Jesus’ Baptism and His Temptations


The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23)

            Luke tells us that Jesus is now thirty years old (Luke 3:23). The age is significant because under the Old Law, priests began to serve at the age of thirty (Numbers 4:3). While Jesus could not be a priest under Moses’ Law because he descended from Judah and not Levi, still Jesus became both our king and our High Priest (Hebrews 7:11-28). By coincidence, thirty is also the age in which David began his reign as king (II Samuel 5:4). There may be nothing significant about these parallels, or it might represent very subtle foreshadowing in God’s Holy Word.

            Matthew presents the most detailed account of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus had traveled from Nazareth of Galilee to the Jordan River valley to be baptized by John. Initially, John objected to baptizing Jesus because of the nature of his baptism. He baptized people for repentance. John, being a man, had sins in his life, but Jesus was one without sin and John knew this (Hebrews 4:15). Recall that John realized that the Christ would be a far greater man than himself. If he was not worthy of tying his shoes, surely he wasn’t worthy of baptizing him. That John in some way recognized the Christ is evident given the strong contrast in his greeting of Jesus to his greeting of others who came to him. Having a record of John’s protest is important; otherwise, we would have people claiming today that Jesus was having his sins washed away as did the people coming to John.

            Though Jesus understood John’s reservation, he asked him to put his reluctance aside for the moment; the baptism was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus kept the law of Moses perfectly and even in this new ordinance established by John at the end of the Law, Jesus obeyed the teachings of God (Hebrews 5:8). There is another parallel that may be hinted at as well. Before entering the office of priest, the candidate was washed (Leviticus 8:5-7) and afterwards came his anointing (Leviticus 8:12). Jesus is keeping this custom, though John likely did not understand the significance of what was occurring.

            The word “baptized” means “immersed.” You can see the meaning of the word in action because when Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Sprinkling or pouring was not used. John selected his locations for baptisms based on the amount of available water (John 3:23).

Luke informs us that Jesus’ baptism was also accompanied by prayer (Luke 3:21).

            As Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon him and a voice spoke from heaven declaring that Jesus was His Son, in whom He was well pleased. The event is significant because it reveals Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father all being present but in different locations doing different things.

            It would be incorrect to assume that the Spirit’s coming upon Jesus changed him in any way. Rather this is the event that gives him the title “Christ,” “Messiah,” or “the Anointed One.” Instead of being anointed with oil, Jesus is anointed with the Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1).

            There is another interesting parallel to be observed. At Jesus’ baptism, he was recognized as being the Son of God. When we are baptized, Christians are recognized as being adopted children of God (Galatians 3:26-29; 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). We too receive the Spirit of God as a part of that adoption (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:15).


Jesus’ Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13)

            Mark’s account tells us that immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness for forty days. The region is most likely the western shore of the Dead Sea, which is not far from the Jericho and the Jordan River, but is desolate of people and as Mark notes, filled with wild animals.

            In this account, Satan is presented as a actual being, not a mythological force. He is shown as strong, but he is not deity – he has limitations.

            Jesus spent forty days without food. This is not the first time someone was mentioned as fasting for so long a period. Moses and Elijah both went without food for forty days (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18; I Kings 19:8). Luke notes that during those forty days Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2), though exactly what the nature of those temptations were, we do not know. We do know that Satan had failed in bringing the Son of God down in that time.


The First Temptation

            The first recorded temptation logically builds upon the fact that Jesus was extremely hungry after going without food for forty days. Satan said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). The very nature of the taunt is interesting. No matter how hungry you or I might become, we do not have the power to change stones into bread. We might be tempted to eat stones, but we cannot change the nature of stones. In other words, this taunt would not be a temptation for us because we would not be able to do it, even if we wanted to do so. However, it was a temptation for Jesus. Thus Satan knows that Jesus has power beyond the reach of mortal men, yet he prefaced his statement with “if you are the Son of God.”

            Satan didn’t attempt to snare Jesus with a blatant sin. He did not tempt him with intoxicating beverages, he didn’t ask him to take the name of God in vain, nor did he pressure Jesus into stealing. No, Satan knew he was dealing with God. He sought a more subtle way to maneuver Jesus into sinning. Notice, too, the timing of Satan’s challenge. He waited for a moment of weakness, when Jesus was starving, to challenge him. Few of us are able to think clearly when our bodies demand food. Satan doesn’t fight fair.

            What Satan told Jesus to do was basically moral. There is nothing particularly wrong with changing stones into bread. There certainly is no command against it in the Bible. Not long afterwards Jesus changes water into wine, so we can conclude that God doesn’t object to using power to change the nature of things. Satan’s challenge even contained a benefit to Jesus. If Jesus was to fulfill his mission, he would have to live; yet, he has spent forty days without food. His reserves would be near the end. He would need to eat soon if he would survive.

