The Temptation

Posted: July 17, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 4:1-11, “The Temptation”

To say that people struggle with temptation is to state the obvious.  None of us are immune – after all, we’re only human.  Yet sometimes we fall into the idea that as believers in Jesus Christ, we ought to be immune – as if temptation ought to suddenly “go away” the moment we’re born again.  (Truth be told, that’s likely when we start facing temptation the most!)  What we sometimes fail to remember is that temptation itself is not a sin; how we respond to that temptation is what matters.  Every Christian will be tempted, but no Christian NEED to give into that temptation.  The Bible promises that not only will God not allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able to bear, but that God will also provide a way of escape out of that temptation (1 Cor 10:13).  Our problem is that we either don’t look for that way, or we refuse to take it!

Yet there is One who handled temptation absolutely perfectly: the Lord Jesus Christ.  When Jesus faced the temptations of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, He faced them in the power of God using the word of God, and seeking the glory of God.  In doing so, He becomes a marvelous example to the rest of us of how we are to fight the same things.

There is one crucial difference between Jesus’ temptation & our own.  The Bible tells us that we are tempted when we are drawn away by our own desires & enticed – it is those desires that when conceived bring forth sin & sin, death. (Jas 1:14-15).  Yet the Lord Jesus did not have any desires that were sinful – after all, He did not have a sinful nature.  Thus whereas our temptations are often self-caused & merely helped along by the devil (if at all), Jesus’ temptations were caused by a full onslaught of Satan.  Satan took even desires that would normally be legitimate, God-honoring things & turned them into opportunities for sin.

So what is going on here at the temptation?  Jesus shows Himself to be better than Adam, who was also tempted directly by the devil.  Jesus shows Himself to be better than Israel, who was in the wilderness for 40 years, whereas Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days.  In all the ways the various children of God failed, the true Son of God was victorious.  He faced the same things we face, yet experienced a victory we rarely know.  Ultimately, the temptation is important because it proves Jesus to be our faithful High Priest & an acceptable substitute.  He can relate to us in every way – even in our temptation.  Yet at the same time (and most importantly), He proves Himself to be absolutely perfect & free from any stain of sin.  John the Baptist had seen Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).  After the baptism, Jesus proves that as the Lamb, He is without spot or blemish & an absolutely perfect substitute for our sin.

Matthew 4:1–11 (NKJV)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

  1. Where?  Traditionally many have thought this to be the wilderness region around Jericho, but it’s uncertain.
  2. The question of “where” is less important than the question of “how.” “Jesus was led up by the Spirit.”  The Spirit had visibly come upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His baptism, and had filled Jesus (Lk 4:1, which would have equipped Jesus for the temptation).  Now the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the specific purpose of allowing Jesus to be tempted by the devil.
    1. Is this a contradiction with James?  James 1:13, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." []  God does not tempt us…  Not at all.  The idea might be better thought of as being “tested” rather than being “tempted.”  Jesus needed to be tested – and likewise so do we, from time to time.  Even beyond that idea, even the text here doesn’t say that God tempted Jesus; rather, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where He was “tempted by the devil.”  Was it God’s will that the temptation take place?  No doubt.  Was it God who did the tempting?  Absolutely not.  There’s a big difference between the two!
  3. What about the Lord’s Prayer? “Lead us not into temptation…”  This is still a good prayer for us to pray (after all, Jesus Himself teaches us to pray it!).  We pray that God would lead us away from temptation, and empower us to deal with it when it comes.  Outside of the power of God, we’ve got no way of dealing with the temptation at all – it’s best if we’re so submissive to the will of God that we’re led completely away from it.  Yet for Jesus, it’s a bit different. Understand that Jesus HAD to be tempted.  It was crucial to His identification with us as human beings.  Hebrews 4:14–15, "(14) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." []

2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.

