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The temptation of Christ in Christianity, refers to the temptation of Jesus by the devil as detailed in each of the Synoptic Gospels, at , , and . According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him to demonstrate his supernatural powers as proof of his divinity, each temptation being refused by Jesus with a quote of scripture. The Gospels state that having failed, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus.

Mark's account is very brief, merely noting the aforementioned events, but giving no details about them, not even how many there were. Matthew and Luke on the other hand, describe the temptations by recounting the details of the conversations between Jesus and the devil. Since the elements of the narrative that are in Matthew and Luke but not Mark are mostly pairs of quotations, rather than detailed narrative, many scholars believe that these extra details originate in the Q Document.

The story of the Temptation is one of the notable Omissions in the Gospel of John.


In Luke and Matthew's accounts, the devil tempts Jesus to certain things like:
  • Make bread out of stone(s) to relieve his own hunger
  • Free himself from a pinnacle by jumping and relying on angels to break his fall. The narrative of both Luke and Matthew has the devil quote Psalm 91:11-12 to show that God had promised this assistance, although the devil omits the part of that passage which makes clear that it is only accidents that are being referred to, not deliberate jumps.
  • Worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world. Luke has the devil explicitly claim this authority had previously been handed to himself, the devil.
Matthew makes clear that the Spirit (presumably the same Spirit (or "Holy Ghost" depending on which translation you read) prominently mentioned only two verses before) has led Jesus into the desert. Many scholars see Matthew as presenting Jesus being tested under the orders of God, rather than the devil being opportunist. The Catholic and Orthodox teaching is that the Devil and the other demons are spiritual or angelic creatures created by God in a state of innocence, and that they became evil by their own act. Other Non-Christian teachings see the devil's role here as echoing Satan's role in some parts of the Old Testament, or as taught in Modern Day Rabbinic Judaism where he is portrayed as an angel acting under God's orders as an official "opposing counsel" to test humans on behalf of God. Thus there are two understandings of Satan, the Christian one of a Satan who is a fallen angel in rebellion to God who became evil, and the Judeo one of a Satan who is not an evil fallen angel, but a servant of God carrying out God's will.


Fasting traditionally presaged a great spiritual struggle. Elijah and Moses are described in the Old Testament as fasting for 40 days and nights, and so Jesus doing the same appears to be a deliberate comparison to these events. At the time, forty was less a specific number and more a general expression for any large figure. Fasting does not necessarily mean a complete abstinence from food and consequently that Jesus may have been surviving on the sparse food that could be obtained in the desert. Mark does not mention any fasting and, although Luke implies it, does not use the word. Matthew is far more interested in presenting Jesus as having fasted prior to the events than the other gospels are.

Jesus' fasting became the model for the practice of Lent in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Protestants (in general) do not see this passage as a justification for Lent, and while Martin Luther felt that the Lent ritual was useful in focusing the minds of the faithful, he still considered it artificial.


Each temptation takes place in a different setting. The temptation of making bread out of stones occurs in the same desert setting where Jesus had been fasting. Jones reports that the wilderness mentioned here has since the fifth century been believed to be the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalemmarker and Jerichomarker, with a spot on Mount Quarantania traditionally being considered the exact location. The desert was seen as outside the bounds of society and as the home of demons such as Azazel (Leviticus 16:10). Some have read this reference to the wilderness as a comparison to Adam in the Garden of Eden, implying that Jesus will be a new Adam (cf Book of Romans 5) . However scholars like Gundry reject this idea, stating that nowhere does Matthew's text imply such a comparison, but rather the desert is more likely an allusion to the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered during the Exodus, and more specifically to Moses.

After the first temptation is rejected, the devil takes Jesus to a high pinnacle in what Matthew terms the holy city. Most Christians consider that holy city refers unquestionably to Jerusalemmarker and the temple to which the pinnacle belongs is thus identified as the Temple in Jerusalemmarker, although the text is quite ambiguous in this matter since Matthew could easily name the location. Luke's version of the story clearly identifies the location as Jerusalem. What is meant by the word traditionally translated as pinnacle is not entirely clear since the Greek word is almost identical to the word that translates as little wings. Schweizer hence feels that little tower or parapet would be more accurate, and the New Jerusalem Bible does use the translation "parapet". Gundry lists three sites at the Jerusalem temple that would fit this description:
  • On the top of the temple's main tower, above the sanctuary proper, some 180 feet above ground, the location that artists and others using the traditional translation generally set the story.
  • Atop the lintel of the main gateway into the temple, the most prominent position where the pair could easily have been seen.
  • A tower on the southeast corner of the outer wall that looks down into the Kidron Valley, which James the Just was said to have later been thrown from by way of execution.

