1. The Wilderness Experience
2. Forty Days
3. Led by the Spirit
Jesus the Man
Aspects of the Messiah’s ministry
The Three Temptations
1. Scripture and the Word of God
2. The Temptations
a. Mtw 4:3-4
b. Mtw 4:5-7
c. Mtw 4:8-10
Angels came and ministered to Him
This incident is duplicated in Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 but is absent from John’s Gospel as are many other passages. Mark’s account is only a short record and summarises the main points of the event before moving on to the ministry of Jesus - as such, we shouldn’t put too much weight on his account where it appears to say something that the other Gospel writers have dealt with in more detail.
However, it’s Mark alone who tells us that Jesus
‘...was with the wild beasts...’
a statement that has led, no doubt, to the belief that he had some sort of zoo present around Him while he fasted those forty days! Why Mark probably adds this, though, is difficult to accurately say but perhaps the best reason is that, due to the presence of many religious sects of the Jews in the Judean Wilderness, the reader may inadvertently think that Mark is speaking of a sojourn in the area but as the guest of some such sect. Mark implies, though, that Jesus was on His own throughout the entire period whereas Matthew and Luke, by how they write the incident, make it obvious that this must have been the case.
Luke, on the other hand, runs very close to Matthew’s account though Matmor points out that
‘...There are many slight linguistic differences and if they are following a common source, one of these writers (or perhaps both) has made significant alterations. The account must go back to Jesus Himself: nobody else was present when the temptations took place’
The major difference between Matthew and Luke, though, is in that Luke reverses the order of the second and third temptations as they occur in the former - why this should be so is difficult to determine but Matthew here appears to keep the correct order of the three temptations even though his Gospel is a rearrangement of the various material he had wanted to record into sections that are usually quite logically arranged.
The reason for my statement is found by comparing Mtw 4:10 with Luke 4:12, each of which record for us Jesus’ response to satan’s third and final temptation. In Matthew alone, the response is preceded by the words
which concludes the series of statements and which shows that this response must be the final one. Luke, although having Jesus respond to Matthew’s second temptation, says nothing that resembles any finality and his next sentence (Luke 4:13) which begins
‘And when the devil had ended every temptation...’
also fails to conclude the series of temptations, allowing for more to have taken place after the one just recorded. However, Matthew’s (4:11)
‘Then the devil left Him...’
naturally concludes the incident. Although we have now seen that Matthew appears to maintain the original order of the three temptations, the question remains as to why Luke decided to reverse the second and third for an order which he appears to have known were incorrect - of course, this last statement of mine may be wholly inaccurate for Luke may well have believed that this was, indeed, the order.
The solution to the problem, however, is far from simple and, from the text alone, one can hardly imagine what reason Luke must have had. As Matfran comments here
‘Explanations of the different order, on both literary and theological grounds are as many as commentators and all are conjectural...’
Many readers may well be thinking that the reverse order in Luke proves that the Bible is fallible but the chronology of an incident is not sufficient grounds for this assertion. There appear to be many problems with chronology in the OT especially (for instance, the insertion of Ezra 4:7-23 which took place during or after chapter 7 of the same book) and in Matthew it appears, as previously stated, that the author has chosen to group together themes and passages of a similar nature so that it makes easier reading.
If Luke had added a ‘Begone satan’ to the concluding statement of Jesus, we should be trying to understand why each of the different third temptations were stated as being the last recorded but, as it stands now, Matthew asserts which was the final one while Luke has only recorded the substance of the incident.
All three Gospel records tell us that Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the Wilderness (Mtw 4:1, Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:1-2 though the latter’s opening comment would seem to place the wilderness in a different place than that of the other two Gospels. Luke writes
‘And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness...’
which reads as if Jesus returned firstly into Galilee (to Nazareth) before once more returning out into the wilderness area to begin His period of forty days fasting. This, however, doesn’t seem possible especially as Mark 1:12 (my italics) records that
‘The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness’
echoing the clear intention of Matthew’s words in 4:1. However, the Greek word used here (Strongs Greek number 5290) seems to mean ‘to turn back’ rather than to carry with it the meaning of returning to the place where one was formally before going to the place one now is.
Therefore the better translation is
‘Jesus...turned back from the Jordan...’
or, as Luknol translates before his commentary
‘Jesus...departed back from the Jordan...’
Having arrived from Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus turned back from his journey but entered into the wilderness regions where only ‘wild beasts’ dwelt (Mark 1:13), where He was alone for a period of forty days without food (the Gospel’s don’t actually say He was without water but that doesn’t prove the point one way or the other for it doesn’t state that He drank anything, either!).
The ‘wilderness’ referred to, therefore, must necessarily be the Judean Wilderness (Mtw 3:1)
1. The Wilderness Experience
Before Jesus acquires possession of all the benefits of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that will be made available to Him, He necessarily undergoes a time of ‘Testing in the Wilderness’ (a title to be preferred to the usual title of the passage ‘The Temptation of Jesus’ which implies a once-for-all time period after which temptation never again occurs) and moves through an experience of which many believers have also found themselves in the midst before receiving something that has been both expansive and far reaching in its effects not only for themselves but for others around them.
It must be remembered here that Jesus is the perfect fulfilment of all that Israel should have been and should become. On the web page here under ‘Prophecy’ part 2, I noted that many prophetic passages which initially refer to the nation of Israel can be rightly applied to Jesus for this very same reason.
Whenever Israel had reacted wrongly to the Word of God or to God’s direction, in Christ it can be seen how they should have responded and who they should have become had their obedience been immediately forthcoming.
It is not without significance either that Jesus, in answering satan, uses Scriptures that were specifically drawn from the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:16 and Deut 6:13) and which were all spoken by Moses at the time of their second opportunity to gain possession of the Promised land having failed through unbelief some 38 years previously (Numbers chapters 13 and 14).
I will deal with the Scriptures and their context below - and also the incident that is paralleled here in the life of the nation while they were in the wilderness. But, for now, we need to consider the concept laid out before us through Christ - namely that, although Jesus has just received the promised Holy Spirit anointing (Mtw 4:16), although the Father has spoken specifically concerning the pleasure He has towards Him (Mtw 4:17) and although John the Baptist has acknowledged that
He is the One who was promised to the nation as their Messiah (John 1:29-34), Jesus doesn’t see anything of its substance but is led out into the wilderness where there begins a time of barrenness and fruitlessness that one would be forgiven for thinking was not part of God’s will for His life.
But, as Edersheim points out
‘...spiritual trials...precede spiritual elevation’
just as many believers throughout time have discovered. There is no way, it would appear, to achieve something worthwhile for God without first going through a time of testing. Even further than this - when a promise from God has been given to individuals concerning themselves, the coming months and even years can see just the reverse happening of what has been promised.
The examples of this reside in Scripture also.