  1. Just a tad bit of understatement!  Of course Jesus would be hungry!  For someone in good physical shape, 40 days is about the limit of how long a body could go without food.  Jesus would have been extraordinarily weak (physically) & thus extremely vulnerable to physical temptation.  For the skeptics who might sneer at the thought of any real temptation coming to Almighty God, this ought to put it to rest.  40 days without food (though likely Jesus had some source of water during this time – even if it was limited) was enough to bring the body to the brink of starvation.  Keep in mind that though Jesus is 100% God, He is still 100% human in His incarnation – there’s no doubt that Jesus was in a position in which He’d be open to temptation.
  2. Regarding fasting…this is a practice that’s often neglected in the evangelical church, or misapplied.  Yet it IS a Scriptural practice.  Moses fasted – Elijah fasted – Jesus fasted – the prophets & teachers at Antioch fasted, etc.  What is fasting?  Simply a time in which physical desires are denied in order to spiritually focus upon the Lord.
    1. What fasting is NOT: legalistic…a way to manipulate God…something to be done in public as a spiritual “show” (Mt 6:16-17)…
    2. When should we fast?  There’s no specific time – there may be different times & different reasons for different people.  One person may fast because they are in a time of spiritual “stagnation” – another might fast when they are burdened with a prayer need.  Ultimately, we fast when we are led by the Lord to do so.

3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

  1. The tempter = the devil.  This has been Satan’s M.O. since the Garden of Eden.  He tempted the 1st Adam; he tempted the Last Adam.
  2. Notice how the 1st two temptations begin: “If You are the Son of God…”  Keep in mind two things here: (1) Jesus had just been publically proclaimed to be the Son of God at His baptism… (2) There’s no doubt Satan KNEW Jesus is the Son of God.  (All the other demons recognized it; Satan isn’t ignorant of the reality.)  Greek scholars point out that the grammar of the statement here doesn’t so much call into question whether or not Jesus IS the Son of God, but what Jesus can do AS the Son of God.
    1. Remember that Jesus did not seek His own will, but the will of the Father (Jn 5:30).  The crux of these temptations was to try to get Jesus to assert His own will over that of the Father.
    2. Ultimately, that’s the crux of all of our temptations as well.  Instead of submitting ourselves to the will of our Heavenly Father as revealed through the Scripture, we’re tempted to make ourselves lord over our lives.
  3. The 1st temptation: “prove Your power.”  As God in the flesh, surely Jesus had the authority & the right to fill His own needs & desires, right?  Surely He had the power to do whatever He wanted to, right?  Satan is basically saying, “Hey – the Spirit led You into the wilderness, but you don’t need to be starving.  Do what You want.  If You’ve got the power as the Son of God, fill Your own needs & make some bread.”
    1. What’s the problem here?  The will of God was for Jesus to fast.  God led Jesus to begin fasting; God would lead Jesus as to when to end the fast.  Jesus needed to be submissive to the will of God & not assert His own authority.  For now, it was the will of God the Father that the Son be hungry.  God Himself would sustain Jesus – He would not let His Son falter for lack of food.
    2. Question: COULD Jesus have turned the stones into bread?  Without a doubt.  Jesus’ ability of power isn’t so much in doubt by the Devil as is His right to assert that power.  In the incarnation, Christ humbled Himself, took the form of a slave & emptied Himself of His divine prerogative (Phil 2:5-7).  Thus Satan is tempting Jesus to use that power outside of the will of God.

