How to Identify True Temptation: The Temptation of Jesus


I remember asking my son after church one week what he had learning at church that day. His reply, “Jesus was tempted by… that other guy.” I laughed. That was not the deeper meaning of the temptation that we should understand in this event. While we often understand this temptation simply as Jesus defeating Satan, and thus concluding that Jesus is our role model in our own temptations, we fail to see the deeper connections.

The Temptations of Power

Temptation of Jesus

Jesus is tempted three different times, but the main issue in all three is that Satan is tempting Jesus about power. As we learned in the baptism event, Jesus is announced by God’s heavenly voice as the King, but a King who will suffer. In the temptation, Jesus is tempted to misuse his kingly powers. And Jesus’s successful rebuttal of Satan over power is the key lesson for us today: Will we use the resources God has given to us for self or for others? Will we accumulate power or will we distribute it? Will we be a nation or a person that serves or one that conquers? This is the root of Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 8. He says, “Beware that you don’t say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand got me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God for he is the one who gives you power to get wealth” (8:17-18).

Temptation of JesusThose who have much can wrongly think that their position is their own doing. The voice of Satan echoes through everyone’s history: We can sustain ourselves, we can protect ourselves, we can rule how we wish. But this is vanity and sin and hubris all wrapped up together. The desert forces us to see our empty hands, to realize that we must learn to depend on God, and that power belongs to him—and that power that is given to us should be held very carefully.

These temptations to power represent the truest voice of Satan, and they can be heard every day. And if we are to become like Christ, we need to develop an ear for hearing those temptations, identify them as Satanic, and defeat them. As James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jam 4:7); or Peter, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet 5:8-9).

How Do We Defeat These Temptations?

How do we defeat these temptations? Keep in mind that in each of Jesus’s temptation, his response was the same. He used scripture, Deuteronomy 1-10. This is a solid strategy since we are defeating Satan not by our own resources but by the Word given to us in scripture. This is also God’s fight and our reach for scripture is the first evidence that we have learned our first lesson: That in temptation we rely on what God provides and not on our own resources. Like Jesus, we often find ourselves “in the desert,” but when temptation comes in the desert, we see that God powerfully stands by us, honing our faith through every one of our difficult experiences. May we, like Jesus, learn to see temptations for what they are: power encounters. And may we, like Jesus, learn to trust God in those situations, leaning upon the Scriptures and God’s power for victory.

Want to learn more? Check out the Life of Jesus DVD Bible Study from the Deeper Connections Series by Hendrickson-Rose Publishing!

Dr. Matt Williams, Biola University — the associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, California. A former missionary to Spain, Matt preaches and teaches at churches throughout the United States and Spain. He is general editor of Colección Teológica Contemporánea, a series of theological books in Spanish, and is the author of two books on the Gospels. Click here to learn more about Dr. Williams’ new DVD Series The Life of Jesus DVD Bible Study.

The Life of Jesus: 6-Session DVD Bible Study

The “Life of Jesus” in the Deeper Connections Bible study series is the fourth DVD and participant’s guide to be released by Rose/Hendrickson Publishing. Along with “The Last Days of Jesus” DVD, one has a 12-study overview of the main events and teachings from the life of Jesus, one of the most popular Bible classes in any Christian University. These studies, taught by top New Testament scholars, are now available for personal, church, and small group use. These studies are unique among many other DVD Bible studies in that they really emphasize three important aspects of good biblical teaching:

  1. Historical and cultural background
  2. An engaging, close look at the biblical text, and its meaning
  3. Accurate, encouraging, and challenging applications of the Bible’s message to life today

Here is the list of teachers:

  • Dr. Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Gary Burge, Wheaton College
  • Dr. Scott Duvall, Ouachita Baptist University
  • Dr. Susan Hecht, Denver Seminary
  • Dr. Mark Strauss, Bethel Seminary
  • Dr. Matt Williams, Biola University

The Life of Jesus DVD and participants guide covers the first six main lessons on Jesus’ life and ministry:

  1. Birthday Surprises—Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-16)
  2. John Prepares the Way—Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:11-17)
  3. The Victorious Son of God—Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)
  4. Fishing with the Master—Jesus Calls Disciples (Luke 5:1-11)
  5. Diseases Conquered—Jesus Heals the Sick (Matthew 9:27-34)
  6. Defeating the Enemy—Jesus Casts Out Demons (Mark 1:21-28)

Dr. Matt Williams: Forgiveness of Jesus DVD Bible StudyEach of the lessons begins with an introduction filmed on location in Israel in order to better understand the cultural and geographical background. Then the lesson switches to a creative location in the United States that helps bring out the main emphasis of the passage. So, for example, the baptism of Jesus is filmed next to a river in Little Rock, Arkansas; Jesus heals the sick is shot in the mountains of Colorado Springs, in a location that was thought to contain magical healing waters by native Americans.

I have successfully taught these studies to groups of people from the ages of junior high school all the way up to 80-year olds. I highly recommend these creative studies for any group that you might lead—and they are easy to lead: they are truly plug and play. Let the New Testament scholars teach your lesson with all of their experience: your group simply follows along in the participant’s guide, which allows one to take notes and highlights important points. The participants guide also contain a five-day personal Bible study to help one to reflect further on each lesson during the week.

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