Some Difficult Passages: The Temptation in the Wilderness

Who or what was the devil that tempted the Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness? Let us try to discuss this question logically and unemotionally.

The popular idea is that the devil that tempted Christ was a person — a powerful, supernatural embodiment of wickedness. A quick reading of the accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke seems to provide support for this idea. There is a dialogue between the devil and the Lord Jesus. The devil suggests that it would be to Jesus’ advantage to do certain things which are contrary to the will of God. Jesus repudiates these suggestions, and the devil leaves him.

A careful reading reveals a number of difficulties, however. First, there are difficulties relating to the circumstances of the temptation. We are told expressly in Matthew, Mark and Luke, that the temptation took place in the wilderness. Thus Mark states: “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him,” (Mark 1:13). Yet we read that in one of the temptations the Lord Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the temple, in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not in the wilderness. Again, we are told that the devil takes Jesus up to a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. Is there, or has there been, in the wilderness or outside of it, a mountain from which all kingdoms could be seen at once? One can almost hear the rejoinder that these things are written, and we must believe them. True; but perhaps they can be understood in another way.

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Author: Peter Watkins

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Bible reference(s): Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2-13

Source: Some Difficult Passages, Book 2 (CIL).

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