Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
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.’”
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,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
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.’”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. ~ Matthew 4:1-11.
Jesus fasts in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, having been led there by the Spirit. Despite Satan’s best efforts to urge Jesus to indulge His physical appetite, to work an unnecessary miracle, and to claim His kingdom too soon, Jesus resists these temptations and is ministered to by angels. He uses the Scriptures to resist Satan’s temptations in this combat.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v.1) — This is an extremely significant verse in that it shows that God’s will for Jesus’ life was to face temptation (Hebrews 5:8). This temptation experience related to how Jesus would use His Messianic powers to redeem mankind.
“the wilderness” — This referred to the uninhabited pasture land near Jericho. This would have been the kind of territory in which Moses (see Exodus 34:28), Elijah (see 1 Kings 19:8) and John the Baptist lived (see Matthew 3:1).
“tempted” — God will never tempt us to destruction, but He often tests us, with a view toward strengthening us (see Gen. 22:1; Exodus 16:4; 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2,16; 13:3; Judges 2:22; 2 Chronicles 32:31; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:12-16). Satan tempts to destroy!
“the devil” — In the Old Testament the title of the angelic being who gives mankind a choice is Satan, the accuser (see Mark 1:13). In the NT he becomes the devil, which meant slanderer, adversary, or tempter. In the OT he was a servant of God (cf. Job 1-2; 2 Kgs. 22:13-23; 1 Chr. 21:1; Zech. 3:1,2). However, by the time of the New Testament there was an intensification of evil and he has become the arch-enemy of God.
“when He had fasted forty days and forty nights” (v.2) — Here again Matthew chose a motif from the OT of (1) Moses’ forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; 10:10) and (2) Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers. 14:26-35). Matthew saw Jesus as the New Law giver and deliverer.
The term “forty” was used often in the Bible implying it could function both literally (40 years from Egypt to Canaan) and figuratively (the flood). The Hebrews used a lunar calendar. “Forty” implied a long, indefinite period of time longer that a lunar cycle, not exactly forty twenty-four periods.
“He was hungry” — Fasting involved the absence of food, not water. Some commentators see this as Satan waiting until the end of Jesus’ fast when He was weak and tired before approaching Him. Others believe that Satan came during the entire fast. The first option fits the context best. This also shows the full humanity of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-sent Jesus.
“the tempter came to Him, he said” (v.3) — These temptations could have been either mental or physical. Based on the fact that Satan will take Him to a high mountain to view all of the kingdoms of the earth in a single instant (Luke parallel), this was probably a vision, but still a personal confrontation between Jesus and Satan.
“If You are the Son of God” — Satan is not doubting Jesus’ Messiahship (i.e., God’s affirmation in Matthew 3:17), but was tempting Him to misuse or abuse His Messianic powers.
“command that these stones become bread” — Apparently these rocks in the Judean desert were shaped like loaves of baked bread used in first century Palestine. Satan was tempting Jesus to use His Messianic powers both to meet His personal needs and to win the allegiance of humans by feeding them. In the OT the Messiah was described as feeding the poor ( Isaiah 58:6-7,10). These temptation experiences, to some extent, continued to occur during Jesus’ ministry. The feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21) and of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29-33) showed how humans would, and did, abuse God’s provision of physical food. This again is parallel to the problems of Israel’s wilderness experience. Matthew saw a parallel between Moses and Jesus. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to perform many of the actions of Moses.
Satan’s temptation functioned on two levels. The first was the Jewish expectation of the Messiah providing food like Moses (i.e., John 6). The second was the implication that if He was truly God’s Son, the Messiah, let Him prove it by “speaking” His will. This obviously refers to creation by the spoken word (Genesis 1). Satan’s test was ~
1. provide human food as Moses did;
2. display power by speaking a miraculous event (note the quote in Matt. 4:4b).
“It is written” (v.4) — This was the standard idiomatic way of introducing an inspired quotation from the OT (also Matthew 4:4,7,10), in this case, from Deuteronomy 8:3 from the Septuagint (LXX). This particular quote relates to God providing manna to the children of Israel during the wilderness period.
All of Jesus’ responses to Satan’s temptations were quotes from Deuteronomy. This must have been one of His favorite books. He quoted repeatedly from it during His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, Matthew 4:1-16; Luke 4:1-13.
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 as the greatest commandment, Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28. Jesus quoted this section of the OT (Genesis – Deuteronomy) most often because the Jews of His day considered it the most authoritative section of the canon.
