Before the temptations (Matthew 4)

This period of temptation for Jesus took place in the Judean desert, near to where John had baptised Jesus. What is surprising about it is that the temptations were not instigated by the devil as if he was engaged in trying to defeat the Saviour immediately and remove him as a threat. Instead, the devil is on the defensive, not the offensive. The situation is not that Jesus went into the desert for a time of communion with God and was interrupted by the devil. It is true that Jesus had communion with his Father during that time, but the reason he went to the desert was to engage in spiritual warfare.

Matthew points out that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into this experience (Mark uses a far stronger word to describe the way the Spirit led Jesus into the desert). It was part of the divine purpose for the Saviour. The calling that he had was one in which he would destroy the works of the devil, and we can see that he started to do so from the onset of his public ministry. Obviously, the conflict was intentional as far as Jesus was concerned. He was not led reluctantly into the battlefield of the desert.

How would Jesus have entered into this engagement with the devil? It was an expression of his dedication to do the will of God – after all, he was the servant of the Lord, and he fulfilled each stage of the journey with diligence. I suspect there was also an element of discovery because such direct contact with the devil would not have happened often, if at all, before this time. The Saviour found himself alongside the presence of evil and it would have appalled him.

Moreover, the experience was very intense for Jesus because he ensured that he was in a proper state for the battle. This is why he fasted for forty days. We know from elsewhere in the New Testament that Jesus was tempted by the devil throughout the whole period. Yet there was clearly a focus on the three temptations that took place towards the end of the period. It is not too difficult for us to work out that if Jesus had to be ready for such trials, and he was sinless, so how much more do we have to be ready as sinners!

How did fasting for forty days help? In itself, fasting is of no benefit in a spiritual sense. Instead, fasting creates time for preparation. We can easily imagine that a lot of time in the desert could be taken up looking for food. Jesus devoted all of the time to spending it with God. His prayers would have been very earnest throughout all that period. Probably he was meditating on the Old Testament, maybe in the Book of Deuteronomy, because he quotes from it three times when the three specific temptations come.

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