The National Catholic Review

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus undergoes three temptations; these are the same temptations Matthew reports.  While Satan's words to Jesus are meaningful, what makes most sense of the story are the three answers of Jesus; indeed, they help makes best sense of Satan's intentions. 

Satan's first suggestion is that Jesus make bread out of stone.  He does this because Jesus has been fasting, which means that he is in a state in which he needs food to preserve his life.  Perhaps Satan means to test Jesus' ability to make bread from stone.  Jesus understands him differently.  Jesus' response shows that he has taken the temptation of Satan to a different level.  He affirms that life is most assured when one obeys every word that comes from God.  Jesus, then, overrides the concern to preserve life in this world, and emphasizes that what will really keep a person alive, even after death, is obedience to God.  Nothing human, e.g. bread, will do that.  The emphasis is on preservation of life in its fullest.  Jesus, without denying the value of bread, reveals his conviction about what is ultimately responsible for life; bread will never cause one to rise, once one has died.

Satan's second temptation is in the form of a 'new covenant'.  If Jesus will worship Satan, Satan will provide Jesus with rule over many kingdoms.  One can doubt Satan's power to do this, for he is a liar.  Nonetheless, Jesus takes him at his word; he replies that, for him, there is only one God and that is Yahweh.  Him alone will Jesus adore.  Particularly at stake here is the long history of Israel's relationship with Yahweh, and the many times it preferred other gods than Him.  The particular point at stake here is a definition of God which, though incomplete, was used often in Israel's history - namely, that Yahweh alone will provide complete happiness for Israel, and no other God can or will do that.  When Joshua had conquered the inhabitants of the Promised Land, he formally asked each of the 12 tribes who now would be their God.  He meant by this to ask, 'Will you continue to worship the God who has provided us with salvation from Egypt?' or 'Will you now worship the gods who are responsible for the crops we will grow in our new land?'  Thus, who will be my God, in whatever new state of life I may enter?  For Jesus, god is Yahweh.

Finally, Satan asks Jesus to throw himself from a great height, from which a person ordinarily would die.  In suggesting this, Satan puts Jesus to the test: 'Are you sure your God will save you?'  Jesus so understands this temptation that his reply is unequivocal: I have no need to put my God to a test, to see if He loves Me.  I have absolute confidence that He does love me.

Thus, Jesus affirms, as an introduction to his state of mind as his public life begins, that obedience will bring him past death to life eternal, that he finds in Yahweh the only one he will call, and adore as God, and that he has absolute confidence in the love of God for him, no matter the circumstances of his life. 

Through these responses to temptation, in an age not known for psychology, we learn 'what makes Jesus tick'.  Luke wanted to explain the Jesus he would not describe in his public life, but he also wanted to impress these thoughts of Jesus on Jesus' disciples.  To follow Jesus is to have the mindset of Jesus.

John Kilgallen, SJ