Below, Phil Rigdon explores the temptation of Jesus as recounted in Luke 4:1–13.
Setting the Scene
The temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness by Satan is the perfect event for study and preaching during Lent. With Ash Wednesday, we began the sojourn of sorrow toward the cross of Good Friday, our road of repentance, reflecting on the reality of our sin. In the temptation, we see Jesus suffering as we do and yet remaining sinless, fulfilling His Father’s expectations in our place.
Luke asserts in the first verse of this passage that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, pointing back to His Baptism in Luke 3:21–22. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit endorse the Son in this inauguration of our Savior’s ministry on earth, the Father with the words “You are My beloved Son,” and the Holy Spirit by descending to Jesus as a dove. Jesus moves on from this event immediately and dives headfirst into ministry in His temptation.
It is noteworthy that Luke records in verse 13 that “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” Satan is always looking for the opportune time, and these three temptations are no exception. Jesus is tired and hungry, having eaten nothing for forty days. How our physical condition affects our spiritual life! The man who snaps at his wife after missing breakfast and lunch. The employee who offers slack performance because of an all-night party. We also can't forget Jesus’ spiritual fatigue. Luke describes three temptations in detail, yet notes that Jesus was tempted by the devil “for forty days.”
Additionally, we can only assume that Jesus’ experience would have been easier were He in the company of friends. Satan attacks Jesus when our Lord is alone. Jesus was no doubt mindful of the fact (and so was Satan) that were He to sin, no one would know—except, of course, the Father. When the shop clerk is down another aisle, the sinful child pockets the candy bar. Bullies do their worst when the teacher is gone. Despite the isolation, Jesus resists and does not sin.
Mining the Gems
In verse 2, we learn that Jesus was “being tempted by the devil.” The Greek for “being tempted” is πειραζόμενος, from πειράζω. This Greek verb is most often translated as “tempt,” but it can also mean “try,” “prove,” or “examine,” just like the Greek verb δοκιμάζω. The difference is that δοκιμάζω does not have the connotation of temptation, as does πειράζω. This is significant in that Jesus was not merely tried or proven, like an athlete running a qualifying race. Rather, the devil was tempting Jesus, trying to lead Him into sin. When the devil leads us into temptation, he is not merely examining our ability to resist sin. His goal is that we do indeed sin.
We can make a further distinction between those instances when the devil tempts and when we also tempt others. If a high school student encourages his underaged friend to drink alcohol, he is certainly tempting this friend to sin. He wants someone with whom he can share alcohol and perhaps also wants to see what sort of power he can wield over his friend. Nevertheless, his goal is not his friend’s eternal destruction. The sobering reality is that the tempting friend is a tool of the devil, whether he is aware of this or not, and the devil hopes to use one friend to bring the other to spiritual death.
- Verse 2 from our passage reads “for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, He was hungry.” The passage certainly contains an admonition against sinning in general, but specifically against using circumstances as a shield from culpability. When I sin, I cannot hide behind hunger, fatigue, or stress. While other people may understand and even tolerate my failures that occur when I am hungry, tired, or overwhelmed, God Almighty makes no such allowance. God forgives for the sake of Christ; He doesn’t tolerate. With this in mind, a wise person does his level best to avoid situations in which he might sin as a result of hunger, fatigue, or stress.
- A professor, whose name I cannot recall, once quipped, “Sin always disappoints.” In verses 6 and 7, we read, “To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.” What Satan offered was not his to give. Sin is like that. At the outset, disobeying God presents satisfaction or perhaps even pleasure. Yet sin always leaves us wanting. When the sinning is over, we are left with a pale version of what we expected and the unavoidable shame.
- We are comforted to realize that Jesus endured and conquered temptation specifically for us. He fulfilled God’s expectation of a perfect, sinless human. Through faith in Christ, we share in Christ’s victory over temptation. Where the people of Israel grumbled against the Lord in hunger, Jesus bore under it for us. Where Adam and Eve obeyed Satan to have what God never intended, Jesus remained pure to offer us what we do not deserve. Where we are quick to test God’s promises, Jesus passed the test to bring God’s promises to fruition.
For more in-depth commentary on the Book of Luke, purchase the Concordia Commentary below.