The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness
Sinless perfection of the Messiah. The moral fitness of the Messiah for the throne of Israel was something that all orthodox Jews knew would be a requirement for the true Christ. See Zeph. 3:5 “the righteous lord is in the midst thereof, and he will not do iniquity.” We know that “sin is lawlessness [or, self-will]” (I John 3:4) and so for the Messiah to be truly sinless he must have no other will than that of His Father, and fulfill it regardless of the consequences to himself! So the Devil tempted him is the three great areas of the flesh’s weakness, to lead Him to do His own will, rather than God’s.
He could not sin. The Lord was tested in the wilderness to prove that he could not sin! Sadly, some take it the opposite way and say that Jesus must have been able to sin otherwise why would He be tempted? The Lord did not have the sin nature (the root). Rather, He had a holy nature, so He could not sin. This temptation attested to this truth, but we also have the Lord’s words: “the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me“ (John 14:30). There was nothing in the Lord for Satan to work on. Holiness is not the same as innocence. Adam was innocent in the garden, but he still sinned. The Lord Jesus had a holy nature, and “holiness” is an active power that rejects evil, and clings to good.
The baptism and the temptation. At the baptism, Christ’s relationship with God is first fully settled and brought out. Then, as in that place (“If thou be Son of God“), the conflict with Satan begins. In a sense, the same is true with us. It is once we see our place “in Christ” and our status as “sons of God”, that Satan appears to stop up our path. How beautiful to have the pattern of our Lord, that we might overcome, even as he also overcame, and is set down, etc. (Rev. 3:21).
Summary and order of the temptations. The temptations follow the elements of the world, that the apostle John speaks of (1 John 2:16).
- Lust of the flesh – stones turned into bread
- Pride of life – the intervention of angels
- Lust of the eyes – the kingdoms of the world
These three things are the devices through which the first Adam fell. In Luke the temptations are recorded in their moral order, following I John 2:16. But in Matthew the offer of the kingdom comes in last because Matthew gives the chronological order. They came to him in different ways:
- As a humble man, He had a right to satisfy His hunger
- As the Messiah, He had a right to messianic prophecies
- As Son of man, He had a right to the worldly kingdoms
Satan’s Downward Progression
- Fell Spiritually (Ezek. 28:14-16)
- Cursed in the Garden (Genesis 3:15)
—– 4000 Years ——
- Bound in the Wilderness (Mat. 12:29, Luke 4:13)
- Defeated at the Cross (Heb. 2:14)
—– 2000 Years ——
- Cast to the earth (Rev. 12:9)
- Cast into the abyss (Rev. 20:3)
—– 1000 Years ——
- Cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10)
- The Sinless Perfection of Christ Manifested (4:1-11)
The Sinless Perfection of Christ Manifested (4:1-11)
The Forty Days (vv.1-2)
¶ Then Jesus was carried up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted of the devil: v.1 The Spirit led Him (the design was Divine) but is was Satan that tempted Him. The old English word ‘tempt’ simply means ‘test’ (Gen. 22:1).
2 and having fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he hungered. v.2 The first man met the Devil with a full stomach, having tasted the bounty of Eden. But the second man meets the Devil with the cards stacked against Him… and still Satan found no point of attack. “Forty days and forty nights” speak of a time of testing.
1st Temptation: Self-provision vs. Perfect Dependence (vv.3-4)
3 And the tempter coming up to him said, If thou be Son of God, speak, that these stones may become loaves of bread. v.3 He is tempted as “Son of God” on earth; see note. one of Satan’s favorite words is “If”… he always challenges what God says; in this case Matt. 3:17. The circumstances looked right for the Son of God to make the stones bread. He was hungry, and He had the power to perform this miracle. But, He did not have a word from His Father to do so. it would be independency (John 5:19).
4 But he answering said, It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which goes out through God’s mouth.” [Deut. 8:3] v.4 The Devil was addressing the issue of man’s needs, and saying that need is license. But God created man in dependence on Him. To act independent from God is sin! Satan was saying; “you can’t live without physical bread.” The Lord replies; “wrong, you can’t live without the word of God.” Notice that He even quotes a single scripture, and that is enough to settle everything… perfect dependence.
2nd Temptation: Self-glorification vs. Quiet Confidence (vv.5-7)
¶ 5 Then the devil takes him to the holy city, and sets him upon the edge of the temple, v.5 The second temptation is that the Lord should display His power to glorify Himself. The Devil would lead Him to twist the promises made to the Messiah, instead of waiting on God’s time, and trusting God to glorify Him in due time.