For the final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high place, which Matthew explicitly names a mountain, where all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. Interpretations of this are as follows:
  • The teller of this story believed the earth was flat.
  • John Calvin supported the view that the devil took Jesus to a vision of a high place where he could see the entire world, and the Geneva Bible translates the passage in this way
  • kingdoms could be a reference to power rather than geography
  • all...of the world could refer only to the "known world", a comparatively small region at the time of Matthew
  • Satan flew Jesus to a mountain top and from there flew him around the entire world. Jesus normally walked from place to place.


Exactly what the devil was trying to achieve by these temptations has been open to debate. The traditional view is that the devil on each occasion is trying to make Jesus commit a particular sin - avarice by offering power over the kingdoms of the world, gluttony by suggesting a way to relieve Jesus' hunger, and hubris by suggesting that Jesus jump and rely on angels to break his fall. Most modern scholars do not accept this view, Jones for example noting that calling someone who has fasted for forty days gluttonous simply because they now desire food is really not very fair.

Another view popular for a time (for example, see Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov) was that the devil wasn't so much tempting Jesus as presenting him with the different options he could take to be a Messiah, and making him choose one. Evangelicals point to the word usually translated as tempt as being more accurately translated as test, i.e. that the devil was testing Jesus' understanding of his role rather than trying to lure him to sin. Rejected options under this interpretation are:
  • Someone who rescues the poor and needy from their hardships, as manifested by feeding the hungry
  • A magician and miracle worker who wins converts by spectacular acts, as manifested by surviving a jump from a high pinnacle. That the devil places Jesus in a very public location, rather than the numerous high pinnacles in the desert, gives credence to this view.
  • A political liberator from the oppression of the Romans, as manifested by having power over the kingdoms of the world

Another view, popularized by the book The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, suggests that the three temptations of Jesus foreshadow the three points in his ministry where political temptations were the greatest:
  • right after the miracle of the loaves and fish was performed, when the hungry crowds wanted to make him king;
  • when he cleansed the Temple, at which time he had already secured enough political and moral support from the crowds to start a political movement; and
  • the night at Gethsemanemarker when he played with the idea of calling on twelve legions of angels to stop his arrest - he could have initiated a holy war should he choose to.

There remains the question of the validity of the temptations offered to Jesus. As the Son of God, he would be able to attain any of these desires without the aid of the Devil. He was, in essence, being tempted with offers that he already had in his hand.

Jesus' banquet

Once the temptations are over, the narrative has the devil depart and Jesus being looked after by angels. In the original Greek of Matthew, "devil left him" was in the historic present tense, indicating a lack of permanence, i.e. that the devil would later return to further tempt Jesus (which Luke spells out explicitly). While both Mark and Matthew mention the angels, Luke does not, and Matthew seems once again here to be making parallels with Elijah, who was fed by ravens. The word minister/served is often interpreted as the angels feeding Jesus, and traditionally artists have depicted the scene as Jesus being presented with a feast, a detailed description of it even appearing in Paradise Regained. This ending to the temptation narrative may be a common literary device of using a feast scene to emphasize a happy ending, or it may be proof that Jesus never lost his faith in God during the temptations. In the War Scroll found at Qumranmarker, angels are described as forming an army to battle evil, which is somewhat at odds with most interpretations of the portrayal of angels here, but it could indicate that the angels in the passage should instead be interpreted as ministering to Jesus by driving off the devil.After forty days and nights of no food, Jesus needed sustenance and once the temptations had ceased, miraculous aid was at hand. God kept his promise to take care of Jesus.

Cultural influences

The temptation of Christ has been a frequent subject in the art and literature of Christian cultures. It is largely the subject of John Milton's four-book epic, Paradise Regained. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, part of the novel The Brothers Karamazov, features an extended treatment of the temptation of Christ. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar has brief references to Christ being tempted by mortal pleasures and Stephen Schwartz devotes a scene to it in Godspell. A stanza on the poem "O Operário em Construção" ("The Building Operary"), by Vinícius de Moraes, alludes to the temptation as well. Lastly, the film Jesus of Montreal has a parallel scene where the actor playing Jesus is taken to the top of a skyscraper and offered lucrative contracts by a lawyer if he will serve him.


In Buddhist tradition, the god of Illusion tempts the Buddha in various ways, including urging him to transform the Himalayasmarker into gold.

See also


External links

Temptation of Jesus

Life of Jesus
New Testament


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