            Doesn’t this well illustrate the weakness of our own reasoning? When faced with a choice, people will reason that if it is moral, that it has a perceived benefit, and the Scriptures do not teach against it, then it must be righteous. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” In other words, they are arguing that the course of action appears to be moral to them. “Looks to me like it would do a lot of good.” In other words, they see a benefit to that course of action. “Where in the Bible does it say ‘not to?’” In other words, they don’t see the Scriptures forbidding this course of action. Thus are things like instrumental music in worship, kitchens in church buildings, using institutions in place of the church, and a whole host of other things justified.

            Jesus shows us the flaw in this line of reasoning by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. It is the concluding statement of a longer warning. “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3). Moses was reminding the people of an earlier time when because of hunger they had decided to take matters into their own hands (Exodus 16:2-7). God provided the people with food, but the original deal was to see if the people would obey His voice.

            The problem isn’t God didn’t forbid turning stones into bread. The problem is that God didn’t authorize it. To be a follower of God, we must have pleasing God as our prime objective and not the pleasing of ourselves (Galatians 1:10). We cannot be self-seeking (Romans 2:8). To act without authority is plain and simply lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23).

            Israel’s problem in the time of Moses was a lack of faith in God (Hebrews 3:7-19). They weren’t certain that God would take care of them. Jesus later teaches us that we should not be concerned about basic necessities because God will care for us (Matthew 6:25-33). Jesus had confidence in God and later it is shown that his confidence was not misplaced (Matthew 4:11).

            Unfortunately, people continue to think more often with their bellies than with their hearts. “Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him"”(John 6:26-27). Too often decisions are made based on worldly priorities rather than on godly ones (Luke 8:14).


The Second Temptation

            The order of the second and third temptations differ between Luke and Matthew. We will follow Luke’s order, since he stated his account is in chronological order. Matthew may have reordered the events to bring out a particular sequence of thought. The fact that it was reordered is of little consequence.

            After showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from a high mountain, Satan said, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours” (Luke 4:6-7).

            Satan was offering to hand over his kingdom to Jesus. Satan rules all who sin (I John 3:7-10). Therefore, he is the ruler of this world (John 12:31). Put yourself in Jesus’ position for a moment. Jesus came to draw mankind to himself (John12:32) and here Satan was offering to allow him to fulfill his mission without a fight. But only if Jesus would surrender to him.

            Using the logic of this world, we see that what Satan offered Jesus wouldn’t harm anyone. Such reasoning is used to justify many practices. “As long as no one is hurt, then it can’t be wrong.” Thus, people justify pornography, fornication, euthanasia, and other sins where all parties involved consent to the sinful action. This line of reasoning is even extended to say that so long as there are no severe consequences, then there is no reason not to practice it. Therefore, pre-martial sex is seen as fine if “safe” sex is practiced. In other words, it is not considered wrong if a person takes measures to avoid diseases or pregnancy. Since no perceived harm results, the practice is justified. Drinking is justified in a similar manner: “If one has a drink in his own home, then no one is harmed. It is not as if he is not taking care of his family. He is not out on the highway jeopardizing lives.” Not too long ago, people defended Bill Bennett’s gambling because, while it was large sums, it wasn’t money needed by his family because they were wealthy.

            The core of all these arguments is that things we might call sin are not really sins if they don’t harm someone else. Such could be argued in this second temptation. If Jesus worshiped Satan, only he would be involved. No one else would have been harmed. The problem being overlooked is that sin always causes harm (I Corinthians 6:18-20). The problem is that we often refuse to recognize the danger and the harm.

            What Satan offered Jesus was nothing more than what everyone else already does. People often judge right or wrong on the bases of what others accept. Generally it is argued that an action cannot be completely wrong if others are involved in the same action. When a political figure is caught committing some sin, you will shortly see a rash of articles trying to prove that he wasn’t the first person to commit such a sin and more so, the sin is commonly committed.

            Think about how many sins are accepted because there is no disapproval in society. Have you ever talked to today’s teens about the immorality and dangers of pre-marital sex? It is so common-place today that a majority of teens no longer think in terms of whether it is right or wrong, but when would be a good time to experience it and with whom. It is not questioned in society any longer; it is accepted because everyone does it. We talk about how divorce is wrong, but I find Christians readily considering it because divorce no longer contains a social stigma. Improper attire is accept because everyone at the pool or on the beach wears little clothing.

            The flaw is that people are generally lazy. They select the path of least resistance and the easiest road through life is the one that leads to hell (Matthew 7:13-14).

