What is a temptation? It’s an effort to cause someone to do something inappropriate.
The three temptations by the devil
1 – what one needs
2 – what one desires
3 – what one is
How would Jesus respond? He answers with direct quotes from the Bible, whose authority even the devil dare not challenge. But there are deeper meanings than just suitable answers. These three temptations are issues which every person must face throughout most of his life.
Also, in these temptations, the devil wants Jesus to
1 – follow his orders
2 – worship him
3 – test God
These are all inappropriate things to do, and Jesus has to refuse to do these without giving the devil any excuse to use that against him (i.e. to say that Jesus is not the Son of God or that Jesus is afraid.) It is for these and other reasons that Jesus answered the challenges the way he did.
Coming back to the means of the temptations, we can see Jesus’ answers to be far deeper than timely use of Scriptures to answer to the devil:
1. needs of man – Jesus was hungry, and so getting some food to satisfy his hunger is a reasonable request. Yet Jesus would fall into the devil’s trap if he does what the devil said. So he basically said that his needs are not just food but much more, which he clearly has when he answered with it!
2. desires of man – all men love wealth and power. Jesus’ answer does not say that these desires are wrong, but the means by which to reach them must not violate God’s teachings. Devil asks him to get it by an ungodly mean, which he refuses.
3. a man’s identity/what or who he is – people often want to prove who they are, in terms of status, character, etc. Jesus may be saying that one’s true self does not need to be proven, and certainly not by means that are wrong. Another interesting thing in this temptation is the devil’s use of the Scripture, which may be an attempt to make his temptation more legitimate. (Sometimes people misuse the Scriptures, a tradition which the devil himself started here…)
In (1) and (3), devil began by asking Jesus to do what he says in order to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus didn’t have to prove that to the devil, who clearly knows who Jesus is. It is obvious that the question is just a way to lure Jesus into doing what the devil wants. What’s the harm in doing something even if it’s to prove what’s obvious? First, even attempting to prove it may cause one to have to do something against his better judgment. It’s better to not even engage in trying to prove it. For example, if someone says, “If you are cool, try cocaine.” If one falls into the trap and tries to address this challenge, then either he tries cocaine or would look “uncool.” The way to resolve this is to avoid the whole process with a good reason that the tempter cannot refute. Second, engaging in the whole process inevitably will cause Jesus to do what the devil asks him to, because he will have to do so to “prove” his identity. Doing what the devil tells him to, under those circumstances, implies that he is subordinate to the devil. For while a superior being may do what his subjects suggest sometimes, no superior being needs to follow the subjects’ suggestions in order to prove his identity. If his identity cannot be established, why would the subjects even follow?
(For teachers of teenagers, a discussion of possible temptations often faced by teenagers is appropriate. Show the students how they can learn from Jesus’ answers to the devil…)