The story of the temptation shows the devil at work and the way to deal with him. How the devil appeared to Jesus is not specified – he could have appeared as an angel of light or simply put thoughts or pictures into Jesus’ mind, but he probably did not appear as an evil looking being with cloven hooves and a forked tail! Jesus appeared as a weak and hungry human being, not as the divine Son of God; in resisting temptation he used only methods available to us all. We see the nature of temptation: presenting an attractive bait while hiding an evil hook. Jesus with his pure mind would have felt the full attractiveness of the bait; he resisted because he could also see the hook.
The devil’s aim was to get Jesus to try to achieve good results by using wrong methods. The first temptation was to deal with his hunger – a good result. After a long time fasting Jesus would have been hungry, and the flat stones of the area do look a bit like flat loaves of bread. But it would have been wrong to use his position as the Son of God and Messiah for selfish ends, or to avoid depending on his heavenly Father.
The second temptation in this reading was to make a dramatic and public demonstration that he was the Son of God. It would be good if people believed in Jesus. But it would have been wrong and unwise to attempt to force people to believe by exhibiting a miracle, and equally wrong and unwise to attempt to force God to act on his behalf.
The third temptation was to receive world domination. As king of kings, this was Jesus’ right. But it would have been wrong to take a short cut, especially one that gave the devil the ultimate accolade that he craved; the reason Jesus had come was to destroy the devil and his work, and that would only be possible through the cross.
Jesus resisted temptation by means of Scripture. He regarded the Bible (in his case, our Old Testament) as the word of God, and he knew what it said; and he knew when the devil was misusing the Bible. (The Bible can be misused, but the answer to that is to use it properly. Lack of use is a form of misuse.) He did not mince his words or enter into debate with the devil, but dismissed his temptations immediately. It is not a sin to be tempted, but it is wrong to spend too long admiring the bait or playing with temptation. As the saying goes, you can’t stop the birds flying over your head, but you can stop them making a nest in your hair.
1) What temptations do you face? Which are particularly hard to resist? Does the Bible have anything relevant to say on the subject? (You may have to do some research!)
2) Why do you think the Spirit led Jesus into a situation where he faced such temptation?