How does the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness relate to the Gospel, and by it’s message, the cross?
I am summarizing here just in case, but if you’ve got Scripture to look at instead of these notes, I entreat you to do so. In Luke, chapter 4, the Devil tempts Jesus three times in order to try to snatch away God’s kingdom. Christ had been fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, and as is his habit, the Devil decided to give tempting Christ a shot when he was good and vulnerable.
First, he tries with the most immediate need Jesus might have had: hunger. He says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread”. Because Christ understands that Satan is trying to deceive him, he doesn’t fall for that one, saying “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.”
Next, the Devil shows Christ “all of the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”, and offers him all the power and prestige that could possibly come to him on earth, in exchange for Jesus worshiping him. That doesn’t work on Jesus either, who says “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”.
Last trial: Christ’s own divinity. Because of Jesus’ power, Satan tells him to throw himself off the side of a temple, twisting Scripture to underscore Christ’s power to do whatever he wants, regardless of whether it glorifies God. Knowingly, Christ responds: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.
Why are those things important?
Because of their similarities to temptations in the life of a Christian, it is interesting to see how Christ responds to each trial. In all three scenarios, Christ responds not by telling the Devil where to stuff it, but by citing the Psalms and Deuteronomy. By obeying God’s rules and using them in times of turmoil to help inform his decisions, he is doing something that many Christians do everyday.
These temptations are progressive in order of earthly imperfection to the perfect divinity of God. In the first temptation, we see the Devil appealing to Christ’s physical needs. Christ rebuts that temptation by recognizing that his survival depends on more than just his ability to be the source of his own provision, even though he more than capable. With communion being a representation of the blood and body of Christ that he shed on the cross, Christ resisting this temptation made it so that you and I could be spiritually fed.
Next, there is all the power and glory the world has to offer in exchange for worshiping Satan. Nothing new about that. I’m not really sure what it means by “a moment of time”, or whether that means “for all of time” or like the Devil froze the world for a second like a movie and demonstrated all of it like Jesus was Simba in the Lion King, but whatever happened, we’re talking about an extreme amount of power. God is righteous, and he provides and apportions for his people as he chooses to. If Christ were to worship Satan in exchange for a shortcut to all he could ever desire, thereby forsaking any requirement of obedience unto God, we’d all be screwed. Christ was obedient unto death, and opposed the corruptly powerful. By rejecting this path in favor of serving ONLY God, Christ’s obedience makes a way for us.
Finally, we’ve got a trial that is unlikely to be anything you or I will ever run into. As the Son of God, it seems as though Christ might have had his own set of temptations for using his power in a way that God did not command. In this trial, Satan actually twists Scripture to try to endorse getting Christ to throw himself off the side of a building. By not testing God and resting on what he knew was true, Christ demonstrated maturity in his identity as the Son of God. In each of these temptations, you see the Devil incite Christ’s identity as a stumbling block to try to get him to prove himself, but what did Jesus need to prove? He rejected the need to overcompensate and show off how divine he was to Satan; he knew it was true. Christ’s understated and yet radically un-human approach to accomplishing his Father’s mission was what made him able to pick his battles wisely and not abuse his power in order to gain favor when he could have been gaining souls. He elegantly gave people the healing and spiritual nourishment they needed to lead better lives, scattered with miracles for the sake of his people’s belief, and not to prove himself for vanity’s sake. Vanity would not submit himself to crucifixion, but Jesus did. By temptations of the flesh and also in the temptations of his own divine nature, Christ stood the test.