encouragement theology

The Temptation of the King

The Judean Desert, as seen from Masada

Thoughts from Matthew 4


Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop doing things wrong? If our lives were perfect and we never disobeyed God?

Unfortunately, it does not take long to find out that that is not the case.

Even when we belong to God, we still doubt Him and try to get what we want without Him.

We still challenge God, asking Him to meet our agenda, as if we are more important than the God of the universe!

We still look for shortcuts to meet our needs, ignoring God’s plan.

Life is a never-ending battle with temptation. And sadly, we often lose.

The Bible opens with Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, falling to temptation. They disobeyed God’s law, and the entire world descended into chaos (see here).

David, the greatest king over Israel, is well known for his fall into temptation. It only took a short walk on the roof with his wandering eyes, and we next find out that he was guilty of adultery, murder, and lies to cover up his actions (see here).

But there are also notable victories over temptation. Joseph chose to run away naked when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (see here). Daniel was taken away from his home, yet he chose to follow God and not get caught up in the idol worship of his peers (see here).

But by far, the greatest example of victory over temptation was Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus had just finished an incredible start to His ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist, the greatest prophet in history! The Holy Spirit came visibly down upon Him, and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven to announce the Son of God!

But then the Holy Spirit took him immediately into the desert. Jesus was there for 40 days with the burning sun and the barren rocks, and with absolutely no food to eat. But He was not alone. Satan dogged His every step, trying to get Him to turn away from God.

The Bible shows Satan’s strategy for tempting people to turn away from God. They are small in number and very predictable, but extremely effective:

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Satan’s three ways to tempt us are:

  • The desires of the flesh — what makes us feel better?
  • The desires of the eyes — what looks good to us?
  • The pride of life — what gives us importance?

There in the desert, he used all three of these weapons against Jesus Christ.

First, he challenged Jesus personally. Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and was very hungry and physically weak. But He was the Son of God — why not do a miracle to feed Himself? This temptation was akin to the desires of the flesh — suggesting that Jesus answer His own needs for hunger.

Eating bread is an innocent activity, but the message from Satan was much more insidious. He was saying to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, you should be able to take care of yourself now. You no longer need to rely on the Father, and you can feed yourself!”

Jesus responded by quoting scripture back to Satan. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to depend on God, not only for our food, but for our very existence!

Satan’s next attack was at Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He took Jesus to the rooftop of the temple overlooking the steep valley below. Satan himself then quoted scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), showing that God would never let the Son of God get injured. Instead, Jesus would descend safely down to the worshippers below, and be hailed as their king. This temptation was akin to the pride of life — Satan was attempting to get Jesus to turn away from God and seek glory on His own.

Jesus had defeated Satan in the first temptation by totally trusting in God. This time, Satan used His trust in God to try and get Him to force a miracle.

Jesus responded again with a quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. We trust totally on God for our needs as we do His will. But we are testing God when we create a crisis of our own design and then demand that God get us out.

Satan was not easily overcome. He next took Jesus to a high mountain for a final challenge. Showing Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, he offered them to Him. All Jesus needed to do was to bow down to Satan — once! This temptation was akin to the desires of the eyes — he was trying to tempt Jesus by what looked good to Him.

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to glory. No longer would He need the three-plus years of ministry, concluded by the suffering on the cross. He could have the worship of the entire world immediately!

This is also the boldest of Satan’s temptations. He no longer couched his suggestions with “since your are the Son of God…” Now, he directly insisted that Jesus bow down to him.

Jesus’ response to Satan was decisive and direct. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”It was wrong for Jesus to try and shortcut God’s plans, but it was especially wrong to ever bow down to Satan!

Jesus also finally commands Satan to leave him, “Be gone, Satan! ” Satan then left Jesus for a more opportune time.

Jesus was attacked in every way by Satan’s temptations, but he emerged victorious! Jesus never disobeyed God, and when challenged, he always answered His challenges with God’s word.

What can Jesus’ example teach us about temptation?


Expect temptation to come!

Temptation is a part of our life when we belong to Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Him, the more Satan will attempt to pull us back.

But we need to anticipate the temptations, knowing that we can win. Defend yourself when you are weak, and be ready to answer back when temptation comes.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.


Answer temptation with God’s Word!

Jesus relied totally on God’s word when confronted by Satan. Immerse yourself in God’s word, keeping Him on your mind and heart for when the tempter comes.

Psalms 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.


Resist the devil!

Jesus sent away Satan after the attack. We have the same promise that he will flee from us when we resist him. Note, however, that it is not enough to simply stand up against the devil. We need to first submit to God. We need to let God fill the place in our life that was formerly taken over by the devil.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.



Jesus went through the same temptations as us, so He understands when we are tempted. We need to make it a habit to first come to God when temptation comes. Stay close to Him and ask Him for the grace and the strength to get through it.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


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The Initiation of the King

A modern baptism in the Jordan River


Thoughts from Matthew 3…


A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the Jordan river and seeing the traditional site where Jesus was baptized. The river was actually very small in that area, but there were several markers to commemorate the spot. Shrines and churches filled the landscape, allowing people of all denominations to come and worship.

