I remember asking my son after church one week what he had learning at church that day. His reply, “Jesus was tempted by ... that other guy.” I laughed. That was not the deeper meaning of the temptation that we should understand in this event. While we often understand this temptation simply as Jesus defeating Satan, and thus concluding that Jesus is our role model in our own temptations, we fail to see the deeper connections.
Jesus is tempted three different times, but the main issue in all three is that Satan is tempting Jesus about power. As we learned in the baptism event, Jesus is announced by God’s heavenly voice as the King, but a King who will suffer. In the temptation, Jesus is tempted to misuse his kingly powers. And Jesus’s successful rebuttal of Satan over power is the key lesson for us today: Will we use the resources God has given to us for self or for others? Will we accumulate power or will we distribute it? Will we be a nation or a person that serves or one that conquers? This is the root of Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 8. He says, “Beware that you don’t say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand got me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God for he is the one who gives you power to get wealth” (8:17-18).
Those who have much can wrongly think that their position is their own doing. The voice of Satan echoes through everyone’s history: We can sustain ourselves, we can protect ourselves, we can rule how we wish. But this is vanity and sin and hubris all wrapped up together. The desert forces us to see our empty hands, to realize that we must learn to depend on God, and that power belongs to him—and that power that is given to us should be held very carefully.
These temptations to power represent the truest voice of Satan, and they can be heard every day. And if we are to become like Christ, we need to develop an ear for hearing those temptations, identify them as Satanic, and defeat them. As James says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7); or Peter, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8-9).
How do we defeat these temptations? Keep in mind that in each of Jesus’ temptations, his response was the same. He used scripture, Deuteronomy 1-10. This is a solid strategy since we are defeating Satan not by our own resources but by the Word given to us in scripture. This is also God’s fight and our reach for scripture is the first evidence that we have learned our first lesson: That in temptation we rely on what God provides and not on our own resources. Like Jesus, we often find ourselves “in the desert,” but when temptation comes in the desert, we see that God powerfully stands by us, honing our faith through every one of our difficult experiences. May we, like Jesus, learn to see temptations for what they are: power encounters. And may we, like Jesus, learn to trust God in those situations, leaning upon the Scriptures and God’s power for victory.