Why was Jesus led into the desert in order to be tempted?

by Matt Slick

Why was Jesus led into the desert where the devil would tempt him? And, surprisingly, we find that it was the Holy Spirit to lead Jesus there. So, if Jesus was sinless and was always pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), then why be led into the wilderness to be tempted?

  • Matthew 4:1, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
  • Mark 1:12–13, "Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him."
  • Luke 4:1–2, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry."

I cannot tell you the exact reason Jesus was allowed to be tempted because the Scriptures do not tell us why. But, I can offer some possibilities.

Jesus' temptation was a demonstration of his humanity

We know from Scripture that Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1, 14; Colossians 2:9).  He has two distinct natures, both divine and human. We call this the hypostatic union. At the very least, the temptation of Christ was a recognition of his human nature. And, it was in his humanity that he walked, talked, grew, and was ultimately crucified for our sins.

Wilderness preparation preceeds ministry

The desert, which is often referred to as the wilderness in the Bible, is a place of testing and preparation. Many people experienced desert time before being used by God. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before leading the people of God out of the enslavement of Egypt (Acts 7:23-30; 1 Cor. 10:5). Once freed, the nation of Israel spent 40 years in the desert before entering the promised land (Exodus 16:35; Acts 7:36, 42; 13:18). John the Baptist lived in the desert until his public appearance to Israel (Luke 1:80). Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2). In fact, it looks as though Paul spent time in the desert area of Arabia before returning to Damascus and being used of God (Gal. 1:15-18). So, the desert wilderness seems to occupy a place in Scripture of preparation for service the Lord.

An example of dependence upon the word of God

One of the most important things that we can glean from the Scriptures that deal with the temptation of Christ is his reliance upon Scripture. Since Jesus was (and still is) God in flesh (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5), he could have rebuked the devil with a command or even a wave of his hand. But, instead, Jesus resisted temptation and rebuked the evil one by quoting Scripture.

  • Matthew 4:4, "But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’ ”"
  • Matthew 4:7, "Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’ ”
  • Matthew 4:10, "Then Jesus said to him, 'Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'' "

We see here the demonstration of Jesus' dependence upon the word of God. We should follow the example of Christ, just as Paul did (1 Cor. 11:1). If Jesus relied on Scripture to resist temptation, then so should we.

How could Jesus be tempted if he is God?

A common question is how could Jesus be tempted if he is God in flesh? The answer is simple. There are two types of temptation. A person can be offered a temptation but it not really be tempted. For example, I do not care for watching sports. But, let's say that I had a scheduled dinner with my wife one week in advance and a friend offers me tickets to a big sporting event on that same evening. I am, so to speak tempted by him, but internally I am not tempted. I would much rather do dinner with my wife. Likewise, a temptation can be offered to God externally, but God cannot be tempted internally. Please consider the following Scripture.

Psalm 106:13-15, "They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, 14 But craved intensely in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. 15 So He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them."

As we can see, if you read the context, the Jews God in the wilderness. But, God was not tempted. In other words, it was an external temptation, not an inch one.


I conclude that Jesus was led by the spirit of God into the wilderness to be tempted in order to demonstrate his humanity, as a preparation for his ministry, and as an example to us to depend upon the word of God as our source of strength, truth, and as a means by which we resist sin.



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.