Temptation of Jesus, Part 1: The Lust of the Flesh

Stones in Iceland that resemble sliced bread

Is it a sin if you get thirsty on the Day of Atonement? Is it a sin if you hunger on that day or any other day?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, then why would it have been wrong for Jesus to have turned stones into bread in order to satisfy His hunger? I suspect you are familiar with His temptation as outlined in Mt 4:1-4, but have you ever pondered this? There is no indication that this took place on the Day of Atonement, but it does involve fasting and I want to look at how Satan attempted to persuade Jesus to break His fast. This section of Mt 4 in the NIV is labeled “Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness”.

There were three tests Jesus had to endure, but this is the one that used to seem the most puzzling to me. What was Satan really trying to get Jesus to do?


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

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

~Mt 4:1-4 (NIV)

Satan uses the same tactics over and over again. The specifics may change, but the tactics generally do not.

There were three types of tests that Jesus went through. There were three things that tempted Eve to grab the fruit from the forbidden tree. In the 1st epistle of John, chapter 2, John outlines those three general types of temptations.

16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

~1Jn 2:16-17 (NIV)

Adam and Eve were placed into a perfect realm created by God. Yet, Eve allowed herself to be swayed by the temptation from the serpent. Satan used the tactics of the lust of the flesh (“good for food”), the lust of the eyes (“pleasing to the eye”) and the pride of life (“gaining wisdom”) to get her to partake of the fruit of the forbidden tree. I suspect that it was out of fear, the wrong type of fear, that Adam decided to join her in this folly.

By suggesting that Jesus turn stones into bread, he was appealing primarily to the lust of the flesh. Remember, we are told that after 40 days and 40 nights, “He was hungry.”

Now, it should be obvious that Satan was not simply using only one means at a time in order to try to get to Him. “If you are the Son of God….” Satan knew who Jesus was. Satan was not doubting the identity of Jesus, but rather he was trying to provoke Him via the pride of life.

That still doesn’t answer “why?”, though. Or, more specifically, what was Satan attempting to do with this particular temptation?

A couple of commentaries on this passage really rubbed me the wrong way. They claim that Satan was trying to get Jesus to use His powers “frivolously”. “Frivolously”? Really? Was that the issue here? I ask you to consider these points:

  1. First and foremost, starving to death is not frivolous. Now, I have not tried this, and I am not recommending anyone else try this, but I have heard and read that people who fast for prolonged periods of time actually are not hungry after the second or third day. The body is pretty resilient, and it can live off of body fat for a period of time.

    However, there eventually comes a time when body fat is depleted and hunger returns with a vengeance, and at that time, it is very important to break the fast. Why? Because that is the signal that the person is literally starving to death. Jesus, brethren, was in the final stage of starvation. I don’t know about you, but I would hardly call it “frivolous” to avoid starving to death.

  2. We know that later in His ministry He fed large crowds of people by miracles. He fed 5,000 in Mt 14:13-21, and He fed 4,000 in Mt 15:29-39. If using His power to create food is “frivolous”, then He eventually did frivolously use His powers in these situations and others. Obviously, that is not the issue here. Creating food or even creating wine out of water for enjoyment is not necessarily frivolous.
  3. By fasting, Jesus was forcing Himself to be dependent upon God the Father. By using His powers to take care of Himself, He would have been showing that He is not totally dependent upon the Father. Can you imagine the accuser afterwards claiming, “Look at Him! He did not even trust You to feed Him in the wilderness”?

    Why did Jesus fast? For that matter, why do we fast? Do we not fast in order to draw closer to God? Does not our lack of physical food symbolize our dependence upon God for all of our needs? I think this is where some of the commentaries miss the mark on this passage. By fasting, Jesus was truly showing that His very life was being placed in God the Father’s hands. He submitted to God’s will — totally.

    You know, if Jesus the Christ can state His utter dependence upon the Father, how much more should we?

    30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

    ~Jn 5:30 (NKJV)

    Jesus submitted entirely to the Father’s will. Jesus declared His utter dependence upon the Father for all things on more than one occasion. If He prematurely broke His fast, He would be showing that He would be willing to take matters into His own hands.
  4. By Jesus using His powers to create bread for Himself, He would have shown that He did not really come to serve but be served. Yet, Mt 20:28 says just the opposite. In fact, that particular verse is significantly underscored by the fact that when He fed the crowds, He did not create bread for Himself. By contrast, He did not selfishly feed Himself even when in peril of starvation, but He did selflessly create bread for others. He truly showed Himself to be a servant.

We should not forget that fasting is about humbling ourselves, which means our selfish motives are put on the back burner and we put the needs of God and others first. Putting away sin, whether it is a personal or global process, means that selfishness is put aside. After all, isn’t selfishness the opposite of outgoing care and concern for others?

Finally, let us consider Jesus’ example and whether or not we measure up. Do we easily fall into the snare of the lust of the flesh, even when it seems warranted? Or, is everything we do guided by a servant’s heart? If we show that even now we can be diligent, selfless servants, then God will grant us the opportunity to be even greater servants in the Kingdom when there is not the evil influence of Satan.

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