Why Christ was tempted

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Our Lord Jesus Christ, is perfect God and perfect Man.  He has remained Man in heaven for good for having saved us.  We might think that it’s senseless to tempt Christ to commit sin when He is God who cannot sin.  But it was His human nature that could sin and was the target of temptation by the devil.

Temptation by definition is an invitation to sin.  It is not a sin yet as some may believe (based on my experience giving catechism classes) but only when you say yes to the invitation.  If you say yes to temptation, you commit sin, but if you say no, you gain a spiritual merit that makes you more holy, deserving of heaven and saves you from the self-inflicted miseries of this life.  Sin is the greatest evil in this world because it separates us from the greatest good: God, and because it also gives us the greatest miseries in this life.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives four reasons why our Jesus Christ had to undergo temptation.  First, to give us an example since He is the Head of the Church and has to lead us by example.  Second, that we might be warned, so that none, however holy, may think himself free from temptation.  On the contrary, holy people will be subjected to more temptations by the devil because they have more influence and because as the saying goes “The corruption of the best is the worst”. In other words, the holier you are supposed to be the greater would be the scandal you would give to the world if you fail to give good example, such as if you are a priest.  Third, in order to teach us how to overcome the temptations of the devil.  And fourth, in order to fill us with confidence in His mercy for it is written, “We have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things as we are, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The first temptation the devil offered to Jesus, was pleasure, symbolized by inviting Jesus to turn stones into bread to relieve His hunger.  Jesus was fasting in preparation for His public ministry and would have felt starvation.  “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” (Matthew 4:2-3) It’s not sinful to eat but Jesus had a higher purpose for not eating.  Any form of human activity that hinders our relationship with God no matter how it seems to be good and noble should be gotten rid of.

The second temptation was to misuse power.  The devil wants Christ to perform a miracle for Himself even using Scriptural passage to make his invitation more credible (proof that Satan would not hesitate to use holy things just to make us commit sin).  “If you are the Son of God, he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6) But Christ replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7) Jesus corrected Satan’s deceitful use of Scripture with the right interpretation of it.

The third and last temptation was vainglory (for oneself) and worshipping a person (the devil or any other person other than God) or a thing (wealth and material things) instead of God which is idolatry.  “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9) But Jesus replied, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  (Matthew 4:10)

In summary, the temptations the devil subjected Christ was on pleasure, power, wealth and glory, the four substitutes to God, as St. Thomas Aquinas would call them, that Satan would also use on us. However, Jesus is teaching us how to overcome temptations by use of Scripture which is to immerse ourselves with God’s teachings (and the teachings of the Church) which would give us wisdom.  Wisdom would make us see through temptations like an x-ray vision that would expose the deceitfulness of sin and its consequences in our lives.  Christ underwent a second wave of temptation from the devil later on in His life, this time more powerful and would have a more devastating effect, for it would have destroyed His overall mission which was “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 10:45).  This was during Christ’s agony in the garden.  “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39) Christ symbolized His conquest of the devil when he stepped on the snake (the animal that tempted Adam and Eve) after His agony in the Garden as was depicted quite well in Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”.  And Christ gave us one of the most effective weapons against sin in that instance when he upbraided His disciples who were sleeping and later on fell into the temptation of abandoning Him when He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  Prayer is acknowledging that we can’t do it alone and that we need God to help us to overcome temptation.  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)