“the devil” (v.5) — The Greek word, Diabolos, is used in the NT 37 times, while Satanas is used 36 times; both refer to one who accuses, which was his OT task. Matthew and Luke use diabolos for the temptation experience, while Mark uses Satanos.
“took Him up into the holy city” (v.5) — This phrase “the holy city” is unique to Matthew and was a special designation for Jerusalem (Matthew 27:53; Daniel 9:24; Nehemiah 11:1,18; Revelation 11:2). Matthew knew the Jews would understand this immediately as an allusion from the OT (Isaiah 48:2; 52:10; 64:10). The order of the temptation events in Matthew and Luke are different.
“set Him on the pinnacle of the temple” — “Parapet” or “pinnacle” may be literally translated “wing.” This term could have meant (1) the outermost part of the Temple’s southeast corner of the outer wall, which overlooked the Kidron Valley or (2) the part of Herod’s Temple which overlooked the inner court. Because of the Jewish tradition that the Messiah was to appear suddenly in the Temple (Malachi 3:1), this tradition became one of Satan’s temptations of how to win people’s allegiance by performing a miracle of jumping off and floating into the Temple area, possibly during a feast day.
“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down” (v.6) — Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12. Some have asserted that Satan misquoted this verse. Although he left out “in all your ways,” this quotation is in line with the Apostles’ use of the OT Scripture. The problem was not that Satan was misquoting the verse, but was misapplying it.
“Jesus said to him” (v.7) — This verse is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16, which referred to Israel’s testing God at Massah during the wilderness wandering period (Exodus 17:1-7). Israel, at this point, did not trust God to provide her basic needs, but demanded a miracle. The pronoun “you” in the quote relates to Israel, not Satan (Matthew 4:10).
“You shall not tempt the Lord your God” — The issue is the motive for the “test” [1 Corinthians 10:9 (Numbers 21); Acts 5:9; 15:10]. Believers are called on to actively trust God’s promises (Joshua 1:5-6; Isaiah 7:10-13; Malachi 3:10).
“the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain … fall down and worship me” (vv.8-9) — This temptation implies a vision instead of an actual event. Compare Luke 4:5, which said, “in a moment of time.” In either case, it was a real and personal temptation confronting Jesus.
There has been much discussion as to what Satan meant by his claim in Matthew 4:9: (1) does it imply that he owned all of the kingdoms of the earth? or (2) that he was simply trivializing the world’s sin by showing Jesus its splendor? Satan is called the “god of this world” (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and ruler of this world (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19) and yet this world is owned by God who created and sustains it! The exact extent of Satan’s influence, ownership (Luke 4:6), and free will (Job 1-2; Zechariah 3) is uncertain, but his power and evil are pervasive (1 Peter 5:8).
“if” (v.9) — implied probable future action. This verse shows Satan’s true desire to replace YHWH!
“Then Jesus said to him” (v.10) — This loosely quotes Deuteronomy. 6:13. It does not appear in this form in either the Masoretic Text (MT) or the Septuagint (LXX). Jesus added the word “only.” This verse and Deuteronomy 6:5 affirm the needed commitment to God in heart, mind, and life.
The fact that Jesus loosely quotes a Scripture text ought to encourage us to memorize Scripture (i.e., Psalm 119:11; 37:31; 40:8), the purpose is to know its main point and live it out daily, not necessarily to quote it perfectly especially in times of temptation and trials (Ephesians 6:17).
“Away with you, Satan” — This is similar but not identical to Matthew 16:23.
“Then the devil left Him” (v.11) — Luke 4:13 adds the phrase “until an opportune time.” Temptation is not a once-and-for-all event, but ongoing. Jesus would experience temptation again. Peter’s words at Caesarea Philippi were as tempting and cutting as Satan’s words in the wilderness (Matthew 16:21-23).
“angels came and ministered to Him” — The Greek word “minister” is often associated with physical food (Matthew 8:15; 25:44; 27:55; Acts 2:6). This evokes 1 Kings 19:6-7, where God miraculously provided food for Elijah. God’s angels ministered to His unique Son. God provided all that Satan said he could provide.
Why the incarnate Son of God would need the ministry of angels is unknown. Angels are ministering spirits to the redeemed (Hebrews 2:14). Twice in Jesus’ life angels helped Him in times of His physical weakness, here and in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43).