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Matthew 4:1-11

The temptation of Jesus shows how to respond to our own temptations.

Tom Faletti

March 22, 2024

Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus is tempted by the devil


In Matthew 4:1, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert.  Jesus needs some alone time to prepare for his ministry.  The 40 days parallels the 40 years the Israelites were in the desert.


In v. 1, where some translations say the Spirit led Jesus out to be “tempted,” the word can also be translated “tested.”  “Tested” is the better translation because God does not tempt people.  God does not lure people toward sin, nor does he dangle the thought of sin in front of people to see if they will succumb.  James is very clear about this: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13, NRSV).


However, while God does not tempt people, he does allow people to be tested by temptation.  He does not preserve us from temptation, but instead gives us ways to resist (see 1 Cor. 10:13).  The word “tested” conveys better the reality of what is going on: the temptation may come from the devil or from our own weaknesses, and God allows it to happen; but God does not cause temptation and he always stands beside us, urging us to resist sin and offering us the strength to overcome the temptation.


What happens in this passage?


What is the value of being tested?  Explain.


Why does this take place in the wilderness/desert?

On a human level, in the desert people have no support system and no distractions.  On a figurative level, Jesus’s testing parallels the testing of the Israelites in the desert after they were delivered out of Egypt.  Jesus is identifying with humanity in being tempted.


What are some similarities between the testing of Jesus in the desert here and the testing of the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land?


In what ways are they different, including in how well they handled the temptations they faced?


No disciples of Jesus were present for Jesus’s temptation.  They could have known about it only if Jesus told them about it.  Why do you think Jesus would have told his disciples about what happened to him in the desert?



Throughout Christian history, theologians and commentators have seen the three temptations of Jesus as representing the three types of sins that all humans face: sins of the flesh, sins of the world, and sins of the devil. (You can easily find more about this, from a variety of denominational perspectives; for example: Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “Fighting the Un-Holy Trinity: The World, the Flesh and the Devil,” Catholic Online, 14 Feb. 2010,; “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” Ligonier Ministries (founded by Dr. R. C. Sproul), 23 May 2011,; and nicely summarized by Wikipedia with examples from scholars who wrote centuries ago here: “The world, the flesh, and the devil,” 31 March 2024, Wikipedia,,_the_flesh,_and_the_devil.)



Temptation #1: Bread, sins of the flesh, putting our own wants ahead of what God wants for us.


On the surface, there would not seem to be anything immoral about Jesus turning stones into bread.  What is the root of the potential sin in doing so?  How might this have been a misuse of his powers?

Some of the reasons why this is a temptation to sin include the following: He would be using his power for his own sake rather than using it for its intended purpose: to serve others.  He would be failing to identify with the human race he came to identify with.


There many also be a battle going on here regarding how Jesus would carry out his mission.  Should he entice people to follow him by giving them food to eat?  What would have been wrong with that as his primary method of spreading the Gospel?


How does this temptation apply to us?  How might we be at risk of the temptation to put our own wants ahead of what God might have for us?


Throughout the life of the church, going back many centuries, this temptation has been described as involving sins of the flesh, including gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality, but also laziness, covetousness, etc.  A personal question, not necessarily for sharing if you are discussing this passage in a small group: Which sins of the flesh do you tend to struggle with and why?


What Scripture passage does Jesus quote in response to this temptation?


How does this Scripture passage provide guidance for us for how to think about and resist this kind of sin?



Temptation #2: Spectacle, attention, sins of the world, telling God what to do. 


Jesus could have jumped from the top io the Temple and survived, if he chose to.  What would have been wrong with that?  What is the potential sin in this temptation?


There are several issues here:


  • Some see it as a matter of tactics: Should I use spectacle and razzle-dazzle to try to draw people to God by attracting them to me?

  • Others see it as a matter of authority: Will I assert leadership over God by putting him in a position where he has to do what I want him to do?

  • Others see it as a matter of abdicating our responsibility to do God’s work, leaving things to God that he expects us to be doing as part of our calling.)


Jesus could have used spectacle as a way of attracting the attention of people.  What would have been wrong with that?


Note that Jesus did perform miracles, but they were miracles of service, to help others – not for show.


The devil is implying that Jesus could force God to do things his way by doing things that would only work out if God steps in.  But Jesus was God, so what would have been wrong with that?


