Most lives have a moment of truth, a crossroads where one's mettle is tested and one's character emerges. In such moments the ethical options stand out starkly, and the choice that is made reveals on which road a person is traveling.
Satan's temptations of Jesus are such a moment for the recently anointed Son. How is the "beloved Son" going to carry out his task? His choices reveal his commitment and also point to the road of faithfulness and dependence that disciples should travel.
The event can also be compared to a cosmic, heavyweight championship fight. This is but the first round of many battles Jesus will have with Satan and other demonic forces throughout Luke's Gospel. Though at points, like the crucifixion, it looks as if Satan wins, Luke tells us not to be fooled about who is the stronger force.
Finally, Jesus' numerous quotes from Deuteronomy in response to these wilderness temptations recall another time and place where temptation and God's chosen met in the wilderness. During the exodus, the Israelite nation failed this test. Jesus succeeds where Israel failed. What is more, the genealogy immediately preceding this account has named Jesus as Son of Adam and Son of God. The echo of Genesis 3 cannot be missed. What Adam failed to do as representative of all humanity, Jesus succeeds in doing. Jesus' success is the first of many TKOs Jesus will deliver against Satan; the victory serves to reverse a string of defeats humanity has suffered at the hands of this deceptive, elusive enemy. Jesus shows that spirituality does not always take the easiest road; it trusts God's word and remains faithful to his way.
The temptation recorded here is paralleled in Matthew 4:1-11 and Mark 1:12-13. Mark simply mentions Jesus' successful response, while Matthew narrates the same three temptations as Luke but in a different order. Matthew's second temptation is Luke's third (at the temple in Jerusalem), while Luke's second temptation is Matthew's third (the offering of all the kingdoms on the earth). This is a case where one Gospel writer has rearranged the order, and either writer could be responsible. But it is more likely that Luke has placed the Jerusalem scene last, as the climactic encounter, for literary reasons. Luke will highlight Jesus' journey to Jerusalem (9:51—19:44), the nation's central city, as the place Jesus is fated to go and suffer death. So Satan's offer to circumvent that suffering is a truly sinister effort to thwart God's plan. The placement of this temptation last foreshadows the strategic role Jerusalem will have in Luke's story.
As significant, threatening and testing as this event is, Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus is directed to the desert. He mentions that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit. Tests of character are divinely wrought, even when they place us at risk. One need only think of Job. In Jesus' case the tests come after forty days of fasting. The circumstances could not be worse for Jesus to deal with the offer of food in verse 3. Jesus' circumstances could provide him a ready rationalization for giving in. The contrast of this temptation to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden could not be greater. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to eat, but Jesus meets Satan in the midst of hunger and deprivation.
The first temptation raises questions of God's care and provision. Jesus' reply in terms of Deuteronomy 8:3 makes the issue God's goodness in providing for and protecting those who are his, just as the original setting suggested for Israel. Satan's words "if you are the Son of God" are a subtle appeal to Jesus' power, presenting the premise as if it were true. The assumption is that Jesus can act on his own here. But for Jesus to take action independent of God would have represented a lack of faith in God's goodness. Jesus' reply from Deuteronomy, "man does not live on bread alone," reveals that one's well-being is not limited to being well fed. As necessary as food is, it is not as important as being sustained by the Word of God. For Jesus, truth is living in awareness of God's promise of care and relying on him even when God leads him into the wilderness. If Jesus is God's beloved Son, as was declared at the baptism, God will care for him. Such trust is exemplary.
The second temptation is Satan's invitation to engage in false worship. It represents a challenge to the first commandment to worship God alone (Ex 20:3). Apparently Jesus is given some type of visionary experience of the kingdoms of the earth and is offered total authority by Satan. As Satan makes the offer in verse 6, he places you (soi) in the emphatic position as if to say, "Look what can be yours!" This effort to entice recalls James's remarks about how sin emerges when our desires lure and ensnare us into sin (Jas 1:14-15). Satan is trying to lure Jesus through an appeal to power. The Greek reads, "To you I will give all this authority and glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, I will give it to you." The devil's offer is deception at its best, a half-truth. Though he has great power (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; Rev 13:2—pictured as a dragon), he does not have authority to offer Jesus everything. The offer itself reflects extreme self-delusion on Satan's part, or else it is a ruse to get Jesus into the same predicament Satan now lives in as a result of his unfaithfulness and rebellion.
Here is an opportunity to grab power, but to do so and renounce God would be to possess destructive power—and ultimately would mean not possessing power at all. Satan is not worthy of worship. So Jesus' reply rejects the offer totally: "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:13, which follows closely on a passage recited daily by Jews, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus is certain that only One deserves his service. It is not self or Satan, but God. By putting worship and service together in the verse, Jesus makes it clear that both words and life are meant to honor God.
The third temptation is also probably visionary in character. Jesus is placed on a high point of the temple and is urged to jump, to experience the joy of God's certain protection. The exact location at the temple is uncertain; two locales are possible. Some suggest the high temple gate, but more likely is the "royal porch" on the temple's southeast corner, since it loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley, some 450 feet below (Josephus Antiquities 15.11.5 410-12). Satan now quotes Scripture himself (Ps 91:11-12) to make it appear that taking a leap would be perfectly orthodox. And again the request is made in terms of Jesus' being the Son, as it was in verse 3. Satan plans a private test of God's faithfulness: "Jesus, before you venture out on this ministry, you had better be sure God will care for you. The psalm guarantees your protection, so jump. If you are the Son, God will rescue you; if you trust God, you will jump. Just let go and let God care for you!"
We can guess at what Satan really has in mind as we consider the destructive effects of demonic possession described in other texts (8:33; 9:39). But Jesus refuses to test God's provision by insisting on a miracle. He will not presume upon God and put a mask on unbelief by seeking to confirm God's trust. So Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:16: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The Old Testament background is significant. Israel had presumed about God's goodness, doubting why he had sent them out into the desert and promised them the Promised Land. They had tested God at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Jesus refuses to demand God's protection on his own terms. Such a demand is neither faith nor loyalty; it is sin.
Having failed, the devil departs for a time. This does not mean he leaves the story until Luke 22:3, when he reappears to influence Judas. Rather, he works behind the scenes in the various demonic encounters Jesus experiences throughout his ministry (as in 10:18; 11:19-23). The wilderness temptation is only the first round in Jesus' victory, but it is the first of many victorious rounds. Jesus' success reveals that he is qualified for ministry. The key to Jesus' triumph is his faithfulness in walking with God wherever God leads him, even in the midst of testing times. Here is a loyal and beloved Son who requites God's love. To love God is to be faithful to him, worshiping and serving only him.