Fasting, the Desert, and Temptation


Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert, to be tempted by the devil.Matthew 4:1 Why did Christ fast for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before his temptation and his lifelong ministry? What do fasting and the desert signify? Are they connected to any teachings of Christ in the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament?

  • For had he, i.e. the devil not fought, Christ would not have conqured. *
    **Summa Theologica: Christ’s Temptation **

Is it because Eve was originally tempted by the apple? And Esau sold his birthright for a plate of lentils? So… we must guard ourselves against temptations against the flesh… best symbolized by food?

The second temptation was to throw oneself down and rely on God to save one? Why?

The third temptation was to receive all the kingdoms of the world in return for bowing down and serving the evil one. Is it because Eve originally ate the apple because she wanted to be as wise as God? A temptation to gain power/wisdom/might in the wrong way?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."
He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’"
Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.Matthew 4:1-11


Reply to Objection 2. The occasions of temptation are twofold. One is on the part of man-- for instance, when a man causes himself to be near to sin by not avoiding the occasion of sinning. And such occasions of temptation should be avoided, as it is written of Lot (Genesis 19:17): “Neither stay thou in all the country about” Sodom.

Another occasion of temptation is on the part of the devil, who always “envies those who strive for better things,” as Ambrose says (In Luc. iv, 1). And such occasions of temptation are not to be avoided. Hence Chrysostom says (Hom. v in Matth. [From the supposititious Opus Imperfectum): “Not only [COLOR=“Blue”]Christ was led into the desert by the Spirit, but all God’s children that have the Holy Ghost. For it is not enough for them to sit idle; the Holy Ghost urges them to endeavor to do something great: which is for them to be in the desert from the devil’s standpoint, for no unrighteousness, in which the devil delights, is there. Again, every good work, compared to the flesh and the world, is the desert; because it is not according to the will of the flesh and of the world.” Now, there is no danger in giving the devil such an occasion of temptation; since the help of the Holy Ghost, who is the Author of the perfect deed, is more powerful than the assault of the envious devil. [All the codices read ‘majus.’ One of the earliest printed editions has ‘magis,’ which has much to commend it, since [COLOR=“Blue”]St. Thomas is commenting the text quoted from St. Chrysostom. The translation would run thus: ‘since rather is it (the temptation) a help from the Holy Ghost, who,’ etc.].


**Reply to Objection 1.**It was becoming for Christ not to adopt an extreme form of austere life in order to show Himself outwardly in conformity with those to whom He preached. Now, no one should take up the office of preacher unless he be already cleansed and perfect in virtue, according to what is said of Christ, that “Jesus began to do and to teach”(Acts 1:1). COnsequently, immediately after His baptism Christ adopted an austere form of life, in order to teach us the need of taming the flesh before passing on to the office of preaching, according to the Apostle(1 Corinthians 9:27): “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”


and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."
At this, Jesus said to him,
Are they his to give? I know that Satan is at work in this world we live in, obviously, but does he have possession of all the kingdoms of the world?



**Reply to Objection 7.**As Chrysostom says (Hom. v. in Matth.): “The devil set Him” (on a pinnacle of the Temple) “that He might be seen by all, whearas, unawares to the devil, He acted in such sort that He was seen by none.”

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.” Or, again, as Origine says (Hom. xxx in Luc.), “he showed Him how, by means of the various vices, he was the lord of the world.”


On the contrary is the authority of Scripture.

I answer that, The temptation which comes from the enemy takes the form of a suggestion, as Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Evang.). Now a suggestion cannot be made to everybody in the same way; it must arise from those things towards which each one has an inclination. Consequently the devil does not straight away tempt the spiritual man to grave sins, but he begins with lighter sins, so as gradually to lead him to those of greater magnitude. Wherefore Gregory (Moral. xxxi), expounding Job 39:25, “He smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains and the shouting of the army,” says: “The captains are fittingly described as encouraging, and the army as shouting. Because vices begin by insinuating themselves into the mind under some specious pretext: then they come on the mind in such numbers as to drag it into all sorts of folly, defeaining it with their bestial clamor.”

Thus, too, did the devil set about the temptation of the first man. FOr at first he enticed his mind to consent to the eating of the forbidden fruit, saying (Genesis 3:1): “Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” Secondly [he tempted him] to vainglory by saying: “Your eyes shall be opened.” Thirdly, he led the temptation to the extreme height of pride, saying: “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” This same order did he observe in tempting Christ. For at first he tempted HIm to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be – namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part – namely, to desire worldy riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: “If Thou be the Son of God”; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whearas it does apply to the two preceding temptations.

And Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, “so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man”; as Pope Leo says (Serm. 1, De Quadrag. 3).


Reply to Objection 2. It often happens that a man seeks to derive glory from external humiliation, whereby he is exalted by reason of spiritual good. Hence Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii, 12): “It must be noted that it is possible to boast not only of the beauty and splendor of material things, but even of filthy squalor.” And this is signified by the devil urging Christ to seek spiritual glory by casting His body down.


Reply to Objection 3. It is a sin to desire worldly riches and honors in an inordinate fashion. And the principal sign of this is when a man does something wrong in order to acquire such things. And so the devil was not satisifed with instigating to a desire for riches and honors, but he went so far as to tempt Christ, for the sake of gaining possession of these things, to fall down and adore him, which is a very great crime, and against God. Nor does he say merely, “if Thou wilt adore me,” but he adds, “if, falling down”; because as Ambrose says on Luke 4:5: “Ambition harbors yet another danger within itself: for, while seeking to rule, it will serve; it will bow in submission that it may be crowned with honor; and the higher it aims, the lower it abases itself.”

In like manner [the [COLOR=“Blue”]devil]in the preceding temptations tried to lead [Christ] from the desire of one sin to the commission of another; thus from the desire of food he tried to lead Him to the vanity of the needless working of a miracle; and from the desire of glory to tempt God by casting Himself headlong.


Reply to Objection 4. As Ambrose says on Luke 4:13, Scripture would not have said that “all the temptation being ended, the devil departed from Him,’ unless the matter of all sins were included in the three temptations already related. For the causes of temptations are the causes of desires” – namely, “lust of the flesh, hope of glory, eagerness for power.”


Reply to Objection 6. When Christ had suffered the wrong of being tempted by the devil saying, “If Thou be the Son of God cast Thyself down,” He was not troubled, nor did He upbraid the devil. But when the devil usurped to himself the honor due to God, saying, “All these things will I give Thee, if, falling down, Thou wilt adore me,” He was exasperated, and repulsed him, saying, “Begone, Satan”: that we might learn from His example to bear bravely insults leveld at ourselves, but not to allow ourselves so much as to listen to those which are aimed at God.


Thx avesantamaria. It’s clear the devil didn’t know Jesus was God or he wouldn’t have bothered with the temptations either. Like everywhere else Jesus gives us an example. He didn’t need to do anything at all, and to save us the slightest suffering was only necessary. Irt was all for our benefit. God bless.:thumbsup: :slight_smile:


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