The Temptation of Jesus

Chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel records the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  After his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  He fasts for forty days and then is visited by the devil who tempts him with food, power, and to doubt God’s word.  Jesus is victorious in these temptations over the devil.

Jesus’ temptation is a parallel of the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis.  In fact, Luke 3 and 4 (likewise Matthew 3 and 4) parallel the Genesis account, like two halves of a whole: in Genesis we see the introduction of sin into God’s good creation, and in the Gospels we see the overcoming of this sin through Christ’s person and work.

In Genesis, we see the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  God had created all the world through the power of His Word and then made man and woman and placed them in the Garden of Eden.  God dwelt with them as they lived in His presence, and He allowed them to eat of any tree in the Garden, even the Tree of Life.  He had only forbade them from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was in the midst of the garden, lest they die.  In making this prohibition, God allowed Adam and Eve a way to respond to the grace that He had bestowed on them.  Their response was a response of faith, a faith that trusted that all good things come from God and that He is truthful and reliable.

But, then Satan, that old serpent, entered the scene.  He went up to Eve and asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”  Satan knew the answer to this question, but he asks in such a way that leads Eve’s answer in the direction he wished it to go.  Eve responded, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden” – so far, so good, Eve faithfully recited God’s Word.  But, then she says, “… but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Eve has added something to God’s word here.  She is correct that God had said that her and Adam were not to eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden.  But, God did not say, “neither shall you touch it.”  That is Eve’s own embellishment of God’s Word; that’s her own innovation.  She added to God’s Word to make it seem more powerful, because she felt that His Word was lacking somehow.

Satan has snared her in his trap, for he got her to doubt God’s Word, or at least the efficacy of it, because she thinks she has to interject something of her own into His commands.  Satan wedges that doubt wider by saying, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Satan’s implication is that God is holding out on her; there is something that God is not telling her, and she needs to find out for herself; she needs to become more “spiritual” and try to encounter truth apart from God.

That initial doubt then led to the Fall.  The text says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”  The interesting allusion in this verse is the fact that Adam was there the whole time.  While Satan was tempting Eve to doubt God’s Word, Adam said nothing.

Everything fell apart after they disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree.  “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

We see in these verses the results of their sin.  Prior to this point, man and woman were in perfect communion with God – He walked among them in their presence – and with each other – they lived with each other in nakedness, feeling no shame or embarrassment, for they were truly one flesh in marriage, as God had ordained.

But, now they are estranged from each other and alienated from God.  No longer can they love the Lord their God with their whole heart, soul, and mind or their neighbor as themselves, for a wall of sin has cut them off from God and from each other.  And this wall was erected by their doubt of God’s Word and their disobedience that followed.

So, the Lord tells the woman that because of this sin she will now experience pain in childbirth, and He tells the man that he will have to work the earth in sweat and struggle.  No longer will things be easy, because they have brought evil into the world and caused it to fall from its initial perfection.  They are also alienated from creation itself and from their own bodies, since they will experience bodily death.

But, the Lord also tells Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  God is promising that he will send the seed of the woman to defeat Satan.  This is the first promise of the Savior Christ who is to come, the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15).

And then the Lord clothes Adam and Eve.  He atones for their sin with the blood of this first sacrifice and makes garments for them using the skins of the animal he has killed.  Then, He drives Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in this state of estrangement from each other, from Him, and from creation.  So, they are to await the coming of the promised Savior, the seed of the woman, who would restore the perfection that was present before their fall into sin.

So now we come to the Gospels where we see this seed of the woman, the Son of God, working to restore His creation.  There are a lot of parallels in the Gospels with Genesis.  For instance, John’s Gospel introduces Jesus’ first miracle within the context of the “woman.”  The Virgin Mary, mother of God, and her Son are at a wedding feast in Cana.  This follows the introduction to John’s Gospel, which parallels Genesis 1 and the initial creation.  The wedding in Cana therefore parallels Genesis 3, the temptation.  In John’s Gospel, however, rather than the woman causing man to fall into sin, the woman tells the servants to obey God.  In Genesis, Eve is tempted and causes Adam to sin.  In John, the New Eve (Mary) urges people to listen to and obey the New Adam (Jesus, the incarnate Son of God).  Thus, we see at Cana the undoing, in a sense, of the original temptation.