An alternate view is that the temptation here was to abdicate responsibility for how to do the work of God and just leave it to God and his angels to make it work.  Are there times when “God will take care of things” is not an act of faith but instead an act of laziness?


How does this temptation apply to us? How might we be tempted to draw attention to ourselves or wow others rather than doing God’s work humbly?


How might we be tempted to force God’s hand by doing things that will only work out if God steps in?  (“If God doesn’t want me to do that, he’ll stop me.”)  What’s wrong with that approach to life?


How might we be tempted to leave everything to God and not do the work he calls us to do?


What Scripture passage does Jesus quote in response to this temptation?


How does this Scripture passage provide guidance for us for how to think about and resist these kinds of “sins of the world”?



Temptation #3: Allegiance, power, sins of the devil, compromising our commitment to God.


What is the nature of the third temptation?

It involves a temptation to submit to the devil in order to gain power.


What is wrong with the devil’s offer?


The devil is asking for a compromise.  What are some ways Jesus might have faced this temptation throughout his ministry on Earth?


How does this temptation apply to us?  How might we be at risk of the temptation to seek power or control of our circumstances even at the price of a bit of spiritual compromise?


What Scripture passage does Jesus quote in response to this temptation?


How does this Scripture passage provide guidance for us for how to think about and resist this kind of sin?



In what ways did the devil misuse Scripture?


In your life, how valuable is it to know Scripture?  Is it an aid to avoiding or resisting temptation?  To what extent do you turn to Scripture for specific guidance in difficult moments or times of temptation?


How might the Bible be a greater help to you in dealing with temptation, if you knew the Bible better?  Is there anything you could be doing to strengthen your ability to rely on the Word of God?



The devil leaves Jesus at this point.  What kinds of opportunities do you think the devil will be looking for, to return and tempt Jesus again?


When are you at risk of temptation?


Silently, unless you are comfortable sharing, which temptation is the greatest risk for you: Inappropriately fulfilling your own wants?  Seeking recognition or attention in inappropriate ways?  Trying to get God to do things your way in order to make your efforts successful?  Making inappropriate compromises to gain more power or control over your circumstances?


What can you do to avoid or respond successfully to these temptations?  What are your best strategies?

Here are some strategies to consider: First we need to step back and not dash headlong into the temptation.  Then we have many things we can do: Pray.  Think about what is really going on, both inside of you and in the situation around you.  Try to see the situation from God’s perspective.  Get help from Scripture.  Open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s influence.  Get counsel from wise and godly people around you.



Take a step back and consider this:


The first temptation is a temptation to put our own wants ahead of the ways God wants us to deal with our lives.  The second temptation is a temptation to draw attention to ourselves or to get God to do things our way.  The third temptation is a temptation to compromise our commitments to God in order to gain some power or control.


All three temptations, at root, are temptations to put ourselves ahead of God.


When we are facing temptation we often forget that God is not looking down from on high with a frown, just waiting to catch us in a sin.  Most of us grow up with that kind of image of God, but it doesn’t match the reality of God as presented in the Gospels.  Jesus is always standing right next to you, loving you and urging you to do what you and he know is right.  His Spirit lives in you, reminding you of who you are in Christ and empowering you to be what you are called to be.


If the root of temptation is our desire to put ourselves – our plans, our ideas, our desires, our wants – ahead of God, and yet we know, when we are not in the middle of the temptation, that our greatest happiness and greatest fulfillment comes in putting God first, then in the time of temptation we need to remember who we really are in Christ.  Our most desperate need in those times is to see things from the perspective of the God we have given our lives to, and to receive his power to act on who we are.


When you are not in the middle of a temptation, where are your allegiances?  Have you decided that your goal is to put God first in everything?  Or are there still parts of your life that you have not been ready to give to him?


Temptations will never go away, but some temptations fade after that fundamental question has been resolved.  Have you really given your life to God?  If not, now would be a good time to talk with God about it.  There is nothing more important that you can do.  Talk to God about where you stand with him right now.


Jesus’s example tells us something important: Scripture is the first line of defense in times of temptation.  Is there anything you can do to embed the Word of God more deeply into your heart, mind, and deepest self, so that you can call it forth when you need it?



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Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and See for more materials like this.

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