Skip to content

Satan Tempting Jesus In The Wilderness

The story of Jesus and Satan in the desert is a classic one, and it’s well known that this is the moment when Satan tempts Jesus with three tests.

Some say the story happened because of a misunderstanding. People thought that it was Satan who tempted Jesus, but instead he was just there to help him. In fact, some scholars believe that the entire story is made up!

However, most people agree that the reason why Satan was there was because he wanted to test Jesus’ faith by tempting him with three tests. He wanted to see if Jesus would turn away from God or if he would stay true to his beliefs no matter what happened. This article talks more on the three temptations of jesus.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10). This was Christ’s response to Satan after his third temptation in the wilderness.

Satan must have known Christ would not sin, and yet he tried to tempt Him anyway. Why bother? And why is this episode included in the New Testament since Satan’s attempts were useless? See more on What Do The 3 Temptations Of Jesus Symbolize in this exposition.

Satan Tempting Jesus In The Wilderness

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, who or what was he actually dealing with? Most people would probably choose the fallen angel that revolted against God. The common belief is that Jesus had an encounter with the great angelic Satan who actively opposes God, tempts humans, and brings evil into the world in the wilderness. This assumption has been contested.

Defeating Satan is like taking on any other enemy, as any cursory investigation will show. A Lord’s angel is mentioned for the first time in the very first use of the word (Num. 22:22,32). Other cultures commonly refer to human enemies as “Satan” (1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14,23,25). Is that what happened when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Why did this unbelievable thing happen? Understanding the background of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is crucial to this investigation.

Outline of the Temptation
Throughout the Gospels, three temptations are recorded:

Jesus is tempted to convert stones into bread after he fasts for forty days and nights.

The other option is to be transported to the holiest site in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount.

He is led to a “exceeding high mountain” where he is tempted one last time and given a glimpse of the kingdoms of men “in a period of time” (Luke 4:5).

In the beginning of each narrative, the Holy Spirit “guided” or “driven” Jesus out into the wilderness. The motivation for giving in to temptation can be gleaned from this initial remark. Temptation of Jesus by the Holy Spirit seems pointless. Why, then, would the temptations be of such grand design? Did something like this ever occur before?

Inspired by God’s hand
This expression, “led of the Spirit,” connects us to the time when the Lord spoke to the prophets in visions. One such prophet was Ezekiel, who was banished to Babylon and received a vision while sitting in his home (8:1). The event described in Ezekiel 8:3 is strikingly similar to the temptation narrative.

As the Bible describes it, “And he stretched forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.”

Take note that, like Jesus in the wilderness, Ezekiel had a vision in which he was whisked away by the Spirit to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Again, this occurs in Ezekiel 37:1 and 40:2. This last event also mirrors Jesus’ time of temptation.

God “took me into the country of Israel in his visions” and “placed me upon a very high mountain, beside which was as the frame of a city on the south.”

Like the other two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 21:10, the Apostle John would be taken away in a vision.

And the Spirit took me away to a very high mountain, and there he showed me the Holy City of Jerusalem coming down from God in the clouds.

It’s impossible to deny the parallels. Jesus is similarly tempted by the devil after being “driven of the Spirit” to “an exceeding high mountain” (Mt. 4:8) and “the holy city” (Mk (Mt. 4:5). Why are there so many parallels? Does that not imply that they were all dreams or visions? When thinking about Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, how do visions fit in?

Revelations The visions God showed his prophets were similar to dreams but seemed more genuine. They were attempts at making an indelible impression through the use of fanciful symbols representing the future. Oftentimes, there is a great deal of symbolism in a vision. Not to be taken at face value.

The temptation of Jesus on the mountain is a prime example of this symbolism. Where on Earth is there a mountain that is high enough to see all the kingdoms “in an instant of time”? Compare Luke 4:5 with Matthew 4:8. Only in dreams like the one Nebuchadnezzar had, which foretold what would happen to the kingdoms of humanity throughout time, has anything like this ever happened before (Dan. 2:44-45). Only in this way would it be possible to witness all the kingdoms of mankind in a single “instant in time.”

We are so once again at our original inquiry. Who exactly was the devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Should we take it literally, or is there a deeper symbolism here?

One of Zechariah’s demons
Here, it helps to think back on a vision Zechariah had in which Satan played a role (Zech. 3:1-2). From chapter one to chapter six, Zechariah receives eight visions. The third chapter opens with the words “And he shewed me…” and describes the fourth vision. All of the visions share this common language in which God reveals Zechariah a symbolic portrayal of his time and what was to come (1:8; 1:18; 2:1; 3:1; 4:2; 5:1; 5:5; 6:1). The student will learn to interpret the symbolic meaning of these visions as they read them.

