I cannot begin to imagine the struggles Jesus endured for 40 days in the desert.
Led by the Spirit, he entered into the wild with nothing more than a direction: “Go that way,” the Spirit uttered, and Jesus went.
Some might argue Jesus already knew of the temptations he would encounter on his journey, but I am not so sure.
While he may have been ordained for a specific task, Jesus was still a human being like you and me.
The Three Temptations
We’re typically taught to read three temptations into the Matthew 4:1-11 narrative: physical temptation (vv. 3-4), emotional temptation (vv. 5-7), and the temptation for power (vv. 8-10). These temptations each encourage Jesus to respond outwardly to the devil’s schemes.
But it’s an overlooked fourth temptation which truly challenges Jesus inwardly.
The Fourth Temptation
In Matthew 4:3, the very first thing the devil does is question the core of Jesus’ eternal identity: “If you are the Son of God…” It reminds me of the serpent’s snide remarks in the garden: “Did God really say…” (Gen. 3:1).
The devil’s an opportunist and pursues us at our weakest moments to challenge the words that God has spoken over our lives. If we question what God says, then perhaps we’ll also second-guess how we should truly behave. If we question who God says we are, then maybe we’re not really that person to begin with.
I think it’s no mistake that the devil frames his first two temptations this way (“If you are the Son of God…”) and doesn’t even bother the third time. He planted the thought in Jesus’ mind, and because Jesus was a human being like you and me, I genuinely believe Jesus didn’t forget it.
When Tempted, Cling to Truth
But Jesus didn’t cave. Instead, he clung desperately to the truth God spoke over him as he emerged from the Jordan, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
I’m convinced that during those 40 days, Jesus encountered more than just physical and emotional temptations. He also wrestled with the temptation to choose not to believe who God said he was.
And that’s something we can all relate to.