The Monastery of Temptation
Did Jesus Sit on This Rock During His Fast?
We often take our Octagon Tour groups to this exciting destination, where we ride up on a cable car, and the views are spectacular.
Location - Mount Quarental, Jericho
Map Coordinates - 31.872673, 35.431346
Merged Gospels story - 20
As you can see from the picture above, the Monastery of Temptation was built on the side of a mountain just west of the city of Jericho. It is believed that this is where Jesus fasted for forty days, after which He was tempted three times by Satan (which means adversary. That tells you who he is). He is also called the devil (which means accuser. That tells you his function).
It is a very common occurrence, even in the Christian life, that after periods of great confirmation and joy, like what Jesus experienced when the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, He is now about to endure one of His greatest trials – 40 days of fasting and temptation. But what did Jesus do? He overcame all of this by recalling verses from the Bible.
The best way to get up to the Monastery of Temptation is by cable car.
The approach to the Monastery of Temptation.
Forty days of fasting.
Jesus being tempted by the devil.
Fasting is like turbocharging your prayers. According to Jewish Old Testament commentators, the number forty is symbolic of the span of one human life; that is, a person’s life on earth. The number forty is also symbolic of each believer’s life, where we wander on the earth, being tested by God, being tempted by Satan, only to be ministered to by angels at the very end.
This story about the temptation of Jesus is told in each of the first three Gospels.
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the spirit of God led Him to this mountain to pray and fast for forty days. This is called Mount Qarantal, just west of Jericho. The name Qarantal is an Arabic mispronunciation of the Latin word quarantena (meaning forty). This place is about eight miles from Jesus’ traditional baptism site.
The view from this height allows you to see much of the modern city of Jericho below, which is understood to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world – about 10,000 years old.
There are two ways to get up here. You can either walk, which takes about 30 minutes, or you can ride a cable car, and that will bring you to a spot about halfway up the mountain. As you look out over the ramp that approaches the monastery, you can see that this mountain is honeycombed with about 30 to 40 caves, and many of these caves were inhabited by monks in the early centuries of Christianity.
History of the Site.
The Empress Helena, who was the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, commissioned some of the original churches to be built in the Holy Land. It is said that she identified this place to be a holy site in 326 AD. This is why fourteen years later a very famous local monk named Saint Chariton built the first chapel here, about 170 meters up the side of this mountain.
Saint Chariton built the first monastery on this site.
This church lasted until 614 AD, when the Persians invaded this land. As a result, the monks who lived here abandoned the site, and it was deserted for almost 500 years.
In the year 1099 AD the Crusaders took control of the Holy Land, and they were determined to build shrines in as many Biblical sites as possible. That’s why they erected two churches here - one at the site of this monastery, and one on the summit of this mountain, which is believed to be the place from which the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world.
The Crusaders only occupied this land during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, after which it reverted back into the control of the Muslims, and, once again the monastery was abandoned for about 700 years.
The hallway showing the rooms to the monk’s quarters in the Monastery of Temptation.
As we enter the front door, we find ourselves walking down the main hallway with many doors on the left side, giving it the appearance of a hotel. As with most monasteries, there used to be hundreds of monks who lived there. Today there are only one or two, and these are doors to empty rooms in which monks used to live.
Every room in the interior of this monastery was part of an open-air cave. As Jesus resided here, He would have had a panoramic view, looking out across the Jordan Valley.
The main cave has three parts. The large part with the benches feeds into a smaller middle room up these stairs. In the back of this section is a small hole that allows visitors to enter a tiny cave chapel. This is considered to be the holiest part of the entire monastery. As we go farther down the hall of this monastery, we come to a balcony that overlooks hundreds of feet of empty air. From here you can not only see the hermit caves in the mountain, but the modern city of Jericho as well. You can just imagine what went through Jesus’s mind as He was fasting, knowing that just a short walk down the hill was the oasis of Jericho, with plenty of food and fresh water.
Standing on this balcony gives you a visual sense of one of the temptations of the devil, when the Bible says, “Again the devil led Him up to a very high mountain, and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory…”. Well, this is a very high mountain, and you can see the city of Jericho below.
The view of Jericho from the balcony of the Monastery of Temptation.
The Three Temptations.
These three temptations are all different in their nature and their purpose, and they grow in magnitude one to the other. I believe that these temptations are symbolic of every type of temptation that believers experience in their walk with Christ. The first temptation was where the Devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. I think this is symbolic of the temptation for possessions and individual passions. It is the most common temptation known to man - to acquire the things that we want, be it physical, personal or material, and often for petty reasons.
