The Temptation of Jesus

The difference between a test and a temptation.


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

— Matthew 4:1

And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

— Luke 4:13

Jesus then departed to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But Jesus would resist and Satan would flee. This wilderness encounter was a test. And just as a precious metal is tested to prove its nature, this test was further proof that Jesus was indeed the Son of the God come to earth to do the will of His Father. After resisting Satan, Jesus came out of the wilderness in the power of the Spirit.

— The HOPE, Chapter 8

Observe & Consider

After Jesus was baptized, He was then led by the Spirit (of God) into the wilderness to be tempted. This temptation is described in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-2. Notice that the Matthew 4:1 passage says the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but it does not say that the Spirit tempted Jesus. That is an important distinction because the Bible also says in James 1:13 that, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan (who is called the tempter in Matthew 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5) is the one who does the tempting.

Based upon the James 1:13 passage, notice also that it was futile for Satan to tempt Jesus, for “God cannot be tempted.” In the end, the temptation of Jesus served only to further the purposes of God. It was all part of His plan. This will become even more evident as we consider the word “tempt.”

“Tempt” (or tempted) comes from the Greek word “peirazo,” which is actually a legal term meaning “to make proof of.”1 In light of this root definition, we could say that Satan was tempting Jesus in order to prove that He was no different than any other man that had ever lived; that He was just like Adam and that He would fold under pressure. Ultimately, the same way that a prosecuting attorney seeks to disqualify the testimony of a defendant, Satan wanted to disqualify Jesus as the Deliverer who would free mankind from Satan, sin, and death.

It is very interesting that the same Greek word “peirazo” is also translated in the Bible as “test” or “tested.”2 While God does not tempt anyone, He does test people. In Hebrews 11:17 we read that “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac.” Having considered this story earlier in our study, we know that Abraham passed the test, and God knew beforehand that he would. This test wasn’t to determine whether Abraham would pass or fail. It was to prove what Abraham was made of. This test was the stage on which Abraham proved his faith in God. And as an earlier verse in that same chapter teaches us (Hebrews 11:2), faith was the means by which “men of old gained approval.”

Simply put, Satan “tempts” us to prove that we are not who God says we are, and God “tests” us to prove that we are exactly who He says we are. The main difference between a “test” and a “temptation” is the one who is doing it.

Ask & Reflect

  • Today’s lesson covers a concept that may be new to you. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • In general, how do you look at tests? When you encounter a test in life, do you view it with anxiety or fear that you may fail? Or do you view it as an opportunity to prove who and what you are? Explain.

Decide & Do

In the world of post-graduate education, there are different approaches to admission.  One approach is to make admission more widely attainable, but present an extremely arduous program that weeds out students who are not able to make the grade. There are other programs to which it is extremely difficult to gain admission, yet once a candidate is admitted, the entire program is geared to ensure that the candidate will successfully complete the program.

While qualification for admittance into the second type of post–graduate program described above is extremely difficult, qualification for a relationship with God is even more difficult. It requires perfection, which, of course, is humanly impossible! That is why Jesus came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. However, once you have trusted in God’s provision for you and entered into an intimate, eternal relationship with Him, then God will do whatever it takes to help you be the person He intends you to be. This truth is supported by Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

If you do not have the confidence that this is true, then consider that one of two things may be at work in your life: 1) perhaps you’ve never really placed your faith in God’s promised Deliverer, or 2) you may have, but you don’t yet understand how secure your relationship is in Him.

If you feel that the first option describes you, then go immediately to the Knowing God section at the end of this study and read again what God has already done on your behalf. If you feel that the second option describes you, then prayerfully read and meditate on the following verses and ask God to show you just how secure your relationship is in Him! John 6:47, John 6:40, John 10:28-29, Romans 8:1, Romans 8:29, Romans 8:39, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 John 3:14.


1Does God Tempt Us to Sin? (© Got Questions Ministries, 2002–2006). (–tempt–us–to–sin.html). Retrieved October 27, 2006.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB