Temptation of Jesus


In the Bible, particularly the Synoptic Gospels, there is a clear account of the temptation of Jesus Christ. After his Baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights after which He was tempted by the Devil.

The account in Mathew 4: 1-11 is as follows:

The Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to undergo temptation by the Devil. He fasted for 40 days and nights, after which he was hungry. Satan approached Jesus and asked him to turn the stones around them into bread if he was the Son of God.Jesus replied quoting the scriptures that man should not exist by bread alone, rather by every word that emanates from God.

The second temptation was thus: The Devil led Jesus to the Holy City and stood beside him at the tallest point of the Temple.  The Devil put Jesus to testcommanding him to throw himself down because if he were the true Son of God, God would command his angels to lift him up, so that even his feet would not dash against a stone. Jesus gave a reply, again quoting the scripture- ‘Do not put your Lord God to the test.’

In the third temptation, the Devil took Jesus to the top of a mountain where they could view all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He tried to lure Jesus by saying that all these kingdoms could become his if he bows down and worships him. Jesus ordered Satan to leave him alone and said that God desired that everyone should worship only him and serve him. Then the devil left Jesus and angels came and ministered to him.

The account of the Temptation of Jesus is very small in Mark, but the details of the conversation between Satan and Jesus are clearly given in Mathew and Luke. But the temptation of Christ is not given explicitly in the Gospel of John.

Is It a Parable?

The debate on the literary genre of this event is whether it is a historic event, a parable, a myth or a combination of various genres. Some scholars like William Barclay argue that there is no mountain where the whole world can be seen. Generally, the event is regarded as non-literal and was part of the thoughts of Jesus.

The Catholic Church holds that temptation of Christ is a physical and literal event. The temptation of Jesus shows the humble Messiah, who gains victory over Satan by adhering to the plan of salvation as per the will of the Father.

Old Testament References:

The Gospel of Mathew makes use of the language of the Old Testament. Jesus is portrayed as using three scriptural references (Deut 8: 3, Deut 6: 13, Deut 6: 16).

Fasting implied a profound struggle. In the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days and nights and Jesus followed suit. But 40 is not an exact number but implies many days. Fasting is also not full abstinence but some very sparse diet found in a desert.

Ministration by Angels at the End of Temptation:

After the Devil had left him, Jesus was ministered by angels. The word ‘ministered’ is, generally, believed to be angels feeding Jesus at the end of the fasting. A scene of feasting is imagined for a happy ending to the episode of the fasting and temptation of Jesus.

Various Interpretations:

The devil’s aim at tempting Jesus is open for debate. As per general tradition, The Devil is tempting Jesus to commit three sins: Avarice (by offering the kingdoms of the world), Gluttony (food to relieve the hunger of Jesus) and Hubris (testingwhether God would send angels to break the fall of Jesus from the mountain).

According to another view, the three temptations foreshadowed three other points in his Ministry where he faced the greatest political temptations:

  • When the crowds wanted to crown him King after the miracle of the loaves and fish.
  • When he had garnered enough political support after the cleansing of the temple.
  • The night at Gethsemane where he could have got a legion of angels to save him from his passion.

The Purpose of Temptations of Jesus:

The three temptations in the desert were the first of many temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ, but he met all these without a sin or a blemish.

Jesus is human in every way and shares the experience of temptation with us. But he was able to do three crucial things:

  1. Destroy the power of Satan and free those enslaved by fear of death,
  2. Become a high priest of God to atone for our sins and
  3. Can empathize with the weaknesses of human kind. His most important quality is that he can intercede for us for the forgiveness of our sins.

Temptation is difficult, particularly when Jesus had made a public declaration of faith, as during his Baptism. But there is also a miraculous happening of the God’s angels ministering to him, during his ordeal. This implies that when we too are subject to trials and temptations, God’s ministering angels will help us to earn salvation.

The first temptation is the temptation of the flesh. The Devil tempts a hungry Jesus to turn stones into bread. The second temptation is the pride of life. The third temptation is the lust of the eyes, for adopting a shortcut to Messiahship, by passing the passion and the crucifixion. The Devil had control over the whole world but was ready to hand it to Jesus in return for his allegiance. But Jesus shudders at the very thought of worshipping anyone except God, the Father.

We all fall into many temptations as our flesh is weak, but our God promises not to test us beyond our endurance. We learn from the experience of Jesus how to tackle these temptations: by turning to the scriptures. We can fight these temptations by filling our minds and hearts with the truth.  We Christians are armed with the spiritual armour, which is the word of God. A thorough knowledge of the Bible will equip us sufficiently to overcome the snares of the Devil.