The Temptations of Christ

What was the first thing that Christ had to endure after He was baptized by John the Baptist?

The more you think about that question, the harder it is to answer.

From a purely human perspective, you might think it was pride. Consider how your ego would have been affected if you heard God say that He was well pleased with you. Might you not feel some degree of pride?

Well, we know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and in Christ there was no sin. Thus we can know that He felt no hint of pride when God spoke of being pleased with His Son.

“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ” Matthew 3:16, 17

Then what is the very next thing that happened?

Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

This very same Spirit that had anointed Him after His baptism led him into the wilderness. Why? Scripture answers: “To be tempted by the devil.”

It is unlikely that the temptations that Christ experienced in the desert immediately following His baptism were the first temptations that He had experienced in His life. After all, Satan was after Him from the very day of His birth. However, these wilderness temptations were likely the most serious and difficult temptations that He had ever experienced up to that point in His life, exceeded only by the agony He experienced in the garden of Gethsemane and the events that followed, up to and including the crucifixion.

The three temptations of Christ are recorded in detail in chapter 4 of both the gospels of Matthew and Luke and briefly referenced in the first chapter of Mark.

Quoting from Matthew, we read, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread [lust of the flesh].’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” ’ Matthew 4:1–11

“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and, “in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone [presumption; pride of life].” ’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” ’

“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me [lust of the eyes].’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” ’ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

Others might interpret these temptations differently. However, it is clear that Satan knew the kinds of temptations with which he had had the greatest success in leading men astray.

The book Confrontation provides an incredible analysis of the wilderness temptations of Christ. In the foreword of the book, the trustees of the Ellen G. White estate explain its origin:

“Ellen G. White at different times wrote of the temptation and fall of man, the plan of redemption, and of the victory of Christ in the wilderness of temptation. In 1874 and 1875 in a series of 13 articles published in the The Review and Herald, she treated these topics in depth. …

“These articles, with some paragraphs added by the author, were later republished in a 96-page pamphlet and became the second of eight pamphlets to make up the Redemption series published in 1878. The other seven present materials published simultaneously in Spirit of Prophecy volumes two and three, later replaced by Ellen White’s masterpiece, The Desire of Ages.

“Number two of the Redemption series, written quite apart from the others, in its fullness in the treatment of temptation makes a unique contribution to Ellen G. White materials currently available.” Confrontation, 5

It is this second pamphlet that has become the book Confrontation. The first paragraph of this enlightening book states this: “After the baptism of Jesus in Jordan He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. When He had come up out of the water, He bowed upon Jordan’s banks and pleaded with the great Eternal for strength to endure the conflict with the fallen foe. The opening of the heavens and the descent of the excellent glory attested His divine character. The voice from the Father declared the close relation of Christ to His Infinite Majesty: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ The mission of Christ was soon to begin. But He must first withdraw from the busy scenes of life to a desolate wilderness for the express purpose of bearing the threefold test of temptation in behalf of those He had come to redeem.” Op. cit., 9

That threefold test consisted, as John stated in his first epistle, of “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” 1 John 2:16

Why was this the first thing He had to experience before He began His ministry? What did each of these tests have in common?

Let’s look back at the garden of Eden. Again we will quote from Confrontation.

“The Lord placed man upon probation, that he might form a character of steadfast integrity for his own happiness and for the glory of his Creator. …

“The first moral lesson given to Adam was that of self-denial. The reins of self-government were placed in his hands.”

What does that mean: “The reins of self-government were placed in his hands”?

God gave man the privilege of determining his own destiny. Man was not to be a robot, blindly carrying out the will of his Creator. Rather he was given, as Inspiration puts it, “the reins of self-government.”

“Judgment, reason, and conscience were to bear sway.” Op. cit., 12

It was God’s intention that man was to develop a divine character by exercising judgment and reason, guided by a pure conscience—one not “seared with a hot iron.”

Unfortunately, judgment, reason, and conscience did not bear sway, and man fell.

“Sin drove man from paradise; and sin was the cause of the removal of paradise from the earth. In consequence of transgression of God’s law, Adam lost paradise.” Op. cit., 15

But, praise God, He has provided a way for man to regain paradise. It is a two-fold process.

In obedience to the Father’s law, and through faith in the atoning blood of His Son, paradise may be regained. ‘Repentance toward God,’ because His law has been transgressed, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, as man’s only Redeemer, will be acceptable with God. Notwithstanding man’s sinfulness, the merits of God’s dear Son in his behalf will avail with the Father.” Op. cit.

How were the merits of God’s dear Son, Jesus Christ, established?

“The Majesty of heaven … would bear man’s guilt. He would take the wrath of His Father upon Himself, which otherwise would have fallen upon man because of his disobedience.”

“Christ consented to leave His honor, His kingly authority, His glory with the Father, and humble Himself to humanity, and engage in contest with the mighty prince of darkness in order to redeem man.” Op. cit., 17

“He would overcome on man’s account, and conquer the tempter, that, through His obedience, His purity of character and steadfast integrity, His righteousness might be imputed to man, that, through His name, man might overcome the foe on his own account.” Op. cit., 18

“He would overcome on man’s account … .” What, exactly, was it that Christ had to overcome?

“Every temptation that seems so afflicting to man in his daily life, so difficult to resist and overcome, was brought to bear upon the Son of God in as much greater degree as His excellence of character was superior to that of fallen man.” Op. cit., 31

How and when were these every temptations brought to bear upon Christ?

Let’s examine a few verses from Psalm 22. Bible scholars have concluded that much of this psalm consists of Christ’s thoughts while He was being crucified.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?

