Jesus spends 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness (Judean desert)

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days, he was hungry. The devil said, “If you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread.” Jesus countered, “The Bible tells us, a person cannot live on bread alone but on the word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and they stood on the highest point of the temple. The Devil said, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself to the ground below for it is written ‘He will command his angels to protect you and they will lift you up in their hands so you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Likewise using the word of God, Jesus answered, “But it is also written, do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Then the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and pointed towards all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said, “All of this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him “Get away from me, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left and angels came to care for Jesus’ needs.

Woodcut showing Jesus casting the devil away while angels wait to tend to his needsWhat the story means to us today

Following the will of God

The story of the temptation of Christ focuses of course, on temptation – the allure of sin that is ever-so- present in our modern-day lives. This story tells us that it is better to follow the will of God, as Jesus did, than give in to earthly temptations. All too often, material, earthly temptations provide (perceived) short-term gains in satisfaction. Following what the Bible teaches us, the gains realized are long-term, healthier (both physically and emotionally), and overall, more beneficial to Man.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Where was the wilderness that Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in?

In the scriptures, the place Jesus entered for his 40-day fast was not specifically named. By “wilderness” however, Matthew was almost certainly referring to the confines of the wild Judean desert.

The Devil’s offer to “give” Jesus all the kingdoms of the world

In Jesus’ time, Jewish people generally acknowledged that the nations and people around them were evil. Although they understood that God had domain over all Earth, it was believed that rulers and kings of the various kingdoms were generally “evil”. As such, the Devil’s proposal was likely an offer to hand over rulership of the earthly kingdoms to Jesus, an offer that was certainly within his domain.

The temptation of Jesus – a fork in the road

To put the timeline of Jesus’ journey in context, the temptation of Jesus occurred immediately after he was baptized by John the Baptist and before he travelled to Galilee to begin his ministry (Matthew’s phrasing makes the timing difficult to gauge but both Mark and Luke clarify that he left for the wilderness immediately from the Jordan River). Jesus received his baptism, where he publicly professed his religious stance, and then entered into a forty-day period of introspection during which time the Devil began his onslaught. His public ministry began shortly after his time in the wilderness.

The Old Testament phrases Jesus used to support his rebuttal of the Devil’s tests

There are several Old Testament phrases mentioned by Jesus in this story. The first, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” is from Deuteronomy 8:3. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” comes from Psalm 91:11-12. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” comes from Deuteronomy 6:16 and “Worship the Lord your God only” comes from a few verses prior, in Deuteronomy 6:14.

The principles behind Jesus’ three tests

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)Although Matthew and Luke differ on the order the Devil’s temptations occurred, both indicated the tests laid before Jesus involved three primary principles. The first test forced a decision between man’s physical desires (should I satisfy my hunger?) vs. the will of God (the Father’s will was for Jesus to be hungry in the desert). The second temptation demanded a physical confirmation (a “test”) from God. Both of these temptations are equally applicable to us today but in Jesus’ instance, both also served the dual purpose of prodding Jesus to prove that he was the “Son of God” (in the case of jumping off the high temple, the Devil may have also been suggesting Jesus prove himself to the people too). More importantly, the tests endeavored to tempt Jesus to bend to the Devil’s will. The final test, again equally applicable to us today, was a blatant suggestion that Jesus turn from God’s will and accept the material rewards of Earth now.

It is also interesting to compare the three temptations of Christ to the temptations offered to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus overcame the temptations and in the most pointed way, reversed the failure of Adam and Eve which ultimately provided Man with a proverbial “new lease on life”.

The Devil quotes scriptures

It is surprising (to some) to read quotation of scripture coming from the Devil himself. The Devil (and earthly temptations in general) can sometimes present themselves in a manner we least expect. However, note that in the Devil’s instance, he did not quite quote the scripture accurately. When quoting Psalm 91:11-12, the Devil left out the important closing phrase, “in all your ways” which when taken in context, suggests a person is protected only when following God’s will.

The parallel between Jesus’ struggle and the Old Testament struggle of Israel

It’s easy to recognize the parallel between Jesus’ forty-day struggle in the Judean desert and the struggle of Israel during their forty years spent wandering in the wilderness. Both Jesus and the people of Israel suffered and struggled with hunger while following God’s will but both were rewarded when they, in due course, chose the correct path.

What would have happened had Jesus not resisted the Devil’s temptation?

An interesting and thought-provoking question is what would have happened if Jesus had given in to Satan’s temptations? Would he have lost his divinity, his role as the savior in the biblical accounts? Likely not. Jesus was born the Son of God no matter what happened in the desert. If Jesus had given in to the temptations, a frightening scenario would have likely occurred – we would have lost our savior.

About religious fasting

Fasting, a willing abstinence from food or certain kinds of food, is practiced by several religions around the world. An absolute fast is a total abstinence from all food and liquid but most religious fasts are a more-healthy partial fast. For instance, the Lenten fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert.

The purpose of fasting is to turn your focus from material things and redirect that focus towards God. It is a part of what theologians call “kenosis – or the “self-emptying” of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will. The discipline and state of mind required to ignore one of Man’s most primal desires, hunger, conditions the mind to believe it is capable of anything.

Monastery of Temptation, located in Quaranta above cave said to be where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nightsThe Science behind the story

What part of the Temple did Jesus stand on?

When the Devil took Jesus to the top of the temple, you may wonder which part of the temple Jesus stood upon. Some have suggested that the phrase “highest point of the temple” refers to the temple’s high gate but it is more likely referring to the southeast corner of the temple. The southeast corner of the temple loomed over a cliff (the Kidron ravine) and was known to be 450-feet high. Parts of this section of wall still stand today.

Traditional location of the “wilderness”

Although the scriptures do not specify a specific location and refer only to the area Jesus entered as the “wilderness”, tradition has it that the place was a site in the desert of Judea named Quaranta, location of the Monastery of Temptation, a monastery constructed in 600 AD above a cave said to be where Jesus spent the forty days and forty nights. The Monastery of the Temptation is an Orthodox Christian monastery located in the West Bank, along a cliff overlooking the city of Jericho and the Jordan Valley. It is built on the slopes of the Mount of Temptation that rises 1,150 feet above sea level.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Showing” the kingdoms to Jesus

The original word used to describe the devil “showing” Jesus the kingdoms of the world means “to show or point out”. Nothing in the original language describes vision or physical movement and thus, it is likely that the Devil pointed in the general direction of the kingdoms of earth, naming them as he does so.

The Devil’s suggestion that Jesus “worship” him

The word used to describe the Devil’s offer that Jesus “worship” him did not imply any sort of religious worship but rather a type of honor such as the respect a subject would offer a king.

“Person” in place of “Man”

In the verse “Man shall not live on bread alone”, the words “a person” can indeed be substituted in place of “Man”. In the original Greek language, the word used for “Man” is akin to “a person”, an often-used phrase in the scriptures which refers to all of humanity and not just males exclusively.

Bible Text

NIV

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted v by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

1–3 Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. 2 Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, 3 which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

5 For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

7 Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

16th century master illuminator Simon Bening's depiction of the devil approaching Jesus with a stone to be turned into bread8 For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. 9 Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

10 Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

11 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 4:2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 4:3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, 4:6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 4:9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” 4:11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

4 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

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