According to Zechariah 3:2–3,

And he showed me the high priest Joshua1 standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan at his right hand2 trying to oppose the angel. And God replied, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

So, in this vision, Satan has a role, but it’s all symbolic. Where do we start? After Israel had returned from Babylonian exile (Ezra 5:1) and Joshua had been appointed high priest, Zechariah prophesied (Ezra 4:4). The plan to reconstruct the temple was met with resistance from their enemies (Ezra 4:1). To put it another way, the antagonists in the vision—specifically Rehum and Shimshai, who conspired to write a letter “against Jerusalem”—are personified by Satan (Ezra 4:8 cp. Zech. 3:2). In Ezra 4:7, the word translated as “accusation” is actually a synonym for “satan.” In contrast to Zechariah’s metaphorical description of these men as a plaintiff in a court of law, the Ezra tale never portrays a fallen angel but gives us the actuality of the foes of Joshua and Jerusalem.

Jesus’ Revelation in the Wilderness and Its Meaning
Jesus’ vision in the wilderness, which the Holy Spirit gave him, has a similar theme. The temptations Jesus faced were foreshadowings of his future suffering. His enemies are symbolized by the Satan. During his time in the ministry, he would face the greatest tests.

The Pharisees and Sadducees would be his primary opponents. Matthew 16:1 shows that, like the devil in the wilderness, they are trying to test Jesus by asking for a sign. As in Luke 11:53-54, where they tried to trap Jesus in his own words,

And while he was still speaking these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees “began to urge him strongly, and to encourage him to speak of many things, laying in wait for him, and wanting to catch something out of his lips, so they may condemn him.”

There are a plethora of ways in which the opponents or Satans could manifest themselves.

Those Herodians who, like in Matthew 22:15–16, attempted to deceive him insidiously.

A legal advisor who tempted Jesus Christ in Matthew 22:35.

Jesus’ label for Peter’s antagonistic behavior was “Satan” (Mat. 16:23 cp. Luke 4:8).

In John 6:15, following a miracle involving bread, the crowds strive to declare Jesus king. This is quite similar to the bread and power temptations Jesus faced in the bush.

The temptation Jesus had in the bush to jump off a precipice parallels the one he faced when his enemies tried to throw him from a cliff (Luke 4:29). (Luke 4:9).

Jesus’ enemies influenced Judas, whom he branded a “devil” (John 6:70), to betray him (Luke 22:2-3, 31).

The high priest was the prince of this world and the greatest adversary of Jesus. The words “if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27:40) uttered at the crucifixion are strikingly similar to those uttered at the time of temptation.

Jesus never faced up against an immortal sinful angel in recorded history.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness so that he may be fortified by a vision and so better able to resist the temptations and difficulties he would face there. To put it another way, this is why he came back from the desert “with the power and the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Imagined himself victorious over his foes via the sheer force of his words. The sight of that surely would have revitalized him. For it was there that he would find the true arena in which to wage war against sin and ultimately triumph.

In a similar vein to the Transfiguration
Jesus was also seen a vision during the event known as the transfiguration. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, he commanded his followers to “reveal the vision to no man” (Mat. 17:9). The arrival of the kingdom and its mighty King Jesus were the subjects of this vision (cp. Mt. 16:28 with 2 Pet. 1:16-18).

Many similarities may be drawn between Jesus’ experiences at the time of his temptation and the time of his transfiguration.

There are two occurrences of “This is my beloved Son” throughout the four gospels. During the transfiguration (Mt. 3:17) and before the temptation (Mt. (Lu. 9:35).

Like Jesus, Moses and Elijah spent 40 days fasting and praying alone on a mountain (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:7-9, 18; 1 Kings 19:8, 11). (Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:2).

Both before Peter’s transfiguration with Jesus (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33) and during the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:3), Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Mt. 4:10; Luke 4:8).

The transfiguration takes place atop a “high mountain” (Mt. 17:1 cp. Mt. 4:8). While Satan “taketh” (paralambano) Jesus up a mountain during the temptation, Jesus “taketh” (paralambano) his closest followers up a mountain at the transfiguration.

A transfiguration vision then, why? You can find the answer in the verses from Luke’s gospel, chapters 9:30-31.

And behold, there talked with him two persons who were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in splendor, and spoke of his decease which he shall perform at Jerusalem.

It was meant to fortify him against giving up during his ordeal on the cross. Both Moses and Elijah were strong, persevering figures who overcame the challenges presented by Israel’s transgressions. Jesus needed their support more than anybody else to carry out his mission.