For instance, Samuel is told to go to Bethlehem and to anoint the next king of Israel who is resident there along with his father (I Sam 16:1). Though Samuel gets it rather wrong by thinking the outward appearance of a man is what marks him out for selection (I Sam 16:6-7), eventually David is brought before him and is anointed as king over Israel (I Sam 16:12-13).
One would have forgiven David for thinking that all was now cut and dried and that all he need do is to grow in stature and power until, naturally, he would become the next king acknowledged by all. But, through a succession of trials and misfortunes ranging from the current king attempting to kill him to having to flee the land of promise for a foreign land that was an adversary of Israel, he finds himself exiled away, he thinks, from the promise of God, even considering that the Lord’s promise was now no longer able to come about (I Sam 27:1).
He is even tempted twice to assassinate the currently reigning king and take the throne by force (I Sam 24:3-7, 26:6-12) and he could indeed have been forgiven for thinking that, as the anointing had left king Saul (I Sam 16:14-15), it was only fitting and right that he commit such an act and establish himself as king in accordance with the Word of God. But David (thank goodness!) waited not for the opportunity to establish himself as king but for the Lord to raise him up to be the king that He’d promised.
We see here, then, that between the promise being given and the event becoming a reality, there was a lengthy time through which David had to survive the best he could (yet always under the protection of God!) until the day would come when God would fulfil all that He’d promised.
In the NT, the apostle Paul was also one who experienced a long period of time between receiving the promise of God and of seeing it fulfilled even though his immediate reaction to witness to the reality of Jesus as Lord was such a shock that many of the devout believers could hardly believe it (Acts 9:21).
When Ananias met with the temporarily blind new convert, he was prompted to tell him (Acts 24:15)
‘...you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard’
Paul also proclaiming (Acts 26:16-18) that Jesus had spoken to him saying that he had been appointed
‘...to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen Me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles - to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’
What is not often pointed out, though, is that Paul (Gal 1:17-18)
‘...went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem’
and that many of the ‘fourteen years’ of Gal 2:1 seem to go unaccounted for. Though the apostle no doubt did continue to witness for the Lord and to grow in Christ, the fulfilment of his ministry to ‘all men’ (Acts 24:15) didn’t look a distinct possibility until much later as he began the first of his three ‘missionary’ journeys.
Back in the OT, Abraham also languished in the promises of God, having received the promise of the certainty of a child to continue his line from God Himself (Gen 15:1-4). Unlike David, however, his own logic appears to have persuaded him to try and fulfil God’s Word by impregnating his wife’s servant girl with the child Ishmael (Gen 16:1-4) instead of waiting for God’s timing and God’s moving (Gen 18:10).
Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Gen 16:16) and 99 when he was circumcised (Gen 17:24). As the promise of a child occurred before these and the birth of the promised child occurred after, one can see that there was a period of very many years before the promise became a reality.
So, too, must the believer arm himself with the same thoughts - promises from God do not require an immediate fulfilment and there may be many years of waiting before the reality is received or seen to come about. Meanwhile, the period is one of testing in which God sees the desires of our heart and observes whether we are willing to go on with Him no matter that His promises appear to fail (see also my notes here especially part 3).
In Jesus’ life, the situation was no different.
Between the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Mtw 3:16) and Jesus moving in His power (Luke 4:14) came the temptation in the wilderness. Similarly, before we receive an increase in power we may be led by God (Mtw 4:1) through a wilderness experience where we overcome the adversary and come out of it transformed.
As I Peter 5:8-10 says, once satan is resisted in his attacks and we have
‘...suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you’
The wilderness, therefore, is not a place where all is lost or where days and years are squandered. It is a training ground between the promise and its fulfilment, where God’s people are strengthened and overcome the evil one.
2. Forty Days
When I first became a christian, I remember reading a small, one volume commentary of the Bible and noting there that the period of forty days or years usually indicated a period of change, a suggestion which seemed to be substantiated by reference to the Scriptures cited such as Gen 7:4 which states that
‘...[God] will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground’
Surely this was proof enough - after all, weren’t all the living creatures that existed on the face of the earth wiped out?
Similarly, the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness represented the nation’s change from being a people who were in slavery to a people who were beginning to take possession of their promised inheritance of Canaan. There had been a change here, also.
And Jesus’ period of forty days in the wilderness was indicative of the change from having the anointing of the Holy Spirit to having the anointing and being able to use the power and provision of the Spirit in accordance with the Father’s will.
But on most occasions where a period of forty is mentioned, you will be able to find some sort of change present - after all, things rarely stay the same in the Bible - so I doubt, today, whether such a carte blanche statement can indeed be justified.
Certainly it can be said that a period of forty days or years is usually accompanied by a change, but whether the number in and of itself signifies this is doubtful. Besides, to look at this passage in Matthew and think that it is because forty days is being specified that a change must be seen to take place is misleading because the reason for Jesus being led into the wilderness to eat nothing for this period of time appears to be for a totally different reason.
Yes, certainly there is change - but if the Father only used the time period to indicate to us that Jesus would experience a change (though not a change in Jesus for how can God be changed? No, rather in the situation in which Jesus found Himself and the provision that would then become available to Him), we are in danger of simplifying the text and losing the allusion to a specific time in Israel’s experience that we are being pointed towards.
As I have previously said, the Scriptures with which Jesus confounds and rebukes satan are all recorded for us in Deuteronomy, a book that is a record of Moses’ speech shortly before the nation were to march into the land after forty years of wilderness wandering and it is tempting to look at Moses’ own experience and see in his periods of fasting (all of which are of forty days’ duration) a type of what the Messiah was to experience (in chronological order, these are Deut 9:9, 9:18, Ex 34:28 - if the reader considers these, he will see that it appears that Moses actually went without food for a period of 120 days!).
However, I noted above that Jesus is more especially a type of all that the nation Israel were both to accomplish and achieve and it is this imagery that Matthew has already used (Mtw 2:15, 2:18). It is, therefore, both in the wilderness wanderings and the nation’s experience rather than that of an individual within that nation that we should look to for an allusion in Jesus’ life.
There is one period of forty days in their experience which is extremely relevant. When the Israelites came to the borders of Canaan - the land which God had already promised to give to them - twelve spies were sent out into the land to observe all that was there and to bring back a report of the goodness of the land (Num 13:1-3). It was (Num 13:25)
‘At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land’
and there was immediately a change (though it would, perhaps, be better to say that it was the same old heart that was expressing itself again) in the heart of the nation as they heard from successive spies all the horrors of the land and how there were giants and, even when there weren’t any of them, the land simply ate its inhabitants for supper (well, that’s what they meant to say, okay? - Num 13:28-29, 31-33).
This period of forty days in the wilderness was a time of both testing and waiting when the nation were able to observe all that they had been promised but, at that time, could not grasp until they put their faith in the promises of God and pressed on in to lay hold of it.
However, instead of resting securely in what God had spoken and on the impossibility of God being a liar, they decided to turn round from pursuing after God and flee for the safety of what they’d previously known - a life of slavery back into the nation of Egypt (Num 14:1-4).
