The Tempting in the Wilderness

We considered last week, the Lord’s incarnation to set the stage for

The Tempting of Jesus

Let’s read the account in Matthew 4:1-11.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”

There are three accounts of the temptation in the wilderness: Matt. 4:1-11, which we read. Mark writes only two verses about this event: “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him (Mk. 1:12-13). The third reference is Luke 4:1-13. I’ll just highlight any additional details in Luke.

As we mentioned earlier, Matthew begins by writing, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Mat. 4:1). Mark said the Spirit “driveth Him forth”, and Luke said that “He, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit.” We made the case that in all things, the entire Godhead operates together as one unit. Everything is of the Father, by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. The entire Godhead is operating together in the person of Christ who is functioning on faith in the will of the Father under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to accomplish everything that had been predetermined before the world was created.

And now, as the first order of business following His baptism, Christ would be tempted in the wilderness by the devil. Not only that, the Father determined that Christ would be as weak and as vulnerable as humanly possible when He would be tempted, which is why He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. He may have been on the brink of starving to death.

Why would the Father determine that Christ should go through this whole ordeal of being tempted in the wilderness? Why would the Father want His Son to be so physically weak? So that He could feel temptation to the fullest extent in His fleshly form and be identify with us in our temptations. Thus, it would be said of Him in Heb. 4:15 that Christ, “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He would be tempted in all things. He would be tempted in every way that we are tempted. For Christ to be led by the Spirit does not show us any deficiencies in the Lord’s divine powers or in His divine nature but that He always operated on faith in the will of the Father under the guidance of the Spirit to accomplish all that had been predetermined. The three operated as one. This was a predetermined test to teach Christ at the beginning of His earthly ministry to learn experientially obedience through suffering.

The First Temptation

Mat. 4:3 tells us, “And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

First, Matthew writes that “the tempter came to him”. Satan came to the Lord voluntarily. This is another reason why Christ was alone in the wilderness and why He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. He made Himself weak and vulnerable to draw Satan to Him. Christ made Himself a willing prey to the predator. By making Christ this vulnerable physically, the entire Godhead knew that Satan wasn’t going to pass up this chance to tempt Him. They knew that Christ in this state would draw Satan out of the shadows to try to destroy Him.

The first thing Satan says is “If thou be the Son of God.” Do you think Satan didn’t know whether Christ was the Son of God? Of course, he knew. He knew about Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. He knew about the entire heavenly host who came down to sing praises to God about the birth of the Messiah before those shepherds keeping watch over their flock at night. He surely even knew the prophecies of Daniel’s 70 weeks, and he knew the exact year Jesus would be born. Plus, I’ve no doubt Satan had to have carefully watched Christ every moment of the first 30 years of His life. He knew Christ was the Son of God, and I suspect He also knew that He was both human and divine, which meant that Jesus was capable of being tempted. Thus, Satan feigns doubt as to the veracity of the truth that Christ was the Son of God in order to tempt Him to sin. And the first thing Satan would do is tempt Him to sin by suggesting He do a miracle to solve the Lord’s greatest immediate need in the flesh – His hunger.

How is that a temptation? Would it have been so wrong for the Lord to turn those rocks into food so He could eat? Yes, that would have been a sin. That would have been a betrayal of the will of the Father. The Father did not want Jesus to eat throughout that ordeal of being tempted of Satan in the wilderness. He was to be without food the entire time so that He would be as weak and as vulnerable as humanly possible to identify with us in our temptations and feel temptation to the fullest extent and be thoroughly put to the test.

The Lord’s answer, as were all His answers to Satan, was to quote Scripture. He said in Mat. 4:4, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The verse He’s quoting comes from Deut. 8:3. The full context of that verse in Deuteronomy explains why it would’ve been a sin for Christ to have converted those rocks into bread. When Moses spoke to the nation of Israel in Deut. 8:3, he said, “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”

There was a point and a reason behind the hunger and the suffering of the Jews in the wilderness. The Lord suffered His people to be humbled and to hunger in the wilderness – why? – so they will know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word out of the mouth of the LORD. This goes back to the point of why Christ fasted. He, too, would suffer humiliation, hunger, and He, too, would learn through experience in human flesh, that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the God. He suffered to learn obedience experientially and reliance upon the Word alone just like His people. Jesus would never force His people to go through something He would’ve been unwilling to go through Himself. All the humiliation and the hunger Jesus went through was worse than anything Israel ever went through in the wilderness. And all of this was the will of the Father for Christ in the Spirit to learn obedience through humiliation of suffering and reliance upon His Word only.