Likewise in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation.

Following Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judea to be tempted by the devil.  This is a similar flow as in Genesis.  In Genesis, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created and ordered all things in the presence of the created water.  Then, Adam and Eve were tempted.  In the Gospels, Jesus is baptized with water, with the Father speaking and the Holy Spirit descending.  Then, Jesus is tempted.  So, in Jesus’ Baptism we see the beginning of the recreation of all things by the Word in the flesh.  Then, Jesus as the New Adam is led into the wilderness to be tempted, to undergo what Adam and Eve went through.  But, Jesus’ temptation happens not in a garden, but rather in the desert, the complete opposite of a luscious garden, the fulfillment of the curse that Adam brought into this world.

After fasting forty days and nights, Satan comes to him to tempt him.  Jesus is doubtless very hungry, so the first temptation relates to food.  Satan says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  This is similar to the temptation of Satan to Eve.  He lured Eve to look at the fruit of the forbidden tree to see that it was good for food; except that Eve was in the splendor of a lush garden with food all around and had no need to eat from the forbidden tree, but she did it anyway.  Jesus is in a desert after fasting many days and response, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  So, Jesus quotes back the Word of the Lord as found in Deuteronomy 8:3 in response to this temptation.

Then, Satan takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple, which was a high spot on the temple mount that overlooked the temple complex.  And Satan again tempted him by saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you.”  Ah, Satan is starting to get clever.  Since Jesus had quoted Scripture in his earlier response, Satan now tries to quote Scripture to Jesus to tempt him.  This is like what he did to Eve when he said, “Did God really say…?”  Jesus, though, again quotes from Scripture (from Deuteronomy 6:16) by saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  When Eve attempted to quote God’s Word, she added to it, and in the process undermined it.  Jesus, though, quotes directly from God’s Word.

Satan then takes Jesus to a high mountain and gives him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he promises to give these all to Jesus if only he would fall down and worship Satan.  Again, Jesus comes back with the Word of God from Deuteronomy by saying, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  Satan has no right to give God’s creation to anyone, for it is not his to give; he is a thief and a liar.

So in these three temptations of Jesus, we see Jesus succeeding where Adam and Eve failed.  Eve was tempted by food, the food of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – and she and Adam failed.  They were tempted to put the Lord’s Word to the test – the Word He had given to them when he told them that if they ate from the tree they would die – and they failed.  They were tempted to worship something else other than the Lord as their God (themselves and ultimately Satan) – and they failed.  So in all these things they failed to worship the Lord and serve him only.

Jesus, though, succeeds.  He is tempted by food and he is triumphant, even after fasting for forty days.  He is tempted to put the Lord’s Word to the test, and he is triumphant.  And He is tempted to fall down and worship another, and he is triumphant.  And He is triumphant because He is the incarnate Word of God and the perfect Adam.  He refutes the false words of Satan with the true Word of God.

The Scriptures are bound together by the marvelous thread of Christ, much as a book is bound together at the spine.  In Genesis we see creation and fall; in the Gospels we see re-creation and restoration.  Christ was there in the beginning, being the very Word of God through whom all things were created (as John points out in John 1).  Christ is also there in the end, being the incarnate Word through whom creation was redeemed from captivity to sin, death, and the devil and who is returning at the end of the age to complete this restoration.  It helps to see the entire arc of the Scriptures to recognize that just as the world was created by God through His Word in the beginning and ordered by His Spirit, so too is the world being restored and recreated through the Word who became flesh and that a people who have faith in this Word are being ordered together by the Spirit as the Church.  And just as God dwelt directly with His people in a Garden before the Fall, so too will He dwell directly with His people in a Garden after the resurrection, judgment, and final restoration, for this is the image He gives us in Revelation when all things are completed.


(Image: “Gesù, pieno di Spirito Santo, si allontanò dal Giordano e fu condotto dallo Spirito nel deserto dove, per quaranta giorni, fu tentato dal diavolo.”  By Francesca Ferrito – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, )

Aaron Simms is a writer specializing in Christian theology, history, and classical studies.  He is  a member of the American Academy of Religion, the founder of St. Polycarp Publishing House, and a front page contributor for The Resurgent.

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