Not everyone considers Jesus’ encounter with Lucifer to be a teaching moment, but this is the first lesson that Matthew and Luke present us with, and a very important lesson is being taught. In fact, everything else that Jesus teaches us is based upon what is presented here. Mark’s version is bereft of any details beyond the fasting period itself.
|Matthew 4:1-11||Mark 1:12-13||Luke 4:1-13|
|1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”||12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;||1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit 2 for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”|
|5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”||9 And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”|
|8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”||5 And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”|
|11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.||and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.||13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.|
The first thing we notice here is the brevity of Marks’ version, relating only that Jesus was sent out into the desert where he was tempted by Satan, after which the angels came to serve him. Mark is a bare-bones Gospel so this should be of no surprise, plus his intended audience (Jewish Christians) is different than that of Matthew (Roman church) and Luke (gentiles), which we shall see throughout this series. Mark says nothing about the fasting, his audience (devout Jews) understand that any mission from God begins with a fast.
Matthew and Mark end their story noting that angels came to minister to Jesus after the fasting and temptations are over. During their 40 years of wandering God gave Manna to the Jews to nourish them, this is referred to as the Food of the Angels (Psalm 78:25; Wisdom 16:20; 2 Esdras 19), many feel this is the food they brought to Jesus to nourish him before he began his ministry.
Luke ends his narration by telling us that Satan leaves Jesus, but only for a short time, for he will return again in the end time to confront Jesus for one last battle.
The meat of this teaching is what lies between the beginning and end – the temptations themselves. If you have read the temptations what you will immediately notice is that Matthew and Luke reverse each other on the second and third temptations. As I said in the intro minor differences exist when two people relate the same story, I don’t believe anything should be read into it. Many people have written on this with the end result coming down to nothing more than conjecture. Let’s look at the temptations themselves, and the lessons they are meant to teach.
Temptation of Desire
Jesus comes out of the desert after 40 days of prayer and fasting – hard fasting. We are not speaking of giving up chocolate and meat on Fridays. This fast makes even Orthodox fasting look like a feast. We are given a glimpse of the fast when we are told about John the Baptist’s fast before the start of his ministry, Matt 3:4 “and his food was locusts and wild honey.” In other words, you ate what you could find, and food in the desert isn’t plentiful. So, Jesus is famished (he is human, after all) and Lucifer knows this, so his first temptation is food – bread, the staff of life, even unleavened bread is satiating.
We have a habit of reading through known passages and those we consider minor rather quickly to get to the meat of the Gospels, but in this case slow down and read what is being said, and what is not being said. For the lesson Jesus is teaching us here is one of placement in the grand scheme of things, where our focus as Christians should be, and what we need to understand before we can move on to the rest of what he wants to teach us. Like learning to count, if you don’t get the numbers 0-9 right then you can’t expect to move on to math, algebra, calculus, or quantum physics. You need to learn the basic tenets of our faith, and this is what Jesus is teaching us here.
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be turned to bread”, Satan here isn’t offering Jesus anything that Jesus himself couldn’t do. We are shown the limits of Satan in this world – he didn’t turn the stones into bread and say, “have at it”, he told Jesus to do it. Limitations. Satan has them. Satan can’t take you by the arm and drag you into the casino, the strip club, the bar. You have to go in yourself. You have to buy the drink, make the bet, leer at the girls/men. Satan couldn’t turn the stone into bread, he had to convince Jesus to do it! Jesus’ response is classic – it’s not by food that man lives, man needs more than material sustenance. What is it that we need? Matthew fills in what Luke leaves out – we need the word of God. The Jews in Matthew’s audience would understand and be able to relate to that, they had grown up hearing the word of God read in synagogue, Luke’s readers did not have ready access to the sacred scrolls, or years of instruction.
Temptation of Pride
Lucifer now takes Jesus to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem asks him to show his importance – to throw himself off of the parapet so that his angels will save him – testing God’s promise. Jesus’ response is that we are not to put God to the test; in other words, God’s promise is there for when we need it, not to check to see if God will be faithful. How often do you see this happen in today’s world? Testing God’s promise to protect us, Mark 16:18 “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them;” this is a promise made that He will protect us from harm when we need it, not something to be put on for show, something to put God’s word to the test.
Temptation of Power
Finally Jesus is tempted with power, immediate power. Lucifer knows what is in store for Jesus and offers him the easy way out – worship Lucifer now and everything God has promised will be his now, without the need for suffering. All of the kingdoms of earth that God promised for Jesus’ obedience could be his now, without the cross, for a simple pledge of allegiance. The response is the response we should all give when tempted with the temporary wealth and power that this world promises – “You shall worship the Lord your God…”. This is where Jesus’ warning to the rich man comes from, the riches and power we can have here are but fleeting things. Yes, we can have them for a simple trade, but then we lose the treasure God promises, the eternal treasure. How many have traded the wealth, power, and glamour of this world for their eternal rewards? To be sure, it is hard (not impossible) to have both, but it is a very thin line to walk.
So, this is the first recorded teaching of Jesus, and it covers everything we need to know for life eternal:
- Follow God’s teaching, it is all we need
- Trust Him, believe in His promise, don’t be tempted to test Him on it, He will be there when you need Him
- Worship God only, not the passing things of this world
Do this and, as Jesus, you will have life eternal with the Father.