Updated: Oct 17, 2019
When Jesus went to the desert fasting for forty days and nights, Satan tempted him. The conversation between Jesus and Satan is probably one of the very best examples in the Bible of spiritual warfare and apologetics.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
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 foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Matthew 4: 1-11, KJV
Jesus' hunger must be noted: He hadn’t eaten for forty days and nights. When you are hungry, there are a lot of external and internal factors that can have a dire effect psychologically. The desert is an environment where extreme weather conditions are common and will no doubt have been one of the external factors Jesus had to deal with. The need of the brain to have a pleasant eating experience is an internal factor that correlates directly with the harsh environmental factors of the desert.
Furthermore, it is safe to assume that Jesus probably didn’t get enough sleep during this time. Take into account that if you sleep in the desert, you will have to endure various inconveniences:
you might have to lie down on warm sand and/or rocks with sharp edges,
you have to be cautious of snakes and scorpions,
and deserts are known to be quite cold during the night.
Thus, Jesus was mentally and physically exhausted. Note that hunger is usually accompanied by such symptoms including (but not limited to): fever, nausea, dizziness and general feelings of overall weakness. Satan knew very well that Jesus would be exposed to all these infirmities and thus he chose the “perfect” time to tempt Jesus.
When you are as mentally and physically exhausted as Jesus (probably) was, your cognitive abilities to reason and apply logic are impaired. Satan’s first attack hit the hardest: he knew that Jesus was hungry and said to Him:
If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
Needless to say, this first temptation was the ultimate temptation. Satan started his attack with a strong weapon. However, it is very important to remember that no matter how physically and mentally exhausted Jesus was He was strong in the Spirit. He is the way, truth and life (John 14: 6) and He is one with his Heavenly Father. Therefore, He could immediately resist the temptation without hesitation. Jesus’ answer to this first temptation was:
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Jesus’ answer clearly indicates that He doesn’t depend on physical food, but spiritual food – He is one with his Heavenly Father and He knows that every word that comes from God’s mouth is spiritual food that strengthens the soul as nothing else can.
The second temptation clearly illustrates Satan’s blatant arrogance, as well as his fiery hatred for Jesus Christ. He went so far as to tempt Christ to commit suicide:
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 foot against a stone.
This is one of the subtle indications that Jesus was mentally exhausted due to lack of food and proper sleep. He probably experienced some form of anxiety while He was roaming the desert. Once again, Satan knew this and tried his best to get rid of Jesus. The sheer arrogance of Satan is astounding! Imagine trying to tempt Him who is the way, truth and life to commit suicide... Jesus once again resisted without hesitation:
It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
His answer was brief and very powerful. It was a metaphorical stab with a spiritual sword that is swift and effective. Jesus thus drove Satan into a corner with this very effective counter-attack.
Satan’s third and final attack further illustrates his sheer arrogance as well as his overall desperation:
All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Firstly, this third temptation is once again filled with absolute arrogance and blasphemy. Secondly, how can he think for one moment that Jesus Christ who is the Son of the one true living God will actually fall down and worship him? Thirdly, Satan implied that Jesus is sentimental over earthly possessions and riches. All three of these facts clearly illustrate Satan’s desperate attempt to extinguish the Light of Christ.
Jesus then dealt the final fatal blow, once again in a very straightforward manner:
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Two very important lessons that we can learn from the effective way Jesus resisted Satan:
Just like Jesus didn’t primarily depend on physical food, but on spiritual food, so we should also primarily depend on spiritual food. That is not easy – especially not in this materialistic world we live in. It doesn’t mean that we should suddenly stop eating three meals a day, but it does mean that we should not rely on earthly sustenance to bring peace.
Jesus didn’t argue with Satan. His answers were straightforward. He didn’t succumb to anger in any way. He kept calm and every one of His answers was a very effective counter-attack with which he dealt a powerful and fatal blow.
There is probably a lot more that we can learn from Jesus being tempted in the desert. In no way is this article an attempt to have the final word on the incident described in Matthew 4: 1-11.