Temptation of Christ

The temptation of Christ is a biblical narrative detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan came to Jesus and tried to tempt him. Jesus having refused each temptation, Satan then departed and Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his ministry. During this entire time of spiritual battle, Jesus was fasting.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also refers to Jesus having been tempted "in every way that we are, except without sin."
Mark's account is very brief, merely noting the event. Matthew and Luke describe the temptations by recounting the details of the conversations between Jesus and Satan. Since the elements that are in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark are mostly pairs of quotations rather than detailed narration, many scholars believe these extra details originate in the theoretical Q Document. The temptation of Christ is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John but in this gospel Jesus does refer to the Devil, "the prince of this world", having no power over Him.

Literary genre

Discussion of status as parable

Discussion of the literary genre includes whether what is represented is a history, a parable, a myth, or compound of various genres. This relates to the reality of the encounter. Sometimes the temptation narrative is taken as a parable, reading that Jesus in his ministry told this narrative to audiences relating his inner experience in the form of a parable. Or it is autobiographical, regarding what sort of Messiah Jesus intended to be. Writers including William Barclay have pointed to the fact that there is "no mountain high enough in all the world to see the whole world" as indication of the non-literal nature of the event, and that the narrative portrays what was going on inside Jesus' mind. Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas explained, "In regard to the words, 'He showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,' we are not to understand that He saw the very kingdoms, with the cities and inhabitants, their gold and silver: but that the devil pointed out the quarters in which each kingdom or city lay, and set forth to Him in words their glory and estate."
The debate on the literality of the temptations goes back at least to the 18th century discussion of George Benson and Hugh Farmer.
The Catholic understanding is that the temptation of Christ was a literal and physical event. "Despite the difficulties urged, …against the historical character of the three temptations of Jesus, as recorded by St. Matthew and St. Luke, it is plain that these sacred writers intended to describe an actual and visible approach of Satan, to chronicle an actual shifting of places, etc., and that the traditional view, which maintains the objective nature of Christ's temptations, is the only one meeting all the requirements of the Gospel narrative."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Use of Old Testament references

The account of Matthew uses language from the Old Testament. The imagery would be familiar to Matthew's contemporary readers. In the Septuagint Greek version of Zechariah 3 the name Iesous and term diabolos are identical to the Greek terms of Matthew 4. Matthew presents the three scriptural passages cited by Jesus not in their order in the Book of Deuteronomy, but in the sequence of the trials of Israel as they wandered in the desert, as recorded in the Book of Exodus. Luke's account is similar, though his inversion of the second and third temptations "represents a more natural geographic movement, from the wilderness to the temple". Luke's closing statement that the devil "departed from him until an opportune time" may provide a narrative link to the immediately following attempt at Nazareth to throw Jesus down from a high place, or may anticipate a role for Satan in the Passion.

Matthew and Luke narratives

In Luke's and Matthew's accounts, the order of the three temptations, and the timing differ; no explanation as to why the order differs has been generally accepted. Matthew, Luke and Mark make clear that the Spirit has led Jesus into the desert.
Fasting traditionally presaged a great spiritual struggle. Elijah and Moses in the Old Testament fasted 40 days and nights, and thus Jesus doing the same invites comparison to these events. In Judaism, "the practice of fasting connected the body and its physical needs with less tangible values, such as self-denial, and repentance." At the time, 40 was less a specific number and more a general expression for any large figure. Fasting may not mean a complete abstinence from food; consequently, Jesus may have been surviving on the sparse food that could be obtained in the desert.
Mark does not provide details, but in Matthew and Luke "the tempter" or "the devil" tempts Jesus to:
The significance of three temptations lies in its superlative force; it underscores Jesus’ resolve to resist the temptations of the devil. It “stresses the completeness and finality of Jesus’ triumph over his adversary.” These are the same three temptations one renounces at baptism: the World, the Flesh and the Devil.

The Temptations

Stones into bread

The temptation of making bread out of stones occurs in the same desert setting where Jesus had been fasting. Alexander Jones reports that the wilderness mentioned here has since the fifth century been believed to be the rocky and uninhabited area between Jerusalem and Jericho, 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. Robert H. Gundry states that the desert is likely an allusion to the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered during the Exodus, and more specifically to Moses. Jesus' struggle against hunger in the face of Satan points to his representative role of the Israelites, however he does not fail God in his urge for hunger. This temptation may have been Jesus' last, aiming towards his hunger.
In response to Satan's suggestion, Jesus replies, "It is written: 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Only in Matthew is this entire sentence written.

