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The Temptations of Christ, Part 3

March 4th, 2020

But Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ ” (Luke 4:8 BSB)

Alexander Maclaren said that in this temptation Christ was tempted to grasp His dominion by a false means. The Lord was shown in a moment in time the kingdoms of the known world, and enticed to claim this world as His own by worshiping Satan. The Lord’s response was to say that only One is worthy of worship, and that is the Lord God.

Questions of the passage: There are two questions that people raise here on this point:

  1. Did Satan truly take Jesus up to a mountain and if so, what mountain was that? And how was it possible to show Him all the nations of the world?
  2. Why is the order different in Luke’s Gospel from Matthew’s Gospel? Matthew has this temptation last, and Luke places it second.

The Nature of Christ

Regarding whether it was a real mountain or not, looking carefully at the original language of Luke, it appears that this was a mental image and not a physical one. There is first of all the theological problem of suggesting that Jesus let Satan lead Him anywhere that would involve a lengthy journey, for that would already be giving into the temptation. To follow the devil anywhere is morally wrong, and we know from our own personal experience how many times Satan begins with what seems like an innocent suggestion, or an “acceptable sin” to lure us into being more vulnerable. This was the nature of Eve’s temptation in the Garden, that she listened to the devil.

The Nature of Temptation

The nature of temptation also strongly supports that this was a mental image, not a physical journey. The text emphasizes that it was a quick flash of a thought, such as would be a part of the temptation: “showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5). Temptation happens in our souls. James wrote: “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed” (James 1:14). This was why the temptations did not take root in Jesus’ heart, because His desire was simply to do the will of God. He was not possessed with his own evil desires that fought against Godly desires.

And another argument for it being a mental journey is the simple fact that the text has already given us a venue. He went out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

And a final argument for it being a mental image and not a physical journey was that the word for “world” here is oikoumene or the ‘inhabited world,’ and there is no mountain in the world from where one could see all the inhabited nations of the world, not then and not now.

We must remember that Jesus was tested as we are tested, and He met this temptation as a man, a sinless man but a man nonetheless. There is a mystery concerning what Jesus of Nazareth knew and what He did not know. But the scripture says that He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). If He were to face temptation like we face it, then He must have at His disposal the knowledge of things that we have at ours. The genius of His life was the spiritual dimension which made Him fully alive. The Spirit filled Him, led Him, guided Him, and revealed things to Him. But in laying aside His glory and taking on the form of a servant, there was also in this the laying aside of omniscience. Otherwise the scripture could not say that He “increased in wisdom.”

So the temptation took the nature of conjuring up in a flash the memories of the injustices that happened to His people, the cruelty, perhaps, of a Roman soldier against a Jew. We remember how Moses murdered the Egyptian who was mistreating a son of Israel, and how that bitterness and anger festered in his heart. Would not this devilish image of the inhabited world seek to lead Christ to think about such unpleasant and unjust people, or the superstitious Canaanites that lived around them, or the reputation  of the cruelty of the Greeks, etc. It was a temptation to consider how He might have His revenge against them, by gaining power over them all.

It was the Satanic voice that whispered, “Wouldn’t you really like to have power over these evil people so you can squash them like they squashed your people? I’ll show you how. Just worship me, and I will give it to you.”

The Nature of Godly Worship

The offer had a hook in it, a nasty factor included, that Jesus could gain this power over these inferiors of He would worship Satan. Worship includes first the mental acknowledgement of the superiority over you of the one you would worship, second the heart’s affection toward this one, and thirdly the outward expression and service to this one. Worship always involves a motive and a reward. In true worship of God the motive is the rightness of worshiping God and the reward is in knowing we are worshiping one worthy of worship.

But in all other worship there is a much inferior reward, something that is selfish and that is attractive to us on the basis of our lust and our pride. It is a quid pro quo act that comes from our baser thoughts and values. Either we get richer, more powerful, healthier, or more respected, or something. Some people worship celebrities because they feel significant by being around them or knowing about them.

On a mere human level, we may choose to admire someone because of his wealth that he earned on his own. We may study his life to learn about his character, or we may try to befriend him hoping that he will reward us in someway. The first motive is sincere and noble, but the second is selfish and ignoble.

It is similar in worship, that we worship God because of who He is, because He is worthy of worship. Satan, in fact, in offering a reward for worshiping him, admitted that he was unworthy of worship. He must bribe people to worship him, and he does it by appealing to their lower and baser character traits. It was as thought he said, “I am not worthy of worship, but of you will worship me anyway, then I will reward your unforgiveness, your anger and hatred, your lust and pride, by giving you what these ignoble and base desires of your heart want.

Many of us have been touched by the prayer attributed to Francis Xavier:

My God, I love thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby, nor yet because who love Thee not are lost eternally.

Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me upon the cross embrace; for me, didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace.
And griefs and torments numberless and sweat of agony; even death itself, and all for one Who was thine enemy.
Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ should I not love thee well, not for the hope of winning heaven, or of escaping hell.
not with the hope of gaining aught, nor seeking a reward, but as thyself has loved me, O ever-loving Lord!
Even so, I love Thee and will love and in thy praise will sing, solely because thou art my God, and my eternal king. Amen

We need the help of God. We need the salvation that Christ offers, the help that sustains us in this life, His healing touch, our daily bread, and especially deliverance from evil. But worship of God, of it will be pure, is done not for any of these things, but because we recognize Him for who He is: the pure One, the beautiful One, the righteous One, the holy One, the loving One. Regardless whether or not we ever receive anything from God, we worship Him because of who He is. This is true worship and it is the worship that Jesus was demonstrating during this temptation.