Their wilderness experience of the last two years or so were to be concluded with a short period of forty days, after which they were to go in to get all that they’d been promised. It was after that period that they found themselves tempted to go back as they considered the strength of their adversaries as told to them by their fellow brethren.
Similarly, it was only after the forty days of fasting that Jesus became hungry (Mtw 4:2) but not during. It’s at this time that satan comes to test Jesus to see whether He will trust in the provision of God or whether He will be the type of Messiah that He isn’t meant to be (see below) by turning the stones into bread to satisfy His hunger (Mtw 4:3).
Where Israel failed in the wilderness by turning tail and running, Jesus, the perfect representation of all that Israel should have achieved, succeeds and wins victoriously out over the testing. Because of this, He returns (Luke 4:14)
‘...in the power of the Spirit into Galilee...’
rather than trying to achieve the purpose of God in His own strength as the nation of Israel had subsequently done (Num 14:39-45).
Not without significance is the context of the Scriptures which Jesus uses to counter satan’s arguments (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:16 and Deut 6:13) all of which occur in a passage in which Moses is recounting a brief history of the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness from Egypt some forty years ago to the present day when they stand on the edge of the land of Promise about to go in to take possession.
Jesus’ testing in the wilderness before He acquires possession of all that the Father had chosen Him to have is similar to the nation’s testing and a couple of verses on from the first quote used by Jesus (Deut 8:5) we read
‘Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you’
Deut 8:2 is also relevant here which states of the nation (my italics) that
‘...you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not’
Notice also in this passage that it is God who is spoken of as leading the nation into the wilderness in order that He might test them, a fact which is paralleled in Matthew’s use of the statement that (Mtw 4:1 - my italics)
‘...Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted...’
The same hand which had moved the nation into the wilderness is seen to be the One that moves the perfect embodiment of that nation into the wilderness to undergo a period of testing.
Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, again, is seen to be a type of the nation’s testing throughout their wilderness wanderings - a testing that the first generation seriously failed, not only in Numbers chapters 13 and 14 previously cited but in most of their dealings with God and the situations in which they found themselves.
Jesus, then, is being tested as the Son He was - just as the nation had been - but here, in this forty day trial period, He succeeds where the Israel failed.
3. Led by the Spirit
I’ve met a few people in my time who have tried to follow in the steps of Jesus and fasted for a period of forty days just like He did. I’m not sure whether they saw in their method some sort of appeal to God for them to be anointed for ministry or whether they just did it for the sheer fun of it (yeah, right), but there certainly seems to be some sort of masochistic streak amongst believers to go for just about anything and everything that’s written in Scripture just because it’s there.
Let me give you a note of personal testimony here - I have never fasted for forty days and neither do I have a period of that length pencilled in in my filofax, earmarked for such a proposition. I would also balk at the need for ever doing such a thing should the Lord ever require it of me because I like my food too much (okay, I’m being honest - burn me as a heretic if you like).
But we should read the text carefully before we think that we should jump on the band wagon and fast for forty days to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. It says (my italics in every one) in Mtw 4:1 that
‘Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness...’
in Mark 1:12 that
‘The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness’
and in Luke 4:1-2 that Jesus
‘...was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness...’
The inference here is that Jesus didn’t think it’d be a good idea if He wandered about in the wilderness for a period of time in order to prove to God that He was serious about the ministry that He was being called into. No - the Scriptures actually say that it was at the Spirit’s prompting that Jesus found Himself thrust into the Judean Wilderness away from inhabited communities to wander without food for forty days.
To all who would follow Jesus in the same manner, then, the instruction has to be the same as is tacked on to the end of most of the stunt programs that are shown on tellies around the world:
‘Don’t try this at home’
That is, not without the Spirit’s prompting and leading - and, as I’ve said above, notice that it was only after he had fasted for forty days that Jesus became hungry (Mtw 4:2), the inference being that, during the time, He had been sustained and upheld by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus the Man
I noted on the previous page that there are occasions when we need to consider events that transpired from the viewpoint of Jesus being a man rather than as God Incarnate - that is, God in human form.
Therefore, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Mtw 3:16), we see the man Jesus Christ beginning His ministry, totally dependent upon the Spirit’s provision for all the actions He was soon to take and the miracles He was about to perform.
Up until this point in His life, Jesus had lived without that anointing in much the same way as any human being does before they come to be filled with and set apart to God by the Spirit, and yet had still maintained a life that was ‘well-pleasing’ to the Father, witnessed by the voice from Heaven after His baptism (Mtw 3:17).
As we come to this passage (Mtw 4:1-11), therefore, we should take time to consider it from this viewpoint of Jesus being a man, for it is in His humanity that Christ is withstanding the temptations of satan, not as God Incarnate.
The first Adam was given authority over all of Creation (Gen 1:28) but through sin he lost sovereignty (Cp God’s words in Gen 9:7 where there is no longer a command to ‘subdue’ - see also my notes here Part 2 section 3). The second, or final, Adam (I Cor 15:45, Rom 5:14) was in a similar position to that of the first when the ‘tempter came and said to Him...’ all that He did.
Satan is attempting to subject Christ’s authority to his own thereby causing the second Adam to fall like the first and to gain the upper hand over Messiah. But, as it is, Jesus succeeds where the first Adam failed - by standing on the promises of God and refusing to let Himself become the type of Messiah that God did not want Him to be (see below), just as Adam could have perceived that to go against what he knew to be God’s will for His life (Gen 2:17a - ‘...of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat...’) would create in him something that was opposed to the purpose of God for him (Gen 2:17b - ‘...in the day that you eat of it you shall die’).
Having now grounded Jesus’ experience in the Wilderness to one of humanity versus satan, we need to address the question ‘Did Jesus have the capacity to sin?’
After all, if we are witnessing Jesus the man standing before satan, does the humanity of Jesus have the capacity to sin or, because Jesus is God Incarnate, should we think that, Jesus’ character being that of God Himself, He cannot possibly sin anymore than God can’t sin against Himself?
This last statement is, indeed, difficult to conceive of anyway but, simply, it is because God always acts and behaves as a true reflection of His character, and because God is the Law Giver who lays down the type of behaviour which is in-keeping with His own character, it is quite impossible that He could ever find Himself in a position where He stepped out and committed some act which contradicted Himself!
Certainly, mankind may choose to contravene any or all of God’s Laws. Firstly, as an unsaved human because the Law is an external phenomenon and to be submitted to or rebelled against and, secondly, as a saved individual with the new life of the Spirit and the Law of God within (Jer 31:33) because there is still the choice open to either follow the old way of life or the new Divine guide and sinless nature put there when the person is filled with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-17).
Going back to our original question, should we conceive of Jesus as being God and therefore not able to do what is out of character and against His will or as a man, capable of committing anything which He chooses so to do?
