We have seen how the prophet Yahya (PBUH) came to prepare the people for the coming of the Masih. His simple but powerful message was that everyone needed to repent. The Injil goes on to recount that the prophet Isa (PBUH) was then baptized by Yahya (PBUH). This declared that the public ministry of Isa (PBUH) as the Masih was to start. But before it could start the prophet Isa (PBUH) had to first be tested and tempted by the great enemy of us all – by Shaytan (or Satan or devil or Iblis) himself.
The Injil describes this testing in some detail by telling of three specific temptations that Shaytan brought to Isa (PBUH). Let us look at each in turn. (In the temptations you will notice that Shaytan addresses Isa with that difficult title ‘Son of God’. To understand what that means please see my article here).
The Temptation of bread
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 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.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)
Here we see a parallel to when Shaytan tempted Adam and Eve in Paradise. You may recall that in that temptation the forbidden fruit was ‘… good for food…’ and that was one reason why it was so tempting. In this case, with Isa (PBUH) having fasted (and this fast had no stop – no iftar – or breaking of the fast each evening) for such a long period the thought of bread was understandably tempting. But this outcome was different from Adam since the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) resisted the temptation while Adam did not.
But why was he not allowed to eat during these 40 days? The injil does not tell us specifically, but the Zabur had predicted that the coming Servant would be a representative for the Jewish nation of Israel. The nation of Israel, under the prophet Musa (PBUH), had wandered for 40 years in the desert eating only food (called manna) from heaven. The 40 days of fasting and meditating on the Word of God as spiritual food was a symbolic re-enactment of that time in the desert as the promised Servant.
The Temptation to Test God.
The second temptation was equally difficult. The Injil tells us that
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “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.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4: 5-7)
Here Shaytan quotes from the Zabur to tempt Isa (PBUH). It is obvious therefore that in his opposition to Allah, he has studied the sacred writings so he could devise ways to oppose them. He knows the books very well and is an expert on twisting them.
I reproduce the complete passage of the Zabur from which Shaytan had quoted only a small part. (I underlined the part he quotes).
10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. (Psalm 91:10-14)
You can see that here in Zabur it is about a ‘he’, which Shaytan believed referred to the Masih. But this passage does not say directly ‘The Masih’ or ‘Christ’, so how did Shaytan know this?
You will notice the ‘he’ will ‘trample’ the ‘great lion’ and ‘the serpent’ (v.13 – I put it in red). The ‘lion’ is a reference to the tribe of Judah of the Israelites since the prophet Yakub (PBUH) had prophesied in the Taurat that:
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah;you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down,like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. (Genesis 49:8-10)
Yakub (PBUH) as a prophet, had stated long ago in the Taurat (i.e. about 1700 BC) that the tribe of Judah was like a lion from which a ‘he’ would come that ‘he’ would rule. The Zabur continued this prophecy. By declaring that ‘he’ would trample the ‘lion’, the Zabur said this ‘he’ would be the ruler of Judah.
The passage of the Zabur that Shaytan spoke from also stated that the ‘he’ would ‘trample the serpent’. This is a direct reference to the First Promise made by Allah in the Sign of Adam that the ‘offspring of the woman’ would crush the serpent. Here it is again with the diagram explaining the characters and the actions in this First Promise:
So the Lord God said to the serpent…
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
This promise had been first given in Sign of Adam, but the details were not clear then. Now we know that ‘The Woman’ is Mary because she is the only person who had an offspring without a man – she was a virgin. And therefore her offspring, the ‘he’ that was promised we now know to be Isa al Masih (PBUH). So I have included these names in this diagram. As you can see in this diagram, the ancient promise had said that Isa al Masih (the ‘he’) would crush the serpent. The prophecy in Zabur that Shaytan quoted had reiterated this when it said
“you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” (v13)
So Shaytan quoted from the Zabur which in turn referred to these two earlier prophecies from the Taurat that a ‘he’ was coming that would command obedience and crush Shaytan (the serpent). So Shaytan knew that the verses he quoted in the Zabur referred to the Masih even though they did not say ‘Masih’. Shaytan’s temptation was to try to fulfill this in the wrong way. These prophecies from Zabur and Taurat would be fulfilled, but not by Isa (PBUH) jumping off the temple to draw attention to himself, but by following the plan, without deviation, revealed in the Taurat and Zabur by Allah.
The Temptation to Worship
Shaytan then tempted Isa with everything he had – all the kingdoms of the world. The Injil states that:
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:8-11)
‘Masih’ means ‘anointed’ to rule so Masih had a right to rule. Shaytan tempted Isa (PBUH) with what was rightfully his, but Shaytan tempted him to take a wrong shortcut to his rule, and he was tempting Isa (PBUH) to worship him to get it – which is shirk. Isa resisted Shaytan’s temptation, by (once again) quoting from the Taurat. Isa al Masih (PBUH) saw the Taurat as a very important book and obviously knew it very well and trusted it.
Isa – someone who understands us
This period of temptation of Isa (PBUH) is very important for us. The injil states about Isa:
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4: 15-16)
Remember Harun (PBUH) as High Priest brought sacrifices so the Israelites could receive forgiveness. Now Isa (PBUH) in a similar way is considered a High Priest that can sympathize and understand us – even helping us in our temptations, precisely because he himself was tempted – yet without sin. And so we can have confidence before Allah with Isa (PBUH) acting as our High Priest because he underwent the most difficult temptations but he never gave in and sinned. He is someone who understands us and can help us with our own temptations and sins. The question is: Will we let him?