4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

  1. We’re going to find that in every temptation, Jesus answers the Devil with Scripture.  It’s interesting because at other times, Jesus did not allow demons to speak (Mk 1:25).  Yet this time, Jesus spoke with the Devil – giving us an example of how we are to wield the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17).  This is spiritual warfare in action & the Lord Jesus is our master teacher.
    1. Have you ever noticed how quick our minds begin to rationalize our sin when we start to dwell upon temptation?  “Oh, it’s not that bad.  You can get over it.  They won’t think it’s such a big deal.  Etc…”  This is one reason it’s so important to know the Scripture!  Psalm 119:11 declares “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”  It’s during those times of temptation that we learn what it means not to lean upon our own understanding, but rather acknowledge God in all our ways (Pro 3:5-6) – knowing that His word is perfect, even when our own minds might get confused.  That’s how we use the Bible as the sword of the spirit!
  2. Original context: Deuteronomy 8:2–3, "(2) And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (3) So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." []  Referring to manna & God’s daily provision.  Jesus perfectly applies this to our daily lives.  We need food to survive physically – but what is it that is vastly more important than physical survival?  Spiritual life.  And that only comes from God.  We need God’s word as a baby needs milk (1 Pt 2:2).  The Bible is not optional for a Christian – it’s not an add-on or a “maybe today” for a believer – the Bible is absolutely vital for our daily walk.  Few of us would dare consider missing more than a few meals in a day (unless we were consciously fasting), yet many Christians hardly give the Bible a 2nd thought outside of Sunday mornings.  Keep in mind that without the heavenly manna, the children of Israel would not have survived in the desert.  Yet what was more important even than that?  The word of God.  Likewise for us.
  3. Which words are important in the Scripture? “Every word.”  Gk ῥῆμα = utterance, speech, something which is spoken.  That which comes from the mouth of God is life to our spirit.  All Scripture is necessary for us to equip us for the Lord’s purposes in our lives.  Each word is breathed out by Him & given to us for our edification.  (2 Tim 3:16-17)  How important it is for us to know the words that God has spoken by reading the words which God has written!

5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

  1. The highest point of Herod’s temple was 450 feet up.  Apparently the Devil supernaturally took Jesus from the wilderness to the temple for the 2nd temptation.  Culturally, this would have fit in with certain Messianic expectations at the time.  Malachi had prophesied that the Messiah would come suddenly to the temple (Mal 3:1) & some rabbis took this to mean that the Christ would reveal Himself to Israel in this way.  Satan was setting up the scenario for Jesus to swoop in via the angels from the temple, in order to fulfill the rabbinical expectation.
    1. Question: DID Jesus reveal Himself at the temple?  Yes.  Although Jesus went to the temple many times in His life, that was the whole point of the 1st Palm Sunday.  Jesus presented Himself as Messiah & the perfect Passover sacrifice according to prophecy, at precisely the correct time.  Satan’s temptation would have short-circuited the entire timing of God.
  2. The 2nd temptation: “prove Your identity.”  The temple was one place in Jerusalem that would have always had people present.  To cast Himself down & then borne up by angels would have been a dramatic public announcement to the rest of Jerusalem that Messiah had come.  Of course, the baptism was already a public announcement – but the Jordan River was one thing; the Jerusalem temple was another.
  3. Satan even had Scripture to back up his temptation & quoted from Psalm 91. Psalm 91:9–12, "(9) Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, (10) No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; (11) For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. (12) In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone." []  Note that he quoted it out of context & with a crucial phrase missing…  That said, would the psalm have proven itself true?  Absolutely yes.  If Jesus had fallen off the rooftop, there’s no doubt that angels would have come in to keep Jesus from certain death.  Jesus seemed to allude to this when He chastised Peter’s violence at His arrest. (Jesus could have called out for 12 legions of angels – Mt 26:53)  The angels would have saved Jesus at any time He so desired; it just wasn’t necessary for them to do so.  Jesus came to earth to die on the cross; not fall off the temple roof.  To throw Himself down would have been to deliberately disobey His Father’s will.
  4. BTW – note that the Devil can quote the Bible.  He may use it out of context, but the Devil knows the Scripture, too.   How important it is for us to be able to compare Scripture with Scripture!  It’s easy for people to take certain verses out of context & twist it to their own meanings & interpretations.  (We see it on TV all the time!)  Satan is a master at the trick.  He used it in the Garden of Eden (“Has God indeed said?”) & still uses it today. (Be a Berean!)