The next temptation was to get Jesus to jump harmlessly off the pinnacle of the Temple. This would have been an unnecessary spectacle, and I think that this is symbolic of the temptation to acquire attention, fame, reputation and the praises of men. This is the second-most common temptation that we all have – to be noticed, to be famous, and to be praised by others.
The next temptation of the Devil was to entice Jesus with the lure of acquiring the kingdoms of the world. Here Satan tempted Jesus with the notion of physical power rather than spiritual power – a shortcut path to becoming the King of kings, rather than at the end of the passionate road to Calvary. However, Jesus did not come to earth to gain these things by treaty, but by conquest. This temptation, I believe is symbolic of people’s desire to acquire glory, control and authority. This is the third most common temptation – to have power over others.
All three of Satan’s temptations share a common element. They were all promises of something that Jesus was going to acquire from God’s hand eventually anyway, through His patience and obedience.
The church in the Monastery of Temptation.
Like virtually all monasteries, this one also has a formal church, and on the ceiling and three sides of this church are the rough walls of this cliff. But even in this natural cave we can still see the typical Orthodox church layout, with the iconostasis, or icon wall, in the front that conceals the main altar behind it, where only the priests are allowed to go.
Even when the Muslims ruled this land, Christians were always aware of its sacred reputation, so the land upon which this current monastery was built was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1874. One year later, in 1875, they built the church that exists today.
On the south side of this church there is a narrow staircase, and at the top of these stairs is a small chapel. If you take a look under the altar of this chapel, you will see a round stone pedestal that protrudes from the cliff behind it. It is believed that Jesus sat on this pedestal during His fast.
The pedestal on which it is believed that Jesus sat during His fast.
Why did Jesus go through these temptations?
Adam, the forefather of the human race was tempted by the devil, but Adam failed. For this reason, all humanity is potentially under the curse of God’s judgment. The only way to remove this curse would be for the second Adam, Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:45), to be tempted, and yet succeed. It was Satan’s plan to make the second Adam fail, just like he made the first Adam fail. Only a perfect man could provide the atonement for the sins of the world, and it was Satan’s intention to render Jesus an imperfect candidate for this assignment. It was therefore necessary for Jesus to go through temptation by the devil, similar to Adam’s temptation, and yet to remain sinless throughout.
Jesus is a symbol of the Church. What He was like, we are like. What He did on earth, we do on earth. His nature after His resurrection will be our nature. Where He went in the resurrection, we will go. While on earth the relationship that He had with the Father, we have. His baptism is a picture of our baptism. His temptation is a picture of our temptation, and the details regarding these temptations are details regarding our own.
The innermost cave on Mount Quarantal.
His experience is a precursor to our own. The parallels between these events, and the experience of many believers cannot be overlooked. Many of His followers experienced trials immediately after their regeneration. In this way, not only is Christ’s temptation symbolic of our own temptations, but His response to Satan is a victorious model for us as well.
When the devil tried to get Jesus to doubt His divinity by saying, “If you are God’s son…” it’s just like the way he tempts followers of Christ, when he says, “If you’re really born again, then why did you do this or that.” Knowing fully that all believers are children of God, he will tirelessly inject seeds of doubt, not only regarding our position in God’s family, but regarding our authority over the earth, and over himself.
Another interesting thing about this story is that it is an example of how Satan quotes Scripture to advance his evil goal. However, he also misquotes it, or quotes it out of context. This tells us that just because someone quotes the Bible, their motivations may be anything but noble. This is how Satan uses Scripture to mislead people. And because his half-truths are Biblically based, this strategy works especially well among nominally religious people. The fact is that any person who attempts to justify his errors by citing Bible passages is using the very same tactics as the devil himself.
When Jesus’ disciples succumb to Satan’s temptations, it gives him concrete grounds on which to base his accusations. In other words, every one of Satan’s temptations is an attempt at what we call a “sting operation”. He is trying to set up the very failure that he will ultimately use against us.
The Word of God.
The most important takeaway from this story for each one of us is that each temptation by the devil was immediately dismissed by Jesus simply by using the Word of God, which for us becomes the most powerful tool we have against any scheme to draw us away from God’s perfect will for each of our lives. It is also remarkable that in His hour of great trial, Jesus did not look to visions, revelations, nor His own wisdom. For consolation He turned to God’s final, argument-ending authority – the Scriptures. All of life is a test, and one is successful in this life only when he fully depends on God and His Word.