Lessons We Learn From Jesus’ Temptations

Lessons We Learn From Jesus’ Temptations

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Jesus knew temptation. The writer of Hebrews makes that point about Him in assuring us He, as our High Priest, knows just what we are going through in this life (2:18; 4:15). His suffering allows Him to sympathize. I am comforted to know that He understands, since He is like me (Heb. 2:17). Luke (4:1-13) records this significant and pivotal moment in Jesus’ life before He begins His public ministry. It gives me necessary insight into who Jesus is, and it helps me fight the common battle against the enticements of my flesh, my eyes, and my pride.

TEMPTATION STRIKES THOSE IN A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. To be clear, temptation strikes “every man” (Heb. 4:15). But, sometimes we conclude that it’s not so bad or so frequent for the spiritually strong. Here is the perfect Son of God, described as full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit (1), who encounters the tempter (2). Being spiritually strong can help make navigating temptation easier than it is for those who live according to the flesh (Rom. 8:5-14), but no one was closer to God and more spiritually healthy than Jesus as He walked the earth. How helpful to consider Paul’s warning here: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). 

TEMPTATION STRIKES IN PREDICTABLE AREAS. John classifies temptation into three major categories: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 Jn.2:16). Methodical Luke lists Jesus’ temptation in that very order (cf. Mat. 4:1-11). The serpent, approaching Eve, must have appealed to these very areas at the beginning (Gen. 3:6). The devil does not have to get more complicated than that because these avenues are overwhelmingly effective for him. Though this and other passages reveal the Evil One’s intentions and efforts, we are fully accountable for how we respond to temptation (Jas. 1:13-15). We must take responsibility for how we handle temptation. 

TEMPTATION STRIKES WHEN WE ARE VULNERABLE. Jesus has gone an unfathomable 40 days without food when He encounters the devil (2ff). The devil goes straight for this susceptible area. Think back to times when you haven’t gotten proper rest, you faced stress and pressure, you were sick or felt poorly, and other trying times. These can easily become doors we open to sin. All of us will experience physical and emotional weakness. We must be aware that these lead to spiritual exposure. 

TEMPTATION CAN MAKE US CALL WHAT WE KNOW INTO QUESTION. Twice, the devil uses conditional statements to try and create doubt. First, he says, “If You are the Son of God” (3). He called Jesus’ identity into question. Then, he says, “if You worship me” (7). He seeks to get Jesus to question His loyalty. It was not a matter of what Jesus intellectually knew, but Jesus dwelled in the flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:14). Be aware that temptation will cause us to question things we know, too. That includes our exalted identity and our true motivation.

TEMPTATION IS THWARTED BY AN OMNIPOTENT TOOL. Jesus wins His battles with the devil and temptation by leaning on truth. There are 86 quotations of Deuteronomy (the second giving of the Law of Moses) in the New Testament, and Jesus quotes this book in reference to each of the devil’s temptations (8:3; 6:13; 6:16). Proper knowledge and handling of Scripture help even when enemies of truth, even the devil, try to misuse Scripture against us (as he does with Jesus, misapplying Psalm 91:11-12). Scripture is God’s own weapon, given to us not to cut and maim others but to fight off temptation and fend off the biggest threats to our faith and soul (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17). 

It is wonderful to contemplate a day in which temptation will be permanently past-tense (cf. Rev. 21:1ff; 1 Cor. 15:55-58). Until then, we benefit so much from seeing how Jesus coped with the bane of temptation. It also helps us appreciate what He endured in order to give us salvation. 

Vasily Polenov (1909), “Christ In The Desert”