7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”

  1. Jesus responds again from the Scripture.  It’s not that He contests the truth of Psalm 91; He simply shows how the Devil misapplied it.
  2. Original context: Deuteronomy 6:16, "You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah." []  In reference to how Israel had complained about water in the desert, without trusting on the Lord’s provision.  Even while knowing God had given them freedom from the Egyptians, the Israelites complained against Moses, accusing him (and thus God) of bringing them into the wilderness to die.  God instructed Moses to strike a rock to bring forth water, and called the place Massah because they tempted the Lord. (Exo 17)
  3. Can we tempt God today?  Yes!  Any time we know the promises of God, yet disregard them in our own selfishness, we’re testing God.  Any time that we take the promises of God out of context & attempt to force God into action, we’re tempting God.  This isn’t just the extremes of the ancient Israelites & the modern-day snake handlers – any of us can tempt God when we blatantly disregard what He has commanded us.  People do it all the time regarding how they act on the job – or in their marriages – or with other family members – or in an attempt to force the supernatural.  Don’t do it!  Don’t tempt God; fear God & trust Him!  Jesus wasn’t about to try to force God the Father to do anything; Jesus simply submitted Himself into His hand.
  4. Notice how Jesus includes Himself in referring to the Father has His Lord & God.  Jesus was absolutely submitted to the will of the Father.

8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

  1. What mountain was it?  We don’t know.  God had taken Moses to Mt. Nebo to show him all the expanse of the Promised Land, prior to his death.  (Moses was not allowed to enter, due to his own disobedience…)  Wherever this was, the point is clear: the various nations of the world was made known, and Satan is pointing them out to Jesus.

9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

  1. Did Satan have the right to say this?  Yes.  Even Jesus acknowledged that the Devil is the ruler of this world (Jn 14:30) – and the cross & resurrection was the 1st step to removing Satan’s authority over the earth.  There, he was cast out (Jn 12:31), and Jesus was given all authority in heaven & on earth (Mt 28:18).  Yet even now, Satan is allowed a limited amount of power (he’s the prince of the power of the air – Eph 2:2), and even that will be stripped away from him when Jesus is ready to come back at the end of the Great Tribulation.
  2. Temptation #3: glory without the cross.  Keep in mind that Jesus’ whole purpose in coming incarnate as a man was to go to the cross in payment for the sins of mankind.  He came to seek & to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  As a result of His resurrection, God would raise Him up to the highest place & cause every knee to bow & every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11).  Yet the temptation of Satan was for Jesus to receive this same glory from all the earth without the suffering.  The Devil is offering a shortcut, saying, “I’ll give You the glory in all the earth.  The very glory that You’re promised to receive after the cross, I’ll give You right now without the cross.  There’s only one catch: bow down to me.”
    1. Satan has always desired to be worshiped.  It seems to have been what caused him to rebel against God & is certainly what he will gain from much of the earth during the reign of Antichrist in the Great Tribulation. What a victory it would be for Satan to have God in the flesh bowing down to him in worship!  It would reverse the order of all the universe to have the Creator worship the created.
    2. What Satan couldn’t get from Christ, he still seeks to get from mankind.
  3. The problem?  There are no shortcuts when it comes to the glory of God.  Would Satan have fulfilled his promise to have the nations give honor to Christ?  Perhaps – but even then, the honor would not have been able to stay with Christ.  Jesus’ worship of the Devil would have given that honor to the Enemy of God.  What might appear at first to be a shortcut isn’t really any shortcut at all.
    1. How often do we give into the temptation of shortcuts around godliness?

