Bible Background for studying the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness
Originally posted by Jaymie Derden, State St UMC, Bristol VA
Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 (Jesus is Tempted in the Desert, p. 295 - Little Kids’ Adventure Bible)
“It is written: Worship the Lord your God. He is the only one you should serve.”
Luke 4:8 (p. 296 Little Kids’ Adventure Bible)
Themes: Resisting temptation by learning God’s Word, Holy Spirit strengthened Jesus and us,
Objectives and Life Application:
- Children will describe the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
- Children will locate and describe the desert area in which Jesus was tempted.
- Children will recognize that Jesus was tempted.
- Children will recognize that the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ knowledge of scripture helped him resist temptation.
- Children will recognize that the Bible helps them discern right from wrong.
- Children will recognize that Jesus was obedient to God.
- Children will understand that we must be obedient to God and authorities in our lives.
- Children will describe temptations in their lives.
- Children will discuss ways to resist temptation.
- Children will memorize Luke 4:1-13.
Definitions - Words to Know:
fast - to go without food in order to devote time to prayer
tempt - to try to get someone to do something wrong, an attraction to do the wrong thing
Questions for Discussion:
(from last rotation)
- What came down to Jesus when he was baptized? (Holy Spirit like a dove)
- Who is the Holy Spirit? (God’s presence with us)
- Where did Jesus go after being baptized by John in the River Jordan? (wilderness, desert)
- Describe the wilderness where Jesus went. (hot, desolate, barren, rocky, hilly, located east of Jerusalem)
- How much time did Jesus spend in the desert? (40 days)
- What happened to Jesus there? (fasted, prayed, tempted by devil)
- What does it mean to fast? (go without food, usually to pray and get closer to God)
- What does it mean to be tempted? (an attraction to do wrong, when someone tries to get you to do wrong)
- What were the three temptations told in this story? (food/physical desires, power/bowing down to Satan, miracles/testing God)
- Why did Satan tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread? (he was hungry from the fast)
- What did Jesus mean when he said “man does not live by bread alone, but on every world that comes from the mouth of God?” (physical things are not as important as spiritual, we need to depend on God, not try to do everything on our own)
- What did Satan show Jesus he could be in charge of? (all the kingdoms of the world)
- What would Jesus have to do to have that power? (worship Satan)
- Jesus knew that only God should be worshiped and put first in his life. What types of things do we “worship” today by giving them priority in our lives and making them more important than God? (toys, TVs, money, gameboys, video games, computers, etc.)
- What are you most tempted to worship?
- What did Satan do to try to get Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple? (quoted scripture to tell him he wouldn’t be harmed)
- Does Satan know the Bible? (Yes, he quoted scripture, but twisted its meaning)
- Why did Satan tempt Jesus? (tried to stop God’s plan for Jesus’ ministry)
- How did Jesus respond to the temptations? (resisted them, quoted scripture, let Holy Spirit strengthen him)
- Which Old Testament book did Jesus quote scripture from when resisting the devil? (Deuteronomy)
- Which temptation do you think was the most difficult for Jesus to resist? (no right answer, just explore their answers)
- Who strengthened Jesus in the desert? (Holy Spirit within Jesus)
- What else helped Jesus resist temptation? (his knowledge of the scriptures)
- Why do you think God allowed Satan to tempt Jesus? (to test his human nature, to strengthen him and prepare him for his ministry, to give us an example to follow)
- How can temptation be a positive or good thing? (strengthens our faith, helps us lean on God, shows us where we need to grow, helps us become better disciples)
- What kind of temptations do you face?
- What can you do to resist temptation?
- Jesus decided to obey God rather than take the easy way out. Why do you think even Jesus had to obey God? (to fulfill his plan, to prepare for his ministry, to live a sinless life)
- Whom should you obey? (parents, teachers, Bible, God)
Holy Spirit Descends
Jesus has been baptized in obedience to God’s will. At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and rested on Jesus. The Spirit did not land and gently flutter away. The Holy Spirit lingered and strengthened Jesus. And now, led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus heads to the wilderness. In Mark’s gospel, the wording is even stronger, “”the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). This describes not just a gentle leading, but almost a compulsion. In obedience to His Father, Jesus had been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Now he MUST go. Like so many of the great prophets before him, including Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist, Jesus heads to the wilderness desert to encounter the Lord.
