The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the
wilderness following His baptism, but not unwillingly. Nothing
happens to Christ without His consent or permission (John 10:18).
His temptation in the wilderness also happens because of His choice.
The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, and no one will hinder
Him from carrying out His mission! One may even say that Jesus
deliberately entices the Devil to a contest, because the Devil has no
power apart from God’s permissive will (cf. Job 1-2).
Like the scapegoat of old (Leviticus
16:8-10), Jesus begins His work of carrying away our sins immediately
following His baptism. Mark relates that He was with the wild
animals, away from the domain of men and utterly alone (Mark 1:13).
He abstains from all food for forty days, as Moses (Exodus 34:28) and
Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) had done. Moses and Elijah could not do so
apart from God, and Jesus’ own fast is a proof of His divinity.
Jesus explicitly tells His disciples in John 4:34 that His food is to
do His Father’s will, suggesting that He had no need to eat
whatsoever. That He eats and becomes hungry is a sign of His
humiliation, becoming like us, not by necessity, but by choice.
It is likely that the forty days stand
for the forty years during which Israel wandered in the wilderness as
a divine punishment, especially since earlier in Matthew, Jesus is
explicitly said to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Just as Jesus
is the second Adam, being everything that Adam was not, so also is
Jesus the greater Israel, faithful where Israel of old was faithless.
The word temptation and its related
forms is used in three different ways in Scripture. God may tempt
us, as He did with Abraham (Genesis 22:1). Men may tempt God,
something which is explicitly forbidden (Deuteronomy 6:16). Satan
may also tempt us into sin (1 Corinthians 7:5). What is common to
all of these is the idea of testing. To be tempted is not a sin. If
it was, Jesus sinned in the wilderness, something which is
blasphemous to say (Hebrews 4:15). This test is a kind of proving,
attempting to determine the truth or the quality of something. God
proves His servant Job through His trials against the accusations of
Satan. Thus this temptation, like the temptation of Abraham, is not
an invitation to sin. James says that God tempts no one, because the
temptation in question there is an enticing to sin (James 1:12-15).
Rather, God proves the character of His saints to their praise and to
Men may not tempt God or put Him to the
test, because it calls into question His nature. A man would test
God to see whether He is faithful or telling the truth, as the
Israelites did at the first Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet God is not
man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His
mind (Numbers 23:19). Satan also tempts man in the same way by
presenting opportunities to sin, drawing into question the Word of
God (as with Eve in Genesis 3) or by laying before us a trap. Satan
tempts Jesus to sin, but Jesus resists him and does not give way. We
are also capable, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of resisting
temptation. It is only when we assent to it that sin gives birth to
death, though this assent is not hard to gain.
Satan is described in three ways within
this passage: the “tempter,” the “slanderer,” and the
“adversary.” He is the Tempter for reasons noted above. He is
the Devil, or the Slanderer, because he seeks to accuse by lies and
half-truths (Zechariah 3:1-2). He is the Adversary, because he
opposes God and His saints. Satan tempts Jesus out of his desire to
be a murderer (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to
devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet as noted above, Satan should not be
understood as God’s opposite. Satan comes into the wilderness
because God has permitted it, not because Satan can do so on his own
(Job 1:12; Matthew 8:31-32).
The first temptation here is a test of
God’s providence. Can God provide something as simple as bread for
You in this wilderness, as He did for Israel with the manna? God the
Father quoted Psalm 2, “This is my beloved Son,” just forty days
earlier or so at Jesus’ baptism. Is that still true? Satan’s
question, “If you are the Son of God,” is thus drawing into doubt
that pronouncement more than anything else. Yet Jesus rebukes the
devil with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. God gave Israel manna
so that they would learn to trust in Him above all things. It is not
a difficult thing for God to provide, even when it seems like it is
physically impossible to us. God’s providence is not limited to
natural laws, but all things come from His gracious hand (1 Kings
17:14-16; Psalm 145:15-20; 1 Kings 17:4-6, etc.).
The second temptation here is a test of
God’s faithfulness. The devil takes Jesus physically to a high point
in the city and tells him to throw Himself down, for Psalm 91 says
that God will bear you up and keep you from physical harm. Yet this
rash action would become a temptation of God, because casting
ourselves into danger in order to determine whether God will keep His
Word is drawing into doubt His faithfulness. It is an act of faith
to trust in God, knowing that He will deliver us, even when things
seem hopeless or contrary to our expectations. It is an act of
presumption to see whether God will do it in ways that fit our
parameters and conditions. Thus, Jesus rebukes the devil with
Deuteronomy 6:16, which is perfectly fitting, since the sin of Israel
at Massah was the same as the devil’s proposal.
The last temptation here is a test of
God’s sovereignty, since it is an invitation to idolatry. Now on a
very high mountain, the devil presents to Jesus a vision of the
world. He baldly lies and claims the authority to give and take
these kingdoms as he pleases. This is God’s possession and
perogative, not Satan’s (Psalm 2:8; 22:28; 47:8; 50:10). In exchange
for this worldly glory, shown to be as empty as it really is in
Satan’s lie, he calls on Christ to worship him as the source of that
glory. However, God rules over the world, and all things are under
His dominion. He alone is the proper object of worship, because He
is the Creator, not a creature. He is the Lord, and glory belongs to
Him alone (Isaiah 42:8).
With the words of Deuteronomy 6:13,
Jesus sharply rebukes Satan for his pride. Again, these words fit
perfectly, because God warned Israel in that portion of Deuteronomy 6
of the dangers of the world. When they come into their inheritance
in the land and live in that which God gave them, they must not be
enticed to think that such things came by their own power. God rules
over all things, and He is the one who gives all things. We must not
seek to worship other gods, because such gods are nothing at all and
did not bring us out of slavery into the promised land. God alone is
our Redeemer, our Provider, and our King.
Let us also take note of two things in
this passage. First, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan and commands him to
depart. Resisting temptation may indeed involve drastic measures,
even to the point of abstaining from something entirely. If
something I do leads me or someone else to sin, it is better to not
do it at all than to dabble in it in the name of freedom (1
Corinthians 8:13). Second, Jesus rebukes the devil with the Word of
God. Our strength is not in ourselves, but in God and His Word.
Spending time in that Word is the surest way to resist temptation,
because it is our life and our weapon against the devil (Ephesians
6:17). Jesus resists the invitation to sin, because He is sinless,
but He shows us the way to resist the devil and his temptations by