Have you ever wanted to read all four of the Gospels at the same time without flipping or clicking back and forth? The Olive Tree Gospel Harmonies make this possible. The Harmony of the Gospels is a chronological account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in side-by-side parallel format designed for chronological reading and comparing what each evangelist wrote about Jesus (check out this blog for a great intro). Gospel harmonies have a rich history in the church, dating all the way back to the 2nd century! In this post, we’ll walk you through a comparison of the different accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Open the Harmony of the Gospels

If you know the Scripture reference to Jesus’ temptation (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), simply select the Harmony of the Gospels in your Library and tap the chapter and verse in one of the Gospels. This will open with the parallel scriptural accounts in the other Gospels in a side-by-side column format. Here’s how it looks in the app:

If you can’t recall the Scripture reference, you can access a topical index through the “End Matter” link underneath the four Gospels after tapping “Select Verse.”

This index gives you a chronological account of the Gospels along with the Scripture references for each topic. Simply scroll down until you find the topic you’re looking for and tap on the subject or Scripture reference. In this case, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is listed at number twenty-four (out of 252!).

Since the index includes the Scripture references from the Gospels, you can quickly identify which events from Jesus’ life appear in the different Gospels. (In case you’re wondering, the only miracle that occurs in all four Gospels is the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-15).

The Temptation in the Wilderness

Okay, back to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Once you tap on this event, the parallel accounts will open in a side-by-side column format, as mentioned above and shown again below. What immediately strikes you is the relatively short account of Jesus’ temptation in Mark’s Gospel. Mark describes the temptation in just two verses, whereas Matthew uses eleven and Luke uses thirteen.

When different accounts of Jesus’ temptation are compared to one another, more differences or nuances are apparent. We shouldn’t expect these accounts to be mirror images of one another. Where there are differences, they can often lead to important theological insights. Let’s look at some of these to see if we can spot the emphases of the evangelists.

The Holy Spirit

First up is the role the Holy Spirit plays in the temptation.

  • Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
  • Mark 1:12 “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”
  • Luke 4:1 “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.”

Matthew stresses the leading of the Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted by the devil. Mark is even more forceful, saying that the Spirit “drove” Jesus to the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan (the same word he uses to describe Jesus “casting out” the unclean spirits, cf. Mark 1:34, 39). Luke stresses the filling and leading of the Holy Spirit to the wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the devil. We can gather from this that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recognize the guidance of the Spirit, the Spirit that had just previously anointed Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22) in leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. This is a divinely intended test for the newly anointed Son of God.

The First Temptation

Second, Satan (or the devil) tempts Jesus based on his Sonship. This is important for us to see, since Jesus has just been identified as the Son of God (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The evangelists tell us this is God’s Son and immediately he is tested. What kind of Son will he be? “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). The occasion for the first temptation is that Jesus is hungry. Both Matthew and Luke tell us so. The temptation is whether he will use his Son of God status and power to satisfy his hunger cravings. In this case, the Son needs more than just food. Jesus trusts the provision that God has supplied in his word (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3).

The Second and Third Temptation

Third, when comparing Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Olive Tree’s Harmony of the Gospels, we notice the second and third temptation occur in a different order in Matthew and Luke. See if you can spot this in the app:

This is something you probably wouldn’t have noticed if you were just strictly reading through Matthew or Luke. But when compared to one another in the Gospel Harmony, it jumps right out. What are we to make of this difference?

Matthew describes an escalation between the second and third temptation. The devil brings Jesus to the “pinnacle of the temple” (v. 5), the highest point in Jerusalem, and then he takes him to a “very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (v. 8). The second temptation questions God’s protection of his Son. Didn’t God promise to send his angels to deliver you if you throw yourself down? The third temptation is about Jesus’ reign. It’s as if Jesus is being presented with a shortcut. You can have authority over all the kingdoms of the world if you will fall down and worship me. Jesus will be given “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18), but not through idolatry. He is given this authority by his obedience to his Father, by his worship and service of the Lord his God (v. 10).

Luke wants to emphasize a different aspect of the temptation. Jerusalem is the last place Jesus is tempted because Jerusalem will be the last place Jesus is tempted. Notice how Luke alludes to this in verse 13, “he [the devil] departed from him until an opportune time.” Though Jesus is successful in resisting these three temptations, another test is going to happen. The battle has been won, but the war is far from over. Jerusalem will prove to be the place where Satan launches his final attack (see Luke 22:3, 53).

Olive Tree Harmony of the Gospels

As you can see, the Gospel Harmonies are a great resource for reading and studying the life of Jesus chronologically. The side-by-side column format makes it easy to compare parallel accounts across the Gospels. Better yet, you don’t have to settle for a different translation. They are available in eight of the most popular English translations (five with Strong’s numbering!), three in Greek with or without parsings and/or dictionary, and the NIV Word Study Bible with Greek and Strong’s numbering! Visit the store today and pick up a Harmony of the Gospels!


  1. Christopher Archer Reply

    It is many years since I had a harmony of the gospels., and never with Greek text option.It will be great aid in future study.

    • Brad Hoffman Reply

      Hi Christopher! We actually have a few different options regarding your request. We carry a NA28 Greek Harmony of the Gospels and a Byzantine Greek Harmony of the Gospels. You can find them here and just scroll toward the bottom.

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