Temptation MT 4:1-10

Here is an excerpt from a chapter comparing Buddhism and Christianity I wrote a couple of years ago:

Like Siddhartha, there came a point when Jesus left town to encounter the ascetics. For Jesus it was his cousin, John the Baptizer, leading the call to repent (change actions due to a change in thinking). Jesus identified with those seeking purity before God and chose a course determined to fulfill all righteousness. God the Father affirmed him directly, but then God’s Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face temptation by the devil. Into forty days of fasting the tempter approached Jesus three times.

The first temptation was a direct appeal to a specific desire Matthew records that Jesus had: hunger. The challenge was how to handle two competing realities: a real desire for food and a real belief in the access to the God of provision. Jesus’ answer sets the tone quickly. Jesus does not deny that he has desire; he simply subordinates the desire of his flesh to the desire for faithfulness in accordance with the revealed scriptures. Life is not ultimately sustained by the impermanence of calories; life is sustained by the abiding Word of God.

Having resisted the lust of the flesh, the tempter takes Jesus to the most significant public place of worship. The temptation is for Jesus to be seen by others as the Son of God by means of a public miracle. Satan knows that one of man’s greatest desires is to be seen as significant by others. This may be the dominant meaning of the term ‘lust of the eyes’. Looking with lust on another is more an expression of the lust of the flesh attempting to be satisfied, even if just visually. The eyes we lust after, too often, are the eyes of others looking with admiration at us. When others do look upon us with awe, fear, reverence, admiration or any other elevating mindset, we feel a kind of pleasure. Jesus again rejects the temptation by referring to the Word of God and his willingness to wait upon God instead of attempting to force God to serve him.

The ultimate temptation is the capstone of the other two. In order to compromise to his carnal desires and his social cravings, a reflective person has to devise a system to justify his own actions. This is the pride of life. What is offered by the tempter is a simple plan: acknowledge that Yahweh is not ultimate, that there is some authority other than the uncreated creator which is ultimate (all forms of this rebellion satisfy Satan’s desire for worship) and the fallen world is yours to do with as you will. Jesus rejects anything but the will of the LORD as revealed in the scriptures.

At this point Jesus is attended to by angels. Though Siddhartha was tempted in similar fashion including, lust, pride, compromising rationalization, the responses were different. Siddhartha appealed to his own merit and was aided by supernatural beings in his conflict with Mara. Jesus appealed to the Word of God as the basis for truth, and no angelic beings or gods were included. Only after the engagement was settled did he get attended to according to the promises of angels being ministering spirits to those of God.

The Universal Challenge of Desire

It is interesting that desire is the ultimate test given. Desire is the human problem of living rightly. All of us live life struggling with the various facets of desire. James, the half brother of Jesus, articulates this problem of desire quite forcefully:


From what source do quarrels and conflicts among you come? Do they not come from this source, namely, from your inordinate passions which are struggling with one another in your members? You have a passionate desire and are not realizing its fulfillment; you murder. And you covet and are filled with jealousy, and you are not able to obtain. (James 4:1,2)

Our strife with others, as well as within ourselves, is essentially because we cannot fulfill our desires wisely or with finality; true, lasting satisfaction. What are some possible world view options in relation to this basic problem in life?


  • Resign to desire (and be embittered by the consequences) Nihilism
  • Embrace desire (despite its frequently negative consequences) Epicureanism (some Brahmanic; e.g. Karma Sutra)
  • Suppress desire (punish failures) Legalism (moral/religious fundamentalism)
  • Ignore desire (pretend to be above it) Stoicism
  • Fight for desire (blame others for non fulfillment) Liberation-ism
  • Quench desire (pursue beyond-being) Buddhism
  • Redeem desire (be made a new creation by the Creator) Christianity


Though this list is neither carefully precise nor exhaustive, it is illustrative of the universal nature of the problem of desire and the type of primary strategies offered to deal with the problem.

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