Pinnacle of the temple

Most Christians consider that holy city refers unquestionably to Jerusalem and the temple to which the pinnacle belongs is thus identified as the Temple in Jerusalem. Gospel of Matthew refers to "the temple" 17 times without ever adding "in Jerusalem". That Luke's version of the story clearly identifies the location as Jerusalem may be due to Theophilus' unfamiliarity with Judaism.
What is meant by the word traditionally translated as pinnacle is not entirely clear since the Greek diminutive form pterugion is not extant in other architectural contexts. Though the form pterux is used for the point of a building by Pollianus, Schweizer feels that little tower or parapet would be more accurate, and the New Jerusalem Bible does use the translation "parapet". The only surviving Jewish parallel to the temptation uses the standard word šbyt "roof" not "wing": "Our Rabbis related that in the hour when the Messiah shall be revealed he shall come and stand on the roof of the temple." The term is preserved as "wing" in Syriac translations of the Greek.
Gundry lists three sites at the Jerusalem temple that would fit this description:
"If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.'" citing.
Once more, Jesus maintained his integrity and responded by quoting scripture, saying, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'" quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.


For the final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high place, which Matthew explicitly identifies as a very high mountain, where all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. The spot pointed out by tradition as the summit from which Satan offered to Jesus dominion over all earthly kingdoms is the "Quarantania", a limestone peak on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Instead of a literal reading, George Slatyer Barrett viewed the third temptation as inclining to a doubt of Christ's mission, or at least the methodology. Barrett sees this as a temptation to accept the adulation of the crowds, assume leadership of the nation to overthrow Roman rule, take the crown of his own nation, and from there initiate the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdoms Jesus would inherit through Satan are obtained through love of power and political oppression. Barrett characterizes this "the old but ever new temptation to do evil that good may come; to justify the illegitimacy of the means by the greatness of the end."
The mountain is not literal if the temptations only occur in the mind's eye of Jesus and the Gospel accounts record this mind's eye view, as related in parable form, to the disciples at some point during the ministry.
Satan says, "All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me." Jesus replies "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'You shall worship the Lord your God and only Him shall you serve.'" . Readers would likely recognize this as reminiscent of the temptation to false worship that the Israelites encountered in the desert in the incident of the Golden Calf mentioned in Ex. 32:4.

Ministered to by angels

At this, Satan departs and Jesus is tended by angels. 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 ministered or 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.

Gospel of Mark

The Mark account is very brief. Most of the Mark account is found also in the Matthew and Luke versions, with the exception of the statement that Jesus was "with the wild animals." Despite the lack of actual text shared among the three texts, the language and interpretations Mark uses draw comparison among the three Gospels. The Greek verb Mark uses in the text is synonymous with driving out demons, and the wilderness at times represents a place of struggle. The two verses in Mark used to describe Jesus' Temptation quickly progress him into his career as a preacher.
Thomas Aquinas argued that Jesus allowed himself to be tempted as both an example and a warning. He cites Sirach 2: "Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation." Following this, he cites : "We have not a high-priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin."