Strangely, the NT writers give us no absolute answer to our question even though it would seem natural for us to assume that, if a man, Jesus must have been able to sin and that, for the temptations to be real and a certain threat to His life with God the Father, there must have been some sort of possibility that they may affect Jesus the way that they did Adam. After all, what is the point of temptation if it is not possible that it may succeed?
What the NT writers affirm, though, is simply that Jesus was tempted and yet He did not once submit to that temptation and go away from the purpose of God as He understood it. Therefore Heb 4:15 says that we have a High Priest
‘...who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’
and Heb 2:18 that
‘...He Himself has suffered and been tempted [and] He is able to help those who are tempted’
Although primarily referring to the work of the cross, the writer to the Hebrews (5:8) notes that
‘Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’
applying necessarily also to the time of the testing in the wilderness when He was approached by satan. But nowhere do we actually get a definitive statement that Jesus ‘could have sinned’ or that ‘it was impossible for Him to sin’ only that ‘He didn’t sin’ and this is probably as far as we may safely go for the problems associated with either option cannot be successfully resolved by recourse to Scripture (or, at least, I’ve never been able to find them!).
Aspects of the Messiah’s ministry
I originally approached this passage thinking that Jesus could be seen in His role as Priest, Prophet and King and that it was quite straightforward to witness in the One Person all three offices perfectly being fulfilled and functioning alongside one another. But, having sat down to think through what I’d committed to writing a few years back, I realised that I must have been having a seriously bad day and settled on a theory which didn’t stand as a conclusion to the evidence found in the passage.
Certainly, Jesus can be witnessed as the Prophet here through His utterance of the anointed Word of God into the situation in which He finds Himself on three successive occasions (Mtw 4:4,7,10) and as the (warrior) King who makes war against the chief enemy of His Kingdom and is victorious (Mtw 4:10).
But to try and see Jesus as the Priest who stands in the gap between God and man - either ministering to God on behalf of mankind or of being a channel through whom God makes known His will to men and women and imparts some bestowal of Divine favour - is not easy.
Indeed, it’s absolutely impossible.
Although I had originally pencilled in the Scripture Heb 4:15 to tie in with this aspect of His ministry, anyone who reads it will see that I must have been clutching at a very thin straw! If we take the need for it to be shown that Jesus must stand as some sort of intermediary between God and man for the label ‘priest’ to stick, we are lacking any real evidence here - Jesus is on His own even though He is being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the forty day period and, presumably, strengthened and sustained by Him until the period was over and He became hungry (Mtw 4:1-2). Though the Holy Spirit had led Him into the wilderness and sustained Him for the entire forty day period, He became hungry at the end and it seems reasonable to assume that the Spirit removed His sustaining power in order that Jesus might stand against the evil one as man alone just as it was in the Garden of Eden.
There is nothing here that God ministers to mankind through Jesus and neither is there anything that mankind ministers back. In fact, Jesus seems a solitary figure on a bleak landscape, taking on the power and authority that rules over the sons of men on His own and without any support from friends and relatives who could be ‘there for Him’ or, seemingly, any direct input from God as it’s only at the end of the trial that we’re told that the angels came and ministered to Him (Mtw 4:11).
Likewise, though the Church is definitely regarded as being a kingdom of priests to God (Rev 1:6), a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9) and people who are called both to take one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and to pray for one another (James 5:16), there are times when the believer is going to find himself isolated from the main body, neither ministering to God on behalf of the people or blessing God’s people directly.
Service to the Lord can be a lonely experience and, in all our present day teaching which binds believers together into units that look out for one another, we must realise that there come times in a believer’s life when they must go into the wilderness alone and return alone, in order that they might find victory over problems and solutions to difficulties - where the anointing of God received becomes powerful through the things that are experienced and discovered (Luke 4:14).
The Church has tended to isolate such people and cast them away from the mainstream move of Christ. We have tended to ostracise the loner who has spent hours alone with God because they fail to fit in with our cultural interpretations of Christianity and have so lost the richness of the expression of Christ.
Jesus here achieves victory alone with no outside help. He stands up to the power of the enemy and becomes stronger through the testing than He would ever have been had He not experienced it. No people seem to have been praying for Him and certainly no person was there for Him to talk Him through the difficulties He must have been experiencing throughout that time.
But the wilderness of Judea was where the anointing of the Holy Spirit became the power that could be used for the benefit of all. Maybe my following statement is too all encompassing to be accepted throughout the Church - for God delights to move and to work in many different situations - but, if the wilderness is the prelude to effective ministry, why have so many of us who are in positions of leadership never truly experienced the fulness of the power both in and through our lives?
We have ministry structures which run to pick up the downcast and to try to encourage the disheartened and those who seem to be under attack - but nothing like this ever happened to Jesus. Perhaps, we are trying to ameliorate the birth-pangs of effective ministry and causing believers to be still-born into ministry.
I offer this only as a suggestion for my statement is too universal in scope to gain full acceptance - but I do believe that many of us have never fully experienced the wilderness and, as such, never fully experience the fulness of the power of God both in us and through us.
The Three Temptations
This entire passage which deals with Jesus’ testing in the wilderness seems to centre around the possibility that Jesus may not wish to be the type of Messiah which God the Father wished Him to be. After all, as a man, Jesus may have the desire to throw off the possibility and inevitability of the intense suffering of the cross (with both its physical and spiritual pain) and opt for some easier way of achieving what He knows He has come in to the world for - He may even be desirous to try and use the anointing of the Holy Spirit now upon Him for situations and events that the Father has not given it for (though I point out below that the temptations do not reside in this area).
These questions seem to be asked of Jesus throughout this incident and summed up they point us towards Jesus’ testing, as previously noted, in the area of whether Jesus will be God’s Messiah or a Messiah of His own making.
Therefore, Matfran notes that
‘...the whole emphasis of the story is on the testing of Jesus’ reaction to His Messianic vocation as Son of God’
while Matmor goes on to outline the reasons behind the temptations as proceeding
‘...from the fact that He is the Son of God and that accordingly He must live as the Son of God...Is He to be a wonder-worker using His powers to meet His own needs (and possibly those of others, too)? Is He to do spectacular but pointless miracles? Is He to establish a mighty empire ruling over the whole world? Matthew tells us that right at the beginning of His ministry Jesus looked at each of these and rejected them all as temptations of the devil’
Although I agree with Matmor’s overall understanding of the passage as testing Jesus’ resolve to be the kind of Messiah that the Father wants Him to be, I don’t follow necessarily his interpretation of what each of the three temptations represents.
But, fundamentally, the question is being asked as to whether Jesus is going to be the type of Messiah that the Father wants Him to be or the kind of one that mankind would want. This will be questioned later by the Jews who demand a sign (for instance Mtw 12:38-39 and 16:1) and the crowds who try to seize Him and make Him King (John 6:15). Here, before His ministry has in reality begun, Jesus already gives us the answers to those questions.
1. Scripture and the Word of God
Many christians have noted that Jesus uses Scripture to confute and confound the assertions and suggestions of satan in the wilderness but have then gone on to think that Scripture must, in and of itself, contain some sort of power that causes things to be done.
