In both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we see Jesus meeting temptations from Satan following His baptism and in preparation for His ministry. Of course, Jesus knew when He came into the world that His enemy was not Rome, but His enemy was Satan—Satan is the enemy of us all! Learning how Jesus deals with Satan during these temptations offers rich lessons for us.
In all three of these temptations, Satan tries to lead Jesus to place His own will above the will of the Father. Indeed, self-centered will is the tap root of every sin. The problem that brought sin into the world in Genesis 3 is when Eve (and later Adam) placed their self-will in opposition to the will of God. Nevertheless, instead of exercising His own will in each of the three temptations, Jesus submitted to the will of His Father. By quoting the respective three verses from the Old Testament, it was as if He stated, “Here is the will of God, and I am not going to do as you say to rebel against such.” Naturally, the essence of all sin is this.
As we look at these three temptations, we learn about the true meaning of life. Jesus came into the world to live life at its best. However, Satan tried to lure him away from living life as God intended. Thus, if I want to learn to live life at its best, I can learn from these principles and apply them to my life.
The first temptation attacked the goodness of God. Just as Satan did with Eve (“If God is so good, then why is this fruit off-limits?”), he attacked the goodness of God with respect to his hunger (“If you are hungry and claim that you are the Son of God and that God is good, then why not give in to your urges?”). Whenever we find ourselves in difficulties of life, we face the temptation of questioning the goodness of God (“If God is so good, then why am I in this predicament?”). Attacking the goodness of God involves the attempt to place the physical above the spiritual. This was the background with the children of Israel—they struggled to learn that the meaning of life is more than filling their bellies— and this is why Jesus quoted the sacred scripture from Deuteronomy 8:3.
The second temptation attacked the religion of God. Satan wants to take religion and pervert it, and if he can tempt us to follow a perversion of godly religion, then we have walked right into his trap. Whenever I take religion and turn it around for my own selfish purposes, then I have perverted godly religion. Satan carries Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem to the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5-6). Then, he perverts the quoted scripture (Psa. 91:11)—actually misquoting it—to tempt Jesus to pervert godly religion for selfish purposes. Is not this the root of all perverted religion—to follow selfish purposes and to glorify man rather than God? Do not all perverted religions base themselves on perverted scripture? How else can we explain how denominations and false religions gather every Sunday with the same Bible but practice it in so many different ways? Nevertheless, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16 to show that religion has to do with more than just the externals—godly religion has to do with the right frame of heart.
The third temptation attacked the glory of God. When Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, he included “the glory of them” (Matt. 4:8). In other words, Satan is tempting Jesus to seek personal glory over the glory of the Father. This is why Paul wrote, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Satan encouraged Jesus to bow down and worship him, and he would receive glory as a political leader of the world. Yet, Jesus challenged Satan by showing that God deserves undivided loyalty and devotion (Deut. 6:13). What a challenge for us to worship and serve God properly so that He receives the glory that He deserves!
Thus, Jesus handled all three temptations. His answers were scriptural—from the Book of God. His answers were simple—they were not complicated. His answers were strong, ringing with authority. His answers were sufficient—Satan saw no need to argue them any further. We truly have only “touched the hem of the garment” in dealing with this rich text, but may it continue to teach us lessons that benefit us when Satan tempts us.