As a result, we know that Jesus received two visions. The first came to help him overcome the trials he faced in the desert. The second reason was to inspire him to take on the role of the atoning sacrifice for humanity’s transgressions.

The Three Temptations Of Jesus

Christ had not eaten for 40 days and nights. He had retreated to the wilderness to be with the Father and to pray after his cousin, John, baptized Him. At His weakest point, Satan tried to break the Savior. He urged Jesus to do three things:

1. Turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3)

2. Jump from the pinnacle of the temple so the angels could save Him (Matthew 4:6)

3. Bow down and worship the devil in exchange for power (Matthew 4:8-9)

Satan kept upping the ante, as though he believed Jesus was only waiting for the right temptation; the best offer. Christ resisted all of these temptations because it was “impossible for Jesus to sin.” The Son was wholly obedient to the Father. Jesus used the Word of God against Satan to “clarify that God alone is God.”

Satan’s Purpose

One writer says that, as Satan tried to lure Christ away from God’s side, he “believes he will prevail.” His goal is to “somehow kill Jesus” and thereby enjoy victory over God, vengeance perhaps for being thrown into the fiery pit of Hell with his fellow conspirators following their rebellion. Since Jesus was fully God and fully man, able to sympathize with the reality of temptation to men, Satan must have believed He would succumb to the desires of the flesh.

Romans 8 says that “those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Immanuel was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” but did not set His mind on earthly desires.

At Jesus’ baptism, “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matthew 3:16). Christ lived by the Spirit, so Satan could not tempt His flesh.

God’s Purpose

What is the reader meant to do with Satan’s futility? And how can one live up to the sinlessness of Christ when we know that if we were put under this much pressure, we would “probably yield to it?” The purpose is not to make us feel small, but to empower and educate the reader as to how he or she can resist temptation.

James 4:7 says that the power to resist the Devil is ours if we do what Christ did: submit to the Lord. Christ is our model: turn the Word against the evil one and worship God. Every word of the Bible is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16).

This episode took place because God allowed it and we can use it to learn how to stand firm against the Devil, just as God permitted Satan to tempt Job and Job worshiped the Lord. Satan tempted Job by taking everything from Him, but Christ’s temptations were the opposite. The Devil tempted God’s Son to be obedient elsewhere; to derive power from and forego the coming trials at Satan’s side.

The Almighty wanted to demonstrate how far Satan would go and what is at stake for us as believers because Satan targets the same areas in the lives of Christians today. Believers are more likely to sin when faced with hunger or fatigue.

Christians still wrestle with doubt (will God really save me?) and pride (the desire for power). As Jesus waits for God to minister to His body, He trusts the Father’s plan for eternity and submits to the Lord. As heirs of Christ, we can do it too. The serpent fails.

Straight Path in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11 reminds Christians to expect and endure evil without giving in; but also shows us how to resist by using the very words of God. Even Christ quoted Scripture as His defense, rather than coming up with some new wisdom. In his farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul said “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

Christ is the Word by which believers receive the inheritance of God; the grace which is our salvation and our stronghold. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” In this encounter with Satan, Christ essentially protects Himself with — Himself; the truth of who He is: the unchangeable I AM.

Twisted Truth

Christ responded to Satan with the truth and “was the first to quote scripture in His encounter with Satan,” always beginning “It is written.” Today, Satan twists Scripture to confuse and fool us which is why we must know the Bible.

We utilize the Word of God, “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), and thereby invoke the power of Christ for our defense. “Satan takes his cue from our Lord’s words.”  Once he understands Jesus’ defense, He “seeks to twist our Lord’s trust in the Father.” Satan tries some “subtle twisting of God’s word,” and perhaps “the adversary felt certain he could overthrow our Lord even on biblical grounds!”

Of course, Christ has the advantage. He knows the Word; He is the Word, but memorizing the Bible is not enough: we must come to grips with what God means to say and who He is. Not only the word but the speaker matters. Even non-Christians use Bible verses out of context, adopting them as devices to mold truth to their purposes and desires.

The Son “hangs on every word of God. […] Every word. Not a few words. Not the words particularly easy to accept.” What a shallow and short-lived victory that would have been: to be manipulated by Satan into taking Scripture out of context. Those who are “hostile to God” do not “submit to God’s law” (Romans 8:7).

Jesus did not turn the stone into bread because God had said: “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). He did not jump from the top of the temple because God’s people “do not put the Lord [their] God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

Christ did not bow down to Satan in exchange for power because Satan had no power to bestow: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus did not need new words; the Father had spoken sufficiently in the law He gave to Israel when they were in the wilderness. Deuteronomy literally means “Words” in Hebrew.