Most of us have heard about the scene where Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. There are pictures in children’s books and artist renderings, all seeking to capture the moment where God the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.

About 30 years have passed since the times when Jesus was born (Matthew 1), and when He was visited by the wise men (Matthew 2). Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, was preaching in the wilderness that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Therefore, the people needed to repent, and to be baptized in order to show that they were part of this kingdom (see here).

It was during this time that Jesus left his hometown of Nazareth, in Galilee, and came to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John.

John had been preaching that the King was coming, but when he came face-to-face with Jesus, he refused to baptize him. Jesus was greater than him, and John did not consider himself worthy to baptize him. John only consented when Jesus told him that it was necessary in order to “fulfill all righteousness”.

What does this mean? Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Why was this necessary for Jesus, and for that matter, for John?

Bible scholars have long considered these questions and have produced a very large list of answers for why Jesus came to be baptized. The many explanations range from the very simplistic to the very complex, from the logical to the almost mystical. Many see in Jesus’ baptism a preview of His ministry to come, including identification with sinners, anticipation of the cross, his burial and resurrection, the preview of Christian baptism, and the validation of John’s ministry. 3

These explanations contain excellent theology and have been put forth by some of the finest Bible teachers of our time. But they are all deficient for a number of reasons.

First, they fail to explain why this was necessary for both Jesus and John, in order to for fill all righteousness. Why is John’s role important here?

Second, these answers are all based on assumptions, not from the text itself. These assumptions are based on the explainers’ understanding of theology and how the ministry of Jesus Christ unfolded. None of these explanations are given by Matthew, Mark, nor Luke at the time of Jesus‘ baptism.

Finally, these explanations are difficult to reconcile with Jesus being both fully God and fully man.

Matthew 1 (see here) shows that Jesus was born fully human, and he was also fully God. We cannot fully comprehend how an infinite God can live within the confines of finite humanity, yet this was the life of Jesus Christ on earth. The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all show this in Jesus’ life. He was holy God, and so he was unblemished by the sin that has plagued the human race. Yet he was a lowly human, so he could be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

Jesus lived with all of the authority and power of God himself. As it says in Colossians, “in him is all the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19).

Yet Jesus was also fully human. As it says in Philippians 2, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, laid aside the voluntary use of his attributes, living fully in the form of finite mankind, relying totally upon the Holy Spirit.

How could Jesus be both divine and human? This paradox is difficult to reconcile. Many theologians and Bible scholars have sought a simple explanation by emphasizing either His divinity or His humanity.

There are those who have elevated Jesus’ humanity at the expense of His deity. Some have either minimized it or outright denied the fact that Jesus was God. They portray Him as a normal human going through daily life with the same weaknesses and failures as you and I. But to deny Jesus’ deity is to deny the words from the New Testament Gospels and the Epistles. The Gospel of John starts out with, “the Word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus said about himself, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus also taught that he descended from heaven (John 3:13), and Jesus’ prayer in John 17 tells of His oneness with the Father (John 17:20-21). One of the most eloquent sections of the epistles that tell of the greatness of Jesus Christ is Colossians 1:15-20, where Jesus is above creation, the author of creation, the head of the church, and in Him is all of the essence of deity. Both His followers and His enemies recognized that Jesus said that He was God (Matthew 16:16-17, John 5:18). You cannot deny His deity.

But others have focused on Jesus’ divinity, forgetting that he was also very much human. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and he felt physical and emotional pain (e.g. Matthew 4:2, John 4:6-7, John 11:33-35). We see Him act with apparently limited knowledge, such as going to a barren fig tree when He was hungry (Matthew 21:18-19), or by leading his disciples to a quiet retreat, only to be surrounded by over 5,000 people who followed him from the city (Mark 6:30-44). The simplest explanation is that Jesus’ knowledge was limited while He was on earth. He had set aside His omniscience and was relying totally on the direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, growing in both wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). The best understanding of why Jesus came to John’s baptism was not because He was orchestrating all of the finer points of theology, but rather that he had submitted fully to God. God had led John to baptize and Jesus was prepared to follow everything that God had instituted. John preached about the kingdom of heaven and offered baptism to identify those who were ready to be part of this kingdom. Hence the reason to “fulfill all righteousness“, was that it was right for John to baptize Jesus. It was the right thing for them to do.

Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus was challenged by the Jewish Priests who asked him by what authority He was teaching? Jesus answered them with a question of His own, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from man?“ (Matthew 21:23-27). The rhetorical answer was that John’s baptism was from heaven.

After Jesus was baptized, His ministry showed the results of his baptism. It was the last act of His private life and the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus was personally verified by God the Father. The Holy Spirit came to rest on Him, and would direct and empower Him for the rest of his life on earth.

All of the theological facts pointed out above came about as a result of Jesus’ baptism. He identified with believing sinners, He validated John’s ministry, and His ultimate sacrifice allowed any who believed in Him to become sons of God (John 1:12). The present Christian baptism does not identify with the baptism of John, but rather illustrates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.



Jesus Christ is beyond our understanding!

The scenes of history may be interesting, but let us not forget Jesus Christ Himself! He is the most important one!


Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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