Gospel of John

The temptation of Christ is not found in the Gospel of John. However some readers have identified parallels inside John which indicate that the author of John may have been familiar with the Temptation narratives in some form.
Taken in the sense of denoting enticement to evil, temptation cannot be referred directly to God or to Christ. For instance in Gen. 12.1, "God tempted Abraham", and in John 6.6, "This said tempting ", the expressions must be taken in the sense of testing, or trying. According to St. James, the source of man's temptations is his proneness to evil which is the result of the fall of Adam, and which remains in human nature after baptismal regeneration, and even though the soul is in the state of sanctifying grace, mankind’s concupiscence becomes sinful only when freely yielded to; when resisted with God's help it is an occasion of merit. The chief cause of temptation is Satan, "the tempter", bent on man's eternal ruin.
In the Lord's Prayer, the clause "Lead us not into temptation" is a humble and trusting petition for God's help to enable us to overcome temptation when His Fatherly Providence allows us to experience the allurements of evil. Prayer and watchfulness are the chief weapons against temptation. God does not allow man to be tempted beyond his strength. Like Adam, Christ endured temptation only from without, inasmuch as His human nature was free from all concupiscence; but unlike Adam, Christ withstood the assaults of the Tempter on all points, thereby providing a perfect model of resistance to mankind’s spiritual enemy, and a permanent source of victorious help.
In the first three Gospels, the narrative of Christ's temptation is placed in immediate connection with His baptism and then with the beginning of His public ministry. The reason for this is clear. The Synoptists regarded the baptism of Christ as the external designation of Jesus from for Christ’s Messianic work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The first three Gospels agree concerning the time to which they assign the temptation of Christ, so they are at one in ascribing the same general place to its occurrence, viz. "the desert", whereby they mean the Wilderness of Judea, where Jesus would be, as St. Mark says: "with beasts".
"The Biblical meaning of temptation is 'a trial in which man has a free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God'. Satan encouraged Jesus to deviate from the plan of his father by misusing his authority and privileges. Jesus used the Holy Scripture to resist all such temptation. When we are tempted, the solution is to be sought in the Bible."
In the temptations, according to Benedict XVI, Satan seeks to draw Jesus from a messianism of self-sacrifice to a messianism of power: "in this period of "wilderness"… Jesus is exposed to danger and is assaulted by the temptation and seduction of the Evil One, who proposes a different messianic path to him, far from God's plan because it passes through power, success and domination rather than the total gift of himself on the Cross. This is the alternative: a messianism of power, of success, or a messianism of love, of the gift of self."
Jesus was tempted three times.
The temptations were hedonism, egoism and materialism. John the Evangelist in his epistle calls these temptations "in world" as "lust of eyes", "lust of body" and "pride of life". Temptations aim to mislead and pervert three main human characteristics; to think, wish and feel which are inside mind, soul and heart as Jesus alludes in Greatest Commandment. These are related with transcendentals or ultimate ideals in three areas of human interests; science, arts and religion. Christians are called to search for divine virtues; faith, hope and love that relate them directly to God who Himself is Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
, 1860
divine virtuesfaithhopelove

"pride of life"
"spectacular throw"
"lust of eyes"
"lust of body"
monastic vowsobedience
human virtuesprudence

Art, literature, film and music

The temptation of Christ has been a frequent subject in the art and literature of Christian cultures. A scene usually interpreted as the third temptation of Jesus is depicted in the Book of Kells. The third and last part of the Old English poem Christ and Satan concerns The Temptation of Christ, and can be seen as a precursor to John Milton's Paradise Lost. The Temptation of Christ is indeed the subject of Milton's sequel to Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained. J. M. W. Turner did an engraving of "The Temptation on the Mountain" for an 1835 edition of The Poetical Works of John Milton. Satan and Jesus stand in silhouette on a cliff overlooking a broad landscape that transitions into the sea. The "...image depicts the temptation of Christ by Satan, specifically the moment where Satan offers Christ the kingdoms of the world. This vision of the temptation as extending to the open sea is eerily similar to the possibilities of conquest as commonly depicted in British and American art during the Romantic era."
An illuminated scene in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a 15th-century book of hours, depicts Jesus standing atop a Gothic castle based upon the Duke’s own castle at Mehun-sur-Yevre. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome sees this as a challenge to "...the Duke and meant to recall him to humility and conversion..."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, part of the novel, The Grand Inquisitor, features an extended treatment of the temptation of Christ. Kathleen E. Gilligan draws parallels with J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in which characters Gandalf and Galadriel, both powerful figures each in their own right, are tempted to acquire the ring and become more powerful for the best of reasons but with likely disastrous results.
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. In W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, the narrator uses the gospel of Matthew to introduce his own ending in which Jesus accepts death on the cross, "for greater love hath no man," while the devil laughs in glee, knowing that man will reject this redemption and commit evil in spite of, if not because of, this great sacrifice.
In the 1989 film Jesus of Montreal, the actor playing Jesus is taken to the top of a skyscraper and offered lucrative contracts by a lawyer if he will serve him. The 2019 television miniseries Good Omens credits the temptation of Christ to the demon Crowley, who claims to have shown Christ the kingdoms of the world as mere travel opportunities.
The temptation of Christ in the desert is shown in the following theatrical and television films: King of Kings, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus, The Miracle Maker, The Bible, and Last Days in the Desert.