Self-Defense Classes

Out of context, the Lord’s words seem lifeless, powerless. But Christ always knew what the Father meant by what He said. He did not read the Word to get something out of it for Himself. “Jesus read the word in order to trust God, not test God.” “Give careful attention to proper interpretation” and “hide God’s word in your heart so you can live by it.”

This is our shield and our sword. Christ has shown us by way of His own experience with Satan’s temptations, at a time when He was weakened by hunger and thirst and isolation, how to defend ourselves when we are weak.

In the New Testament the Greek transliteration Satanas is used, and this usually appears as Satan in English translations. He is spoken of as the prince of evil spirits, the inveterate enemy of God and of Christ, who takes the guise of an angel of light. He can enter people and act through them; hence, a person can be called Satan because of his or her acts or attitude. Through his subordinate demons, Satan can take possession of human bodies, afflicting them or making them diseased. According to the visions in the Book of Revelation, when the risen Christ returns from heaven to reign on earth, Satan will be bound with a great chain for a thousand years, then be released, but almost immediately face final defeat and be cast into eternal punishment. His name, Beelzebul, used in the Gospels mainly in reference to demonic possession, comes from the name of the god of Ekron, Baalzebub (II Kings 1). He is also identified with the devil (diabolos), and this term occurs more frequently in the New Testament than Satan. In the Qurʾān the proper name Shaitan (“Satan”) is used.

What Do The 3 Temptations Of Jesus Symbolize

To prepare Jesus for His public ministry, the devil led Him on a series of temptations in the wilderness, which are recorded in the synoptic gospels (see Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:9-15; Lk 4:1-13). Temptations to pursue material wealth, political influence, or public acclaim were among those mentioned. Since the devil was unsuccessful in getting Jesus to break His fast, he had no reason to tempt Him to worship him. Why, exactly, did Satan try to tempt Jesus to leap off the Temple’s pinnacle? What does Satan’s final seduction seem so insignificant if Jesus has already rejected the glory of the whole world?

It would make sense, at first glance, for the devil to have begun tempting Jesus with the greatest sin, and then, having failed at that, to have moved on to smaller transgressions. The devil’s strategy was to convince Jesus to commit idolatry first, and then to break a voluntary fast, which is not even a minor sin.

However, at first glance, it may appear that the devil’s temptations are presented in an illogical sequence. In reality, there is a more nuanced pattern to the devil’s assault. It’s structured similarly to the sequence of temptations a soul goes through as it embarks on a spiritual path. As a result, these three temptations have profound symbolic meaning. First, the Devil tempts Jesus with food, which represents his flesh. The ascetic refers to this moment of temptation as the “night of the senses.” If the soul is strong enough to overcome this kind of temptation (i.e., all the physiological appetites), then the devil has no motivation to continue tempting in this way. The devil tempts with the world after he has made it through the dark night of the senses. The soul recalls the allure of the world it formerly inhabited. Night of the Spirit is represented by this image.

At this point, the world the soul inhabits but no longer enjoys presents a tempting environment for it to depart from its current state of discontent. If this temptation is overcome, pride is the last remaining threat. This is a sense of majesty in the blessings God has bestowed upon you.

In a spiritual sense, these three temptations represent three distinct eras. It’s important to note that the particular methods the devil employed to tempt Jesus were quite subtle:

At first, the devil tempted Jesus not with sin but with human frailty. It was requested of him that he abandon his good deed (fasting) and instead make bread from stone.

Then, He faced temptation from the world’s spiritual rewards. It’s as if the devil were saying, “Give me some form of public recognition for how egotistical I am, and I’ll join your cause. Simply by recognizing me, I will provide my aid to your efforts to save souls. Surely you must be modest, right? Is it too much to ask that you degrade yourself a little bit more for the sake of eternal souls? The spiritual significance of this second temptation cannot be overstated. Jesus was not urged to renounce His deity but rather to increase His sense of modesty. The Just One had already made countless sacrifices, so why couldn’t he or she give their lives for one more? It’s the urge to compromise morality in order to further one’s own self-interest.

The last temptation is the desire for glory and acclaim. This was done in an effort to detract from the truth that God, in His own good time, promotes those He has chosen to serve. Satan’s argument here was, “Even though God controls the time and the moment, why not move the moment forward?” Why hide away when you can accomplish so much good by bursting into the limelight in dazzling fashion? The complexity and subtlety of this third temptation makes it the most dangerous.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *