In reality, this was a way for the Holy Spirit to show that Jesus was ready for the particular mission He’d just been anointed to go on, and Jesus use of Scripture is not as we might see on the surface—and both of these have profound implications for us as God anoints us to serve Him and live on in this world full of temptations.
1 – 2
You would think that being freshly commissioned by the Father to go out and save the world, Jesus would be led to Jerusalem for a hostile takeover. At least you’d think that showing His miracle power would be in order. Maybe just a Bible study then? But no. God leads Him to be tempted. I can’t tell you how many times a person who really dedicates themselves to following Christ, wanting real transformation, and to be really used—ends up facing off with the devil who tempts, scolds, attacks, and tries to get you to stop trusting Jesus. Does it mean you should never really “go for it”? Of course not. But it means we need to take a lesson from Jesus. And be ready. At least we can take solace in this: the devil is always consistent. He never plays fair.
Adam and Eve faced Satan with plenty to eat in a garden of delight. Jesus faced Satan in a barren wilderness having nearly starved to death. It pictures the effects of sin on humanity and on the creation (Genesis 3:17-19). When Jesus responds to the temptation, He uses verses from Deuteronomy which speaks of Israel’s failure in the wilderness. Though Adam and Eve fell, Jesus will not. Though Israel failed, Jesus will not.
It takes place in the “wilderness” which just means the area around the Jordan and the Dead Sea. The word there means “desolate” and it certainly was. Jesus didn’t eat for 40 days, which is about as long as a human can go without food until they literally begin to die. He likely drank minimal amounts of water. When fasting for that long I understand that hunger becomes intense for a while and then goes away. When it returns you know you are beginning to die. So when it says Jesus was hungry, literally His life was now in danger. It is at that time that the devil arrives on the scene.
Notice that the Holy Spirit anointed Him, filled Him, and now led Him here. God is in control every step of the way. Even though it might feel like your life is totally out of control, if you belong to God you are never out of His control.
Why 40 days? It’s a significant number in the Bible. It stands for a generation, but is also the number of years that Israel wandered in the desert after refusing to obey God and enter the Promised Land. So Jesus’ behavior here is an analog in part of Adam’s failure, but also Israel’s. Jesus is the Last Adam and also Israel all rolled up in one man.
3 – 4 Temptation 1
Satan says: “If you are the Son of God.” It is probably best rendered: “Since You are the Son of God.” There was no question as to Jesus’ identity to Lucifer (though the details of His mission I think were kept from him). The temptation wasn’t so much about who He was, but how He would accomplish His mission. The bread: Satan wants Jesus to use His deity to act independently of the Father. That’s what Satan wants us to do as well.
The way Satan approached Eve was with the notion that God is not good, or not good all the time, or good to you. He carries this same playbook into the temptation of Jesus. “Since God is making you suffer You should take things into Your own hands,” Satan is saying. Jesus’ mission was actually to suffer, and endure it with patience. Jesus is about doing the Father’s work and that takes precedence over His comfort, and in the end, even His own life.
Peter talked about this in his first letter:
1Pet. 2:19 “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”
So Jesus responds with Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:3. Moses spoke those words to Israel about the fact that God provided Manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness. It was to “humble” them—teach them to focus their trust on the provision of God, rather than on their own strength.
Round 1: Jesus
5 – 8 Temptation 2
The order of temptations 2 & 3 are reversed between Luke and Matthew and may have had to do with Luke depicting Jesus as moving towards Jerusalem and His ultimate death on the cross.
Somehow in a vision Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises that he can give them to Jesus if He will just forgo His true mission—to go to the cross—and worship Satan instead. Satan’s assertion is a partial truth. When Adam and Eve believed the serpent instead of God, Lucifer controlled them and all of mankind. In doing so, he stole authority over creation from man that God had given him. But it isn’t his and he doesn’t have authority to give it to anyone. He’s nothing more than a squatter. That’s the common denominator of Satan’s temptations—promise a lot and deliver nothing.
The devil does this to us on a daily basis. Most advertising is based on this premise. Product advertising seeks to create a need you didn’t have, and promise to fulfill it by buying a product that will not do what is promised. Take beer commercials, for instance. Most beer commercials don’t tell you that if you consume their product you’ll get rip-roaring drunk and feel awful the next day and if you drink enough long enough you’ll become addicted to it. No, they show shots of laughter, friendship, romance, acceptance and joy. Now I’m not against beer, per se, and all those results subtly attributed to consuming alcohol are real needs we all have. But the devil often lies with a promise he can’t fulfill to get us to do something that forms an alliance with his ways of fulfilling our needs, not God’s. And one way to battle temptation is not to accept the premise of the argument temptation brings to you because it is often false.