            Consider that Satan took Jesus to a high mountain before offering his proposal. While it gave Satan an opportunity to display his kingdom, it also meant that Jesus was separated from the rest of mankind. If Jesus fell down to worship Satan, the isolation implied that no one else needed to know.

            Many sins are committed under the cover of darkness (I Thessalonians 5:4-8) because those committing the sins don’t want others to know. And when sin is committed, the sinners spend a good deal of effort trying to make sure no one else knows. Consider the example of David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba. When David learned that Bathsheba had become pregnant from his one-night dalliance, he attempted to hide his sin by making it look like it wasn’t him but her husband. He lied trying to get her husband to spend time with Bathsheba. In growing frustration with the situation, he eventually has her husband murdered. Hiding sins doesn’t improve things. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

            What is often forgotten is that sins are never truly hidden. God is aware of all that happens. “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). God sees and we will be called to give an account for what we have done (Hebrews 4:13). As David points out in Psalms 139, there is no hiding from God.

            Nor can you hid from yourself. We know what we have done and our sins ought to bother our conscience (Romans 2:15). Many struggle in the aftermath of sin with the guilt brought on by the knowledge of what was committed (I John 3:20-21). Rather than guilt, we all need the good testimony of our memories (II Corinthians 1:12).

            What Satan asked of Jesus was not continual worship, but one act of submission to him. Think how many sins are justified in this manner: it is just one drink, just one fling, just one experiment with drugs – no commitment, just a trial. By minimizing the sin the true dangers of the consequences are overlooked.

            “No harm was done.” In other words, I believe I got away with it.

            “It was only a small sin.” In other words, I believe I can handle it.

            “Its not like I do it all the time.” In other words, I feel I can still resist it.

            Sin leads to death because its searing power numbs us to the consequences (I Timothy 4:1-3; Ephesians 4:17-19).

            Finally, we can see that even though Satan asked Jesus to sin, some “good” would come of that sin. Jesus would be able to rule over Satan’s kingdom without ever having to endure the sufferings of the cross. This is the core of situation ethics, the teaching that something wrong can become right depending on the situation. Joseph Fletcher, in his book “Situation Ethics, the New Morality” tells of a woman in a Nazi labor camp. The Germans had a rule that pregnant women could be released from the labor camps. Thus, a woman seduced a German guard, got pregnant, was sent home, and everyone in her family was happy. Fletcher claimed that the woman’s fornication was justified because it lead to a happy outcome. Less dramatic, but still based on the same reasoning, people argue for churches to provide meals because it will attract crowds. Because more people will potentially hear the gospel, it appears to be right to offer something that is not authorized by God. Cooperative pooling of funds between congregations is argued in the same way. One congregation can’t afford to reach out through certain mediums, but by pooling funds look at how many will be reached.

            The problem is that perceived good is not justification for sin. David illustrated this for us. He wanted to bring the ark of God into Jerusalem, but he decided to use an authorized means of carrying the ark. As a result a man died (II Samuel 6:1-10). The fact is that sin is always sinful. The situation or the perceived outcome does not change the fact that the action is still a sin. Even when we believe we are picking the lesser of two evils, the fact remains that the lesser is still evil.

            Jesus responded to Satan’s offer by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Luke 4:8). He went to the core issue: what Satan asked was sinful, no matter how it was dressed up in flowery robes. The only answer to Satan is to oppose him (I Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7).


The Third Temptation

            In the third temptation, Satan brings Jesus to the top of temple and asks him to throw himself off the pinnacle. It makes you wonder what kind of temptation is this? Most of us have a few ounces of self-preservation in our bones. The idea of purposely jumping off a tall building is absurd. However, Satan presents his challenge in the form of a dare and he quotes two lines from Psalms 91 to prove that Jesus could do this without harm.

            First, let us read that section of Scripture in context: “Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot” (Psalms 91:9-13). Seen in its context we realize that Satan left off the conditional part of the promise. Protection is offered to those who first put their trust in God. The passage was written to encourage faith, to as a means to test God’s abilities.

            Jesus’ response places the quotations back into their proper context by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. “Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God'"” (Luke 4:12). God’s word harmonizes in all its details. Satan’s use of Psalms 91 made it contradict other passages. God protects His followers, but to place yourself in harm’s way is to put God to the test and testing God is a sin.

            Think how often people put God to the test. “Lord, if you want me to take this job, give me a sign this week.” The person offering such a prayer is avoiding all personal responsibility for making a decision. If the decision goes badly are they going to blame God? “Lord, if you’ll give me a job tomorrow, then I’ll know it really came from you.” Notice the test being presented to God. The petitioner is asking God to prove Himself. What happens if the job comes two days later instead of in one day, does the person then decide that God didn’t have a hand in it? “Lord, if you will help me, I’ll go to church Sunday.” Is it right for a person to place conditions on his service to God? Or demanding that God respond in a way that he wants?