Why are You so far from helping Me,

And from the words of My groaning?

O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;

And in the night season, and am not silent.


But You are holy,

Enthroned in the praises of Israel.

Our fathers trusted in You;

They trusted, and You delivered them.

They cried to You, and were delivered;

They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.


But I am a worm, and no man;

A reproach of men, and despised of the people.

All those who see Me ridicule Me;

They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

“He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;

Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”


I am poured out like water,

And all My bones are out of joint;

My heart is like wax;

It has melted within Me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

And My tongue clings to My jaws;

You have brought Me to the dust of death.


For dogs have surrounded Me;

The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.

They pierced My hands and My feet;

I can count all My bones.

They look and stare at Me.

They divide My garments among them,

And for My clothing they cast lots.

Psalm 22, 1–8, 14–18

Now let’s turn to Matthew’s account of this event.

“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ ” Matthew 27:45, 46

The darkness that occurred from noon till 3:00 PM may well be symbolic of the light of heaven being withdrawn not only from the earth, but also from the Saviour of mankind—the reason for His question, “Why have you forsaken Me?”

We know that in the counsels of heaven, an agreement had been made, referenced in Zechariah 6:13. “Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

Some, but interestingly, not all, of the details of this counsel of peace are provided in this passage from Patriarchs and Prophets, 63

“The Son of God, heaven’s glorious Commander, was touched with pity for the fallen race. His heart was moved with infinite compassion as the woes of the lost world rose up before Him. But divine love had conceived a plan whereby man might be redeemed. The broken law of God demanded the life of the sinner. In all the universe there was but One who could, in behalf of man, satisfy its claims. Since the divine law is as sacred as God Himself, only one equal with God could make atonement for its transgression. None but Christ could redeem fallen man from the curse of the law and bring him again into harmony with heaven. Christ would take upon Himself the guilt and shame of sin—sin so offensive to a holy God that it must separate the Father and His Son. Christ would reach to the depths of misery to rescue the ruined race.

“Before the Father He pleaded in the sinner’s behalf, while the host of heaven awaited the result with an intensity of interest that words cannot express. Long continued was that mysterious communing—‘the counsel of peace’ (Zechariah 6:13) for the fallen sons of men. The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth; for Christ is ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8); yet it was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race.” Op. cit.

It is written here that “The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth.” Returning to Confrontation, Sister White writes about Satan’s success in causing the fall of a multitude of the angels. She states that the fallen angels “failed to endure the test brought to bear upon them, and they fell. Adam was then created in the image of God and placed upon probation. … If the holy pair should be obedient, the race would, after a time, be made equal to the angels.” Op. cit., 18

Here we have reference to the laying of the plan of salvation before the creation of the earth. Inspiration also gives us a glimpse of the extent of that plan—but, again, not all of the details.

The Father and the Son agreed, that the Son would pay the penalty if man should fall, but it was an agonizing struggle even for the King of the universe to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race.

Is it possible that Christ took comfort in knowing that if He was going to have to die for man, He was going to be resurrected afterwards? That might be a logical conclusion, now that we know all of the story. However, Inspiration tells us: “The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” The Desire of Ages, 753

It was here that Christ experienced the guilt of every sin that man has ever committed. Imagine the Son of God hanging on the cross and being so overwhelmed with the sinfulness of sin that His heart—anticipating eternal separation from His Father—breaks, and He utters His last words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and breathes His last.

At the beginning of this article, the question was asked, What did the three temptations of Christ have in common? We have discussed why these temptations were necessary, but have not directly addressed the question of their common bond.

That common bond is a reaction, a character trait, that Christ not only manifested in response to each of the three temptations, but one that He manifested throughout His life. And it is a character trait that every follower of Christ must master to perfection. Only faith in the promises in God’s word and dependence on the cleansing blood of Christ will avail in the perfection of this essential character trait.

This trait was manifested by the widow who put her two mites, “all her living,” into the church treasury. It was manifested in the daily life of John the Baptist, who “was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” It was manifested by Matthew, who left the lucrative table of the tax collector. It was manifested by Mary, who broke the alabaster box and anointed Christ with its expensive contents. It is to be manifested in the life of every follower of Christ.

Mrs. White explains it so clearly: “In this life we must meet fiery trials and make costly sacrifices, but the peace of Christ is the reward. There has been so little self-denial, so little suffering for Christ’s sake, that the cross is almost entirely forgotten. We must be partakers with Christ of His sufferings if we would sit down in triumph with Him on His throne. So long as we choose the easy path of self-indulgence, and are frightened at self-denial, our faith will never become firm, and we cannot know the peace of Jesus, nor the joy that comes through conscious victory.” Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, 190, 191

Clearly, self-denial is the key. Think about the temptations of Christ and the opportunity each had of relieving Him of the trial that lay before Him. He denied Himself, as alluded to in 1 John 2:16 of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” the ultimate examples of self-denial, to be our perfect example in overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Through His self-denial, “He obtained for the fallen sons and daughters of Adam that strength which it is impossible for them to gain for themselves, that in His name they might overcome the temptations of Satan” (Confrontation, 45)—the ultimate source of every temptation that any man or woman ever faces.

Paul clearly understood the source of our strength to overcome Satan’s temptations when he wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

May the Lord help us as we strive to manifest the self-denial of Christ in our daily lives as we successfully resist Satan’s temptations, through faith in the grace that Christ so freely and abundantly imparts, so that we may reside with Him in eternal glory. [Emphasis supplied.]

John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: