Why did Jesus have to be tempted anyway?

Temptation of Christ (mosaic in basilica di San Marco in Venice
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The obvious answer to that question is that Christ gave us a pattern for facing our own temptations: He quoted Scripture, and so can we. But if you think about it, couldn’t He just as well have told a parable if that was all we were to learn? Forty days in the wilderness without food in the company of wild animals and the devil himself—isn’t that a bit excessive for an object lesson?

I’ll be following Luke’s account of the temptations (Luke 4:1-13).

It is important to note verse 1: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.It wasn’t an accident, a coincidence or a trick on the devil’s part. It was God’s plan.

While there, the devil challenged Him saying, “If you are the Son of God…” At His baptism a while before, God had declared Christ to be His Son.  Just like with Adam and Eve centuries before, Satan was in effect saying, “Did God really say…?”

1. Turning stones into bread

This wasn’t simply a temptation to provide for physical needs, but one to dissatisfaction and to doubt that His Father loved and cared for Him when He was facing the worst of days. Jesus was being tempted to be His own provider.

Jesus’ answer was a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3. In its original context, Moses was reminding the people of God’s provision during the wilderness wandering years. As God’s people today,  we’re ultimately dependent not on bread, but on the God who provides it.

Later, Jesus would teach Matthew 6:25-26. He had first-hand experience worrying about what to eat; if we cling to Him, He’ll be there with us.

2. Gaining the kingdom by worshipping Satan

This was a temptation to receiving glory and power in a way that denied the pathway of tears, trials and loss of life. It was a shortcut to gaining the kingdom without the cross.

Instead, Jesus chose self-denying love and to battle with the forces of evil.

[Question: Was Satan’s claim to possession of the kingdoms of the world true? Listen to Alistair Begg’s answer, beginning at around the 34-minute mark.]

3. Jumping off the highest point of the temple

This was a temptation to prove the Father’s love for Him by creating a situation in which God would be forced to come to the aid of His Son.

The devil quotes the Bible to Jesus, proving that it is possible to quote Scripture in a way that is contrary to God’s purpose. Jesus, knowing the Father’s will, recognised that the motivation of the devil was to test God in an arbitrary manner.

Christ responds with Deuteronomy 6:16. In the original, Moses was referencing the rebellion at Massah & Meribah when the Israelites tested Yahweh asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7). The question wasn’t posed in an attitude of humble dependence, in contrast with the psalmist quoted by Satan.

By testing God in this manner, you only prove that you don’t trust God completely.

Additionally, God’s rescue may come through hardships. Jesus, by means of His suffering, was declared to be Messiah by God (Rom 1:4).


The writer of the letter to the Hebrews would later write, “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” (Heb 4:15).  The Apostle Paul wrote, “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” (Rom 5:19).

Adam’s disobedience resulted in alienation from God. Jesus’ obedience means that we can be reconciled to a holy God.

Israel, Yahweh’s firstborn son, complained, wailed, raised their voices, grumbled, wept aloud, mourned bitterly, gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron, spoke against God and against Moses in the wilderness. Christ, God’s beloved Son, obeyed and fulfilled all the righteousness we can’t fulfill. That’s good news!