            People are not in the position to bargain with God. That is why we are warned to keep our words before God to only a few (Ecclesiastes 5:2). The mistake many wicked people make is to assume that God’s silence implies approval (Psalm 50:16-23).

            Quoting Scripture doesn’t make a person right. A large number of denominational people manage to quote passages, but we must ask: Is it quoted correctly? Was it applied properly to the situation? And, is it usage in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures? An old-time preacher, A.G. Freed, once said that one could prove anything by the Bible. A young man didn’t believe him. “Prove to me,” he asked, “that it’s wrong to split wood.” With only a moment’s thought, brother Freed answered, “Whatsoever God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Without a context, just about anything can be proven.

            There is a second fault in what Satan asked of Jesus that is easily overlooked. What would have happened if Jesus did make a miraculous descent from the top of the temple in the arms of angels? The temple was a popular spot for Jews. There always would be crowds there. From a human point of view, such a rescue would be mighty impressive. The Jews were looking for just such a spectacular Messiah. “By far the most popular view of the Messiah was a warrior king, who would appear as a political champion and military hero to rally Jews from every nation and lead them in a victorious onslaught against their enemies. Heathen oppressors would be annihilated and God’s elect would become the world’s conquerors” [H.E. Dana, New Testament World, pages 133-134]. We can see the Jews desire for showy Messiah in their attempts to force Jesus to be their king (John 6:15). Even after Jesus’ departure, we learn that the Jews continued to search for signs (I Corinthians 1:22-23). Jesus refused to give the Jews what they desired.


            Jesus met Satan’s temptations with the word of God. He didn’t need special powers or miracles to overcome him. Jesus showed that knowledge is the key to victory (Ephesians 6:10-17). Through the Bible we learn about Satan’s devices. In its recorded examples we learn how other faced Satan’s temptations. We can then follow the path of those who overcame (James 5:10-11) and we can avoid the path of those who fell (I Corinthians 10:6-12).


John’s Witness (John 1:29-34)

            I discussed John 1:19-28 with other verses prior to Jesus’ baptism because it appears that John was frequently being asked if he was the Christ. John 1:19-51 actually covers a four day time period (John 1:29, 35, 43). John’s testimony of seeing the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus (John 1:33) indicates that the whole sequence takes place after Jesus’ baptism. Some want to say that Jesus was baptized between day one and day two of these events, that his initial meeting with his disciples occurred, and then he went into the wilderness to be tempted. The problem is that the temptation lasted forty days. Three days after the events at the end of John 1, Jesus is in Cana attending a wedding (John 2:1).

            The only solution is to recognize that Jesus’ baptism and temptation occurred before John 1:19. After his temptation, Jesus returned to where John was baptizing. This then explains John’s recognition of Jesus in John 1:26 and it keeps harmony with the other gospel accounts that Jesus was immediately lead into the wilderness for forty days after his baptism.

            Thus Jesus returned after his temptation to where John was baptizing. At first he was a part of the crowd and not recognized (John 1:26). However, on the day following a challenge to John by the men sent from Jerusalem by the Pharisees, John sees Jesus and boldly announces who he was.

            John called Jesus the lamb of God. This was a reference to Isaiah 53:7 where the Messiah is depicted as a silent lamb. It is also an allusion to the Jewish practice of offering lambs as continual sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-39). It is also the completion of a foreshadowing event from the days of Abraham. When Isaac, Abraham’s only son of promise, is being led up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed, Isaac asked his father, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). Many centuries later, here was the lamb provided by God; the lamb of God who became a burnt offering (Ephesians 5:2; Revelation 5:6).

            Again, Jesus’ purpose in the world is declared. He came to take away sin. Not just the sins of the Jewish people, but the sins of the world. Again, John is referring back to Isaiah, this time Isaiah 53:10-11.

            John reminds those around him that he had foretold this day. This was the one who was greater than himself and who pre-existed him (John 1:15). In other words, John was hinting that Jesus was God, just as Jesus later states himself (John 8:58).

            When John spoke in John 1:15, he did not know who would be revealed as the Messiah. But he knew what sign for which he was looking. He had been told to look for the Spirit descending on a person and remaining on him. This John witnessed happening at Jesus’s baptism. Thus John states with confidence that Jesus is the Son of God.

            The testimony that John was not personally acquainted with Jesus in advance handles any accusation that John and Jesus conspired together to have Jesus announced as the Messiah. John probably knew from his mother the prophecies concerning Mary’s child, but John grew up in fringes of Judea and Jesus in Nazareth of Galilee. John is stating that they had not met prior to Jesus’ baptism.


Questions for this Lesson