Just east of the city of Jerusalem, to the north and west of the Dead Sea, lies a barren land of silence and unbearable heat where the wind has eroded the yellow limestone ridges into steep cliffs and rock strewn gullies. At the high points of the desert, the city of Jerusalem is visible. In some places the stones are shaped like round loaves of bread, much like the bread the Jewish people made and ate. Here Jesus spends the next forty days, fasting, praying and considering the direction his life will take. Here he comes face to face with his purpose. Does he use his powers to make his own life easier, or does he decide to do what God has called him to do? Here also Jesus is tempted by the devil.
The English word devil comes from the Greek diabolos which means “slanderer.” This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Sahtahn, which we pronounce Satan. Sahtahn means “legal adversary.” Satan is also described as one of the angels of the heavenly court who rebelled against God and thus abandoned all ways of righteousness and became the personification of evil.
While in the desert, Jesus fasted. Fasting has always been a way of temporarily lifting the physical actions and allowing one to focus on the spiritual realm more intently. After several days, hunger pangs subside and fasting produces a clarity of mind and spirit. However forty days is a long time to be in the unforgiving desert and it is a long time to fast. (the number forty is used frequently in the Bible in describing events. Some scholars believe that the number forty may not be a literal time period, but be a more rounded figure meaning “long time” much the way we say “a month” in an imprecise manner. Whether or not it was an actual forty days, Jesus spent a long time in the desert.) A long time to fast. A long time to be tempted.
What is the purpose of temptation?
Temptation tests and tries our faith, making it stronger and better able to withstand the challenges of our Christian walk. Why was Jesus tempted? Since Jesus is the Son of God, and “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13), shouldn’t Jesus be above all that? The Incarnation (God coming in the flesh) required that Jesus empty himself of his divine prerogatives (Philippians 2:7) and one of those must have been the ability to be tempted. Satan’s temptations were an attempt to discredit Jesus and gain a foothold on him, much the same as a politician who accepts just one bribe finds himself controlled by threat of exposure. In this same way, Satan tries to compromise Jesus and his mission. Later, we see Jesus again tempted in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). These stories show us the human side of Jesus. For Jesus was truly human and truly divine. And as part of his human nature, he experienced all the human cravings and physical needs which all humans experience. In both instances he chooses to obey his Father’s will rather than succumb to the temptation to pursue an easier path. What weapons does Jesus have in his arsenal? The same tools we have -- the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
The First Temptation:
Satan approached Jesus with the first temptation. After a forty day fast, Jesus was hungry! Satan offers him a quick fix -- turn these round, bread-shaped stones all throughout the desert floor to actual loaves of bread. Satisfy your hunger. After all, this is a legitimate physical need, nothing of which to be ashamed. There is another subtle temptation here as well. Satan slyly says, “If you really are the Son of God. . .” if you’re really who you say you are . . . implying that Jesus may not be the Son of God at all. “Prove it!” he says. This is just a little thing, a minor miracle in the scheme of things. When we are new at a role and are taunted by others and filled with self-doubt we are tempted to “show them,” to prove it, basically a temptation of pride. But Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, ‘. . . man does not live on bread alone . . .” Jesus knew that he had the power to turn the desert stones to bread, yet he chose to resist this physical urge. He knew that obedience to God was more important than the comforts of material things. Physical needs must be met in God’s way, and in God’s time, not by our own selfish shortcuts. We are tempted to go for the quick fix for all of our physical hungers rather than to wait on God and seek to do things his way.
The Second Temptation:
The second temptation is to political aspirations including authority and worldly glory. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “All these will be yours if you only will bow down and worship me,” he says. Satan claims ownership and power to bestow this gift. Jesus knew that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to be a great military leader to lead them in victory, overthrowing the Romans who occupied their land. The temptation to fulfill the desires and dreams of his people must have been especially hard for Jesus to resist. “Worship me,” Satan says. The Greek word for worship is proskuneo which means to prostrate oneself before a person, kissing his feet or the hem of his garment, do reverence to, etc. Jesus probably would not have been required to prostrate himself before the devil. A simple kiss of his ring, handshake, eye contact or even a subtle nod of the head could be a sign of his submission. But at what cost? Accepting the devil’s offer would tie Jesus to Satan as his slave and sabotage his mission. Part of Satan’s lie is believing that his way is the only way. But there is another way -- God’s way. God’s way is to trust him, rely on him and serve him in good times and bad, understanding that God will exalt you if that is his will. This is the choice Jesus made; he could not afford any other way, no matter how appealing or seemingly innocent it appeared. Neither can we.