The Second Temptation

We then find in Mat. 4:5-6, “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

The next thing we read is that the devil taketh him up into the holy city. Satan took the Lord to Jerusalem. But what does it mean that the devil taketh him up? Did Satan grab Jesus and force Him to go to Jerusalem? Bullinger makes the point that in the Greek, these same words are used in Matt. 17:1, which was about His transfiguration. Matt. 17:1 writes, “Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart”. Jesus took them up to a high mountain. In other words, He led the disciples with authority, and those three disciples willingly went along with Him. In that same vein, Satan led Jesus with authority, and Jesus willingly went along with him.

How is it that Satan could lead Jesus with any kind of authority? Because he is still the god of this evil world (2 Cor. 4:4), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), the great ruler of the darkness over the Earth (Eph. 6:12).

Then Satan set Him on the pinnacle of Herod’s temple. He said, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Satan is quoting Psa. 91:11-12 in which it is written, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Notice how vs. 11 says, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee,” the singular you. This was a charge over thee, over you personally. The angels weren’t simply guardians of Israel corporately. They were guardians over the individual Jews, as well. We also find evidence of personal guardian angels in Matt. 18:1-10, Acts. 12:15, and Heb. 1:14 in which the writer says of angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” He’s saying that those guardian angels of the Jewish saints didn’t simply minister to them. They ministered for them. They did for those saints what they could not do for themselves. They provided instruction, guidance, and protection.

The great irony here is that Satan, the fallen cherub, is mocking guardian angels and what was written about them in Psa. 91, of which some suppose Moses to be the author. Satan knew that if someone did something nonsensical like jump off a temple, no guardian angel was going to save that person. Satan was using that chapter to twist and mock how the program of guardian angels worked, tempting the Lord to do something absurd to prove something he already knew was true, so the Lord would kill Himself, because he knew the guardian angels wouldn’t save Him. If they did, they betrayed how the program of guardian angels worked and he’d have reason to accuse God for His inconsistency in the operation of guardian angels.

Satan is quite possibly quoting Moses in Psa. 91 and mocking guardian angels, and how does the Lord respond? He quotes Moses right back at him except he quotes Deut. 6:16. “Jesus said unto him, ‘It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’

The Third Temptation

Then we read in Mat. 4:8-10, “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

The first thing we read is that “the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain.” We don’t know what mountain this is, but my guess would be Mount Nebo, which is a mountain range east of Jordan. The peak is exceedingly high. In Deut. 34:1-3, Moses went up to the top of Mount Nebo, and God showed him “all the land of Gilead unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, and the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar.”

Plus, atop that mountain, Moses died.

In the first temptation, the Lord quotes Moses. In the second temptation, Satan quite possibly quotes Moses out of Psa. 91. The Lord quotes Moses right back at him. So it would seem logical that for this third temptation that Satan took Jesus up to the very mountain and perhaps even the very spot where Moses died.

Matthew writes that Satan “sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” You cannot help but ask the question, “Is it possible atop Mount Nebo, or any mountain for that matter, to see “all the kingdoms of the world”? How can that be possible? Luke puts it another way. He writes, “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5). This is different. It’s not all the kingdoms that existed at that time but it’s all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

I suspect Luke is describing something more than what can be seen atop a mountain. He’s describing a supernatural presentation with spiritual special effects of all the kingdoms of the world, past, present and future, in a single moment of time. How is this possible? How can Satan give the Lord a presentation of kingdoms that are in the future?

Scripture seems to indicate that Satan and some spirits in the demonic realm have limited abilities to see into the future. You might remember how Luke wrote in Acts 16:16, “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying…” Soothsaying, according to Webster’s 1828, means the foretelling of future events. It may be possible that not all demons have that ability, only that particular spirit of divination. And that damsel followed Paul around, sarcastically screaming, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” Then Luke writes that “Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.”

You might also recall the story in 1 Sam. 28:7 of Saul seeking a woman with a familiar spirit because he knew at the time that certain spirits had the ability of soothsaying. This might also explain why James says in Jam. 2:19 that “the devils also believe, and tremble.” This may also be why that demon said to Jesus in Matt. 8:29, “art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” They know their future. They’ve seen their future, which is why they tremble, which is why that demon spoke to Jesus with certainty that He would be tormenting them in the future. But Scripture also seems to indicate that their abilities to see into the future is highly limited. They couldn’t foresee the ramifications of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, because, as Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 2:8, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

I’d suggest that what happened was that Satan took Jesus up to a high mountain and showed Jesus in this supernatural presentation with spiritual special effects “all the kingdoms of the world”, past, present, and future, in a single “moment of time.”

