Your Question: Why was Jesus tempted by the devil? And what does this mean for His followers?
Did you notice that before Jesus was tempted, Jesus was baptised? This really helps us understand the temptation, because at Jesus’ baptism, God declared that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Then after that Satan tempts Jesus by saying: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3); and “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:9). This shows us that the temptations are a test to see if Jesus really is the true Son of God. You can recognise the true Son of God because He trusts and obeys His Father. A false son will distrust God and obey Satan instead (John 8:41-47). Jesus proved that He is the true Son of God because when He was tested, Jesus perfectly trusted and obeyed God, and not Satan.
Jesus compared to other people
But there’s more. Jesus’ baptism and temptation doesn’t just tell us about Jesus. God wants us to see how Jesus compares with other people. Do you know who else is called “son of God” in the Bible? Have a look at the family tree that Luke puts between Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ temptation (Luke 3:23-38): it ends by saying that Adam was “the son of God.” So, when we read about Satan tempting Jesus, God wants us to compare the time Satan tempted Jesus with the time Satan tempted Adam (Genesis 3). When Satan tempted Adam, Adam didn’t trust and obey God. Instead, Adam trusted and obeyed Satan. Adam preferred Satan’s lies to God’s truth, and became a disobedient, shameful and sinful son. Yet, where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded!
Jesus compared to Israel
God also wants us to compare Jesus to the nation of Israel, which the Bible also calls God’s “son” (Exodus 4:23). Did you notice that Jesus’ temptation is a mirror image of the Israelites’ temptation? Jesus was baptised in the water and was tested in the desert for 40 days, just like the Israelites went through the water (the Bible describes this as a baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-2), and then were tested in the desert for 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2). Israel’s hunger in the desert (Deuteronomy 8:3) mirrors Jesus’ hunger in the desert (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). Jesus replied to Satan’s temptations by quoting commands based on Israel’s testing in the desert (Deuteronomy 6:13, 16; 8:3). But the difference is, where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Israel didn’t trust and obey God, but distrusted and disobeyed Him time after time.
All are sinners
The Bible tells us that all of us, not only Gentiles like me, and but even the Jews, are sinners. “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9.). Our sins prove that we don’t deserve to be called sons of God any more. We only deserve to be abandoned by God – sent away from Him, like God sent Adam away from Him in Eden, and like God exiled Israel away from Him in the promised land. But the Good News is, where we failed, Jesus triumphed! Jesus is the true Adam, who brings life to mankind (1 Corinthians 15:22)! And, Jesus is the true Israel, who brings light to the nations, and salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6)!
Jesus is the only man who succeeded in perfectly obeying God (Hebrews 4:15). He is the only man who didn’t deserve to be punished (Luke 23:41). But on the cross, Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was abandoned by God (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), for sinners like you and me (1 Peter 3:18). So that we don’t have to be cast away from the family home forever. Instead, when we trust in Jesus, God adopts us back into His family (Romans 8:15-17), and gives us the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12-13)!
There are two main things this means for us as followers of Jesus.
Jesus triumphed over Satan for us, in the wilderness, in Gethsemane, and ultimately, on the cross. So we who follow Jesus rejoice to be God’s children (1 John 3:1)! As God’s children, we now try our very best to be good sons and daughters, loving and honouring and obeying our heavenly Father in every part of our lives (Matthew 6:9-13).
Because Jesus has suffered the same temptations that we are facing, He empathises with us and understands exactly what how we feel. This means that when we sin, we don’t despair, but instead we come to God in assured humility, remembering Jesus’ wonderful promise that He will treat us gently and graciously, forgive us all our sins, and help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).