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

  1. This time, Jesus answers not only with Scripture, but a stinging rebuke.  “Away with you, Satan!”  The Devil wasn’t the one in authority to make demands of Christ; Jesus is God in the flesh & HE is the one to give orders to the Devil.  Jesus is submitted only to the Lord God of the Universe, and the Son was not about to let anyone or anything get in the way of the perfect plan of God for Him.  Satan attempted to interrupt the plan of salvation, and Jesus did not tolerate it in the slightest.
    1. Recall that Jesus gave almost the exact same rebuke to Peter, when Peter tried to get in the way of the plan of God. Peter had attempted to rebuke the Lord (!) when Jesus started teaching about His coming suffering & death.  In reply, Jesus said “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are an offense to Me…” (Mt 16:23).  Jesus wasn’t interested in shortcuts or avoiding the will of God.  As hard as God’s will might be, it was absolutely necessary, and shortcuts were not to be tolerated
    2. Shortcuts around God aren’t conveniences; it’s sin.  God has a reason for His commands, and we need to trust that as we follow His word, God’s purposes are going to be made known.
  2. Original context: Deuteronomy 6:13–15, "(13) You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. (14) You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (15) (for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth." []  God had given the great commandment to Israel for them to love Him with all their heart, mind, and strength.  They were His people, and He was their God.  Thus they were to fear Him accordingly.  Ultimately, this is the heart of the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
    1. To look for a shortcut around the way of God is to refuse to serve Him.  God is God & we’re not.  If even Jesus was submitted to the Father, how much more ought we to be?

11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

  1. Notice that the Devil left when Jesus told him to leave.  Satan didn’t have a choice.  When commanded by God, he HAD to go.  Resist the devil, and he will flee… (Jas 4:7)
  2. The devil left, and angels came.  Where Jesus had been tempted to make bread, the angels ministered to His physical needs (the word comes from “table waiting”).  Where Jesus had been tempted to use the angels outside of the will of God, the angels came according to the will of God.  When Jesus refused to serve anyone but the Lord, the Lord sent messengers to serve Him.

What Jesus faced was nothing new; what was different was how He handled it.  1 John 2:15–16, "(15) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world." []  From the garden of Eden to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, to today – none of this has changed.  We all face the exact same temptations…yet Christ alone was able to face them without sin.

  1. The stones turning to bread = the lust of the flesh.  Jesus was hungry & Satan tempted Him to prove His power.
  2. Being cast down from the temple = the lust of the eyes.  To be borne up by angels in the sight of all Jerusalem was to let people see that He is God, to prove His identity.
  3. The glory of the nations = the pride of life.  For Satan to willingly offer Jesus the honor of the world was to receive glory without the cross & to short-circuit the plan of God.

Of course, Jesus didn’t need to prove a thing…except His own faithfulness to God.  By having victory over temptation, Jesus proved Himself to be a worthy sacrifice for the sin of mankind.  Where WE fail, Jesus succeeds.  Where we give in, Jesus triumphed.  Jesus triumphed at the hour of temptation in the beginning of His ministry & He triumphed in the hour of temptation at the end of His ministry – when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to submit Himself to the Father’s will.  That was always Jesus’ goal.

Obviously Satan had other things in mind.  Satan already knew that Jesus was God & had all the power He ever needed – but the Devil didn’t care.  Satan knew all the Scripture & what it said about the Messiah needing to suffer & die & even knew the correct context of the Scripture he quoted – but he didn’t care.  Satan knew that he should have been worshipping God & not demand that God worship him – but that didn’t matter.  Satan’s ultimate goal was to interrupt the plan of God & to be worshiped as God.

Contrast that with Jesus: Jesus faced temptation in the power of God (led by & filled with the Spirit) using the word of God (knowing the Scripture), seeking the glory of God (not Jesus’ own will, but the will of His Father).  How do you face your own temptation?  Do you look for the easy shortcut?  The way around what you know God’s word clearly says to do?  Or do you submit yourself to the revealed will of God, no matter the cost – knowing that God will prove Himself to be faithful in the end?  May we follow the example of our Master & do the same as Christ Jesus.  On a daily basis, may we pray to be filled continually with the Holy Spirit & seek to submit ourselves to His leading.  May we be immersed in the word of God, hiding the Scripture in our heart that we might not sin against God.  May we always seek the glory of God, even above those things which might temporarily seem to be our benefit.


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