What does it mean to you that Jesus faced temptation? The fact that Jesus experienced temptations is important for our salvation as well as for our own daily battles with temptation. The writer of Hebrews captured the significance of this vital aspect of Christ’s ministry when he wrote: “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” (Hebrews 4:15). Consider all that the Scriptures teach us about this:
In the Wilderness
In Matthew 4, after He was baptized by the Spirit and honored by the Father, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He faced off with Satan. What a drastic change to go from a baptism to temptation! For forty days Jesus was without food and water. Satan found Him there and tempted Him to sin.
Matthew records three specific temptations Jesus endured. First, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread so that He could eat. Jesus responded, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (vs. 4). Satan tempted Jesus a second time by telling Him to throw Himself from the top of the temple. Quoting Psalm 91, Satan said that the angels would catch Him. Jesus responded, “Again it is written: ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (vs. 7). And last, Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him the kingdoms of the world if He would only bow down and worship him. Jesus said, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’” (vs. 10).
Each time Satan tempted Him, Jesus responded by countering Satan with God’s Word. Many of us in reading this passage might deduce that it teaches us to counter temptation with God’s Word. While it is true that we should defeat lies with the truth (Ephesians 6:16), there is more in this passage than simply copying how Jesus responded to Satan.
A Perfect Savior
First, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness should remind us of Adam and Eve’s encounter with Satan in the Garden. There too, Satan twisted God’s Word (Genesis 3:1). But unlike Adam, Jesus remained faithful and obedient to God. By resisting Satan’s temptation, Jesus became what Paul called the second or last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45). Jesus fulfilled what Adam could not do, “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” (Romans 5:19). Adam failed as our representative in the Garden, bringing sin into the world. Jesus, by His perfect life, lived for us, makes us acceptable to God once again.
Second, this passage should remind us of another time in history. The verses Jesus quoted to Satan were from the book of Deuteronomy. The forty days he spent in the wilderness reminds us of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. During those years, they grumbled and complained. They were ungrateful and forgetful of all God had done. Even after He rescued them from slavery and brought them through the sea, they doubted He would provide food and water for them. When Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai, the Israelite’s crafted an idol and worshipped it. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness shows us that He is the greater prophet God promised Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Unlike God’s chosen people, Israel, Jesus perfectly obeyed God.
What this passage in Matthew 4 teaches us is that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because He was tempted and did not sin, He could take our place and bear our sins for us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is Second Adam, the One who made a way for us back into God’s presence. He is the true Israel, the One who fulfilled what Israel could not.
A Helper Amid the Flood
What about our own temptations? Like our parents before us, we are quick to eat the fruit Satan offers because we desire to be queens and kings of our own kingdom. Just like Israel, we also wander in our own wildernesses, doing our fair share of grumbling and complaining. We wonder why we have no provisions and start to think life would be better back in Egypt. We also seek after substitute gods we think will meet our needs. As sinners, we give into temptations time and time again.
That’s why Matthew 4 is so important. Jesus faced temptation for us. He perfectly obeyed in all things. When he was weakened by hunger, he subsisted by the strength of the Father’s Word. Because we are in Christ, because we are united to Him by faith, His victory over temptation is our victory. God looks at us and sees not our failures but Christ’s perfection. What amazing news for those of us who can barely crawl, much less stand against up against our temptations!
Not only that, but Jesus is our help and hope in all our temptations. “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). As Martin Luther wrote, “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” Satan is our ancient foe; he continues to tempt and deceive. But Jesus is our help and hope. He is our strength and shield. He has given us all the resources we need to stand firm, including the Word, prayer, and the Spirit who lives within us.
When we face temptation, we never do so apart from Christ. We are united to Him; He is our righteousness. He has defeated sin, death, and Satan. There is nothing and no one who can separate us from Him, not even our own weak flesh. May we stand before temptation with this truth as our shield.