This is partly because, through our traditional belief structures, we have equated the phrase ‘the Word of God’ with ‘Scripture’ not realising that this equation is extremely tenuous and that, even if a passage or verse can be shown to make this relationship certain, it is in the minority against the testimony of both Old and New Testaments which speak of ‘the Word of God’ as being something that God is currently speaking to individuals or groups of people who are then in a position to accurately know what is on the heart and in the mind of God.
Some of the people to whom the Word of God came wrote these words down - others simply received them, believed them and then acted upon them - and the Bible is littered with records of those things which God said to His people at specific times in their lives and for specific purposes.
But that is a long way from saying either that what has now been written down must be equated with ‘the Word of God’ or that it carries with it the same power which was upon those original words. True, the recorded words of God have specific authority in situations when we come back to them and consider their message to us many years distant from their original utterance, but the power that anoints the words is entirely dependent upon God Himself breathing life into them again, so ‘speaking through them’ to another people and another time.
When we read in the OT, for instance, of ‘the Word of God’ coming to someone, we would seldom dare to suggest that someone had just gathered up a scroll upon which was written some part of the Bible and then gone and handed it to the prophet - but this is the conclusion we should draw from such passages if we assert and use the terminology of the equation
‘Word of God’=’the Bible’
The NT is careful to normally refer to authoritative writings as ‘Scripture’ (Strongs Greek numbers 1121 and 1124 - Mtw 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, 15:28, Luke 4:18-21, John 7:38, 10:35, 13:18, 19:24, 19:28-30, 19:36, 19:37, Acts 1:16/20, 8:32-33/35, Rom 4:3, 9:17, 10:11, 11:2-4, Gal 3:8, 4:30, I Tim 5:18, James 2:8, 2:23, 4:5, I Peter 2:6) the citations in the brackets referring back to an OT reference and showing that this body of literature was regarded as being authoritative.
Many years ago, I once went through the entire NT and looked at each and every occurrence of the word ‘word’ whether the original Greek be ‘logos’ (Strongs Greek number 3056) or ‘rhema’ (Strongs Greek number 4487) through a misunderstanding of a teaching that I’d come across in a book I was reading.
The teaching went something like this. The word rhema was only ever used when a specific, anointed Word from God was being referred to whereas logos was the more general word which was used to refer to something that was written. So I listed all the occurrences of each word under three separate headings as I read them through and, since that time, have gone back and rather laboriously gone through them all over again - the reader can find a detailed list of these with more extensive notes than are here on my web page dealing with the 'Word of God'.
My original intention of trying to see whether there was any truth in the assertion of the distinction of the Greek words got so caught up with what I was actually discovering that I wrote one line that the teaching was incorrect and the rest were explanations of the Scriptures and what the implications were, concluding with a study of the Greek word for ‘Scripture’ (referred to above - also on the web page cited).
What it made me realise was this - if in the majority of occasions where ‘word’ or ‘words’ is used it refers to what is spoken, the probability of the other occurrences having to refer to what was written was extremely unlikely.
From that moment on, I decided that I would always try to say ‘Word of God’ when I was referring to what God is actually saying or what He was actually saying at some time in the past and ‘Scripture’ when I was referring to a body of literature that is accepted as being authoritative. This is what I have tried to maintain throughout all the pages on this web site.
In one sense, it’s quite wrong of me to do this as there is one conclusive occasion where the phrase ‘word of God’ is obviously a reference to what is written, but most christians today take the Bible to be the Word of God without thinking about what that means and so go on to lose the realisation of what the Word of God really is (for a definition, see my notes here Part 1 section 3).
When we come to the Mtw 4:1-11 passage, therefore, we can make an accurate distinction between what satan said and how Jesus replied as follows:
Satan quotes Scripture to Jesus in order to try and justify his suggestions by recourse to its authority in Mtw 4:6 but this is far from saying that he is using the Word of God. Jesus, however, not only replies with Scripture (Mtw 4:4,7,10) but the Scripture has also become the Word of God because it now contains the power of the Holy Spirit upon it which enforces the authority of the Scripture and breathes both life and power into it. Jesus’ words ‘Begone satan!’ are every bit as authoritative as His quoting of Scripture because they are equally the Word of God.
Scripture, then, has an inherent authority (which is why satan uses it - and which is why many a false teacher uses it also!) but it does not have inherent life or power. This only comes when God breathes upon the Scripture to impart the vitality and presence of God.
This may seem to be quite a controversial subject to many who are reading this so I’d best repeat what I’m saying to try and remove any misunderstanding which might take place - though, judging by the way this doctrine has been received over the years, it is usually the delight of those who hear me speak to deliberately misunderstand!
Scripture, then, is rightly applied to that which is written and which carries with it absolute authority in deciding matters where doubt is raised over the correct belief or action - it may even contain the Word of God (as defined below) but it only becomes the Word of God when God breathes upon it and gives it life. Usually, christians accept the normal compilation of ancient writings called the Bible and this is, in my opinion, quite correct to do so.
The Word of God is what God is saying to an individual or group of people at a specific moment in time and may contain Scripture - but it may not have any direct quotation of Scripture in it. It cannot, however, contradict what Scripture says because the latter has authority to determine whether what is being spoken can be what God is saying at that moment in time. The Word of God must have the life of God upon it and will be empowered by the Spirit of God and it accomplishes all that God intends through its revealing primarily because the provision of God is upon it and is available to all who hear it and positively respond to it.
Having said this, we must now move on to a consideration of each of the three temptations (or ‘testings’).
2. The Temptations
Here, we’ll look at each of the three temptations and try to understand them in the light of my previous assertion that they represent temptations that are trying to cause Jesus to pull away from the type of Messiah that the Father wishes Him to be - that is, to exchange His life as One who is totally reliant upon the power and provision of God to One who operates from His own self-sufficiency of being God Himself.
We will also look at the original Scriptures’ context and how that tells us something about the content and intention of Jesus’ reply.
a. Mtw 4:3-4
Abuse of power for self-gain
For forty days Jesus had fasted in the wilderness but it was only ‘afterward’ He became hungry (Mtw 4:2). It is significant, therefore, that satan approaches Jesus with a testing that relies solely on the situation in which He now finds Himself rather than, as the other two do, upon a scenario that is entirely of satan’s own making.
Mattask notes that
‘The first temptation should probably be understood not as a temptation to doubt His Sonship, for the word “if” in verses 3 and 6 could convey the meaning “since”’
‘Satan does not deny that Jesus is God’s Son but challenges Him to prove it’
Satan accepts, then, the Divine Sonship of Christ in his encounter with Jesus and uses this as the basis of his tempting - to move away from a pure obedience towards God and a right understanding of what that Sonship actually means into a lifestyle which would pull away from what the Father would have Him to be.
It was the Spirit that had led Jesus out into the wilderness for this period of testing (Mtw 4:1) - just as the Israelites knew that it was the hand of God that had brought them out into the wilderness from the land of Egypt - and Jesus could have looked at the Father’s will as bringing on the predicament that He now found Himself in and complained bitterly - again, just as the Israelites had done. That, if the Father knew of His hunger, why hadn’t He supplied His need? After all, where was the point in having come out to this deserted place when there was ample food and provision just a few miles away in some inhabited city (Ex 16:2-3)?
Such is the gripe which brought about the miracle of the manna from Heaven which the Israelites were supplied with throughout their wilderness wanderings. Jesus never mouths this complaint once but there is almost an accusation in satan’s words when he attempts to prompt Jesus to take matters into His own hands and to provide for Himself against the will of the Father.
This is exactly the same temptation in type which confronted the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna. God had given them notice that for each of six days they were to collect manna early in the morning which would feed them throughout the day (Ex 16:4,21 - though it did disintegrate when the sun became hot) but, on the seventh day, the sabbath, they were not to go out to try and get any, for the Lord would not allow any manna to be present around about the camp (Ex 16:23). To feed them also on the sabbath, God allowed them to collect for themselves double on the sixth day and prepare it to be kept until the following day (Ex 16:5,23,29), though if they had just kept it, unprepared, it bred worms by the morning and wasn’t fit to eat (Ex 16:19).
Even with these simple commands from the Lord, the people still disobeyed the Word of God which had been declared to them. Some of them kept the manna collected until the morning (Ex 16:20) and some went out to collect manna on the sabbath (Ex 16:27), deliberately disregarding what they knew to be God’s will.
Around 38 years afterwards, when Moses and all the nation stood on the edge of the Promised land for the second time in their history, about to begin to go in and to take possession of the land of Israel, Moses speaks to the nation concerning this incident (which had continued throughout their wanderings to the present day and which would continue until they had breached the Jordan and were in the land of Promise - Ex 16:35, Joshua 5:12), shortly before he is to die.
This statement of Moses reads (Deut 8:2-3)
‘And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments, or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord’
The Israelites had thought that they could rise up in their own strength at the start of each and every day and collect the food that was always there to feed themselves - but they were not allowed to do so on the sabbath. They also thought they could be economical with the amount they’d collected and so save themselves having to go out the following morning by keeping some of it over until the next day but, if they did, worms bred in the manna and it became inedible.
All this came about because they refused to listen to and obey the voice of the Lord God through Moses. God was testing them through the incident to see whether they would take delight in obeying His voice and so find provision from their obedience, rather than to think that the manna was there to be obtained without any reference to God.
Therefore, each of the Israelites should have come to realise, as Moses points out here to them, that they did not live simply by the obtaining of food to eat but by their obedience to the Word of God which, as a consequence, gave them a food supply that would be everything that they needed. Unfortunately, most of the nation looked only towards the need for food rather than the need for obeying God.
Jesus deliberately quotes Deut 8:3 to counter satan’s suggestion that He might take up some of the stones which lay round about and convert them into bread to satisfy His hunger. His point in so doing is this:
Food provision is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to the Kingdom of God but unswerving obedience to the known will of God is. It was not right that He should misuse His freewill to feed Himself - as the Israelites had done in the wilderness so many centuries before Him - but it was important that He fulfil the purpose to which God had called Him.
Jesus, as God Incarnate, could have produced bread from the stones which lay around Him - as the Creator God, He could have created them also out of thin air! - but such an act would be to live from His Deity rather than to rely upon the Father for all His provision and supply. Such is the temptation - to revert to His omnipotence and forsake the humanity with which He is now clothed.
If Jesus is to be the perfect man, He must rely upon God as a man and not operate from His Deity. Many commentators see the temptation solely in the area of attempting to cause Jesus to work wonders to satisfy His own needs but they stop short of perceiving that it is how Jesus will operate that lies at the heart here and the implication in their words suggests that they see Him in terms of using the anointing of the Holy Spirit to satisfy his hunger.
I don’t believe this to be the case simply because, throughout this testing, Jesus is being tempted to be the kind of Messiah that God doesn’t want Him to be - that is, to be One who is not reliant upon receiving all His provision from the Father. It is only as the Creator God that Jesus can cause the stones to become bread for there is no provision from the Father to perform the miracle which satan is here suggesting.
Therefore, the unveiling of His Deity is the issue here, rather than an appeal to the power of the Holy Spirit which He is only to realise after the testing has been completed (Luke 4:14).
An abundance of natural resources (in Jesus’ case, that’s the resources He had as God, resident in human form) must always be subservient to obeying the known will of God. From obedience will spring forth provision if this be the Father’s will but, whatever, the object of each man upon the earth is to (Mtw 6:33)
‘...seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these [material] things shall be yours as well’
It’s all very well for a prosperous believer to assert such a statement but it is only when those things in life are taken from Him for a time that the assertion can be tested and the believer shown to be resolute in his commitment to follow what he knows to be correct. Similarly, if Jesus is to teach His disciples that doing God’s will is to be elevated over material wealth and worldly security, He must stand firm against the temptation of abusing the power at His disposal to satisfy His own hunger.
This does cut against the mindset of today’s society. We have adopted reasoning which asserts the right of people to steal when hungry and to kill when they can come up with some psychological justification for it. But the abuse of our freewill because of the situation we stumble into is no grounds for justification before God.
True, society should be a place where needs are met but, too often, we think that wants are needs and go about using the means at our disposal to obtain the desire of our eyes, so satisfying our appetites and destroying what lessons we might learn through our testing.
Jesus, however, came face to face with this temptation and chose rather not to abuse the power and opportunity at His disposal, relying on obedience to the known will of God. As Matmor points out (previously quoted above), Jesus refuses to be a wonder-worker by using His own powers to meet His own needs.
b. Mtw 4:5-7
Demanding a sign of God’s Presence
I have previously noted above that Scripture has authority but not inherent power. Here, satan uses the authority of Scripture to try and persuade Jesus to put Himself into a position where He will force the Father’s hand into demonstrating whether His presence and protection is with Him in all the situations in which He will find Himself.
It says here (Mtw 4:5) that
‘...the devil took Him to the holy city, and set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple’
even though Jesus is ‘in the wilderness’ and has been for the passed forty days. Are we to imagine that Jesus has been bodily transported to the highest of the points in the Temple (that is, the place where God’s presence dwelt) or are we to think of this incident occurring ‘in spirit’ in much the same way as Ezekiel experienced prophetic insights (for instance, Ezek 37:1, 40:2)?
Mathag simply notes that
‘In His trance-like vision, Jesus sees Himself perched upon one of the highest points of the Temple’
a statement which assumes that Jesus is in some sort of semi-conscious state and that He is now witnessing a vision, imparted to Him by none other than satan himself. I guess that, if you understand by that statement that the vision seen is external to Christ and the ‘trance’ is from God, it may be acceptable to believe such a thing, but the main problem lies in the implication that what is being suggested is that some sort of satanic possession is being committed which I would strongly oppose - something which appears to take place in African cultures when spirit mediums turn themselves over to be channels for a spirit’s use.