A Final Question about the Order of the Temptations

There is no explanation given for why Matthew and Luke have them in different orders. However, we should note that this is not a big deal. We should note that the temptations happened close to one another. Mark’s Gospel does not mention the temptation specifically and gives the impression that they were repeated thrown as fiery darts at the heart of Christ.

Matthew’s order is generally seen to be the correct order of the temptations. Matthew used the words “then,” and “again,” and gives in Jesus’ final rejection the phrase “Get thee hence, Satan.” But Matthew puts them as happening rather closely together, so that the precise order does not have special significance.

Luke, however, seemed to take them from the Gentile perspective and in that light they emphasize three different issues:  (1) recognizing our need of God, (2) worshiping God, and (3) not putting the Lord to the test. From a lost Gentile perspective perhaps this made more sense as the first has to do with the awareness of the need for God, the second with the decision to trust in God or trust in Christ, and the third with the acceptance of what one’s lot is in life as a follower of Christ.


  1. What is your motive for worshiping God?
  2. Why is God worthy of our worship?
  3. Why is Satan unworthy of our worship?
  4. Have you been tempted to take revenge on others? How did you handle that temptation?
  5. What should we do with those who have been unjust toward us? Romans 12:19-21 and Matthew 5:43-48.


Luke's Gospel, temptation

The Temptations of Christ, Part 2

March 3rd, 2020

And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. (Luke 4:4 KJV)

The temptations and the responses of Jesus to them are very basic and even fundamental realities of how we each are tempted and how we should respond. They dig down to the bedrock of what it means to be human and what it means to be a creation of God and a believer in Him. They also reveal to us the nature of evil, the evil one, and temptation as a whole.

By “fundamental” I mean that these were not just three random temptations, followed by three good responses, rather than were tests that we all go through and responses that we all must grasp the import of. Alexander Maclaren categorized the three as:

The first temptation is that of the Son of man tempted to distrust God… The second temptation is that of the Messiah, tempted to grasp His dominion by false means… The third temptation tempts the worshipping Son to tempt God.

We will follow his outline in this study.

The temptation to distrust God

As we mentioned yesterday, the temptation came near the end of the forty day fast, but clearly the fast was not fully over. It is malicious in intent and Satan said, “If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:3). In it Satan made the following suggestions:

  • He made the guise of being willing to believe in Christ if He could prove his divine credentials.
  • He made the suggestion that it made no sense for Jesus to be hungry since (or if) He was the Son of God.
  • He appealed to the common human feeling of being misunderstood and disrespected by others, this temptation he will build on later, and Christ could prove it to Himself right then and there by turning stones to bread.
  • He also appealed to His very real physical hunger. (How many of us have cheated on our diets?)

There were stones in the wilderness that had the appearance of bread. They were called “Elijah’s melons” and the temptation came down to one single stone that had been brought to the attention of Christ. “Just this one stone,” is the idea, “you can turn to bread. After all, this is what you need, what you desire, and you have already done so much more than others in this fast of almost forty days.”

All these things were true, of course, and this is the conniving nature of Satan and the deception in his temptations to us — to take the truth and maliciously twist it. But behind these suggestions were the questions of the purpose of life, the nature of mankind, and the nature of their relationship with God. Christ did not argue the point of His hunger, or His divinity, or His power. His response was about the very nature of human life and our relationship to God.

The spiritual side of mankind is much more significant than the physical side. It is a question that philosophers and theologians debate often as to whether it is more correct to say that a human being has a body or is a body, or to say that human being has a soul or is a soul. Of we merely have these things, then they merely accompany our existence and do not necessarily form an essential part of our being.

The biblical answer is found in the creation of mankind, that the body of man was formed out of the dust and “God breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). To what degree the early chapters of Genesis are to be interpreted literally and to what degree figuratively, is another topic of discussion among Bible students. But certainly in the creation of human life the biblical account depicts something much more profound is created than can be represented in the body of mankind alone. The words “living soul” place the greater emphasis on the inner life of conscience and consciousness, and spirit and soul, over the physical body of a human.

The place of the word of God in creation of the world teaches us of God’s power and authority in communication. He spoke the world into existence. And in the imagery of His breathe being breathed into the nostrils of man, is the picture of the Spirit of God that indwells us. Hebrews 4:12 must have these concepts in mind when it says,

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 BSB)

The first concern of each of us should not be for the sustenance of our bodies, but for the feeding and nurturing of our souls and spirits by the Word of God. This is our first need. We do not live by bread alone, and though we need food for the sustaining of our bodily life, one day we will all surrender our bodies to grave. Only the soul and spirit of mankind will be sustained beyond the grave. The scripture promises a new and incorruptible body, but it calls this body “a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), one that is fed and nourished by living in the complete obedience to the Word of God.

This addresses our priorities in life. We spend a considerable amount of time and energy, and money, on our physical bodies. The Bible does tell us that we ought to take care of ourselves physically, to eat right (Daniel 1:7-15), to sleep well (Psalm 127:2), and to exercise (see below). But most important is the soul and spirit. Paul wrote:

By pointing out these things to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of faith and sound instruction that you have followed. But reject irreverent and silly myths. Instead, train yourself for godliness. For physical exercise is of limited value, but godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for the present life and for the one to come. (1 Tim. 4:6-8 BSB)

And Jesus echoed in John’s Gospel these same thoughts when He said: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:16-17).


  1. How much effort have you put into trying to turn stones to bread, or seeking to find your purpose, satisfaction, and identity in the limited things of this world?
  2. We are in this world, but not of this world. What do these words mean?
  3. Where does a Christian draw the line between being a responsible person in our physical and material world, and being a spiritual person as a member of God’s forever family?
  4. How much time and effort do you put into the spiritual development of your life, as compared to the physical and material development?
  5. What are three things you can do right now to strengthen your spiritual life?

Luke's Gospel, temptation