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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Temptation of Jesus

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Satan's attempts at the beginning of Jesus' ministry to divert Jesus from God's way of accomplishing His mission (Matthew 4:1 ; Mark 1:12 ; Luke 4:3 ).

Mark (Luke 1:13-14 ) recorded that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where He remained 40 days, was tempted by Satan, was with the wild beasts, and was ministered to by angels. This reinforces the Old Testament ideas that the wilderness, the place of wild beasts, was the appropriate place for sin (Leviticus 16:1 ) and that when one was in distress in the desert, the angels of God ministered to the afflicted.

Matthew (Leviticus 4:1-11 ) spoke of the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The temptation was preceded by a fast of 40 days and 40 nights. Then Jesus was hungry. Before the first two temptations, the tempter mocked Jesus with the insinuating phrase “If you are the Son of God.” The Greek also permits the translation, “Since you are the Son of God.”

The first temptation was to turn into bread the flat stones of the desert, which looked much like the flat round loaves of Middle Eastern bread. Jesus replied in the words of Deuteronomy 8:3 that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (NIV).

Matthew's setting for the second form of Jesus' temptation is the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem where Jesus was challenged to jump off. The dare was accompanied by the quotation of Psalm 91:11-12 that God's angels will rescue and bear up God's anointed. The Rabbis taught that there was a specific pinnacle of the Temple where the Messiah would suddenly appear and jump off, floating down to earth sustained by angels. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 that one should not tempt “the Lord your God.”

Matthew's third setting for Jesus' temptation was a high mountain from which worldly kingdoms could be seen. The taunt is missing, but Satan promised to deliver the kingdoms of this world to Jesus. Jesus concluded this temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 and by commanding Satan to leave. The devil left, and angels ministered to Jesus.

The force of the temptation experiences in Matthew is to be a bread messiah, a spectacular messiah, and a compromising messiah. Jesus was to be faced with these challenges all through His ministry and to the end of His life. When Jesus refused to continue to be a bread messiah, the crowds left Him (John 6:25-68 ). When Jesus came to the Temple, it was not to perform miracles but to cleanse it (Matthew 21:12-17 ). When the people came to make Him king, He eluded them, choosing instead to be exalted (“lifted up” in Greek) on the cross.

In Luke the second setting of the temptation is the high mountain, and the third is the Temple. This difference in arrangement may reflect Luke's Gentile/cosmopolitan interests to put the kingdoms of all people second. Luke's final phrase is that the devil left Jesus “for a time” or until an opportune time for further temptation. There is no account of the wilderness temptation in John. In the Fourth Gospel the temptation seems to be the confrontation with the religious authorities and His critics (see John 7-8 ) In John the devil comes to Jesus through the treachery of Judas, His friend and follower (John 6:71 ; John 13:27 ). The culmination of Jesus' temptation in John's Gospel occurs where Jesus sought release from His suffering (John 17:1 ). Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was thoroughly and completely tempted. The evil one has nothing in which to find Him guilty ( John 14:30 ).

The major temptation of Jesus was to do God's will the devil's way. The great purpose of Jesus was to follow the will of God. The evil one sought to have Jesus be a Messiah some other way than the way of suffering God had appointed. Jesus did not yield to this great temptation, nor did He yield to temptation at any point.

Orthodox Christology insists that Jesus was sinless. Later theologians had trouble in reconciling the reality of Jesus' divinity with the possibility of being able to sin and the reality of Jesus' humanity with His not having sinned. Was He able to sin or not able to sin. The New Testament does not answer these questions posed by the latter “two-natures-in-one-person” theory. The New Testament affirms both that He was tempted, but He did not sin; that He was divine and that He also was thoroughly human. See Devil ; Jesus, Life and Ministry of .

William L. Hendricks


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Temptation of Jesus'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/t/temptation-of-jesus.html. 1991.


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