What is the Specific Significance of the Three Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness?


Why are ALL Christian Denominations
Now Worshiping Idols?

  Lorraine Day, M.D

In order to save the world, Jesus Christ must succeed where both Adam – and Israel – failed.  The spirit of God led Jesus into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights (Matt 4:2) in order for Him to go through what Israel had experienced in the wilderness throughout 40 years.

The evidence for this conclusion is provided by Jesus’ response to the first temptation.  When Satan demanded that Jesus prove His divine sonship by turning stones into bread, since He was hungry (Matt 4:4)

 The First Temptation

Satan came to tempt Jesus after Christ had fasted forty days and forty nights and was hungry.

“And when the tempter came to Him, He said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”  Matt 4:3

Jesus replied:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Matt 4:4 (a quote from Deut 8:3)

In quoting from Deut 8, Jesus was referring back to Israel’s wilderness experience.

“All the commandments that I am commanding you today, you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your forefathers.

“You shall remember all the ways that the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

“And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna that you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.

“Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your feet swell these forty years.

‘”Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.

“Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.”  Deut 8:1-6

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8 in order to point to the similarity between His experience and Israel’s.  Israel failed.  Jesus, in taking Israel’s place, succeeded.

Also, the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on which the whole human race was plunged into sin, was concerning appetite.  Thus, Jesus had to win the human race back by succeeding where Adam – and Israel - had failed.

The sin of appetite was much more than Adam and Eve just being hungry.  Satan had tempted them to doubt God’s word.  God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden tree, they would die.  But Satan contradicted God.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, (If you eat of this tree) Ye shall not surely die.”  Genesis 3:4

Satan had also tempted them to believe that they could become their own god.

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall become as gods. . .”  Genesis 3:5

After escaping the bondage of Egypt, the Israelites refused to trust God for their daily bread.

In the wilderness, Satan was tempting Jesus to take care of His own needs, to provide His own food miraculously because He was hungry rather than allowing God to supply Christ’s needs in God’s own time and in God’s own way.  Satan was tempting Christ to doubt His Father’s sufficiency just like Adam – and the Israelites – doubted God’s sufficiency.


The Nature of this Temptation

The sin of lust is defined as wanting what you want when you want it.  Jesus had not eaten in forty days and, naturally, He was very hungry.  The temptation was one of lust.  Satan tempted Jesus to get what He wanted when He wanted it – rather than waiting for His Father to give Him food.  (When the time was right, God sent the angels to feed Jesus.)

Lust means you can’t wait.  Lust is immaturity.

Lust is not always, or even necessarily, sexual.  Lust includes a drive for fame or fortune to the exclusion of the more important aspects of life.  Lust includes living beyond one’s means, wanting what you want when you can’t afford it.

Lust means wanting to live your own way rather than trusting God - and living God’s way, accepting that God’s way is better even when you don’t understand the goal God has in mind.

In the First Temptation, Satan was tempting Jesus to, 1) doubt He was the Son of God, 2) to distrust His Father’s promise to “supply all His needs,” 3) to lust for something that He wanted before God was willing to give it to Him and in doing so, to become His own “God.”

Adam and Eve – and the Israelites – failed on the sin of life’s necessities, specifically appetite.  Jesus succeeded where they failed.  And He made very clear that spiritual food – devouring God’s Word – is just as important to life as is physical food

The Second Temptation

(The temptation listed as the second in Matthew, Chapter 4, is listed as the third temptation in Luke, Chapter 4.)

“Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple,

“And saith unto Him, If thou be the son of God cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee; and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy food against a stone.

“Jesus said unto Him, It is written again, Thou shalt not test the Lord thy God.”  Matt 4:5-7 (quoted from Psalm 91 and Deut 6:16)

Jesus’ response was a biblical one:

“It is written, You shall not force a test on the Lord, your God.”  (Luke 4:12; Matt 4:7)

Again, Satan attempts to put doubt in the heart of Jesus that He really is the son of God.

Secondly, this temptation is one of trying to control and manipulate God.  Satan tempted Jesus to jump in order to force God into protecting Him.  Jesus would put Himself in unnecessary danger to manipulate God into saving Him from destruction.

The Bible tells us that God is sovereign, God is in charge – and we are not.  We cannot manipulate or control God.  God controls us.

God is “operating all things according to the counsel of His Own Will” - NOT ours.  (Eph 1:11)

Jesus didn’t have to jump to prove His trust in the Father; He demonstrated it by trusting in God’s word.

How many times do Christians test the Lord by saying, “Lord, if you do so and so for me, then I’ll know that you love me.”

Patients with cancer and other serious diseases often say, “Well, I’ll try God’s Health Plan for awhile, to see if it works,” apparently to see if God really means what He says when He promises to “heal ALL our diseases” (Psalm 103:3) “If we follow His laws, commandments and decrees.”  (Deut 7:11-15)

Instead, if a Christian truly believes God as he says he does, he will follow God’s Health Plan with 100% commitment, permanently, never questioning or doubting the ultimate outcome.  The true Christian believes that God will do what He has already promised to do – whether it is to “heal ALL our diseases” in Psalm 103:3  (if we follow His laws, commandments and decrees - Deut 7:11-15) or to “supply ALL our needs” (Phil 4:19), or to “save us” (1 Tim 4:19).

Unfortunately, the Bible translators have routinely mistranslated the original word expectation as the word hope.  The word expectation implies absolute certainty, where as the word hope implies uncertainty, such as, “I hope God will do such and such.”  But God’s word is sure.  If God promises to do something (heal us – if we follow His ways, supply our needs, or save us), we can expect (not hope) that it will happen.

With hope only, rather than absolute expectation that God will do what He has already promised to do, it would be impossible to have faith.

The Nature of this Temptation

Satan was seeking to disqualify Jesus as the Messiah.  Had Christ “put God to the test,” He would have sinned, thereby disqualifying Him to serve as the Messiah.

Satan was seeking to put doubt and unbelief into the mind of Christ.  If He had jumped, He would reveal that He doubted God and thus found it necessary to test God’s love and care.

Satan was tempting Christ to try to manipulate God – to save Jesus unnecessarily – almost to perform a trick, or magic.  This is the sin of presumption.  Often Christians say about a particular problem, “Well, it’s in God’s hands” yet they have not spent the time and energy to do what needs to be done so the outcome will be appropriate.  Somehow they think God will work it out for them without them having to do anything.

Others take unnecessary risks, such as extremely hazardous hobbies, including racing cars at over a hundred miles per hour, or extreme sports that put the person’s life in danger with the remark, “Well, if it’s my time to go, then I can’t do anything about it.”  That is the sin of presumption – purposely putting oneself in harm’s way with the response, “Whatever will be, will be.” 

More and more, parents are allowing their children to take extreme risks, for example, a 14 or 15 year old girl sailing around the world alone, or a child participating in the high speeds and dangerous tricks of motocross racing, or any other type of extreme sport that has a significant chance of causing death or serious maiming of the child.  That does not conform to God’s ideal of parenting.

(I am not speaking of regular recreational sports such as baseball, basketball, skiing, skateboarding, etc.)

Living recklessly, whether financially recklessly or physically recklessly, puts God to the test, and becomes the sin of presumption.  We want God to save us from ourselves.  But He will not do it.  We will have to reap what we have sown.

Jesus’ answer to Satan, “Thou shalt not tempt (or force a test) on the Lord, thy God” was a quote from Deut 6:16 which referred to the test at Massah.

“You shall not test the Lord your God, as you tested Him in Massah.”  Deut 6:16

If we want to understand what it means to “put God to the test” we must learn how Israel put God to the test there.  The account of this is found in the 17th Chapter of the book of Exodus.

“Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.

“Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?

“But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 

“So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they will stone me.’

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go, Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’

“And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

“And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying “Is the Lord among us, or not?”  (Exodus 17:1-7) 

The word Massah means testing, whereas Meribah means quarrel, provocation, strife.  In Hebrews, God refers to Israel’s time in the wilderness as the rebellion or provocation.  Obviously, God was not happy with Israel’s attitude.

And when God talks, in Hebrews 3:7-11, about whether Christians will be able to enter into God’s Sabbath Rest, He says:

“Wherefore, as the Holy Spirit (God’s breath of holiness) saith, Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation (rebellion) in the day of testing in the wilderness;

“When your fathers (ancestors) tested Me, and proved Me, and saw My works forty years.

“Wherefore I was angry with that generation (group), and said: They do always go astray in their heart; and they have not known My ways.

“So I sware in My wrath (letting them reap what they have sown), they shall not enter in to My rest.”

“The Israelites tested God because they felt God was failing to meet their needs and to fulfill His promise.

“The Israelites put God to the test when they realized that God’s purposes and leading brought them into adversity, rather than ease and comfort.

“The Israelites put God to the test by resisting God’s leadership

“The Israelites put God to the test by insisting that God perform according to their expectations and demands.” The Temptation of Jesus, Part III, Bob Deffinbaugh, Bible.org

Putting God to the test is often the result of our own impatience, of wanting now what God will give us later.  Such impatience demands that God ‘hurry’ what He is doing.

“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, ‘Let God hurry,’ let Him hasten His work so that we may see it.  Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.”  Isaiah 5:18-19

It is often in times of adversity that our tendency to put God to the test becomes evident.  We may very well place conditions on God, things that He must do for us in order for us to acknowledge that He is present with us, and for us to worship Him.

Following God and His Word can lead us into danger as it did for Daniel (in the lions’ den) and his three friends (in the fiery furnace).  But faith is not foolishness attributed to trusting God, it is trusting God and forsaking folly.

The Third Temptation

“Again the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them:

“And saith unto Him, All these will I give Thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship Me.

“Then saith Jesus unto him, Away with you, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”  Matt 4:8-10

Satan was tempting Christ to “save the world” in an easier, far less humiliating way than death on a cross.  Satan was offering the Lord a “Quick Fix.”  If Jesus would just bow down to Satan He would not have to go through the severe beating and blood loss, the crown of thorns on His head, being nailed to the cross as a common criminal, being ridiculed and abused by the Roman soldiers, or the derision and mockery of the crowd.  Jesus would not have to die!

But the price for Christ would be - to sell His soul to the devil – and lose the authority to save the world.  It would appear to be a benefit for the short term, but in the long term it would be a complete failure.

This is the same temptation that Satan uses with many Christians today who believe in the Secret Rapture.  Their pastors tell them they won’t have to die for Christ, or even suffer persecution.  The Secret Rapture will save them from all that.  And when those left on earth are suffering terribly, those who have been “raptured” will be up in heaven having a party.

“Worshiping the Lord our God, and serving Him only” is as difficult in our day as it was for the Israelites at the time of Christ.  But Satan’s cleverness and subtlety change with each generation and era.  Now, Satan rarely tempts Protestant Christians to worship actual idols made of stone or metal as the Israelites did in the wilderness with the golden calf.

In the wilderness, when Moses was on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments and other instructions for worship, the Israelites became impatient.

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him,

“Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”   Exodus 32:1.

So Aaron told them to bring their gold earrings and other jewelry and he fashioned it with an engraving tool and made a molded calf.  Then they said,

“This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  Exodus 32:4

Why was the golden idol made in the form of a calf?

The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years.  “The Egyptian Apis and the Phoenician Baal were both pictured as bulls, a common representation among many peoples of that day for fertility and strength.  And Idolatry was accompanied by sensual, lewd dances that formed a part of the fertility cult”  (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) probably much like the lewd “rap music” and lewd dances that are so plentiful today.

The Israelites had left Egypt, but Egypt had not left their hearts.  “The Egyptians had a bewildering conglomeration of deities.  It is impossible to list all the gods sacred to this people.  Every aspect of nature, every object looked at, animate as well as inanimate, was viewed as indwelt by a spirit that could select its own form, occupying the body of a cow, a crocodile, a fish, a human being, a tree, a hawk, etc.  In their hieroglyphic inscriptions and their tomb paintings ancient Egyptian artists have left impressions of literally thousands of deities.  The Pyramid Texts mention some 200.  The Book of the Dead catalogs 120.”  (Unger’s Bible Dictionary)

“Because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God . . . and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible MAN (other human beings – like doctors and pastors and counselors), and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”  Romans 1:21,23

How does the Bible define an idol?

“Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” Isa 2:8

An idol is work of one’s own hands.  Anything in this life that takes our central interest away from God - is a god.  What people spend their lives doing can be their god.  Money can be a god.  Sex and pleasure can be a god.  Fame and success can be a god.  Self-defense is a god, because God has promised to take care of us.  When we decide we will be responsible for our own safety, we no longer leave it to God – and we become our own god.

God promises to “heal all our diseases” (Psalm 103:3) but only if we “follow His laws, commandments and decrees.”  (Deut 7:11-15)  Therefore, trusting a doctor for treatment of a disease and following the doctor’s ways rather than trusting God and following HIS natural ways means one has replaced the God of heaven with a human being.  The doctor has become a god.

Virtually all Christian denominations support war.  God says “Thou shalt not kill.”  Killing our enemies is premeditated murder – corporate murder.  It is no different from individual murder.  Christians have made their own rules.  They have become their own god.

God has promised to be our teacher and our Savior.  Many Christians make the pastor – or the church - into a god.  They develop a relationship with the “church” rather than a relationship with God.

Protestant Christians often cast aspersions on the Catholic church for worshiping physical idols, but the Protestant Christians have developed their own system of (spiritual) idol worship – the worship of fame, success, money, sex, pleasure, self-defense, the doctor, the pastor, the church – they have all become idols!

Satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Away with you, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”  Matt 4:8-10

The response of Jesus at that time is just as accurate today,

“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”

Unfortunately, Satan’s temptations now are so subtle they have fooled nearly everyone in the Christian church today.  Protestant Christians do not understand they are worshiping “idols” just because their idols are not made of stone or wood.  Just as today’s Catholics - and the pagans of Old and New Testament times - have worshiped physical idols, the Protestant Christians worship spiritual idols.

Either way, these idols have replaced the God of heaven in their life.