The Temptation of Jesus
I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the tory of Jesus’ temptation (our reading today from Luke 4). Intellectually, I think I understand the temptations and why they would be tempting—
- Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread at the suggestion of Satan. After all, he hadn’t eaten in over a month and (Luke assures us) he was hungry. But he was fasting, and he wasn’t going to break his fast because Satan suggested it.
- Jesus is tempted to bypass the cross and go straight to the throne of the world. I imagine that Satan can offer the kingdoms of the world because he controls those who control them, but Jesus isn’t going to worship Satan, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
- Jesus is tempted jump off the Temple and have God preserve him, thus showing to all in a dramatic way that he is the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t fall for that—he’s going to do more dramatic miracles (like raising the dead) and people still won’t acknowledge his identity.
I get the temptations. I see how they would be tempting to Jesus. What I don’t get is how Luke presents this confrontation—and I’m not talking about the fact that he has them in different order than does Matthew. What bothers me is the complete lack of drama in the story. We would assume this would be a clash of titans as the Holy One and Evil one go at it toe to toe. But there is no drama-- Satan tempts and Jesus resists. There is no struggle to do the right thing; there is no pause or consideration of the wrong thing. Jesus simply says, “No” and Satan moves on. Later, Luke presents Jesus agonizing in Gethsemane as he faces the coming cross. But there is no struggle here, no pause to consider—Jesus resists and Satan leaves. End of story.
Did Jesus really have such an easy time resisting temptation? Did he never have to count to 10 before making the right choice? Did he ever chuckle to himself while he waiting for his temper to cool so he could say or do what he should rather than what he wanted? Did Jesus ever seriously WANT to do the wrong thing before he does the right thing?
Luke specifically says that Jesus was “tempted” by the devil. This is the same word used when the Pharisees try to “test” or trap Jesus (Matt 16:1, Matt 19:3, Matt 22:18). It is the word the Hebrews writer uses when he says Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15). It’s the word used by Paul when we feared for the Thessalonians that “the tempter might have tempted you” (1 Thess 3:5). Not only was Jesus was really tempted in the wilderness, we should not think that these were the only temptations there. Luke says, “where for forty days he endured temptations” (Lk 4:2, NET). The NET footnote explains, “Here the present participle suggests a period of forty days of testing. Three samples of the end of the testing are given in the following verses.” Satan didn’t just take three wimpy shots at Jesus and then gave up. These represent only three of the temptations in the desert.
The very next story in Luke is Jesus going home to preach for the first time in his hometown, only to be rejected to the point where they tried to kill him! Satan doesn’t show up in person anymore in Luke story until the temptation of Jesus (Lk 22:3), but Jesus constantly deals with his temptations. And he never sins. Not once. And not even his bitterest enemy can accuse him of sin (see John 8:46), Perhaps this is His greatest "miracle" of all!