Jesus recognizes the ploy right away and answers with Deuteronomy 6:13 “Fear Yahweh your God, worship Him, and take your oaths in His name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you, 15 for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God.”
So Jesus will do things God’s way, even if it means He suffers—no shortcuts. And He will worship God only, even if it means He has to wait and suffer to get what is ultimately His anyway (Rev 11:15).
9 – 12 Temptation 3
It’s almost like Satan is thinking: “So you like to quote Scriptures do you? Well, two can play that game!” The devil takes him to Jerusalem and sets Him on the “pinnacle” of the temple. This was a high wall overlooking the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. He tries to get Jesus to throw Himself off based on the belief that it would force God to provide angels to protect Him. Jesus did not deny the truth of the verse, only its application.
There is some Scriptural basis for the devil’s claim (who knows the Bible better than you, by the way). Malachi 3:1 says: ‘Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts.’ There was a Jewish thought that Messiah would come by standing on the roof of the Temple (Midrash Pesiqta Rabbati, 162a).
The temptation is a clever one. It doesn’t try to get Jesus to act independently of God but to literally throw Himself into God’s arms. This isn’t necessarily a public act to cement Jesus’ identity as the Messiah before the crowds, but a private test of God’s faithfulness.
Jesus responds with Deut 6:16 “Do not test the LORD your God as you tested Him at Massah.”
The account can be found in Exodus 17:1-7. Right after the Lord provided Manna, the people started complaining that they didn’t have water. God instructed Moses to strike the rock at Horeb to get water and named the place Massah and Meribah because the people complained and tested God. Their words were: “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Jesus had no need for the Father to “prove” His love for the Son. The Father had already spoken that clearly at the baptism. And God has spoken clearly to us as well about His love for us through the Son.
How did Satan tempt Jesus?
- In much the same ways he tempted Eve and he tempted Jesus and tempts us: 1 John 2:16 “For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
- The lust of the flesh was the bread: Seek what satisfies the flesh more than what obeys God
- The lust of the eyes were the world’s kingdoms: We see what glitters in front of us, the shortcut.
- The pride of life: throwing Himself down and forcing God to protect His life.
- There are also some interesting parallels to the types of temptations we face constantly. Three of the basic needs we have as humans are for security, intimacy, and meaning or purpose to life. These are God-given needs. We humans get into trouble when we fulfill these needs in ways God did not intend. In a real way, the temptations Jesus faced from Satan followed this pattern.
- Fulfilling the need for security was behind Jesus’ hunger and changing stones into bread. God intends for us to rely on Him for our needs according to His purposes—obtaining security by putting His kingdom and character before ourselves.
- Fulfilling the need for purpose was behind Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to forgo the cross and worship him instead. It would have (presumably) provided an answer to Jesus purpose of saving the world. In reality there is no shortcut to letting God provide your purpose as it fits into His plan.
- Finally, the need for intimacy was behind the temptation at the temple. “Do you really have a close, trusting relationship with God?” Satan asks. Forcing God to come through for you so you know He loves you is much the same as what Satan wanted Jesus to do. In reality we need nothing more than God’s Word to know that if you trust in Jesus, God loves you and calls you His child. No more proof is needed.
An interesting note: The Scriptures Jesus quoted were not like magic spells that forced Satan back on his heels. Satan was not repelled by them, but Jesus put Himself under submission to them.
So how do temptations come at us? Basically from three sources: our own fleshly nature, our environment, and the devil. A temptation basically is whatever attempts to get you to fulfill a perceived need in your life through a means outside the character of God.
But temptation itself is not sin, nor should we ever claim that God placed a temptation before us to test us:
James 1:13 “No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”
Further, Paul the Apostle speaks about what to do when temptation comes:
1Cor. 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.”
The word “escape” is a good one. In Greek it means “out from and to”. It’s important in escaping temptation that we don’t just endure it, but replace it. So when you find yourself tempted—think about what core need you are trying to fulfill, then how would God want you to fulfill it—go to His Word if you need to and submit yourself under its authority, rather than the desire that is pulling at you.
What’s the ultimate goal of temptation? It’s to get you to act in a way that is not in concert with God’s character—but the goal is more evil than that. Satan wants to stop you from trusting in and submitting to God.
God said to Cain: Gen. 4:7 “If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The word “desire” is used of an animal who wants to devour its prey. Later Satan would be described as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Temptation makes you think you are acting in your own self interest, but you are actually acting in Satan’s interest. He wants you to not trust God and in the process you end up being mastered by sin.
Rom. 6:16 “Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to”
That’s the good news—the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit in your life gives you power to be aware of temptation and to say no to it. Will you always succeed? No. Awareness is the first key, then practice!