The temptations of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13. Breakfast with the Bible, Chelmsford Cathedral, 10 March 2019. Led by Paul Beasley-Murray

It is not without significance that the temptations of Jesus were immediately preceded by the baptism of Jesus. In Luke 4.1 we read: “Jesus, full of the HS, returned from the Jordan & was led by the spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil“.

In his baptism Jesus took the first step on the road that was to lead to the Cross.

As he was baptised by John the Baptist, he identified himself with us in our sinfulness.

Already here in the waters of the Jordan he “was numbered with transgressors” (Is 53.12)

It was precisely as he took this step of obedience that Jesus heard a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3.22).

Here was God’s confirmation – not just of Jesus, but of the path Jesus was taking, a path that was to lead to a Cross.

Seen in the context of the baptism, the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness was the time when Jesus’ understanding of himself and of his ministry was being tested.

Look at how the first and third temptations are worded:

  • Temptation 1: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (v3)

  • Temptation 2: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here“.

The temptations revolve around Jesus’ understanding of himself and of his ministry.

In particular the temptations seem to revolve around three different approaches to ministry:

  • was he to be a social reformer?

  • was he to be a political freedom-fighter?

  • was he to be a religious showman?


v3,4: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread’. JX answered him, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’

If ever a temptation, that was it.

Luke tells us that JX had been fasting for 40 days in the wilderness. “He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over he was famished” (4.2) – ravenous!

The Devil implants this thought into his mind: “Why not turn stones into bread?

This is all the more devilish a temptation, for the desert was covered with little pieces of limestone rock, which looked exactly like round loves.

Here Jesus is tempted to use his power for his personal use.

But the temptation goes beyond that.

As Jesus contemplates his future ministry, he is tempted to win others by what we might term social programmes of one kind or another.

Let us not forget that Jesus was not the only hungry person in his day.

There were plenty of others who barely had enough.

Ought he not to see to their needs & thus gain a short-cut to their affections?

Not only could he win them over to his side, he could sweep the whole lot into the kingdom!

This was a twofold devilish temptation:

  1. JX was attacked along the line of his love for others: “In the name of your compassion for the poor & the hungry, make the stones bread“.

  2. JX was tempted to prove himself. to be the Messiah: for a repetition of the miracle of the manna in the wilderness was expected to be one of the signs of the coming messianic age. Furthermore, it was believed that the age of the Messiah would be one of prosperity and plenty.

But Jesus resisted. He quoted Deut 8.3: “One shall not live by bread alone“.

He recognised that there is a deeper hunger than mere physical hunger – a hunger more insistent than hunger for bread – a hunger which cannot be satisfied either with bread or riches or material comforts – a hunger which can only be satisfied with the broken body of Xt.

The heart is restless until it finds its rest in you“, declared Augustine.

By offering himself on the Cross Jesus opened the way back to God, and allowed us to find the bread that really satisfies.

This is the Gospel we have to proclaim: Jesus meets our deepest needs.

This doesn’t mean that we resort to pietistic escapism.

Of course, we still have a responsibility to meet people’s physical needs.

Jesus fed 5000 hungry people – so too we should be concerned for the millions of people who even at this moment are living without adequate resources.

But we must not allow the undoubted needs of the world blind us to a deeper need.


vv5-8: “Then the devil led him up & showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours’. Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God & serve only him’“.

Jesus in his imagination stood upon a mountain from which the whole civilised world could be seen – and he is tempted to win the world by compromising his calling.

He was tempted to renounce way of the Cross, by going the easier way of being a political messiah.

Again there was a devilish aspect to this temptation: Jesus’’ mission was to achieve world-wide dominion. But the end does not justify the means.

The way to every knee bowing & every tongue confessing JX is Lord was through the cross and resurrection.

But Jesus refused to compromise – he refused to seek to win others by compromising with the standards of the world. Instead he quoted Deut 6.13: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him“.

That fact is that Jesus offers only a new life; he also demands a new life-style where God comes first!

There is no room for compromise in the Xian life: a radical discipleship is the demand.

We cannot find God on our own terms – we must come to him on his terms.


vv9-11: “Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, & placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to protect you’,

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’.

Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test

JX in his imagination taken to “a pinnacle of the temple“:

What pinnacle? Various suggestions have been made. I like the suggestion that it was a tall tower in the temple on top of which a priest stationed with silver trumpet to sound blast when the first streaks of dawn came across hill, and so announce that time of morning sacrifice had come. At such a time the temple court would be thronged with expectant worshippers – every eye would be fixed on the priest who would give the signal. If Jesus had chosen to leap at that moment, he would have had an audience for sensational miracle.

Almost certainly here again we have a temptation to avoid the cross – instead to win his contemporaries by some display of supernatural power.

NB the Jews expected the coming Messiah to give signs. At that time there were all kinds of false messiahs around making all sorts of claims: e.g. in Acts Luke tells of a certain Theudas (Acts 5.36) who persuaded people to follow him out to Jordan with claim that a word he would divide the waters in two and that they would pass over dry-shod.

What sign would Jesus give? Jesus perhaps was tempted to do something startling – dramatic – spectacular to bring the world to his feet.

BUT Jesus resisted temptation. He quoted Deut 6.16: “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’“. To leap would have been no act of trust in God, but rather flinging a challenge in God’s face, forcing his hand.

To leap would have gained immediate outburst of applause, but would have scarcely have saved a soul. For people may acclaim something that stirs their imagination, but they are only saved by something that touches their heart.

Jesus could have been a religious showman, and through a series of spectacular acts gained their attention. Instead Jesus went the way of the Cross, to win our hearts

For reflection and discussion:

  1. “A real temptation beckons us to do that about which much good can be said. Stones to bread – the hungry hope so. Take political control – the oppressed hope so. Leap from the temple – those who long for proof of God’s power among us hope so. All this is to say that a real temptation is an offer not to fall but to rise. The temper in Eden did not ask, ‘Do you wish to be as the devil?’ but ‘Do you wish to be as God” (Fred Craddock)

  2. With regard to the first temptation, the undoubted needs of the world must not blind us to the world’s deepest need for God. Community engagement is vital, but without a clear Gospel invitation people will miss out on what Jesus has to offer

  3. With regard to the second temptation, In days when church attendances dwindling, we face the temptation to demand little of people if only they will come to church.

  4. With regard to the third temptation, people may acclaim something that stirs their imagination, but they are only saved by something that touches their hearts

  5. “Being committed to the way of God in the world does not exempt one from the struggle. In fact, it is those who are most engaged in the way of God who seem to experience most intensely the opposition of evil. If Jesus struggled, who is exempt? Nor did the presence of the Holy Spirit mean the absence of temptation; rather the Spirit was the available power of God in the contest” (Fred Craddock).

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