Jesus Was Tempted By Satan. Or Was He?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been confused by the Temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4. 

Not the fact that Jesus was tempted. I got that. 

But the temptations themselves were always a little curious to me. After all, how is it fair that God Himself could be tempted by things that seemed so…minor? He’s the Creator of the Universe; why would turning stones into bread be a “temptation”?

One thing I know about these temptations though is that they’re designed to show the relatability of Jesus. He never asked us to do anything He Himself didn’t do, so going through a deliberate temptation — and succeeding — gives us confidence that we can too.

The Three Temptations of Jesus

A lot of people have speculated why there were three temptations of Jesus. Why not four? Is there some significance to the number three, such as the three members of the Godhead?

I’m not sure about any of that; moreover, I think any argument as to why that number is basically pure speculation.

However, I do know that there is more happening during these temptations than meets the eye.

“Turn These Stones Into Bread”

Satan’s request for Jesus to “turn these stones into bread” was met with a straightforward answer: “Man shall not live by bread alone.”

Truthfully, it wasn’t bread that was on Jesus’ mind at all. The real problem was that Satan said “IF you’re the Son of God.” In other words, prove who You are by doing something relatively insignificant.

This challenge places Satan in the driver’s seat. Jesus doesn’t need to “prove” Himself to Satan, who knew better than most what Jesus was. Moreover, He had spent the last 40 days fasting. If He hadn’t broken His fast by now, He certainly wasn’t going to do it to win an argument with Satan.

“Throw Yourself Down”

Next, Satan challenges God’s protection by telling Jesus to throw Himself off of the Temple. Would God the Father protect Him?

This brings to mind the challenge the Israelites made in the wilderness. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food” (Numbers 21:5).

The Israelites’ blatant disrespect of God and His motives was a step too far. God had already brought them out of slavery, parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptians, and provided sustenance for them. What right did they have to challenge His love?

Jesus’ response proves this exact point. Quoting Psalm 91:9-13, Jesus says “You shall not put the Lord to the test.” In other words, you are not going to force God’s hand by demanding He demonstrate His love over and over again. He already has done that millions of times. Have faith in those moments.

“Fall Down and Worship Me”

It’s the last temptation that, on the surface, appears to be the least enticing of all. Why would Jesus ever, under any circumstances, “fall down and worship” Satan?

Once you peel back the layers, though, it makes more sense than it seems.

If Satan is indeed the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11) and Jesus came to “draw all men” unto Himself (John 12:32), then this offer by Satan represents a shortcut. Satan is offering to give everyone to Jesus without Him having to go through the Cross, do any more teaching. It’s all His — automatically.

But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? You can’t expect to redeem people from their sins by bowing the knee to the Father of lies (John 8:44). It’s a self-defeating proposition, no matter how “enticing” it may be.

Was Jesus Tempted By Any of This?

Despite the relatability of the temptations, there is still one question that has to be answered: Was Jesus actually tempted by Satan?

If that’s a preposterous question, consider these two verses:

“For we do not have a High Priest that cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).

From that verse, we know that Jesus was tempted “just as we are.” Simple.

But what about James 1:13?

“Let no one say when He was tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (James 1:13).

On the one hand, you have a clear statement that says Jesu was tempted. On the other, a clear statement that says God cannot be tempted by evil.

Which one is it?

I won’t presume to know the ins and outs of what it means to be God (nor should anyone try). But I do think there are a couple points we can consider to this argument.

Just Because Satan Tried to Tempt Jesus Doesn’t Mean that He Was Actually Tempted

The nature of temptation, according to James 1:12-16, is that someone is “drawn away by their own lust and enticed.”

If that definition is true, then to be “tempted,” in the way that we use it, is to allow yourself to indulge the possibility of sin, even if just for a moment.

I don’t think Jesus did that.

As we just mentioned, Satan presented three options to Jesus that were otherwise appealing. But did Jesus entertain them for a moment? Highly doubtful.

He knew better than anyone what the cost of sin is because He died for it on the Cross. Why would He have the slightest temptation towards something He knew would cause Him so much pain?

It’s Possible That Jesus Could Have Fallen

I know that because I know that Jesus had free will. Twice in the Scriptures (John 10:11-18; Matthew 26:47-54), Jesus argues that He alone has the right to lay His life down. He doesn’t need anyone to fight off the guards that came to arrest Him. Dying on the Cross was His sacrifice.

That means that it’s entirely reasonable to think that Jesus could have given into the temptations by Satan — however minuscule and remote that possibility actually was.

Why did He not? Simple: He loved us.

His Love Made Sinning Impossible

God is the embodiment of love. He is the epitome of what it means to show love, to give love, to receive love, to be love.

That love is seen through His sacrifice. If Jesus truly had free will, the the only thing stopping Him from falling to any kind of temptation was because His love for us was stronger than any temptation that might ever arise.

I would also argue that His hatred of sin — which put Him on the cross — was greater than any of ours as well. He paid the penalty for it, after all; why wouldn’t He hate it more than us?

When we see the temptations in this light, it forces us to evaluate ourselves.

Do we love God enough to sacrifice our lives for Him?

Do we hate sin enough that we’re willing to forego temptations to be pleasing to Him?

If not, it’s time we adopt an attitude more in line with what Jesus had. Only then will temptation essentially be a non-factor in our lives (as much as it can be for humans).

Read more

Search Articles


Related Articles

Do you feel something is missing?



Tough Questions About the Bible
(November 2-5, 2023)

You have questions about the Bible, but when was the last time you looked for the answers?

Join us November 2-5 for answers to some of the Bible’s toughest questions! More info can be found here.

santa clara church of Christ