The Wilderness Temptations
Bible Text: Luke 4:1–15; Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13
Lesson Focus: Jesus used scripture to resist the devil’s temptations.
Big Question: How can I resist temptations if I can’t quote scripture?
Key Words: TEMPTATION, SCRIPTURE, HOLY SPIRIT, SATAN
• Jesus was tempted—really tempted—but did not succumb to using his God-given powers for any cheap thrills, fantastic duels with Satan, or evil misuse.
• In all three Synoptic gospels, the temptation scene comes toward the beginning of Jesus’ story and—in some fashion—inaugurates his ministry.
• Some have suggested that the point of the mysterious temptation scene is that Jesus was fully human and was fully tempted. Others say that we are to glean, as any first century Jew would, that Jesus was a model Jew. Still others maintain that this scene shows up-front the conflict between God’s reign and the reign of Satan, setting up the thematic undercurrent that all of Jesus’ ministry is an attack on Satan’s work.
• Jesus stymies the devil finally because he knows whose he is—He is God’s Son.
Jesus’ wilderness temptations are outlined in Mark’s terse account, which takes only two verses. In Mark 1:12, we read that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for 40 days, and there he was tempted by Satan. There are no details regarding what those temptations were, but it is somehow clear that Jesus did not succumb. By verse 14 of Mark’s first chapter, Jesus commences with his ministry. Luke and Matthew add more detail as to the nature of the temptations, but the point is clear in all three gospels: Jesus was tempted—really tempted—but did not succumb to using his God-given powers for any cheap thrills, fantastic duels with Satan, or evil misuse.
In all three gospels, the temptation scene comes toward the beginning of Jesus’ story and—in some fashion—inaugurates his ministry. In all three, we’re told that Jesus was led (or driven) by the Spirit into the wilderness. In Matthew and Luke, we are told that he ate nothing, so he was famished. The first temptation the devil gives him is to turn stones to bread to fill his belly. Jesus counters by quoting Deuteronomy, telling the devil that the work of God involves more than one’s own physical needs. Power is next. (In Matthew and Luke, the order is different, but the temptations are the same and the responses consistent.) Showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, the devil says, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority . . . If you . . . will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus counters with scripture (from Deuteronomy again), making it clear that God is the one to be worshiped. It is a Faustian deal that the devil offers—a strong temptation to gain power by compromise. But Jesus is clear: God’s authority is always greater than the devil’s.
When the devil places Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple, he, too, uses scripture in his wording of the temptation. Daring Jesus to deny God’s assurance of protection (as recorded in the scripture that Jesus seems so fond of quoting), the devil says “throw yourself down from here.” Jesus responds, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (again from Deuteronomy)
Some have suggested that the point of the mysterious temptation scene (that no one witnessed in any of the gospels) is that Jesus was fully human and was fully tempted. Others says that we are to glean, as any first century Jew would, that Jesus was a model Jew—there are the quotes from Deuteronomy, the parallels of the wilderness wanderings, the 40 days and 40 years non-coincidence, the bread and manna theme, the testing God and idolatry temptations, and so forth. Still others maintain that this scene shows up-front the conflict between God’s reign and the reign of Satan, setting up the thematic undercurrent that all of Jesus’ ministry is an attack on Satan’s work. Surely there’s something to all of these interpretations and a few more besides. Whatever the interpretation, it is clear that the gospel writers found this story to be important for the early church. How is it important for those studying for their confirmation?
Perhaps it is as simple as Mark’s account. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism in Mark, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was there for 40 days (which means a “mighty long time, but not forever” in biblical language) being tempted by Satan. And then he went to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. Maybe the message for us is: “You are a child of God. God loves you. Jesus knows you—understands you. The world needs the good news of God, so get on with it, dear child of God. Follow Jesus.” Too quickly, we want to muck up this basic message of our faith with more “interpretations.”
Undoubtedly, there is more that we can glean from the wilderness temptations stories in Matthew and Luke. This story is a great way for us to enter into a conversation about the very real ways we encounter evil in our lives. It also is a way to see how powerful the words of God can be and to see the power connected with being in relationship with our God
But maybe knowing the story and being assured of our identity as a child of God is enough. There is grace in this story. Jesus stymies the devil finally because he knows whose he is—God’s Son. If only we could arm each other with the same conviction.
How can I resist temptations if I can’t quote scripture?
Youth often are tested or tempted in their daily encounters with peers. Sometimes, peer pressure in the form of wanting to “fit in” or “not be a wimp” creates temptations to participate in activities youth know are wrong. Falling back on scripture is not something most youth will readily think of in the face of temptation. However, a good grounding in basic tenants of scripture may well give youth an edge over peers who have not had this experience. Without quoting scripture, youth who are grounded in it are more likely to say “no” and walk away. Jesus is a powerful role model for walking away and knowing what is the right thing to do. When youth are grounded in scripture, an acceptance of who and whose they are, a healthy attitude, and good self-esteem become stronger and will allow them the courage to turn and walk away.
Welcome and Review
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
TEMPTATION: anything that controls us and leads us away from God or threatens our relationship with God.
SCRIPTURE: God’s word in the Bible and the words that Jesus used against Satan.
The HOLY SPIRIT: the third person of the Trinity (with God and Jesus) and the one who guides us in our decision-making.
SATAN: the one who tempts us in order to draw us away from God. Satan is also known as the “accuser.”
Choose an option to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Option 1: Object Lesson Option: Do Not Test the Lord
Bring three tempting items to class such as a delicious dessert, some money, and an electronic gadget like a cell phone or laptop. Divide the class into three groups and present one item to each group. Ask each person in the group what she or he would be willing to do or to give up in order to keep the item presented. Record their answers.
Then gather all into the large group again. Read each group’s answers aloud. Most likely, the more tempting the item, the more extreme the answers will be.
Talk about how we are tempted every day with something that has the potential to pull us away from God. Every day, we make choices about whether we will give in to temptation. What are we willing to do or give up? The Holy Spirit has the power to guide us, to help us remember that the temptations that have the most power over us are destructive to our relationship with God. By knowing that we are God’s children, we are better able to control our response to temptation, just like Jesus did!
Debrief the object lesson with these questions.
• What tempts you the most?
• How can you respond to temptation? Have you thought about saying a Bible verse to yourself to help you resist temptation?
• How does knowing you are a child of God help you with temptation?
Gather in a circle on the floor of the sanctuary or meeting room. Play soft music in the background and place a few Bibles in the middle of the circle. Begin by sharing your favorite Bible verse and the reason it is your favorite. Give an opportunity to everyone who wants to share a favorite Bible verse (or story) and his or her reason for choosing it. When everyone is done, pray the following prayer.
Lord God, we thank you for the gifts of your word and your Holy Spirit to help us resist temptation in our daily lives. We pray for all those who are tempted by Satan, that they might gather strength from your word. We ask for your continued presence with us, that we might always have the wisdom and the strength to do what is right in your eyes. Amen.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: How can I resist temptations if I can’t quote scripture?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about a time when you felt tempted
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness without food, so Satan caught Jesus when he was particularly vulnerable to temptation. Satan tried to use scripture to tempt Jesus, but Jesus turned the tables and used scripture to resist Satan’s temptations. Share with students a time when you felt tempted. How were you vulnerable to temptation at the time? Did you use God’s Word to help you through the situation? What was the outcome of your situation? What part did your faith play?
Open the Bible
Ask students to open their Bibles to Luke 4:1–15 and ask a volunteer to read the passage aloud. Have them underline the phrases that they think are important in the passage—especially the ones that begin with: “It is written” or “It is said.” Jesus, tired and hungry, was vulnerable to temptation, like any human being. But he didn’t succumb to Satan, even though Satan seemed to know exactly what would tempt Jesus: food, power, and protection. We, too, are vulnerable to temptation, but as God’s children, we are protected and led by the Holy Spirit, so that we might also say, “It is said. . .” Through the living word, God gives us the power to resist Satan!
Read the other accounts of the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1–11 and Mark 1:12–13. What is different about these accounts? What is the same?
Ask students to open their Bibles to Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and highlight the passage. The Israelites were to hear the words of the Lord and remember them. Before pencils and paper, the Israelites had to rely on their memories to know what God wanted to teach them. Jesus knew God’s word and used it as a weapon against the temptations of Satan. Knowing God’s word and keeping it in our hearts will help give us strength and perseverance when we face temptations. Deuteronomy 6:4 is called the Shema; in the Jewish tradition the word shema means “listen” or “hear.
Hand out an index card to each student and ask them to open their Bibles to James 1:12–19. Ask students to copy verses 12 and 17 on their card and then read the rest of the passage. James wants us to know that the power to resist temptation is a blessing from God and that temptation is not from God. James gives a wonderful description of temptation (one’s own desire), a description that will help students define their own temptations and find ways to resist them. Suggest the students keep the index cards in their Bibles or backpacks.
Read Philippians 2:5–11 and have students write verse 11 on an index card. As Christians, we are called to proclaim boldly that Jesus is Lord and yet humble ourselves. This is difficult to do, especially in a world that doesn’t always want to listen and encourages pride. But God’s word helps us to reorder our priorities and proclaim the savior instead of ourselves.
Lutheran Study Bible page 1704: Read the Faith Reflection note at the top of the page. Have students think what kind of wants and desires young people have. Do you think you should be able to have all you want or desire? How do you know what is reasonable to want? What would your life be like if you got everything you wanted?
Open the Catechism
Student Book page 303: Invite students to read the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Talk about what “the time of trial” means. Invite students to write in the margin about some of the things that tempt them on a daily basis (gossip, bad habits, friends, pride). Discuss the kinds of things that tempt youth today. What does it feel like to have your friends pressure you to do something you know you shouldn’t do? Ask students to write some alternative activities they could do instead of giving in to temptation. Reading and remembering God’s word is one strategy.
1. Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness?
a. The Holy Spirit
c. Satan (Correct)
d. The angels
2. How long was Jesus in the wilderness?
a. Two years
b. One day
c. Three weeks
d. Forty days (Correct)
3. True or false: In today’s lesson, Satan used Scripture verses to tempt Jesus. (True)
4. Which of these things was not mentioned in the story? (Satan)
d. Robe (Correct)
5. In what kind of place did Jesus preach?
a. Synagogue (Correct)
d. Outside amphitheater
6. What other title is Jesus known by?
a. God’s Son
d. All of the above (Correct)
7. True or false: Jesus used scripture passages to defeat Satan. (True)
8. Where was Jesus tempted?
a. At the River Jordan
b. On top of a mountain
c. In the wilderness (Correct)
d. At church
Take a Break
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Game Option: Numbers and the Bible
Call out the following Bible passages one at a time. The first person to find the passage in his or her Bible gets a piece of candy or other treat and reads the passage aloud. Remind students that God’s living word can help us resist temptation, but to proclaim it, we must learn about it. Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:24; Mark 16:16; Romans 13:13–14; Matthew 22:37–39; John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:4–6
Option 2: Science Connection Option: Take a Hike
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run.
Prepare the following supplies:
Length of string or twine for each student
Jesus was tempted by Satan and spent time in the wilderness. Discuss what it feels like to be lost or alone in the wilderness. An example might be camping at night in a remote area and feeling very small and an insignificant part of God’s world.
Give each student or pair a piece of string or twine, index card, pencil, and magnifying glass. Then take a hike through your church grounds or in a nearby park or wooded area. Have each student or pair quickly find a “spot” and make a circle on the ground with his or her string. Using the magnifying glass, have the students find as much variety in their area as they can, noting their finds on the index cards. Is it just dirt? What is growing? Is there anything alive and moving? Has anything blown in from another area? Remind students to leave their area as they found it. Then invite them all to share the surprises in the things they found.
Debrief the activity with these questions:
• How was your little circle a small world in itself?
• What could happen in this little space that could make a difference in the bigger area?
• How did Jesus’ experience in the wilderness impact a much larger area?
Option 3: Music Option: Sympathy for the Devil
Play the song “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones (from Sympathy for the Devil, 2003). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
This classic Rolling Stones song is a revealing and chilling look inside the mind of the devil. The lyrics speak of some of the awful things that Satan has participated in during history: the temptation of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, violence during the Russian revolution, Hitler and Nazi Germany, and world wars. Mick Jagger sings lyrics that portray Satan’s sly evil as he politely introduces himself, gets involved in people’s hearts and minds, and causes them to do evil things. The song captures how quickly and subtly the devil can create sympathy for himself and his awful, destructive plans.
Debrief the song with these questions:
•What do you think of this classic Rolling Stones song? How does it make you feel?
•Have you ever been tempted to do something that you knew was wrong? What did you choose to do? *Who or what do you think Satan is? How does Satan tempt us in this world today?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Have each of your group members get together with a prayer partner. Have them share with each other the one thing that is most tempting for them. Then pray this prayer, allowing time for each person to silently name his or her prayer partner’s temptation.
Lord God, we are sinful people, tempted constantly by things that threaten to take us away from you. (Allow time for the temptations to be silently named.) We are also your children, saved by your Son. Help us to resist temptation by relying on your word and to live a life of trust in you. Amen.
Student Book Connection
Student Book page 33: Read together “The Top 10 Bible Villains.” In each section, underline the phrase that highlights the person’s primary sin. What do they all have in common? Help students make the connection that each person did something to tempt one of God’s followers into turning his or her back on God. That is exactly what Satan did with Jesus—Satan tried to get him to turn his back on God. This is also exactly what Satan tries to do with us. The nature of temptation is such that we are asked to look away from God and toward something that pulls us away from God.
Student Book page 209: Read together “How to Resist Temptation.” Have students write in the margin next to part 1 some of the things that tempt them on a daily basis (gossip, bad habits, friends, pride). Discuss in general the kinds of things that tempt youth today. What does it feel like to have your friends pressure you to do something you know you shouldn’t do? Ask students to write in the margin next to part 3 some alternative activities they could do instead of giving in to temptation. Are there any scripture verses that might help guide them in a different direction? Suggest Luke 4:4; Luke 4:12; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:24; Mark 16:16; John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
Read the Life Connection on the Student Sheet. Use this time to review some of the Bible passages read in this session and have students choose one they want to memorize. Perhaps students want to work with their prayer partner to commit to memorizing the same verse. Encourage them to think about how Jesus used messages from scripture to avoid temptation.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• Can you think of a time when you felt the Holy Spirit leading you to do something? What was it? How did you respond?
• What are some specific things you can do to follow Jesus’ example and resist temptation?
• What can you do to become more familiar with God’s word so you can find comfort and strength in it on a daily basis?
Have students open their Bibles to Psalm 25:1–10 and ask someone to lead the group in a responsive reading. Highlight verses 1–2. This psalm is a prayer that God will guide us and deliver us from evil as well as teach us what is true and right. God is the one who is responsible for our salvation, even though others might tempt us to believe otherwise.
Before students depart, offer the following blessing.
May God grant you wisdom and strength to resist temptation. May Jesus Christ fill your heart and give you hope in the resurrection to come. May the Holy Spirit forever lead you and expand your faith. And may you find the hope in God’s word. Amen.