Matthew 4:1-11, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God (“LORD” was the unspoken name of God).’
Again, the devil took Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”
When approaching such a famous passage of Scripture such as the Temptation of Jesus (case in point, all three of the Synoptic Gospel’s — Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this particular event) it’s always important to begin by first placing the occasion within the context of the flow of the narrative as well as the much larger purpose for the Gospel itself.
As we’ve noted before but it bears repeating, as a Hebrew man with both a religious and scholarly upbringing, Matthew is writing to the Jews with the specific intention of presenting Jesus as the promised King! With this in mind, it’s significant he places the temptation of Christ directly following His baptism and more importantly the declaration of Him by the voice of God coming from heaven, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
All the way back in Genesis 3:15, with His pronouncing of the various curses on account of man’s original sin, God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
This reference to the “Seed” of the woman indicated the ultimate Savior of mankind and Judge of Satan would be a Man born through a miraculous conception that would exclude the seed of Adam and only involve the woman. The implication of this important prophecy was that He (the Messiah) would be human but possess a uniquely divine nature.
In publicly announcing Jesus to all those who’d gathered on the banks of the Jordan as “My beloved Son,” God was doing more than simply affirming His love and pleasure… He was declaring Jesus to be the fulfillment of this Genesis 3:15 prophecy! Jesus, supernaturally conceived of the virgin, did not share the bloodline of sinful man for He was the Son of God.
Theologically, the idea of Jesus being the “Second Adam” coming to earth in order to atone for the mistakes of the first is an important concept. While in Adam we were given a fallen nature at birth, it’s in Jesus we are declared sinless, found right in the eyes of God, and made new through the indwelling of the Spirit. In John 3, Jesus calls this being born again.
In fact, the Apostle Paul expounds on this critical idea in Romans 5, and then again in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 when he writes, “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”
While there is a lot of practical application we can draw from the Temptation of Jesus and specifically the way in which He handles the Tempter (and we will), always keep in mind the fundamental purpose of the story, following the affirmation of Jesus being the Son of God at His baptism, was to test and verify the claim itself. In fact, the Greek word we have recorded into English as “tempt” would be better translated as to test.
Whereas the first sinless man Adam tragically succumbed to the temptation of the enemy back in the Garden, in His capacity as the second sinless man ever born on earth, Jesus’ ability to stand toe-to-toe with Satan and emerge victorious validated this claim of divinity!
Again, writing to a Jewish audience, the simple detail that Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights” in the wilderness would have raised a few eyebrows. In the O.T. there were only two other people who fasted for forty days. In Exodus 34, Moses was without food or water for forty days while receiving the Law. And in 1 Kings 19, we read of the same occurrence happening in the life of the prophet Elijah. Incredibly, in Matthew 5:17, Jesus will say in His Sermon on the Mount that He’d come to “fulfill the law and the prophets.”
I should also add that a Jewish audience might have also picked up on another subtle but significant detail regarding the kingship of Jesus. Understand, from the Jewish perspective, up until this moment in time there had been no greater King in Israel than David. In fact, the expectation was that only the Messiah would be greater.
While I can’t say it for sure, I believe the way Matthew establishes the narrative intends to establish a parallel between Jesus and the story of King David… According to 1 Samuel 16:13, David comes out of total obscurity to be anointed by Samuel the next King over Israel. Signifying David had been chosen by God to lead His people, we read, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.” Sound familiar?
It’s interesting that the very next chapter gives us the story of this newly anointed king taking on Israel’s greatest foe (Goliath) and emerging victorious! Notice how the story is set up… 1 Samuel 17:16, “The Philistine drew near (we know this was to mock the God of Israel and challenge a man to face him) and presented himself forty days, morning and evening.”
Consider… In Matthew 3, Jesus also comes out of obscurity to be anointed by God as King — an anointing that manifests with the Holy Spirit coming upon Him just like David. Then the very next scene we have presents Jesus (the anointed King) taking on the greatest foe of all humanity (Satan) after a period of 40 days and nights and emerging victorious.
I know it might be a stretch, but could it be Matthew was setting up this parallel with David in order to demonstrate how Jesus was indeed the greater King and therefore the Messiah?
When preachers approach stories like this one they almost always fall back to a belief the main purpose was Jesus somehow demonstrating His relatability with sinners. To be fair, it is true Jesus does have the ability to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because He was “in all points tempted as we are” yet emerged “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). That said, Jesus’ ability to “sympathize” with sinners is a much different thing than being relatable.
With regards to the Temptation of Jesus and this idea of it reinforcing His relatability, a genuine criticism does arise. Since we know Jesus is God and lacked even the capacity to willfully sin, how are His experiences with temptation relatable to ours in any way?
Please don’t be mistaken… No matter what Satan tried or what he threw at Jesus there was no way He was going to relent and sin. Because Jesus is God, He simply couldn’t! Aside from being born without a sin nature, there was no way He could rebel against Himself.
To this point, I contend Jesus’ temptation experience isn’t relatable to ours, and in fact was never the purpose of the story in the first place. Again, Jesus was tempted in order to demonstrate where Adam failed He easily proved to be the victor for He was God!
When we talk about the humanity of Jesus I really don’t like the typical explanation that He was doing something in order to identify with sinners or to make Himself more relatable.
Since I was facing death and an eternal hell as a sinner, my primary concern wasn’t finding a Savior who identified with my experiences and was relatable, but One able to save! Honestly, actions that inspire confidence are so much more important than relatability?
While it’s true there are several profound lessons we can draw from this passage, I’m convinced Matthew’s purpose in recording this story wasn’t to make Jesus more relatable to sinners but to demonstrate to sinners how worthy He is to be our King!
Let me give you an easy example of this… Regarding the very nature of temptation, in 1 Corinthians, we’re told we’ll never be tempted “beyond what we can handle.” A temptation will never be allowed to violate our free will ability to resist. Yes, it’s true God will often allow the pressure of a temptation to rises to our breaking point, but never beyond. While we practically understand this idea from our own experiences, imagine Jesus.
Because Jesus is God and could not sin, He doesn’t have a breaking point. There was no threshold beyond what He could handle. This means Jesus experienced a level of temptation we can’t even fathom. You could argue, during these forty days, Jesus underwent the most extreme period of temptation any human has ever experienced. And yet, He still proved victorious. While I can’t relate to this, it is absolutely inspiring!
Look at how this story begins… Matthew 4:1, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Immediately following His baptism by John, Jesus departed the Jordan River area and “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
Though the word “wilderness” doesn’t provide any kind of definitive geographic markers, it does say Jesus ventured out into a solitary, lonely, desolate place that was completely uninhabited. In effect, Jesus was utterly alone — the original pilot of “Man vs Wild!”
Furthermore, the fact Jesus “was led by the Spirit” into this tough terrain indicates His solitude was intentional and an essential part of God’s plan for His life. For the reasons I previously listed, Jesus entered this season of isolation so that He could “be tempted by the devil,” emerge victoriously, demonstrate His sinless character as the Second Adam, and in doing so validate His identity as the Son of God and a rightful King greater than David.
Mark’s account recorded in the 12th and 13th verses of the 1st chapter of his Gospel, though brief, are insightful. He writes, “Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. (There was no delay between His baptism and this event.) And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts.”
Aside from this mention of “wild beasts,” the verbiage Mark uses suggests Jesus was tempted by Satan all 40 days with these three recorded examples documented by Matthew happening at the very end. Keep in mind, we only have this story because Jesus told us!
While in the first verse Matthew tells us the tempter was “the devil,” in verse 10, Jesus identifies “the devil” more specifically as being “Satan.” First introduced as the Great Serpent of Old in Genesis 3, Lucifer had once been the most majestic angel in heaven leading worship around the throne of God until his heart swelled with pride and he instigated an angelic rebellion. Out of spite, Satan then tempted Eve and the rest is history.
It’s interesting that within the Scriptures we only have Satan’s voice recorded on three occasions. In Genesis 3, Satan verbally slanders the nature of God before man. In Job 1, Satan then verbally slanders the nature of man before God. Now, in Matthew 4, his challenge is to somehow get the Man Jesus to slander the nature of His God.
