Why Was Jesus Tempted by the Devil?
By: Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ
Consider that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Why the devil? Most of our temptations come from within us—anger, lust, gluttony, selfishness, gossip, and many others. Why did Jesus’ temptations not simply come from within himself?
Note that Scripture repeatedly teaches that Jesus is without sin, including original sin. This teaching begins with the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9: “He had done no violence, / and there was no deceit in his mouth.” The New Testament states this multiple times, beginning with the good thief who witnessed his death: “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). The same appears many times in various epistles as well:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus is a high priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. (Hebrews 4:15)
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners. (Hebrews 7:26)
He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. (1 Peter 2:22, citing Isaiah 53:9)
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)
In the face of this biblical truth, we need to reflect more deeply on who Jesus Christ is. A modern tendency has been to treat him as simply just one more human being, though perhaps a bit better than we. In his novel (and the movie based upon it) The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis portrayed Jesus as having temptations to lust that arise from within himself as he hangs on the cross. This idea is condemned by all Christians, who understand and believe the consistent teaching of Scripture about Jesus being sinless.
Because Jesus is the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), without any sin, he does not have concupiscence, the disordered desires that each of us who are born with original sin experience as temptations from within ourselves. Of course, the interior temptations that come from within ourselves make us more vulnerable to the temptations of the world and the devil. Jesus has no such interior temptation from a fallen, disordered human nature. Rather, his temptations could only come from outside of himself. In the desert, the devil tempted him; later, Peter would tempt him to cease speaking about his upcoming suffering and death, and Jesus would rebuke Peter as “Satan” for doing so (Matthew 16:23). After the multiplication of the loaves, the crowd would tempt him to become a king so that he could give them more bread (John 6:14-15). Yet Jesus does not give in to any of these temptations.
Who do you say Jesus is? St. Peter answered the question this way: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew16:16). Yet Jesus often described himself as the “Son of Man.” Clearly, Scripture teaches that he is fully God and fully human. And because of his humanity, he understands what we go through. He himself experienced temptation.
Scripture says that Jesus is tempted like us in every way except sin (Hebrew 4:15). How do I understand that? Because he is without sin yet experienced temptations like me, do I turn to him for help? Is Jesus someone to whom I can turn for strength and power in overcoming temptation? Do I know, deep within me, that Jesus understands my own struggles? How often do I turn to him?