February 6, 2019

The Temptations of Jesus

Overcoming temptations is a lifelong pursuit and can often seem more than we can handle. Understanding the story of the temptation of Jesus and how the Savior overcame Satan can be a powerful formula for our own daily struggle against evil.

After Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Savior knew His mission was about to begin and that He would need His Father’s guidance more than ever. Anticipating the difficulties that lay ahead, He went into the barren wilderness near the Jordan River and fasted for forty days. Here in the desolate mountains, with no concern of his own daily physical sustenance, the Savior focused instead on His spiritual need to be nurtured and strengthened by God.

After the spiritual outpouring that He must have had as He communed with His Father, Satan came desiring to tempt Him in His moment of greatest physical weakness. Each of the three temptations teach us about some of the most powerful tactics of Satan, but more importantly, how we can overcome evil by following the Savior’s example.

The first temptation of Satan was asking the Savior to turn stones into bread that He might eat, satisfying his own personal hunger and appetite. The Savior in turn, to combat the tempter, quoted scripture stating, “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) In other words, the first thing that Jesus does to fight Satan is quote scripture, and not just any scripture, He quotes from Deuteronomy, part of the Law of Moses. This passage refers to the Lord’s message to the people just before they entered the Promised Land. For forty years they had feasted on manna from heaven, but now they would need to labor for their own food. The Lord, desiring to teach them a spiritual lesson, taught that though they did live on bread in the wilderness, ultimately eternal life comes by obeying and feasting on the word of God (see 2 Nephi 32:3).

It was not that Jesus would not eat, or that Jesus could not perform the miracle, it was that He came into the wilderness to hear the word of God and commune with His Father, not to give in to an easy way to appease His appetites. Ironically, at a later time Jesus would actually miraculously produce bread, feeding the multitudes on several occasions, but these later miracles were to bless others, not to satisfy his own desires.

Satan next took Jesus to a high mountain where He showed the Savior the kingdoms of the earth and promised Him power and glory over the nations, if He would just worship him. Once again, the Lord quotes from the Law, in the book of Deuteronomy stating: “it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8 quoting Deuteronomy 6:13). Satan here seems to be appealing to the human desire to have power and dominion, but in an easy, simple way. A shortcut so to speak. Again, the Savior would at some point have all glory and power, but not through a simple act of worship, but through great adversity, pain and suffering.

Satan, seeing that He had not succeeded up to this point, finally takes the Savior to the beautiful city of Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple, tempting him to cast himself down to be miraculously saved. As part of this last temptation, Satan, apparently wanting to imitate the Savior, likewise quoted from scripture. Interestingly though, Satan only quotes from Psalms (see Psalms 91:11-12), seeming to show his lack of understanding of the far greater power of the books of the Law. [1]

The pinnacle of the temple, where Satan takes the Savior, most likely refers to the south western side of the temple mount. From this location the temple priests would blow the shofar to announce the coming of the Sabbath and the beginning of the Jewish Festivals. It also overlooked a very busy intersection with many shops almost 140 feet below. This was a place to announce things, and in particular, religious announcements. Thus, Jesus casting himself down to the busy street below and then being carried up by the angels would be a fitting location to easily announce His Messiahship. Again the focus is on the easy way out for receiving glory. Interestingly, the actual stone from which the temple priests would blow their trumpets, was found in 1969 just below the pinnacle where it had fallen. Also several shops from the time period of Jesus and the street below have likewise been excavated, giving us a glimpse into the view the people would have had if the Savior had given in to this temptation. [2]

To once again overcome Satan, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy for a third time stating, “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Luke 4:12 quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). After seeing that he could not tempt the Savior, Satan left the Lord.

From these three temptations we learn that Satan will often come to us after powerful spiritual experiences and in our moments of greatest weakness. He also seeks to allure us by appealing to our physical appetites and our desire to easily gain power and glory. Each of these things in and of themselves are not necessarily evil, but when we are not willing to go through trials and hard work, we will never truly gain the blessing of life eternal.

We also learn that the main key for Jesus to oppose Satan was by quoting scripture. This not only implies that from a young age Jesus studied and knew the scriptures, but He had internalized them making them a part of His daily life. He knew them well enough to know exactly what verse He needed in the very moment of testing!

Perhaps the most powerful lesson is that in the end Jesus does do each of these three things, not for His own selfish purposes, but instead to bless the lives of others. Jesus does miraculously produce bread and is called the true bread of life, which if we partake of, we will gain eternal life. At His Second Coming the Savior will gain all power and glory over all the kingdoms of the earth but only after great tribulation and struggle, and then to give it all to us allowing us to inherit all things that the Father hath. And lastly, as we all experience our own daily and lifelong struggles, the Savior through ministering angels and the power of His atonement will lift us up as on eagle’s wings (see Isaiah 40:31) taking us to the heavens above. In the end, all that the Savior ever did and still does today, is to bless each one of us showing us that true power and glory comes through serving others.

[1] The Testimony of Luke, S. Kent Brown, page 229
[2] Trumpeting on the Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer

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