Question: What was the nature of the three temptations that Jesus faced when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11), and do they apply to His followers?
Answer: The three temptations that Satan presented to Jesus in the wilderness practically illustrate all the temptations that came to Him during His ministry of 3 years. They likewise illustrate all the trials and temptations that come to His consecrated followers. We will consider these three:
Satan’s First Temptation
After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, Jesus’ flesh cried out for nourishment. Seizing upon this opportunity, Satan suggested to Him that, having received the holy spirit, He now possessed the power to perform miracles and that He should use that power to transform the stones into food. Jesus immediately recognized the principle involved and despite His great hunger promptly refused the suggestion, declaring, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4). Jesus recognized that the holy spirit was not to be used for self-gratification, but to enable Him to carry out His consecration, and for Him to use it to heal, restore or strengthen His mortal body would be wrong.
The Lord’s consecrated people are similarly tempted by receiving suggestions that the new relationship with God and the strength which it brings may be used to some extent at least for fleshly advantage – for self-exaltation, in grasping for power and position, to make us shine before others as very honorable and specially favored by God. When Satan tempts us in any manner to acquire earthly blessings and comforts at the sacrifice of the spiritual, we should follow the example of Jesus (1 Peter 2: 21) and put God first.
Satan’s Second Temptation
Satan’s second temptation was for Jesus to serve God in another way than that which God has planned – the misuse of the Divine powers given to Him by endeavoring to use them to accomplish good results in an improper manner. Satan suggested that He could bring Himself and His glorious mission quickly to the attention of all the people by performing an amazing miracle – by leaping from the pinnacle of the Temple into the chasm below and then arising unhurt. He could then explain to the multitude His heavenly mission and awe them to faith. Satan even attempted to support the second temptation with a text of Scripture, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalm 91: 11, 12) (Matthew 4: 6). But Jesus promptly discerned the fallacy of the argument and the misapplication of the Scripture by answering, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4: 7).
Satan presents similar temptations to all of Jesus’ consecrated followers. He would like to have us walk by sight, not by faith. He would like to have us continually tempting God, demanding some visible demonstration of His protection or favor – such as protection from bites of poisonous snakes while handling them, a gift of speaking in tongues or a miraculous physical healing. Satan tempts God’s people with the suggestion to use their spiritual powers and blessings for doing some great work which will appeal to the natural man, and thus secure quick and great success.
Satan’s Third Temptation
Satan then took Jesus to a high mountain – not literally, but mentally. He pictured before Jesus the immensity of his (Satan’s) own power throughout the world, designed to impress upon Jesus’ mind the thought that Satan’s friendship and assistance would be most valuable to the success of His mission. Satan proposed to Jesus a kingdom embracing all the nations of the earth, and that Jesus would have control of all these, and be able to bring in the blessed reforms which were designed by God. The only stipulation was that Satan, a spirit being, should be recognized as having the chief place of influence with mankind. Jesus saw that there was no real reformation at work in Satan’s heart, but that he was still ambitious, self-seeking, as at the beginning of his downward course. Thus His words, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4: 10).
A similar temptation is sure to come to every follower of the Lord from Satan in one form or another. He, through various mouthpieces, is continually saying to Jesus’ followers that there is a more successful way of accomplishing your object than God’s way; that we must compromise with the worldly spirit. We may be tempted to connive with sinful institutions because they have power, and to oppose them would bring opposition. Those who have not learned to love righteousness and to hate iniquity – all who have not come to the point of full submission of their wills to God’s will – are in danger of falling under such a temptation. But those whose hearts are in full unity with God and loyal to the core, as was our Lord’s, will overcome Satan’s temptation and disdain his proffer of assistance on such terms or any terms.