Jesus had come to be the savior of the world and this meant he had to do battle with God's enemy, "the ruler of this world." There could only be one victor; either Jesus is Lord, or Satan is Lord. The temptation of Jesus is the first engagement in a battle that will reach its climax on Calvary when Satan will seemingly defeat God's messiah on the cross. In this battle no quarter is given for it is a battle for the Lordship of the whole of God's creation. So it is that Jesus is "led by the Spirit" into the wilderness to face Satan's test.
v1-2. Luke carefully sets the scene. Jesus is corporate Israel undertaking a new Exodus. Will he fail the test as Israel did all those years before?
v3. In the first test, the devil addresses Jesus as "Son of God". This is a messianic title, although the devil fully understands Jesus' relationship with the Father. The "if" is not expressing doubt as to Jesus' messiahship, but is rather a goad for him to use his own powers to establish the kingdom, rather than trusting God to supply the wherewithal for the kingdom's realization.
v4. Israel doubted that God would supply food for the journey through the wilderness. Jesus has no such doubts.
v5-8. In the second test, Satan offers Jesus an easy way to establish the kingdom - the power and glory of this age instead of humility, suffering and death. Satan is even willing to give up his authority over the inhabited world, but Jesus must acknowledge Satan's lordship and that would inevitably mean bondage. Jesus chooses to fight Satan and travel God's way to victory.
v9-12. In the third test, Jesus is tempted to gain messianic recognition through the application of miraculous powers, rather than by way of the cross. Israel once doubted God's gracious provision for their journey when they argued with Moses at Massa. Jesus does not make the same error. Jesus understands and accepts that the messiah will be saved through death, not from death.
v13. "all this tempting", means "every kind of temptation." Temptations will continue, but on this occasion Jesus faced the full range of temptations. So, for the moment the testing ends "until an opportune time."
The people of Israel were tested in the wilderness and failed the test. Jesus the Messiah, representing the people of Israel, is similarly tested. In our place, Jesus faces the test in the wilderness, trusting in the Lord. To doubt and turn aside from the way charted by God is to die in the wilderness as Israel did long ago, but Jesus understands his mission and remains firm to the end.
As Christianity in Western society is increasingly marginalized, we begin to fear our very survival. Will the people of God be able to realize the kingdom against the power of the secular age? How will we proceed to establish God's kingdom against such odds?
i] The people of Israel doubted and grumbled all the way from Egypt to the promised land. Although God had promised to provide for their journey, they doubted that food and water could be found in the desert. Jesus also faced this test. At the beginning of his ministry, his journey to Jerusalem, to glory, he too faced the same doubts. Will God provide as he said he would?
Jesus has set us on a journey to glory - the way of the cross. His word shows the way, but can we rely on his support? That's the test. For example, Jesus asks us to communicate the gospel to God's broken world. His word tells us that the gospel is the "power of God unto salvation for all who believe." Why then do we employ selling techniques, psychological manipulation, group dynamics, to achieve results? Jesus will supply the wherewithal for the journey; to doubt the efficacy of his word is to court disaster.
ii] In the harsh loneliness of the desert the people of Israel looked for a more tangible, powerful force, to take them onward. A Golden Calf, the symbol of Egypt's might, seemed the perfect answer. Jesus could secure the kingdom with a similar submission to dark powers.
Institutional Christianity, fearing its very survival, has latched onto "relevance" as the means of security. The adoption of pop culture in worship services seems to build congregations and so secure viability. Of course, all at the expense of substance. True worship has nothing to do with structure, neither Mount Gerizim nor Jerusalem, but is of "spirit and truth." The glory of this age, this system of things, may seem to secure our survival, even give success, but it will inevitably result in our bondage to darkness.
iii] If Moses could get the people of Israel to recognize his leadership then he could easily take them onward. The sign of water from the rock seemed to be the answer. Yet, in claiming glory to himself he lost everything. Jesus faced a similar test - produce a mighty sign to gain recognition.
Large congregations, powerful charismatic ministries, hype and energy, "signs and wonders", are the surefire elements to gain recognition and succeed in the church-building game. We put the Lord to the test when we forget that he builds his church.
Apply the three tests in your own church situation.