Jesus begins His public ministry. He is gloriously baptized, anointed with the Spirit, and then ruthlessly tempted. In all cases, He proves Himself worthy of His inheritance and mission. This story shows that spiritual highs are often followed by temptations to selfishness and pride. It also shows that there is nothing in our life experience that hasn’t been tasted by our Savior. We serve One who worshiped as a man, obeyed as a man, and was tempted as a man – all without sin. Consequently, we can come to the Savior in full confidence that He is sympathetic to the fight, eager to help us win, and merciful when we lose.
During John’s baptism ministry, Jesus shows up and is baptized too. Luke doesn’t say anything more about the event, but we know from other gospels that Jesus insists on John baptizing Him even after John argues that Jesus should baptize him. When we consider that John’s baptism signifies repentance, it’s interesting to ponder why Jesus is baptized at all. Why does someone who is without sin need to publicly proclaim repentance? The only answer is that Jesus wants to begin His ministry by identifying with those He’s come to save. He’s here for sinners and will take all sin with Him to the cross, thus He shows from the outset that sinners are the focus of His ministry. The whole scene shows amazing humility and complete understanding of His mission.
After He’s baptized – and while He prays (Luke is the only writer to mention this) – the Holy Spirit descends on Him in bodily form like a dove (all the gospels tell of this event, and all say the Spirit is in the likeness of a dove rather than an actual dove). We know from John’s gospel that John the Baptist witnesses this (Jn 1:29-34), so it’s not done in secret. As soon as the Spirit descends, a voice comes from heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” It makes sense that if John witnesses the dove, he also hears the voice and it’s likely that those around the two of them hear also. It’s an amazing way to announce the Messiah to the world.
The message from God shows that the baptism of Jesus isn’t like the others. He’s not repenting, He’s identifying. And this identification and acknowledgment of His mission are what causes the Father to announce His favor so gloriously. What God says is actually a quote of Isaiah (42:1). The whole prophecy talks about bringing justice to the nations and also that God’s servant will tenderly deal with the downtrodden (a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish). The prophecy is clearly Messianic. God wants there to be no doubt who it is who’s just been baptized.
Something to think about is what it means that the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at this point. On the one hand, it makes sense that this is the way Jesus’ public ministry begins. The Holy Spirit comes upon Him and He begins to teach and perform miracles (and does the anointing of the Holy Spirit here mean that Jesus has not performed any miracles before now?) and slowly make His way over the next three years to the cross. But on the other hand, we know that the Holy Spirit has been upon John since he was in the womb (Lk 1:15). Does that mean the Holy Spirit was given to John before Jesus? There’s no way to know (and commentators don’t seem to address this), but it’s interesting food for thought. It’s likely that Jesus has also been filled with the Spirit before now, but perhaps the Spirit comes on Him in a different way to inaugurate His ministry.
Jesus is thirty years old as He begins His ministry. In the Mosaic Law, thirty is the prescribed age for priests to enter service (Num 4:3). It’s also the age of Joseph when he became the second highest ruler in Egypt (Gen 41:46) and David’s age when he became king (II Sam 5:4). This is not to say that there’s some huge significance to the age, but it’s interesting that the similarities exist.
Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam, not just to Abraham. Luke shows again that Jesus is more than a Jew and more than a Savior of the Jews. He is the Son of Man who comes to save all people – Jew and gentile alike.
Right after the incredible announcement to the world of who Jesus is and right after His anointing by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There He spends 40 days and nights fasting and praying and communing with the Father. That’s not all He does, however. The text also says that He faces temptation during this time. It’s interesting that we think of the temptation of Jesus as consisting of just three temptations, but the text seems to imply that Satan tempts him throughout the whole 40 days (which agrees with Mark’s account also – Mk 1:13). This lends a different intensity to the final standoff that Luke’s about to recount.
