“…Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil …” – Matthew 4:1

 The primary purpose of the temptation narrative is to establish tangible proof to God’s people that the Messiah is in every respect entirely approved and endorsed by none other than Almighty God Himself.

More often than not, automotive companies “test” their products on harsh proving grounds as a statement of reliability rather than a test run.

Ford's Arizona Proving Ground

They're "tested" for the public's benefit

The temptations of Christ truly need to be viewed as a validation rather than a testing experience in order to understand what is really going on in these passages. Automotive companies “test” their products on harsh proving grounds as a marketing statement of reliability rather than as a probationary test run. From the consumer’s perspective the product is sent to the proving ground to determine if it will hold up under adverse conditions; the reality of the situation is that the product has been tested already and the vehicle is put “on trial” for marketing purposes so that the consumer can see the inevitable success and completion of the “test” occur.  Like all analogies this comparison has difficulties, falling short of describing the spiritual realities of the situation, but in order to prove a point we say in like manner the Lord was sent to the wilderness as a demonstration rather than an experiment.

Satan is defeated

It was Satan who was on trial.

The Lord Jesus Christ’s temptation was in reality the reverse of Adam’s and our own temptations; the devil goes out to tempt people, but in Jesus’s case the Lord went out boldly to confront the devil head on and in person. Jesus was brought into the wilderness by the Spirit in order to be “tempted” by the devil (Matt. 4:1).

Note that the Greek word, “tempted,” we have in our English Bibles is πειράζω (= to make proof of). The same word is found in Revelation 2:10 where in English it is translated as “tested.” Here the church of Smyrna is instructed to be faithful, not to be afraid in their sufferings under the tribulations imposed upon them by the devil.  Satan’s goal as the tempter and accuser and a slanderer is to entangle a person in sin so as to show them unapproved (Rev. 12:9).

Testing can reveal the true character of a man and is offered as a testimony to others who (or Who) he (or He) really is. Christ went out by the Spirit’s leading to bring about judgment against The Accuser, declaring Satan a defeated creature.

It is the devil who is genuinely on trial here, not the Son of God.

All this is to say that Jesus’s temptation is really not a investigation into His reliability as we humanly understand it. Instead it is a rigid proof test for the benefit of humanity to display the Lord Jesus Christ’s power over the satanic forces of evil. 

But some may disagree stating that the Bible declares that Jesus came to earth to “sympathize with our weakness” (Heb. 4:15). The Scriptures state that the purpose of our Lord’s coming from heaven and taking on our human nature was to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10), to reveal the Father (John 1:19, 14:8,9), to do the will of Him who sent [Him] … that of all that He has given [Him — He loses none], but raises [them] up on the last day (John 6:38f). Additionally, the book of Hebrews does point us to one of the great encouragements that belong to believers in Christ. We now may know that our great High Priest in heaven does have a perfect understanding of our weaknesses and temptations (4:15, cf. 5:7-10). The Lord Who stands in the place His redeemed people also stands in their place in temptation. Furthermore, we can learn from Him regarding the methods to combat the forces of evil. When God the Son became flesh and blood, His understanding became like ours in addition to what it was before; that is, He now understood from human experience, from “inside” our human nature. The temptations of Christ, in and of itself, are not presented as a purpose of His coming in our nature, but as a blessing.

Jesus is the Son of the Living God. All authority has been given unto Him, but Satan does not recognize this authority. God thus uses the wilderness temptations as a means to display His Son’s power over the devil. Here we learn that Satan is, in fact, subservient to whatever purpose God wishes to happen in the providential arranging of all things, including Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Jesus is declared as the Son of God in His baptism, and the temptation narratives are tangible proof of His authority and right to this title.

It is important to again re-emphasize the timing, that is the temptation of Christ occurred immediately following His baptism. Immediately after the heavens were opened to Him following His baptism and that He is declared the Son of God, the next news we hear of Him is that He is tempted.  Satan views this as a temptation, but we see these “temptations” as really a validation from God’s point of view. Jesus is formally declared by a voice from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The Scriptures link the baptism of Jesus to His temptation. What follows as a formal proclamation of God the Father endorsing His Son in the wilderness “proving ground” whereas the baptismal declaration becomes a concrete, actual, and real. Jesus is the Anointed One, The Messiah. His baptism was accompanied by a proclamation from heaven in which He was offered to us by God the Father as our Mediator. Jesus as Man is the representative of the redeemed human race Who, as the eternal Son of God, obtained the right for believing Christians to be called adopted sons of God, too so that He we can name God as our Father (Eph. 4:4-6).

Several aspects should be considered when studying the temptation passages. First, at His baptism Jesus of Nazareth is officially declared as the Son of God initially to the Jewish nation and later to the whole world (Psalm 2:7-9; Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Heb. 1:1-14).

Second, He is the perfect sacrifice, being unblemished by original sin (Matt. 1:20. 22-35; Luke 1:34; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:14). Yet He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16)

Third, Jesus was and is without reservation committed to the work of redeeming the people the Father had given Him (Matt. 1:21; John 6:35-40; John 10:11-29; Gal. 1:3-4; Tit. 2:14).

And, fourth, the Word of God is a weapon to be used forcefully against the dark powers of evil (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 2:16).

Believers need not fear the devil and his accusations.  Jesus has redeemed us and still to this day stands in our place regardless of Satan’s plans to destroy us and weaken our faith.

In these temptations in the wilderness and in the various temptations that faced Jesus through the thirty-three years of His earthly life, He obeyed God in our place and as our representative was successful where Adam had failed, where the people of Israel had failed, and where we fail (Rom. 5:18-19).

As difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, Scripture affirms that in these temptations Jesus gained an ability to understand and help us in our own temptations. In His human nature He learned obedience through what He suffered (Luke 2:52; Heb.5:8). Because He Himself has suffered and been tempted Jesus is able to help those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18). This has a practical application for believers: in every situation in which we are struggling with temptation we should reflect on the life of Christ and ask if there is a similar situation that He faced. Usually we are able to think of some instances in the life of Christ where He faced temptations that, though not the same in every detail, were very similar in the situations we face every day.

This section is a great proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. I wish space would allow me the opportunity to write more.

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  1. Michael Babcock May 3, 2010 at 7:03 AM #

    Excellent commentary! I really enjoyed it.

    I think it is important to see that following His baptism, Jesus was taken out into the wilderness in order to be validated as the Son of God, as you pointed out. I go back and think of the opening chapter of Job where God asks Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” God threw down the gauntlet in order to defeat Satan at his own game. A very similar thing happening with Jesus. Jesus stands as God’s champion, and as such we are blessed because Jesus learns how to sympathize with us and that His obedience in suffering leads to our justification.

    Again, a most helpful and beneficial article! Thanks for sharing it.


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