Jesus taught us to pray: “And do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). Let us consider how Jesus Himself dealt with temptation as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11.
The Temptations of Jesus
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:1-2). From this we learn that although Jesus was in the wilderness, tempted by the devil, He was not alone. The Spirit of God was with Him. We too, when we are tempted, let us remember that the Spirit of God is with us and we are not alone. Secondly we notice that it was not right away, but after 40 days of fasting that the temptation starts. Obviously someone who is hungry craves for food. James says that God does not tempt us but our own desires (James 1:13). So the tempter uses our weakness and even our natural desires to tempt us.
The first temptation
“Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:3-4). As humans, we have basic needs that must be fulfilled. The need for food, water, sleep, and shelter is something we all have. There is nothing wrong with natural desires, but the urgency to meet them may lead to the temptation to meet them in ways which are not right.
Jesus overcame the first temptation by using Scripture. He answered “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). He emphasizes what is most important. It is the Word of God. God gives and sustains life. If we are preoccupied with something, the desire for it and the importance of it increases. It is then that we need to put it into perspective and remind ourselves of what is most important.
Notice also that the tempter starts his temptation by saying: “If you are the Son of God.” In times of weakness the tempter will try to get you to question the obvious. The first temptation noted in the Bible also starts with the questioning of what God said. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1).
Although it is good to question, let us be careful not to ignore the answers God has already given us. Although it is good to make sure we are on the right path, let us not make a U-turn and go back to the start if we are already traveling on the right road.
Had Jesus given into the first temptation, it would have been a misuse of his God-given power. Let us not misuse what God has given us.
The second temptation
Christ was victorious in his first temptation, but the tempter does not stop just because he has suffered defeat. He tries again. The second temptation deals with a different sphere. It is the temptation to pursue honor and glory. We all like to be honored. Some of us like to be in the lime-light, and even those who are introverts still like to be held in high esteem. Here the tempter suggests showmanship to Christ. He suggests that He ascend to the top of the temple and from there: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6).
This temptation starts the same way as the first, questioning the Sonship of Christ: “If You are the Son of God.” We do not know if this is meant to invoke doubt, or whether it is a taunt for Jesus to prove it. Perhaps it is meant to encourage Him to try what the tempter has suggested, because as the Son of God, why should it not succeed?
God has given us many talents. Let us make sure that we give Him the honor and glory for our achievements. Without Him we would have neither the talent, the health, nor the opportunities needed to be successful. To God be the glory! Even during our church services, we should make sure we sing or preach or fellowship to the glory of God. If the purpose becomes entertainment or to show off or to display what we can do, then we have fallen in the second temptation and not overcome it.
Note that this time the tempter also uses Scripture. Since Jesus puts such emphasis on the Word of God, the tempter uses it as well. Let us be careful. Not everyone using Scripture uses it correctly. As we see in this example, one can even be tempted through the misuse of Scripture. Let us make sure that we use Scripture in context. A verse taken out of context can be made to mean something completely different. Jesus puts the matter back into context by using another scripture, saying “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’” (Matthew 4:7).
The third temptation
The third temptation has to do with riches and the glory of this world. The tempter “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8b-9).
To have riches and the glory of the world – what a temptation this is for many! It is not riches and success which are wrong, but putting them before God, doing anything to obtain them. How many have ruined their lives and sold out soul and conscience in pursuit of the treasures of this world!
The tempter promises to give Jesus what does not even belong to him because “The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). The kingdoms of the world belong to God, not to Satan. Once more Jesus uses Scripture. “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10). We too should use Scripture and be well versed in it. Daily Bible reading or at least a habitual Bible study program is a great help into acquiring proficiency. Memorizing Scripture is also a good idea. When my grandmother was tempted, she would often sing hymns. The words of many of our hymns are powerful and can help us in temptation. Let us also not forget to pray in order to overcome temptation. Even if we are driving, walking, or working, we can silently lift up a prayer to our Lord for help, who said “Ask and it shall be given unto you” (Matthew 7:7).
There are people who confuse temptation with sin. Temptation is not a sin. Jesus was tempted, but remained without sin (Hebrews 4:15). After Jesus was tempted, we read: “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11). The tempter must flee. The temptations will end. Even if temptations are constant or severe, we need not give in. They will end. After the temptations of Christ, the angels came and ministered unto Him. We too will have a time of reprieve. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:7-8).