Several things to notice at the outset of this story. First, the Holy Spirit actually leads Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus will later tell His disciples to pray for God to lead them away from temptation (11:4), but here the Spirit seems to lead Jesus directly into it. God sometimes allows temptation to make us stronger or humbler (but limits the temptation to what we can handle – Job 1:12, I Cor 10:13). Second, notice that the temptation takes place immediately after a glorious spiritual high. It’s not uncommon for temptation to come along right after a wonderful time with God. The Enemy knows exactly when we’re prone to complacency and pride. Third, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness likely to signify the wilderness wanderings of Israel (Deut 8:2-3). Unlike Israel, Jesus does not fail the wilderness test. Fourth, there’s a contrast to the effect of the 40 days and how it prepares Jesus to face Satan. On the one hand, He’s communing and praying and is completely in tune with the Father as a result. On the other, He fasts the entire time and so is weak and hungry and vulnerable.
As far as we know, this is the first time Satan has shown up in person to directly tempt someone since Eden. There, the first Adam fell after one temptation in paradise. Here, the second Adam (I Cor 15:45) doesn’t fall even after 40 days of temptations in the desert.
The first temptation seems somewhat benign. What’s wrong with performing a miracle (if you can) to feed yourself after fasting for 40 days? There’s nothing wrong with eating, and the desire for food after not eating for well over a month has to be incredibly strong. What Satan wants Jesus to do, however, is to meet His needs outside of God’s provision. Don’t wait for God, take matters into your own hands and satisfy yourself. He wants Jesus to worry more about His physical needs than His faith in God; to be concerned with the lust of the eyes and lust of the flesh (I Jn 2:16, Jn 4:34).
Trusting in God’s provision is what Israel was charged with in the wilderness and that charge is recorded in the same text Jesus quotes here (Deut 8). Ultimately the same thing is true of Israel as is true of Jesus (and us). Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (the second part of the verse isn’t quoted here). Faith is greater than physical needs. We are to seek first God’s kingdom. What the verse Jesus quotes ultimately says is that our lives aren’t about us. We don’t live for ourselves; we live for the One who created us for his glory.
The second temptation (Luke and Matthew record the temptations in different order – in Matthew this is the third temptation) is more blatantly an invitation to sin. Satan supernaturally shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers them to Him if He will worship Satan. The temptation is for Jesus to assume His Messianic office now before He goes to the cross and before the Father glorifies Him. Glory without suffering. Satan offers this in return for Jesus’ worship.
This temptation is what plagued Israel throughout its history. All through its history are examples of Israel forsaking God and worshipping false gods. It’s what caused the nation to eventually lose its place in the Promised Land. It’s a violation of the most fundamental and important of the commandments – You shall have no other gods before me. Nothing is punished more directly by God than the violation of this command. Every king in Israel was ultimately judged by whether or not the country worshiped God alone during his rule.
The temptation to worship something other than God always has the same allure – there’s something here that God can’t offer you and so you worship something else in order to get it. It’s selfish worship – worship for the sake of the worshipper. It’s really the essence of all sin. [Which is why the first commandment is the basis for the other nine – we never violate the second through tenth commandments without initially violating the first.]
Jesus – unlike Israel – doesn’t fail the test. He doesn’t quibble over Satan’s authority to offer Him the kingdoms of the world. He simply quotes Deuteronomy (6:13) – You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.
Since Jesus used scripture to answer the first two temptations, Satan uses scripture to tempt Him a third time. He quotes from Psalm 91 regarding how the angels will protect the Messiah, and then challenges Jesus to jump off the top of the temple and see if God’s word is true. “Jump off – let’s see if you get hurt or if angels will appear and keep you from falling. It’s what God’s word says!” The temptation is to doubt God until He proves Himself. His word isn’t enough – it has to be confirmed. It’s an attempt to get Jesus to walk by sight and not by faith.