In 1 John 2:15-16, we find the following exhortation that explains a ton about the nature of temptation itself. John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Regarding temptation, this passage indicates there are only three categories in which the enemy will seek to entice a person to move out from God’s will and into rebellion. Satan will use “the lust of the flesh” (the physical desires of our fallen nature — body), “the lust of the eyes” (a sensory appeal to our fallen nature — mind), and “the pride of life” (the core ego within our fallen nature — soul) to get a person to substitute God’s will for their own.
Case in point, in his temptation of Eve in Genesis 3, we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh, physical desires, the body), that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes, sensory appeal, the mind), and a tree desirable to make one wise (the pride of life, ego, the soul), she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” In cautioning pastors as to the pitfalls of the ministry, Billy Graham once warned of the lure of women (flesh), possessions (eyes), and position (ego).
With this understanding that the goal of all temptation is to entice a person to act contrary to the will of God, in the Temptation of Jesus, instead of trusting God to act in His life according to His will and timing, Satan attempts to get Jesus to take into His hands God’s provisions using the physical desires of His flesh, God’s promises by making a sensory appeal to His eyes or mind, and God’s plan by appealing to the pride of life.
Let’s look at the first of these three temptations… Matthew 4:2-4, “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (Medical professionals say an intense hunger following a forty-day fast indicates Jesus was approaching death.) Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God (again the purpose of the entire experience was to test Jesus’ divinity), command that these stones become bread.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
The goal of this first Satanic temptation was to entice Jesus to take into His own hands God’s provisions by appealing to His obvious physical hunger — bodily desires, lust of the flesh. In a way Satan is saying, “Jesus, if You really are God’s Son and He led you into the wilderness, why hasn’t He given you food? I mean you’re literally starving to death!”
You see the core strategy of Satan was an attempt to get Jesus to question God’s willingness to provide for His physical needs (He was really hungry) and then step outside of God’s will in order to provide for Himself “bread.” Keep in mind, Jesus had the ability to “command stones to become bread,” but only if God the Father first willed it.
This is why, in response to this temptation, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written (this is in the perfect tense meaning it has been written and it stands that way today), ‘Man shall not live by bread alone (our lives are much more than our physical desires), but (man shall live) by every word that proceeds (continually proceeds) from the mouth of God.’”
In His retort to Satan, Jesus affirms that His obedience to God’s will as articulated through the Word of God was more important than satisfying a physical need or desire. While Jesus was hungry and could have satisfied that hunger by providing for Himself bread, the fact remained His Father had not told Him to do so. Jesus is saying He’d rather wait on God to provide for His needs than take matters into His own hands.
In our lives there is no question there are a crazy number of applications we can draw from this first temptation mainly because we all have varying physical needs and desires. And yet, for simplicity's sake let me pick one as an example… Sex! Sex is a very real, genuine physical desire that God created humanity to experience and enjoy. God invented sex!
That said… God also instituted very specific parameters for which our sexual hunger is to be satisfied, specifically how (the mechanism) and when (the timing). While our society hates the fact God determined ideals and tragically rejects them, the Scriptures are clear these desires should be enjoyed in a heterosexual monogamy within matrimony.
In the end, when it comes to satisfying sexual hunger you must consider what Jesus did… First, while there is no question the hunger is real, what’s more important: eating or obeying God? And secondly, do you believe God is good and will provide for your needs according to His perfect timing? Do you really believe God’s plan is for you to starve to death?
Let’s look at the second of these three temptations… Matthew 4:5-7, “Then the devil took Jesus up into the holy city (Jerusalem), set Him on the pinnacle of the temple (this was 200 ft above the floor of the Kidron Valley), and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
The goal of this second Satanic temptation was to entice Jesus to use God’s promises for His own ends, and he does this by making a sensory appeal to His mind — the lust of the eyes. Knowing what God said in Psalms 91 of the angels, Satan tries to appeal to Jesus’ imagination. Clearly, jumping off the “pinnacle of the temple” and having a crew of angels rush in to save Him would have yielded instant fame. “Jesus, imagine the spectacle! God made these promises. Take advantage of them to further your ministry.”
Ironically, while Satan demonstrated a knowledge of the Scriptures, he also presents a perfect example of how a passage can be twisted and manipulated. Notice what he omits… Psalms 91:11-12, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” This promise was about preserving Jesus’ way — not enabling Him to circumvent God’s will.