Jesus knew that power was necessary for his role as Messiah. But that power must come from God in due time. He refuses Satan’s offer, choosing the more difficult route to glory -- through the cross and grave and resurrection. He responds by quoting scripture he had learned as a child , “It is written, “you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) Jesus again chooses obedience to his Father.
The Third Temptation:
Satan now takes Jesus in a vision to Jerusalem and sets him on the pinnacle, the very highest point of the Temple. “Throw yourself down from here!” he shouts, “for it is written, ‘the Lord will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. . .’” Satan is now quoting scripture back to Jesus, using a common rabbinic practice of debating by quoting Scripture back and forth to support opposing interpretations. The Jewish scholars of the time acknowledged that the devil knew Scripture and could handle it expertly. Satan demonstrates this as he deftly quotes Psalm 91:11-12, out of context.
A dramatic miracle like this would certainly have grabbed the attention of everyone watching. What a flashy entry into ministry that would have been! This would show people that Jesus was indeed someone special, he would have instant fame, and perhaps even be declared Messiah on the spot. Humility or pride: which does Jesus choose? Jesus answered Satan one final time, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus refers here to the story of the Israelites’ forcing God to act when they were thirsty at Massah in the wilderness. They tested God by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” If he’s here, prove it. Give us water. Jesus refused to manipulate God by forcing his hand. Jesus chose an alternate route -- to develop his ministry through the ordinary life of everyday people. He chose obedience and humility. This would be the mark of his ministry throughout his life.
How does this story come to us?
There were no observers with Jesus in the desert wilderness. Jesus no doubt told his disciples about his own temptation experience. Why did he choose to share this intimate event? Perhaps to teach the disciples how to resist temptation themselves and to emphasize the importance of scripture knowledge. Perhaps to explain why he did not use more sensational means to influence people. Jesus’ forty day experience in the wilderness probably included many more than these three temptations. But these three are the ones he selected to instruct his disciples. These three temptations are at the root of many we face today:
greed and ambition
Jesus quotes three passages from Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 8:3 - “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 6:13 - “Worship the Lord your God. He is the only one you should serve.”
Deuteronomy 6:16 - “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”
Like Moses who fasted forty days and nights while on Mt. Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments, Jesus experiences his own wilderness experience before emerging as the new lawgiver. Many Jews hoped for a “new exodus” led by a new Moses.
How did Jesus respond to temptation?
The devil brought truths mixed with half truths in an attempt to entice and deceive Jesus. Jesus called upon his knowledge of scripture to help him discern the proper choice and to OBEY. Even when the devil misquoted scripture to Jesus, Jesus answered back with the true Word of God. He teaches us this: answer temptation with God’s Word, too. Know the Bible. Learn scripture so that you answer doubts and fears and temptations with it. Victory from temptations comes when we learn to apply the Word to every circumstance of our lives.
Jesus also used his communion with the Holy Spirit as a weapon against temptation. The Spirit was with him in the wilderness. In fact the word used in the Greek text to describe the Spirit’s working during Jesus’ desert experience has the idea of “in, within.” In other words, the Spirit didn’t just send Jesus off into the wilderness and leave him to struggle with the devil. The Spirit continuously led Jesus; he wasn’t left alone. We too are promised the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, the Spirit who can strengthen us during our times of struggle just as He did Jesus.
Summing it up!
The forty days of fasting, prayer, and temptation in the desert wilderness prepared Jesus for his public ministry. During this time Jesus was faced with the decision of using his powers for self purpose or to surrender himself unconditionally into obedience to God’s will for his life. Jesus refused to use his power to satisfy his physical needs, he refused to bow down and worship Satan for political power and he refused to put God to the test. The temptations that we all face today can be resisted by knowledge of scripture and obedience to God’s will. Children are tempted daily to do wrong things and make wrong choices. This rotation will provide an opportunity to explore the many temptations we all face, and to discover how Jesus faced and overcame similar temptations. Help children see that even Jesus was obedient. Learning to obey and to respond to temptations as Jesus did is a lifelong process that begins in childhood.
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Craig S. Keener; Baptism, Temptation and Rejection, The New Media Bible Times, The Genesis Project; Jesus’ Temptation, Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, JesusWalk Disciple Lessons.