Popular actor Andrew Garfield has been exploring themes of faith quite a bit lately: 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge saw him portraying the Adventist conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who refused to compromise his belief that he should not carry a gun and take a life, even though he was in the army. But 2016 also saw the release of Silence, in which Garfield portrays a Jesuit priest searching for a lost mentor in Japan. In this movie, he plays a Catholic believer who is willing to compromise, and at one point advises one of his Catholic followers to trample on an image of Christ in order to avoid imprisonment, or worse.
While these two characters represent vastly different expressions of Christianity (in more ways than one), the comparison these films invites to Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is unavoidable. Do you see what benefits could await you if you just deny your faith a little bit here, even just for a moment?
In the story of Jesus’ temptation – which you can find in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 – Jesus wanders through the wilderness fasting and praying for forty days, and then is tempted three times by Satan. Each of these temptations are highly symbolic – and all of them promise glory in exchange for a temporary betrayal of Jesus’ mission. Each time, Jesus successfully rebukes him, grounding his answers in Old Testament Scripture and exposing the root of the temptation.
The first temptation addresses the intersection of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. He is hungry, because he is a human, but as the recently proclaimed Son of God (Matthew 3:16-17), he has the ability to satisfy his physical needs with a miracle. Here, as he will again, Satan prefaces his temptation with the phrase “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3). Satan is not just prompting Jesus to abuse his power or show off, Michael J. Wilkins notes, but is directly alluding to God’s recent public acknowledgment of Jesus as the Son of God. He is trying to trick him into using his position as divine to go against God’s will that Jesus “live a truly human life, one that goes through the normal means of acquiring food” (158).
In Jesus’ second temptation, Satan once again opens with “If you are the Son of God…,” this time telling Jesus to jump from the highest point in the city and depend on God sending angels to rescue him. Jesus counters with a scriptural injunction not to put God to the test – but there’s another tension here. If Jesus were to jump from the highest point of the city and then be rescued by angels, it would be a miraculous sight witnessed by hundreds – kind of like a superhero rescuing someone! While he would no doubt gain followers, they would be following him because of the larger-than-life superpowers he had just seemingly exhibited, instead of his plain teaching and selfless helping of others.
Satan’s third temptation seems, in many ways, like his most straightforward. He doesn’t quote scripture, nor does he refer to Jesus’ divinity. Instead, he offers him a simple deal. He shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and says, “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me” (4:9). Jesus can skip the rejection, suffering, and death of his ministry (and death) on earth – but at the price of denying God’s will for him and God’s fundamental authority. Jesus rebukes him, citing Deuteronomy 6:13 – “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” – and Satan flees, unable to be in his presence any longer.
Though Jesus’ temptations serve as a powerful story in their own right, and as a reveal preface to his ministry, they are also often used as examples for Christians facing temptation in their lives. The author of the book of Hebrews points to this when he writes of Jesus that “Surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:16-18 NIV).
Far from being an isolated experience, the author suggests that the temptation Jesus faced is an essential part of being human. How did Jesus’ temptation make him more merciful? What strategies for facing temptation can we learn from him?
- C. S. Lewis takes a very different approach to temptation, arguing the strongest Christians are the ones that are tempted the most. Think about a Christian mentor or example in your life. Have they talked about dealing with temptation?
- “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…a man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.” –C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
- Are all temptations that we face the direct result of Satan’s work?
- As you answer this question, consider James 1:13-14: “ Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
- Are the things that tempt us inherently bad, or are they only problematic for us? In other words, is it possible to be tempted by something that is good? Could something that is a major temptation for one person be less of an issue for another person? (For example - food addictions.)
- How is the temptation of Jesus different from the temptations that face us?
- Consider Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
- Compare that verse with this quote from Oswald Chambers: “Until we are born again, the only kind of temptation we understand is the kind mentioned in James 1:14, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” But through regeneration we are lifted into another realm where there are other temptations to face, namely, the kind of temptations our Lord faced. The temptations of Jesus had no appeal to us as unbelievers because they were not at home in our human nature. Our Lord’s temptations and ours are in different realms until we are born again and become His brothers. The temptations of Jesus are not those of a mere man, but the temptations of God as Man.” See full quote
- What’s a temptation that you’ve struggled with (that you are willing to share?)