Never forget, God’s promises to you are His to be fulfilled in His timing, in His way, and to accomplish His will. Anytime we try to co-opt these promises for our purposes we end up placing God into an impossible position. This is why, in response, Jesus quotes directly from Deuteronomy 6:16, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
In a lot of ways, this temptation is hard to apply because it’s very specific to Jesus. And yet, anytime we’re left believing God has let us down or failed to make good on His promises we’re likely guilty of falling into this trap. In my life, I have found God’s promises never fail… What fails are the times I seek to twist His promises to justify doing what I want to do!
Let’s look at the last of these three temptations… Matthew 4:8-11, “Again, the devil took Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (It’s likely this was some type of vision and not a physical place.) And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ (Notice Satan has now reached the conclusion Jesus is the Son of God.)
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! (KJV, “Get thee hence!”) For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ (“Satan, don’t forget Who you are talking to! Only God is to be worshipped. I could never worship you!”) Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”
In this final temptation, Satan attempts to get Jesus to take into His hands the fulfillment of God’s plan for His life by appealing to the pride of life or His ego. “Jesus, I have no doubts you are indeed the Son of God. As such, I know you’ve come to save the world. Well, I can give it to You and make it easy as long as You give me what I want.”
Understand, the “worship” of God has always been what Satan’s craved. From his estimation, what could be better than the actual worship of God! It’s worth noting Satan is so obsessed with this that he’s willing to trade “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” just to have Jesus bend the knee and give him what he believes is his rightful due.
Though it’s highly unlikely Satan (who is a created, finite being, limited to time and space, and is not all-knowing) knew Jesus’ death on a cross was specifically His destiny, he was aware from the testimony provided by the Scriptures that incredible pain and suffering would be part of His journey. You see in offering Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” Satan was giving Jesus an alternate way to accomplish God’s plan for His life.
The application for you and I couldn’t be any more simple… Friend, there is only one way you will ever be able to see God’s perfect will accomplished in your life and it also comes through the cross of Jesus Christ! Satan will appeal to your ego and your pride by saying you can get the most out of this life apart from Jesus, but it’s a lie from the pit of hell!
At this point, Jesus has had enough. We read He issues the command, “Away with you, Satan!” before quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Friend, living a life of worship and service to the Lord your God is the key to seeing His perfect will accomplished in you!
Upon this command, Matthew tells us two things immediately happen. First, “the devil left” revealing that even Satan was subject to Jesus’ authority proving Him to be the Son of God.
And secondly, Matthew adds, “And behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” In the original language, the word “behold” was a term used to indicate to the reader what they were about to read would necessitate a moment to stop and think about. In this case, it was the reality “angels came” from heaven “and ministered to Jesus” after Satan departed. The word “ministered” implies they came to serve Him by attending to His physical needs.
In closing, I want to leave you this morning with three thoughts to chewing on… First, there is no question we have a real enemy, spiritual warfare is therefore inescapable, and his plan of attack has never changed. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Again, there are only three categories in which the enemy will seek to entice you to move out from God’s will and into rebellion — out from His provisions, promises, and plan. To do this, Satan will appeal to either “the lust of the flesh” — the physical desires of your fallen nature, the body… “the lust of the eyes” — a sensory appeal to your fallen nature, the mind… or “the pride of life” — the core ego within your fallen nature, the soul. And yet, always remember Satan only attacks those in whom he’s threatened by!
Secondly, in the way Jesus combated Satan, He illustrates the fact the only way to really avoid believing a lie is to know the truth! In all three temptations, Jesus was able to pinpoint the lie being used by Satan to entice Him from God’s will by utilizing the Scripture, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy. This is why Paul tells us, in Ephesians 6:17, our only weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Lastly, the entire story confirms Jesus is the King! Don’t overlook the fact Satan was no match for Him. This was no great battle between foes. The two were not equals. Within this exchange, Jesus not only validated His power and authority as God, but He demonstrated how even Satan was subject to His authority and Word. As His follower, how truly inspiring!
Christian, when you face the attacks of the enemy, never forget your King Jesus has already won the war! He is the Victor! Instead of attempting to stand in your own strength, fall back on the reality “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). As David declared to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:47, may we remember, “The battle is the LORD’s!”
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