6 and says to him, If thou be Son of God cast thyself down; for it is written, “He shall give charge to his angels concerning thee, and on their hands shall they bear thee, lest in anywise thou strike thy foot against a stone.” [Psa. 91:12] v.6 Satan is never more dangerous than when he is using the scriptures, although he takes them out of context, and twists them into a wrong use. He left out seven words of that verse; “to keep thee in all thy ways.” the context of the verse is; a faithful man who is walking in God’s ways, can have the assurance of God’s help. Note: Satan’s direction of action is down. He has always moved “down“… see note. He tries to get the Lord to Look down as the stones instead of up to God in dependence on the Word of God (vv.3-4). here he tries to convince the Lord to “cast himself down“. In v.9 he tries to get him to “fall down” and worship him. Always down.
7 Jesus said to him, It is again written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” [Deut. 6:16] v.7 “Again, it is written” – just because Satan has grown more insidious, that should never deter us from the same method of defense, the word of god. the response is an in-context quotation; a passage often quoted by the Jews as if it forbade excess in trusting God; whereas it means not to distrust, and try if He is faithful.
Resisting the Devil. The two first temptations were the wiles of the Devil, the third, open hostility to God. the believer too has the right to resist the Devil (James 4:7) when he comes tempting; but we are never told to dialog with the Devil, or to haughtily scoff at him, or rebuke him. Even Michael would “not bring against him a railing accusation” (Jude 9), but said “The Lord rebuke thee“. Satan was a higher authority than an archangel. Our response to temptations is to remain in simple obedience to the word of God. if so, we will escape his wiles, even if our understanding is simple.
3rd Temptation: Self-aggrandizement vs. Righteous Devotion (vv.8-10)
¶ 8 Again the devil takes him to a very high mountain, and shews him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory, 9 and says to him, All these things will I give thee if, falling down, thou wilt do me homage. vv.8-9 Satan then proposed that the Lord could have the kingdom, the inheritance, without having to go to the cross, to spare Himself all the sufferings that awaited Him. the son’s inheritance is a material one (Eph. 1) and satan has usurped this inheritance through his subtilty. the path to take back that inheritance and glorify God as to the question of sin would take him to the cross (Col 1:20). but if He denied His Father, and would acknowledge Satan (the god of this world) by worshiping him, He could take the kingdoms of the world without paying the redemption price. A foolish yet dastardly proposal to present to the Son, the object of whose heart was God His Father, and His mission (Heb. 10:7), to glorify Him. How little Satan understood of “the joy that was set before him”, the joy of doing the Father’s will.
A deal with the Devil. Satan does have control over this world, but ultimately he is just a pawn, being used by God. Satan, as the god of this world, has made similar offers before. The kings of the earth have fallen down to worship him for only a small portion of what he here offers our Lord. if Christ would cave in, He should have the whole. Far better for the Lord to look on to that day when God will say to him “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psa. 2:8).
10 Then says Jesus to him, Get thee away, Satan, for it is written, “Thou shalt do homage to the Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve.” [Deut. 6:13] v.10 “Get thee away, Satan” – we know from isa. 24:21-22 that the messiah would have ultimate authority over the demonic hosts. the way the Lord speaks to satan (v.10) is proof of this! the boldness of this third test called for this rebuke. the verse he quotes is DEUT. 6:13, the thrust of which is that we would have devotion only to God. this is the believer’s safegard against temptation! live with a single eye, seeking only the glory of God. with that attitude, Satan can do nothing… he is defeated!
The Angels Minister to Christ (v.11)
¶ 11 Then the devil leaves him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. v.11 these angels were ministering to his practical needs (John 1:51), the things that Satan was attempting to get Jesus to take for himself. what a reward for his faithfulness! The angels are ministering spirits for us also (Heb. 1:14).
Satan bound. this defeat of Satan in the wilderness was a tremendous step in mission of the Lord Jesus. While the positive work of redemption had not been accomplished yet, the strong man – Satan himself – had been bound by the Second Man, in perfect dependence on god.”How can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man?” (Matt. 12:29). He comes forth from the wilderness and departs into Galilee, where His public ministry properly begins… spoiling Satan’s house!
Use of the Word of God. the Lord Jesus had a verse for every temptation, and he obeyed that verse. its not that the bible is a magic potion that scares Satan away… rather it is a solid foundation for our souls to rest on. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Remember to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He knows he has met Christ is us; not the flesh. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).