What would seem best to accept here, though, is that, when in both 4:5 and 4:8 where we read that the adversary ‘took Him to’ some place or other, we are in fact seeing a revealing of a situation before Jesus that satan is asking Him to react in - in much the same way as we would say ‘Now let’s suppose you found yourself in this situation...what would you do?’.
My suggestion here is just a bit too weak, however, but, certainly, satan taking Jesus to ‘a very high mountain’ from which He could see all the kingdoms of the world (Mtw 4:8) is not possible if we are to expect a literal fulfilment.
What appears to be the case here, though, is that Jesus is witnessing a situation in which He is aware that He cannot simply dismiss the experience. He needs to react correctly to the tempter’s words in order to prove Himself - not in the way that satan is trying to make Him do but in a way which is perfectly in keeping with the type of Messiah that the Father wishes Him to be.
To understand the temptation, we need to understand the answer which Jesus gives for Matmor’s question previously quoted that asks
‘Is He to do spectacular but pointless miracles?’
does not accurately portray the reason for satan’s Scripture quotes.
Before we do, however, we need to just consider what both Matthew and Luke are referring to by their phrase ‘the pinnacle of the Temple’ (Mtw 4:5).
Matmor notes concerning the word for ‘pinnacle’ (Strongs Greek number 4419) that it
‘...seems to have been used for the extremity of anything; it is used of the fins of a fish, the tails flaps of a lobster and the tip of a rudder...It seems that here it means the peak, the point of a roof or, as some think, a battlement or turret...’
Unfortunately, Kittels ignores the word altogether!
Most commentators then go on to suggest a place that could even have been considered to be on the outer edges of the Temple complex but Jesus’ response to the disciples’ use of the phrase ‘the buildings of the Temple’ (Mtw 24:1-2) may be significant here where He notes that
‘...there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’
I know that what I am about to type is a consideration retrospectively but it may be valid - the reader can judge for Himself. That the outer retaining walls of the Temple complex still stand in part is common knowledge and it would appear that this was not always considered to be part of the actual ‘Temple’. Also, by the disciples’ reference to the ‘buildings’ of the Temple, they would, naturally, be referring to those associated structures which were within the Temple complex but not necessarily part of what they came to refer to simply as ‘the Temple’.
Therefore, it would seem best to accept the title ‘Temple’ as referring specifically to the place in the midst of the Temple complex that contained the Holy Place that the priests went in to minister to the Lord daily and the Holy of Holies into which the High Priest entered once every year to secure atonement for the nation during Yom Kippur.
However, Mtw 21:12 tends to need the interpretation of ‘Temple’ as being all the courts that lay within the Temple retaining walls as the money exchangers traded in what was known as ‘the court of the Gentiles’, the very large area that one first entered when one passed through the gates and passed the retaining walls. Mtw 21:14-15 also appear to demand this interpretation but the only really high place within the Temple courtyards remains the building itself in which the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies were sited.
Having said that, just what the ‘pinnacle’ of the Temple was is by no means certain but it does appear to be a reference to a part of that main building which ‘overshot’ the buildings and from where one step out into oblivion would have meant an unchecked fall until one reached the ground.
This is about all that can be said, however.
Christ’s answer to satan’s temptation (from which we will understand the nature and intent of the temptation) is to quote Deut 6:16 (my italics) which reads
‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test as you tested him at Massah’
where the italicised words are those which have been omitted by Jesus. Even so, the force of His words rely upon the context of the original incident when the Israelites tested God shortly after being liberated from Egypt when they grew thirsty for water (Ex 17:1-7 Cp Ps 95:8-9). The first temptation spoke of the need for bread, this one is seated in the provision of water for the nation - even though any suggestion that Jesus is thirsty and that satan is using this in order to try and cause Him to stumble is ungrounded.
The incident of the waters of Massah and Meribah speak to us of the griping of believers when they enter difficult situations and find themselves confronted by problems which, though not of their own making, aren’t brought before the Lord immediately for Him to deal with.
The provision of water satisfies the nation’s immediate need, even though the incident is specifically recorded as being the place where ‘the faultfinding of the children of Israel’ (Ex 17:7) resulted in the place’s name change to represent an incident in the life of the nation that I’m sure they’d rather forget! But the reason for this statement in Exodus is not to highlight the nation’s thirst and their gripes concerning their situation - as we would have supposed - but is dealt with by their recorded statement when they questioned outwardly (Ex 17:7)
‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
This was their real sin - not that they thirsted and griped that they needed water but that they questioned in their own hearts whether God was indeed among them, requiring the proof of the provision of water to satisfy their militant curiosity (and their thirst!).
The context does fit the second temptation offered to Jesus in the wilderness by satan. What satan does by quoting Scripture (Mtw 4:6) is to demand to see some sign that will prove that God is with Jesus in much the same way as the religious leaders of the nation were so to do throughout His ministry (for instance, Mark 8:11). Perhaps, even, satan is trying to make Jesus doubt that the Father is currently with Him because of the situation that He now finds Himself in.
Either way, Jesus responds by using a Scripture which points us back to the time when the nation doubted whether God was in their midst or not (and that after all the signs and wonders that they’d seen performed in Egypt to secure their release). The Son of God is saying, then, that it is not right that He should doubt the Lord’s presence with Him and that He will not put Himself into the position of having to have the Father’s presence proved.
Jesus relies solely on the knowledge He already has and, presumably, also on the voice which had spoken from heaven after His baptism (Mtw 3:17). Jesus has seen no sign or experienced no miracle apart from this since He had first been born (the miracles and signs may have happened all around Him but He had not had an eye-witnesses’ experience) but He is relying upon what He knows to be fact rather than demand a sign from the Father that His Presence is with Him.
Jesus, therefore, will rely upon what He knows rather than put Himself into a position where He will demonstrate His Messiahship to those who seek a sign from Him. He will not prove Himself to be the Messiah that men are expecting but will go about His earthly task in the knowledge that His relationship with the Father is unbreakable and needs no outward miraculous demonstration.
c. Mtw 4:8-10
Denial of the sufferings for a quick pathway to the throne
As in the previous section, to understand the reason for the temptation, we need to come to terms with the original context of the Scripture which Jesus uses to oppose the suggestions of the devil.
Broadly speaking, though, we’re looking at a temptation that was offering Jesus the authority of the world without Him having to endure the suffering of the cross. God’s will may be harder initially but in the end it yields a greater reward.
The context of Jesus’ quote, then, relates not back to an incident in the life of the nation as the other two previous ones have done but is a generalisation with instruction for the future when the nation is to find itself resident and established in the Promised land.
Moses begins by saying that the nation was about to go in to possess a land where most of the work of survival had already been done (Deut 6:10-11) - the cisterns necessary to collect water during the rainy months had already been hewn out of the rock, for example, and were going to be available to them with little or no effort.
