According to the gospel accounts, the Holy Spirit of God descended on Jesus at his baptism. It seems reasonable that under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit he required time away from distractions for study and meditation. He was preparing to ready his heart, mind and body for the work his Heavenly Father had sent him to do. Most commentators agree that he retreated to the desert region of the lower Jordan valley.
His experience was permitted by God to enable him to be totally equipped to accomplish his mission, as he learned obedience in every circumstance. (Hebrews 5:8, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from he things He suffered.”) The gospels of Mark & Luke suggest that Jesus was “tempted” during an entire 40 day period, but the three temptations narrated in the Matthew and Luke accounts occurred at the end of the 40 days – when Jesus’ perfect mind imbued with the Holy Spirit was equipped to begin his ministry.
There, in the wilderness, he was “tempted” or “tried” by the “devil”; “Satan; the “enemy”, who knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God. They had shared a long past acquaintance before Lucifer fell from heaven (Ezekiel 18:32). Satan was aware that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit was commencing a great work and sought to appear as an angel of light and comfort, using his tactics of persuasion to appeal to base human desires – hunger, pride and power. He began his first two challenges with “If (or since) you are a son of God…” mocking the mission, subtly suggesting that Jesus had different options; testing his devotion to Jehovah.
After 40 days of fasting, when he hungry and at the point of his lowest physical resistance, the adversary came to “test” Jesus. The first temptation Satan offered was for Jesus to turn stones into bread. He professed interest in Jesus’ welfare-appearing as a “friend or “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Jesus undoubtedly had the capability to perform this miracle, but refrained from using his God given power to provide for his own physical needs. God had provided all of the spiritual food he needed enabling him to answer definitively from the scriptures (Deuteronomy 8:3) -“Man lives on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. This context response is reminiscent of when the Lord permitted experiences for the nation of Israel to humble and test them, in order to know what was in their hearts; whether or not they would keep his commands. He caused them to hunger to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone”.
According to Matthew’s chronologically ordered account, during the second temptation, Satan “takes” Jesus to the holy city placing him on the pinnacle of the temple and encourages him to cast himself down. Some commentators and translators suggest that this event happened “in an instant” or perhaps mentally. What is clear is that the adversary mishandled the scriptures from Psalm 91:9-11. In quoting the passage that “He will give his angels charge concerning thee and they shall uphold thee”, Satan neglected the very premise of the context that only “if you make the Most High your dwelling place will no harm befall you…” Satan was subtle in suggesting that Jesus’ confidence in God should be put to the test. Again Jesus responded from the scriptures- “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.
Having failed twice, Satan again sought alliance with Jesus and changed tactics by offering authority and splendor in all the kingdoms of the world. He “took” him (again we believe through mental vision) to a high mountain, representative of dominion. These kingdoms were Satan’s to offer as confirmed in Ephesians 2:2 which describes the adversary as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. The test was that Jesus would bow down and worship Satan – to acknowledge Satan’s influence, revere him and be under his supervision. Jesus’ immediate reply was “Get thee hence, Satan”; quoting Deuteronomy 6:13- “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”. The devil left him and angels came to minister to his physical needs. James 4:7 confirms this approach – “Oppose the devil and he will flee from you”.
In conclusion, it appears that Jesus voluntarily went to the wilderness to commune with God. Satan was aware that Jesus had been sent to earth for the purpose of redeeming mankind and was now possessed of the Holy Spirit. He recognized an opportunity to attempt to subvert God’s plans and purposes and utterly failed. (See Isaiah 14:12-14) Jesus was “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus passed his trial and (Matthew 4:17) thereafter began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.