By Sarah Morrison
Former Staff Writer for The Daily Grace Co.
One of the many fascinating stories in the Gospels is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Told in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we read that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. While in the wilderness, Jesus fasted, having an encounter with the devil who sought to provoke and tempt Him, but Christ in His sinlessness doesn’t indulge. This account is a perfect example of Him as our great sympathizer, tempted in every way that we are yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Then Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” But Jesus answered him, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone”.Luke 4:1-4
There’s much to say about this story, but one thing that always strikes me is this: the devil knows Scripture, and he knows it well. Not only that, but he knows it well enough to twist it. He knows it well enough to change it, slightly, and urge us to latch on. Frankly, the devil knows the Bible better than we do. He has been a student of it for thousands of years, and he forges the sharp sword of Scripture that discerns truth into a grenade that explodes lies and cuts and kills those near to it.
In this first of three temptations recorded in Luke 4, the devil tries to get Jesus to eat, breaking His fast. Jesus’ response is a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus knows that He is supernaturally being sustained by God during this forty-day fast, reminiscent of the story of Moses in Exodus 34 when he didn’t eat or drink for forty days while on Mt. Sinai with the Lord. God sustained Moses during that time, and He is supporting Jesus, too. This time spent without food testifies of the bigness of God—that He is all-powerful, all-sustaining, and He fulfills our every need. The devil tried to rob that.
So he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment. The devil said to him, “I will give you their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If you, then, will worship me, all will be yours.” And Jesus answered him “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.Luke 4:5-8
With the second temptation, the devil then tries to convince Jesus to forsake His divinity and His exalted position. Asking Jesus to worship him, the devil appeals to Jesus’ humble state. Knowing that Christ had humbled Himself in becoming flesh, the devil tries to exalt himself over Christ and exert authority that was not eternally his. Jesus’ response? He quotes directly from Scripture. Reciting Deuteronomy again, this time from chapter 6, He pledges His allegiance both to God and to His Word. Though the devil sought to exalt himself as a god, Jesus knew what Scripture says about the one, true God.
So he took him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: He will give his angels orders concerning you, to protect you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus answered him, “It is said: Do not test the Lord your God.” After the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.Luke 4:9-13
The final temptation that we see is the devil questioning Jesus’ divinity. If He is the Son of God, then He will surely prove it, right? If Jesus were God in the flesh, then He would certainly not be opposed to demonstrating this fact. What’s more—the devil knew what Psalm 91 had to say about the protection of the Most High. And the Son of God couldn’t deny that, right? Jesus’ response is simple: Do not test God. Jesus knew how to respond because He knew the Scriptures well.
In the first temptation, Jesus is asked to display His divinity through the miracle of turning stones to bread and to break the fast He had committed to. The second temptation asks Jesus to bow down to someone unworthy and unholy. The third temptation asks Jesus to prove that the Word of God is true. Two of the three ways that Jesus was tempted, the devil uses Scripture to substantiate his requests. And every time Jesus is tempted, He responds with Scripture.
If some of these elements sound a bit familiar to you, they should. In Genesis 3 there is nearly an identical tactic used by the Serpent to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent first gets Eve to question the Word of God, then entices her that rebellion against God would make her “like God,” and then she takes and eats of the fruit God had forbidden. The serpent planted doubt within Eve; he caused her to question if God was hiding something from her—did she have the full revelation of God? Or was He trying to withhold some sort of goodness from her? These tactics have been used from the beginning. Adam and Eve failed the temptation, but Jesus prevailed. Adam and Eve questioned God’s Word, but Jesus relied on it. Jesus proved that the fall was preventable through reliance on and trust in God’s Word.
The devil wasn’t merely tempting Jesus to eat. He wasn’t only asking for Jesus to prove Himself. He was asking Jesus to question the deity and trustworthiness of God. He was asking Jesus to forsake His own identity as the Son of God to become exalted by earthly metrics. He attempted to skew Scripture, sow doubt, and reap destruction. The devil was asking Jesus to forsake the only thing that can be trusted.
How did the devil accomplish this with Adam and Eve and not with Jesus? Because Jesus responded to the lies and temptations of the devil with God’s Word. Jesus answered to the twisting of Scripture that the devil attempted by reciting what He knew to be infallible and accurate and trustworthy. Jesus knew that God’s Word couldn’t contradict itself, and He trusted what came from God’s mouth instead of what came from the devil’s.
The importance of knowing our Bibles cannot be overstated. Jesus is our great sympathizer, having navigated through temptation sinlessly, and we ought to follow in His footsteps. The only way that we can sufficiently fight back against temptation is through knowing Scripture better and trusting in its truthfulness. Knowing just pieces of the Bible won’t cut it. Knowing only paraphrases won’t do. To flee temptation, we need to pore over the Scriptures, feasting on every letter. We need to rely on it entirely. We need to recognize its sufficiency in our lives. We need to know it. We need it. We need it.