This prosperity would, therefore, be a temptation to the nation once they’d become established in the land (Deut 6:12) and the danger was that they would turn their backs on the Lord and forget that they had achieved all they had solely because it had been God who was with them rather than it being a result of the success of their own hands and of the cleverness of their own minds.
So Moses warns them in the words that Jesus quotes (Deut 6:13) that they
‘...shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and swear by His name’
before going on to urge the nation not to go after false gods which were resident in the nations of the peoples which were settled round about the land that they would soon own (Deut 6:14-15).
The main warning in context, then, is not to get entangled in following after false gods when prosperity is being experienced but to remain faithful and committed to God when such an experience was to become their own.
It is noteworthy that Jesus, the true Israel, conquers and overcomes where the nation so often failed their God. As Matfran notes
‘Israel had fallen to this temptation again and again and renounced their exclusive loyalty to God for the sake of political advantage’
What satan is actually offering Jesus here is a way to become the sovereign of all the earth without the need for the suffering and shame of the cross, but the condition is that Jesus must bow down before His enemy and pay him service that it is only fitting and right to be given to God Himself.
Commentators have made much of satan’s offer of giving both the kingdoms of the world and their glory over to Jesus and have largely supposed that he could have done such a thing in reality, that satan actually had those in his possession to be able to give.
Let it not be forgotten that satan does rule over the sons of men through the disobedience of Adam and mankind’s subjection of their God-given authority to that of the serpent (see my notes here part 2 section 3) but it must also be remembered that (Ps 24:1-2)
‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein; for He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers’
That is to say, by the very act of Creating all things, all things belong to God, thus undermining any claim that satan would have on the world and its contents. Where satan does reign, however, is, as I’ve previously noted, in the lives of mankind and, therefore, over the structures and organisations that they’ve set up on the earth.
What satan has the right to offer Christ is control and supremacy over mankind and it should be noted that the enemy does not give Jesus any sovereignty that is related to the Created order such as the framework of the universe or the control of the animals, but to the man-made structures which are already under his control.
Certainly, this would be a temptation for (Luke 9:22 - my italics)
‘...The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’
and (Luke 17:25 - my italics)
‘...He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation’
Jesus was fully aware that His Messiahship as given to Him by the Father involved the rejection by those whom He’d come to save. What greater temptation could there have been (for men and women like you and me!) to lay aside the sacrificial suffering and pain that He knew to be a part of His ministry and to gain control over those wretches who He knew would reject and despise Him? Why shouldn’t He lay aside the Father’s way which was a way of vulnerability and ‘strike first’ by achieving a rule based on suppression rather than one based on allegiance?
And yet, more than this. As Matmor notes concerning the phrase ‘fall down and worship’
‘...the expression signifies not a passing gesture but a real acceptance of satan’s ways...’
and Mattask that
‘This was the temptation to use the devil’s weapons of cruelty, ruthlessness and force in a heartless thrust for universal dominion, instead of winning men and women by self-sacrifice and suffering and so making them willing subjects of the kingdom of God’
Just as man has come to reflect the nature of the one he serves, so too Jesus would have necessarily begun to reflect the image of the one whom He would subject Himself to. Only if Jesus subjects Himself to the Father will He reflect the Father’s character.
Another problem here was that such a position still left satan outside His control and the only way that he could be subjected to mankind once more following Adam’s disobedience was by a life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father - even if that did mean that it would cause untold suffering and pain (see here part 2 section 3 where my absolute statements here which are unjustified on this web page will be explained. To understand my following statements, the reader should make sure that they understand my position before proceeding any further).
Jesus counters satan’s temptation with the statement that any position of power which denies the absolute sovereignty of God and sole worship of God is not worth having. The temptation strikes at the very heart of the type of Messiah that Jesus has come into the world to be - One who submits Himself to the will of the Father in order that mankind might be restored back into a relationship with God and that they might receive back their sovereignty in Him.
But that can only come about ultimately through the death of the Christ on the cross.
Matmor sees the temptation simply in terms of establishing
‘...a mighty empire ruling over the whole world’
but this is to miss the point. Of all the three temptations, this one is the one most similar to the temptation of the Garden of Eden, even though many commentators have looked at the role of food in the first and both paralleled and contrasted it - but the ‘type’ of that temptation is somewhat different in its effects.
Here, though, satan is attempting to bring the authority of the man, Jesus Christ, under his own authority just as he had done with Adam (see my notes linked to twice above), thus putting Jesus into a position of power identical to any and every earthly ruler - subservient to the will of satan through the action of the first man, Adam.
Jesus would have been nothing more than one leader over another yet still under the authority of satan if He had chosen the offer of the enemy. As it was, Jesus already had authority over the serpent because He had not sinned - just as Adam had had authority before He went against what he knew to be plainly God’s will for him.
Perfect humanity holds the promise from God the Creator to (Gen 1:26)
‘...have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’
and the command goes out to Him to (Gen 1:28)
‘...Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it...’
If Jesus had obeyed a creature that He had authority over, He would have become one with Adam and would have fallen just like he did. But, by refusing the offer of world dominion and by rebutting the condition of obedience to a created being, He maintained the right that was already His.
The authority that satan had tried to usurp is now used against him as Jesus tells Him to ‘Begone!’ (Mtw 4:10). And this all as Jesus operating as the perfect man - sinless, spotless and moving in the authority that mankind had been given at the start of the Universe (Gen 1:28).
Angels came and ministered to Him
The statement that
‘...angels came and ministered to [Jesus]’
has caused commentators to presume upon many different events occurring at this point which may or may not be correct.
Matfran notes that
‘”Ministered” implies particularly the provision of food...’
and Mathen that
‘...this also included providing bodily nourishment would seem to be a reasonable inference’
Mathag goes along with the need for Jesus’ hunger to be satisfied but adds
‘The angels come not simply to minister to a faithful Israelite...but to call special attention to the victory of the obedient Son...’
though how this can be extracted from the simple statement that they came to ‘minister’ appears to be purely conjectural.
Matmor is the best to follow here and he points out that
‘...the verb [ministered] is quite general and could denote any one of a variety of services...[It] originally meant the service of a table waiter...’
Although we can see the need for Jesus to receive food now that He is hungry (Mtw 4:2), we would do better to let the word stand alone without inferring that physical nourishment is what must be primarily in mind. Perhaps the angels did miraculously provide for the Messiah, but the text is surprisingly silent on the matter and to associate the miraculous with Jesus at every point of His life would be wrong so to do. It seems difficult to believe that something like this could have happened and yet the Gospel writers failed to tell us about it.
Jesus had been in the wilderness for forty days and had been without food for the same period. The angels ‘ministering’ to Him may have been no more than providing an impartation of strength in order that He might enter the nearest village to purchase food to eat - we do not need to see a miraculous provision of food here and we would do best to leave Matthew’s statement as it stands.
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