And how does Satan tempt him? Satan says in Mat. 4:9, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” What an amazing statement. Satan is claiming ownership of not only Judah and Israel but also all the promised land and all the kingdoms of the world, and the Lord doesn’t refute his claim. Nor should He because Satan is still the ruler of this world. He has a spiritual stranglehold over all the kingdoms and regions of the Earth.

Notice, too, Satan’s method of tempting Christ. In the first temptation, he appealed to the lust of the flesh. Not sinful flesh, but lust in the sense that Christ was starving. In the second temptation, Satan takes him to the pinnacle of the temple. He appeals to the pride of life, the satisfaction of proving that He is the Son of God by doing something simple and being saved by angels. But here, in the third temptation, the pinnacle of the temple wasn’t high enough. Satan took Jesus to an exceeding high mountain, showed Him visually all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them in a moment of time. He tried to tempt Jesus through the eyes and offers Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

In these three temptations, you have an appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

This was the worst and the greatest of all the temptations. Why? Why would this be the greatest of temptations? Doesn’t the Lord already know that the Father in Heaven would give Him far more than anything Satan could offer? Why would this be such a great temptation? Because Christ could resolve His immediate need of hunger, and He would not have to endure the humiliation, the shame, all the rejection, and all the suffering on His cross.

So why did Satan tempt Him? What did Satan hope to gain in all of this?

I’d suggest that the temptation had nothing to do with Satan proving whether or not Christ could sin. There was far more at stake than just that question about Jesus. This was also more than just Satan defeating Christ so He could retain all the power that He already had over the Earth. This was more than just Satan stopping Christ from establishing His kingdom and using His saints to reclaim possession of the Earth. Satan’s motivations never changed since his fall from Heaven. You remember the five “I wills” in his heart in Isa. 14:13-14? “I will ascend into heaven.” “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” “I will sit also upon the mount.” “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.” And “I will be like the Most High.” Satan still wants all that he lusted after before his fall. To get Christ to sin would make Christ one of them, one of the fallen. To get Christ to sin would bring Satan one step closer to ascending Heaven and the throne of God. To get Christ to sin would destroy His kingdom on earth and rob humanity of all hope. Nothing less than the hope of all mankind hung in the balance when Christ, at His most weak and most vulnerable state physically, was tempted by the devil.

Yet, all of this brings us back to the verse the Lord quoted in the first temptation, Deut. 8:3, which says, “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” The Lord through this ordeal of humiliation and suffering would experience how to endure extremes of temptation by relying on, as He said, “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The Lord would experience what it means and what it’s like in the flesh to rely on the Word of God over all of His physical, human needs.

Is this story not timeless? Is this story not a model to everyone across all ages how to endure temptations? We rely on His Word through all suffering. Plus, the method Satan used to tempt Christ is the same method he uses to tempt everyone: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The response to all temptation is universal. We rely on His Word for our physical, mental, and emotional needs. And the response to those temptations, both within ourselves and without to others, is to quote the Word of God.

This, of course, was how the Lord answered Satan in Mat. 4:10. He said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Once again, the Lord, as He is possibly standing on the very spot where Moses died, quotes Moses right back at him out of Deut. 10:20, which says, “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.”

The Angels Ministering to Jesus

Finally, we read in Mat 4:11, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Matthew writes, “and, behold, angels came…” Why does Matthew say “behold”? Behold in the English is a verb and in the Greek it’s an imperative. Behold! Why are we to behold the angels that came and ministered unto Him? I suspect the angels came to minister to His physical needs to perhaps give Him manna, just as they had done for the Jews in the wilderness in Deut. 8:3, which Jesus had quoted to Satan. He had literally endured to a far greater extreme the same pattern of humiliation and suffering as the Jews in the wilderness to learn through experience how to endure extremes of temptation by relying on, as He said, “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” And we are to behold the angels ministering to Him to take note of the miraculous deliverance with manna just like the Jews in the wilderness.

What all of this tells us is that the depths of the Lord’s suffering over the course of 40 days and 40 nights while He was tempted made His victory over Satan that much more glorious, because He consistently made the choice to not sin. Reading this story puts all of us readers into the mindest of having extreme confidence in who Christ was having observed the extremities of His physical suffering while also choosing victory over Satan’s temptations.

  1. […] we’ve taken the four Gospel accounts and combined them into a single narrative to cover the Lord’s tempting in the wilderness, His Agony in the Garden, His arrest and trial, and His crucifixion. Today, we’re going to look […]

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