How and why did Satan tempt Christ in the wilderness, and how did Christ overcome him?


It was Satan’s goal from the outset to try to kill Christ physically and spiritually. Satan attempted to have Christ killed as a Child, including through Herod’s mass murder of young boys from two years old and under. If he had succeeded, this would have altered or even defeated God’s plan for a Saviour, but Satan’s attempt was thwarted by God, and Christ was protected as a Child in Egypt. We might even recall that Satan tried to wipe out all the Jews to prevent Christ from being born as a Jew from the tribe of Judah, but through Esther’s and Mordecai’s brave conduct, that plan was thwarted as well.

Later, Satan tried to defeat Christ spiritually, by tempting Him to sin. He knew that just one sin would have disqualified Christ from being our Saviour. After His baptism, Christ fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Satan thought that that was the moment to strike, and that he had the upper hand. He did not realize that God allowed Satan to tempt Christ for the purpose of defeating Satan. After all, it was God the Father’s Spirit which led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted there by Satan.

We read in Matthew 4:1-2: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.”

Satan felt confident that in Christ’s physically weakened state, he could get Him to sin and thus disqualify Him as Saviour of mankind. After Christ had fasted for such an unusually long period of time (the Bible only records that Elijah and Moses fasted that long—Moses even twice), He was very weak physically. But what Satan did not realize was that Christ was now very strong spiritually and extremely close to God. Christ had prepared Himself for Satan’s temptation through fasting, prayer and meditating on God’s Word.

However, Satan thought Christ’s weakened physical state and His hunger were His vulnerable points, and so the devil’s first temptation was to ask Christ to turn stones into bread. Satan reasoned that playing on physical needs and desires would be the best attack against a person who was almost dying of hunger because of such prolonged fasting.

Matthew 4:3-4 continues:  “Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD.”’”

First, Satan tried to appeal to vanity and selfishness, by questioning Christ’s status and position, saying, “IF you are the Son  of God.” He was hoping that Christ would respond by exclaiming, “What do you mean, ‘IF’? I’ll show you who I am,” and that He would then prove the point by turning the stones into bread.

This demonstrates Satan’s tactics. He first questioned the truth and appealed to human nature. He did so in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve to question whether she should really obey God and refrain from eating the forbidden fruit. But where Eve failed, Christ succeeded. There was no vanity or the lust for selfish glory in Christ. How did Christ deflect Satan’s attack?  He used the Word of God by quoting Scripture.

Having been defeated with his first blow, Satan moved on to the next temptation.

Matthew 4:5-7 reports:  “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “HE SHALL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE OVER YOU,” and, ‘IN THEIR HANDS THEY SHALL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU DASH YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “YOU SHALL NOT TEMPT THE LORD YOUR GOD.”’”

Notice Satan’s same tactic with the tempting question, “IF you are the Son of God…”, hoping for a better response than the first time. But now Satan added another element: He also quoted Scripture. However, he quoted the Word of God out of context, and he twisted the meaning. He is still doing the same today for gullible and ignorant people, and he is using his ministers to deceive those who do not understand the truth (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). They will quote Scripture too, but they will twist it and cite it out of context, to mislead people to think that they can continue to sin and disobey God and still inherit eternal life.

But in quoting the Word of God correctly and with the intended meaning, Christ responded to and deflected Satan’s second attack—as we must do today, when confronted by Satan’s ministers, who might be deceived themselves and who are deceiving others (2 Timothy 3:13).

Satan does not give up easily. He is not one to quickly throw in the towel, and so he put it all on the line with his next temptation.

Matthew 4:8-10 tells us:  “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND HIM ONLY YOU SHALL SERVE.”’”

Here is Satan’s real agenda revealed. He wanted Christ to worship him. It is important to understand Satan’s agenda of wanting to be worshipped as God. We read that before the creation of man, Satan attempted to depose and displace God and become (like) the Most High (Isaiah 14:14). He has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) which, unknowingly, worships Satan as the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4; compare Revelation 13:4).

He wanted to be worshipped by Christ, and so he offered Him all the kingdoms of this world and all their glory for the prize of being worshipped. Christ did not dispute Satan’s claim that he and the demons under his command were the rulers of this world (compare Luke 4:6; John 14:30; Ephesians 6:12); He knew that this was so and that this was and is NOT (yet) God’s world—but it will be when God sets up His Kingdom here on earth at the time of Christ’s SECOND coming in power and great glory.

Satan tempted Christ by offering Him there and then all the glory of this world’s kingdoms. In other words, he was telling Christ, you don’t have to go through all that suffering by being rejected, betrayed and beaten, and you don’t have to die by crucifixion, and then have to wait some two thousand years to become the ruler over this world. He told Him: You can have it all now—without pain and suffering. And reading between the lines, he also told Christ in effect: You can change the world now by making this a better place and by converting the minds of people and by bringing peace, happiness and health, destroying all of man’s pain and suffering.

From a human perspective, this would sound appealing for the average person—and even for well-meaning individuals who do want to eradicate the miseries on this planet—but Christ, out of love for God and His Master Plan, turned down Satan’s offer by quoting Scripture once again.

Satan, having used the biggest guns as it were to try to get Christ to fall short of the mark and sin, withdrew from Him for a season or until “an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

Matthew 4:11 concludes: “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

As Jesus was near death because of hunger, the angels undoubtedly brought him food and drink. They also encouraged and congratulated Him for passing this test and defeating Satan’s temptations, as an angel of God would later encourage and strengthen Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His arrest (Luke 22:41-44).

Through fasting and prayer and knowing and being able to quote God’s Word correctly in times of need, Christ was well armed to take on Satan. He had been clothed with the complete armor of God. Satan wants to destroy God’s people today, as He tried to destroy Christ. He is going around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour—physically and spiritually (1 Peter 5:8). We must resist him, as Christ did (verse 9). Christ was protected by God’s armor, and so we need to be as well. This armor is described in this way in Ephesians 6:13-18:

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all fervent prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication…”

Christ utilized the sword of the Word of God to deflect the temptations of Satan. This is a good lesson for us: The more we know our Bibles, the more we are in a position to defeat Satan’s attacks and evil devices.

Satan choose the time, just prior to Christ’s three-and-a-half years of public ministry, because he thought that because of His fasting, Christ was very vulnerable. He miscalculated His odds and while strictly focusing on His physical weakness, he underestimated Christ’s spiritual strength. Christ overcame Satan by using the sword of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit in Him. The encouraging truth is that we can use the same sword and the same Spirit of God to overcome Satan’s temptations, following Christ’s perfect example.

Lead Writers: Rene Messier and Norbert Link

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