[Aside – something to think about with the third temptation is how enemies of God love to misquote scripture or take it out of context. What Satan does here is what his followers have done as long as scripture has existed. And it’s what his followers will do until Christ comes again.]
Jesus again doesn’t bother arguing the details. He simply quotes Deuteronomy again (6:16 – note that all the quoted scripture is from Deuteronomy, which means Jesus quotes from the same time period that He symbolizes with His time in the wilderness). The verse He quotes comes from an event when Israel demanded that God show whether or not He was with them by providing water in the wilderness (Ex 17:1-7). This was after He had brought them out of Egypt by the ten plagues, parted the Red Sea, provided water at a different location, and provided Manna to eat every morning. The people were extremely ungrateful, and God rebuked them with Jesus’ words here. To test God is to say that He owes us; that we are the judge of the truthfulness and relevancy of His words; that what He says is only true after we say it’s true.
After the third failed temptation, Satan leaves Jesus. Satan doesn’t leave Him forever as the text says he only leaves until a more opportune time. It’s interesting that throughout this exchange Jesus does not flee from Satan. He stands His ground and resists, and Satan flees. This goes along with what James (4:7) and Peter (I Pet 5:8-9) say – resist the devil and he will flee from you. Sometimes it’s prudent to flee (which seems to apply to sexual sin – Prov 5:8, 7:8). But we know we have the promise – and Christ’s example – that if in the power of the Spirit (and remember that Jesus went into the wilderness at the Spirit’s leading) we resist Satan’s temptation, he’ll eventually flee from us.
This story begins with Jesus being baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit. He’s not tempted until He has the Spirit’s power at His disposal. It’s a vivid reminder that facing Satan alone is a fool’s errand. We cannot live the Christian life and resist sin in our own power. We must resist with all our might, but we must do it in the Spirit’s strength. Jesus will later say, “…for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). It’s only with the indwelling Spirit that we can resist sin.
Jesus faces Satan in the power of the Spirit but doesn’t use anything else that’s supernatural or special to refute Satan’s lures. He simply quotes scripture. This, along with prayer, is the best defense against any and all temptation. And it’s as available to us as it was to Jesus. It is only a defense, however, if we KNOW scripture. We can’t use what we don’t have. Knowing scripture allows us to take thoughts captive, preach truth to ourselves, and recognize temptations for what they are – lies devised to destroy us.
The lies Satan uses to tempt Jesus are similar in many ways to the lies he used to tempt Eve in the garden. Here he tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. There he pointed out to Eve that the forbidden fruit would be good for food. Here he gives Jesus the promise of glory and rule over all the earth. There he promised Eve she could be like God. Here he tells Jesus to jump off the temple to see if God would save Him. There he told Eve she wouldn’t die if she ate the fruit.
The three temptations can be boiled down to live for yourself, love the world, and doubt God’s goodness. They are the same temptations Satan and his minions use against us every day. Satan’s approach to Jesus seems somewhat straight ahead and lacking subtlety until we see the temptations through this lens. He tempts Jesus to sin in the age-old and time-tested ways – live for yourself, love the world, doubt God’s goodness.
Lastly, it’s tempting (in a manner of speaking) to downplay the severity of the test Jesus faces here. After all, we know He’s incapable of sinning (Jas 1:13), so how hard can it be to resist what He can’t do? The author of Hebrews disagrees. He says that Jesus is tempted in all the ways we are, He just doesn’t give in (Heb 2:17-18, 4:14-16). As to the severity of the tests He faces, consider that since He never sins, He faces the full strength of every temptation that confronts Him. When we give in, the temptation stops and the battle ends with our surrender. But if we don’t give in, we battle the temptation until it finally goes away. In that way our faithful and perfect High Priest knows intimately what it means to battle temptation to the end and face its full power. And since that’s the case, we can approach Him in confidence both when we need strength in the face of temptation and when we need mercy in the aftermath of giving in. He knows temptation, He knows the fight, and He knows our weaknesses.
For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:18
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.