The Devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is an important precursor to Jesus’ ministry and victory over the satanic powers. Had Jesus failed in that temptation, His mission on earth would have been a total disaster. Thus, the temptation encounter was a significant part of Jesus’ complete victory over Satan.
From Jesus’ temptation, we can learn that following our Lord can bring dangerous and intense spiritual battles. We won’t always feel good; we all experience times of deprivation, loneliness, and hostility. Jesus’ temptation also shows our spiritual victories may not always be visible to the watching world. Above all, it shows that we must use the power of God to face temptation and not try to withstand it in our own strength.
- TEMPTATION OF PHYSICAL GRATIFICATION VV. 1-3
Matthew begins his narrative with the word “Then.” The word “then”
indicates an important connection between the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4. The same Holy Spirit that sent Jesus to be baptized by John the Baptist then sent Jesus into the wilderness. The temptation was a divine necessity to prove Jesus’ messianic purpose. “Led up by the Spirit,” Jesus took the offensive against the enemy, Satan, by going into the lonely and desolate wilderness to face temptation. In the Old Testament, the “wilderness” (or “desert”) was a desolate and dangerous place where wild animals lived (see Isaiah 13:20-22; 34:8-15).
“Devil” in Greek diabolos means “accuser”; in Hebrew, the word “Satan” means the same (4:10). As we deal with this biblical passage, we will find out that the temptation of Jesus is similar to the temptation that the Serpent posed on Eve in the Garden of Eden. The devil tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, and here he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Satan is a fallen angel. He is a real, created being, not symbolic, and is constantly fighting against those who follow and obey God. The verb “to be tempted” describes continuous action because Jesus was tempted constantly during the forty days. The word “tempted” means “to put to the test to see what good or evil, strengths or weaknesses exist in a person.” The Spirit compelled Jesus into the wilderness where God put Jesus to the test—not if Jesus was ready, but to show that He was ready for His mission. Satan on the other hand, had other plans; he hoped to thwart Jesus’ mission by tempting Jesus to do evil. Satan tried to get Jesus to declare His kingship prematurely. Satan tried to get Jesus to take His messianic power into His own hands and forsake His Father’s will. If Jesus had given in, His mission on earth—to die for our sins and give us the opportunity to have eternal life—would have been lost.
Therefore, the devil’s first temptation focused on physical needs and desires. After the forty days, Jesus was famished; He was hungry. Fasting was and is used as a spiritual discipline for prayer and a time of preparation for great tasks that lay ahead. The number forty brings to mind the forty days of rain in the great Flood (Gen. 7:17, the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:18), the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness (Deut. 29:5), the forty days of Goliath’s taunting of Israel prior to David’s victory (1 Sam. 17:16), and the forty days of Elijah’s time of fear in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:8). In all these situations, God worked in His people, preparing them for special tasks.
At the end of His forty days fast, Jesus was obviously famished. This is the truth—Jesus’ status as God’s Son did not make the fast any easier; His physical body suffered severe hunger and pain of going without sustenance. The three temptations recorded here occurred when Jesus was at His most physical state of weakness.
In these three verses, we learn two names of Satan—devil and tempter. Tempter has to do with one of his functions (temptation). Jesus may have finished with His fast, but Satan was not finished with his temptations. In fact, his first effort with Jesus was to tempt Him to do the obvious. “You have been fasting and you are hungry why don’t you just turn some of these stones into bread and have yourself a small meal?” What could possibly be so wrong about that? But there was much more going on here than a seemingly compassionate offer for a hungry person to have lunch. The tempter addresses Jesus with the same title God applied to Him at His baptism (3:17). The first class conditional clause, “If you are the Son of God,” does not imply any doubt on the devil’s part. Rather, what is in doubt is what type of Son Jesus will be. Satan tempted Jesus with His (Jesus) own power. If indeed Jesus was the Son of the one true, and all-powerful God, then Jesus certainly could “command these stones to become loaves of bread” if He so chose in order to satisfy His hunger. Satan was suggesting, "God’s Son has no reason to be hungry." Satan did not doubt Jesus’ Sonship or His ability to turn stones to bread. Instead, he wanted Jesus to use His power in the wrong way at the wrong time—to use His position to meet His own needs rather than to fulfill His God-given mission. In later miracles, Jesus did supply baskets full of bread, but He supplied them for a hungry crowd, not to satisfy Himself. And He did the miracles in God’s timing for God’s purposes as part of His mission (see Matt. 14:13-21; 15:32-39).
Don’t you want to learn and respond to temptations just like Jesus? Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation not with some supernatural power, but simply with the word of God. “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (v. 4). Jesus saw through Satan’s scheme. There is something here that I don’t want you to miss. Jesus did not attempt to get into a discussion with Satan as Eve had done. Instead, Jesus answered with words from what is written in Scripture, quoting Deut. 8:3. Jesus teaches us that we are to give priority to spiritual needs instead of physical needs.
- TEMPTATION OF SPIRITUAL DISOBEDIENCE (VV. 5-7)
The second temptation brings Jesus to the holy city, Jerusalem. This time the
Devil asks Jesus to demonstrate miraculously God’s ability to preserve His life. The devil knows that Jesus has the power to do this, and he cites Psalm 91:11-12 to justify it. The devil is proving to Jesus that he also knows the Scriptures. Satan twists Scriptures to try to convince Jesus to sin. Is it not the same technique that he used to get Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden? Here is the truth; we must not test God’s faithfulness to His word by manufacturing situations in which we try to force Him to act in certain ways. We should not put our life in danger deliberately as some kind of fleece. Satan wanted Jesus to test His relationship with His Father to see if God’s promise of protection would prove true. Once again, I would like to draw your attention to Jesus’ response to the devil’s second temptation. Jesus did not argue with him (v. 7). Neither did He enter into any theological debate with the devil. On the contrary, Jesus quoted from Deut. 6:16 on not testing God. Jesus quoted the true meaning of the word. No matter what the word Satan might have quoted sounded like, the facts were while God promises to protect His people He also requires that we do not put Him to the test (the man who jumped into a lion’s den in a zoo).
Jesus could have jumped from the temple; God could have sent angels to bring Him safely to the ground. However, for Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple would have been a ridiculous test of God’s power, and it would have been out of God’s will. Jesus knew that His Father could protect Him. He also understood that all His actions were to be focused on fulfilling His Father’s mission, even if it means suffering and death, which of course, it did. Let me tell you something that is the truth. As a believer in Christ, some people would come to you and tell you to do this or that as if they know the exact will of God for your life. Be careful with such people. Some of them mean well but weigh everything with the word of God and His will for your life. If you are a genuine believer in Christ, God would reveal His will to you. Therefore, if a prophetic word from another person is for you, it is to confirm what God has already revealed to you but not something new that you do not know anything about.
- TEMPTATION OF THE PSUCHE (SOUL) (VV. 8-10)
After having tempted Jesus to satisfy a legitimate bodily appetite in an
illegitimate way and then to use His supernatural power to rebel against God even while seeming to demonstrate great faith, Satan now makes the most brazen offer of all. He will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in return for worship. Ironically, Jesus would receive this glory anyway after His death and resurrection (Phil. 2:5-11); but here the devil tries to seduce Him with instant power, authority, and wealth apart from the way of the cross. Satan usually tempts Christians in the same way---with success syndrome, empire-building, or alleged guarantees of health and wealth. But the devil’s price is damning and costly. He requires nothing short of selling your soul in worshipping him, which leads inexorably to eternal judgment. Whatever joy and power he can offer vanishes with death. Jesus rightly rejects the devil’s offer and quotes from Deut. a third time (Deut 6:13). Only one is worthy of worship, the one who redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, The Lord Yahweh Himself.
This temptation boils down to a choice between God and Satan. No one can
worship and serve both. For Jesus to take a short cut to the goal, ruling the world by worshipping Satan (4:9) would be to break the first commandment (Exod. 20:1-4). Jesus would rather take the path of submission to God the Father. Jesus would worship and serve the Lord alone. Only by doing so would He be able to accomplish His mission of bringing salvation to the world. The third temptation was for Jesus to disobey the Father and divert His allegiance to the enemy.
This also shows that Satan always tries to subvert the faithfulness of
believers in God by offering shortcuts to life. In response, we are to rely on God, which sometimes means the willingness to endure suffering. Anything that Christians do independent of God indicates a lack of faith in Him. Just as Jesus demonstrated a complete devotion to the Father, believers must do the same in every area of life.
The devil offered the whole world to Jesus if He would only bow down and
worship him. Today Satan offers us the world by trying to entice us with materialism, sex, and power. The devil would like us to believe that life is short, get all you can now. Even some Christian leaders are thrown into the rat race of materialism and empire-building but the sad thing is that these things are temporary. They cannot satisfy the soul. It is only God who can satisfy the human soul. We must resist temptation the same way that Jesus did. If you find yourself craving something that the world offers, quote Jesus' word to the devil. Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only. Then, follow this advice with the support and prayers of Christian friends.
In verse 11, when Satan realized that he has failed in all his temptations,
He left as a defeated foe. The devil could not stay when Jesus told him to go away. Jesus is Satan’s superior. Satan must do as Jesus commands. So the devil left Jesus. With this rebuke, the devil left. I would like to submit to you not to rebuke the devil in your own strength. However, when you are tempted, rebuke the enemy in the name and authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus was tempted by the devil but He never sinned! Although we may feel dirty after being tempted, we should remember that temptation itself is not sin. We sin when we give in and disobey God. Remembering this truth will help us to turn away from the temptation. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus knows firsthand what we are experiencing, and He is willing and able to help us in our struggles. When tempted, turn to God for strength by a short prayer, make a phone call to a Christian friend or find a quiet place, and pull up your Bible and read a Psalm.
As I wrap up, interesting parallels emerge between Jesus’ three temptations
and those of Eve and Adam in the Garden (Gen. 3:6—“good for food, pleasing to the eye,” “desirable for gaining wisdom.” Both of these triads seem to parallel John’s epitome of human temptation: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). The devil, the tempter uses these three temptations in all of us. Therefore, if we are to overcome any temptation then we are to use Jesus’ victory as our model (we call this truth encounter in spiritual warfare).