Study Notes on Matthew’s Gospel: The Crises of Temptation
Matthew 4:1-11 (NIVUK): “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (tested) by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
This is an amazing confrontation between God and Satan and this account, which could only come from Jesus, provides us with guidelines on how we can also deal with temptation.
The first thing to notice about this confrontation with Satan is that it comes right after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. At His baptism, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit with the strength to undertake His ministry. We know it was immediately after His baptism because we are told this in Mark 1:12 – ‘At once the Spirit sent him into the desert. ‘
I think it has been a common experience of many Christians that after a successful spiritual activity there is often a period of vulnerability, which can involve a direct attack by Satan, or by others acting under his prompting.
Now, a quick word about Satan; I believe Satan is an active, intelligent being who is always prowling around seeking to disrupt the way God’s people respond to the will of God. Clearly, from what the Bible tells us (especially Jesus’ own words), Satan is not simply, the personification of evil.
In these verses (Matthew 4:1-11) Satan comes to Jesus to temp Him to sin. It should be remembered that the word ‘tempt’, in a biblical sense, can mean either a ‘tempting’ to do wrong or a ‘testing’, which leads to something good.
One writer has expressed it this way: “From God’s viewpoint, all this is a test; it is a way to prove that the Son is worthy to be the Saviour. But from the devil’s viewpoint it is a temptation – tempting the Son to be unworthy.
Now, whatever happens in our lives the things that come our way to entice us, the devil’s purpose is to draw us into sin and God may allow them as ways of proving and strengthening our faith.”
If we look at James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed (Satan’s prompting can often be involved in this process.) Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
God does allow ‘trials’ to prove righteousness but He will never entice someone into sin. In Luke 22:31-32, we hear Jesus say to Peter: “‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’” This is a good example where God allowed the disciples to be tested, knowing that at the end of their trials they would be strengthened.
The First Temptation of Jesus
“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Did you notice that the first word said was ‘if’. In the same way, Satan tempted Eve and he used the same tactic when he tempted Jesus and likewise will do the same when he temps us. He always begins by trying to create doubt about the reality of God’s Word. In these verses, Satan implies that Jesus status as God’s Son needs to be proven.
The temptation presented to Jesus was to use His divine power to satisfy His hunger, to turn stones into bread. Satan was in effect saying that God had let Jesus down by not providing Him with food and Jesus could address this issue by using His own power and there was no need for Jesus to depend on His father.
“It was an urging on Satan’s part for Jesus to sweep aside every human want by a divine act. It was a temptation to really exercise a personal selfish authority to do what would satisfy His own want because God in some way let Him down. Doesn’t Satan tempt us in a similar manner?” In summary, at the heart of this temptation, Satan wanted Jesus to distrust the Father’s care.
Jesus’ reply: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus was declaring that the guiding motive of His life was to do the will of God and to trust Him to meet all His needs. In essence, a man is better off obeying the word of God and to count on the providential sustenance of God than he is to let his own desire and lust cause him to grab satisfaction that he knows is against the will of God because he thinks he deserves it.
In Matthew 6:31-33, we read a good summary concerning God’s providential sustenance: “So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The Second Temptation of Jesus
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”'”
Here we have an example of Satan using Scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), however, he leaves the last part of verse 11 out. (‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.‘)
Satan is saying to Jesus – ‘why not let God prove that You are His Son by doing a miracle Himself’. The sin involved with this temptation is first not trusting God in the right way, and more than that, it is the sin of presuming upon God – testing to see if He would really do, what He said He would do.
As Jesus had said on a number of occasions, He was not interested in performing signs and wonders, such as jumping off the temple, just to impress people. He had come to tell people that the kingdom of God was near, that there was an urgent need for repentance, to make God known and to reconcile man to God. Secondly, Jesus knew you should never call upon God’s power to test God. That is, you don’t put pressure on God to force Him to take care of you, for selfish motives.
Faith that depends on sign and wonders isn’t faith, it’s doubt looking for proof. When Jesus returned to His home town, Nazareth, there was an expectation by the people that He would perform miracles. Luke 4:23, “Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself!” And you will tell me, “Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”’ Yet we know from Mark 6:5-6, that there was little faith to be found in Nazareth: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
In reply to Satan’s second temptation, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, by saying: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” We don’t create an unnecessary test of God’s justice, mercy, compassion and love by putting our lives in unnecessary danger (physical or spiritual).
The Third Temptation of Jesus
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’
Satan offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus deserved them and they were going to be His anyway, as we read in Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”
One commentator has explained it, as follows: ‘Satan’s temptation was to compromise God’s plan and to achieve similar ends by other means and this alternative would have meant avoiding the cross.’
Yet, the nations and the earth is only a small part of creation and Jesus is responsible for all of creation – seen and unseen. Consequently, this temptation, shows the devil grasping at straws, it could never have substance in the eyes of our Lord and God. Yet, it provides for us a good example of how Satan works on our ‘the ends justify the means’ mentality.
Jesus, the loyal servant of God the Father makes no deal with Satan. Jesus would never ever compromise the single most important reality in all the universe and that is that God and God alone is to be worshipped.
Another aspect of the temptations of Jesus, is that they provide an example of how Jesus, as the sinless man, full of the Holy Spirit, could resist the false arguments and deception of the devil.
There are a number of points we can take away from this study: Satan uses a number of standard deceptions, depending on our individual weaknesses. The devil will tempt us to distrust God’s care for our well-being and to encourage us to sort out our own problems without His involvement; The second type of temptation is to get us to test God’s love and power – along the lines of: ‘If you really loved me then you would do this good thing for me or my family’. The third, and very successful temptation in today’s western culture, is to follow the ways of the world and to allow God to be replaced in our hearts by earthly desires. That is, we remove God from His rightful place of worship.
However, we should remember that we have available to us, the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us and we also have access to God’s word as found in Scripture, which we can use when confronted by these types of temptations.
In Hebrews 4:15, we have these great words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”
In addition, we can be confident that we will not have to face overwhelming temptation that will break us, for Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation (or testing) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
The Triumph of Jesus
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! … Then the devil left him.”
In the three temptations, Satan was asking Jesus to prove He was the Messiah – the King of Kings, and in a way he received the proof – in these few words: ‘Away from me Satan!’ Satan was given no choice but to leave – he had been defeated.
In summary, we too can be victorious over Satan by depending on the power of God’s Spirit. We can resist the devil by standing firm in our faith: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
And in James 4:7, we read: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
In Christ, we can resist the devil’s temptations – just as Jesus did!
- Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5″, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
- Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
- Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
- Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally!