Jesus tempted by Satan – Matthew 4:1-11
Vs. 1 – Closely following the Spirit’s acknowledgement of Jesus, the Spirit directs Jesus to go into this wilderness where He would be tempted by Satan. Mark records that there were “wild animals” in this wilderness (Mark 1:13). The wilderness of Judea was a rocky, barren, scrubby environment more or less hostile to human life. There were places where one could get water, but by and large it was an empty uninhabited region.
The Spirit’s role in this is not to directly tempt Jesus, for God cannot tempt any man (James 1:13), but rather, to lead Jesus to the situation where Satan would provide the temptations. Why could Jesus not do this on His own? Because it is in and of itself a sin for man to seek temptations. Jesus taught us to pray that we not be lead into temptation, but be delivered from evil (Luke 11:4). He told the disciples, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Luke 22:40). The man who willingly seeks after temptations is a man who is not doing the Lord’s will. Yet, it was necessary that Jesus be tempted while on earth, so the Spirit directed Jesus to undergo such.
Why was Jesus tempted by Satan?
While Jesus was God, He was also man. Jesus hungered as a man, thirsted as a man, suffered as a man, and ultimately died as a man. He was also tempted as a man, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). This was necessary so that He could become a merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus knew what it meant to be tempted with sin and the things of this world. In this regard, He wasn’t like the mythological gods of Rome and Greece who gave in to temptation but were somehow above it all. Jesus was no hypocrite. He resisted temptation his entire life. In so doing, He became the perfect standard for us to imitate in life (Hebrews 12:1,2).
The Devil, is, of course, Satan. Jesus said he was a murderer from the beginning and that he has no truth in him (John 8:44). The word “Devil” means “adversary” or “accuser.” That’s Satan’s true character. Of course, that’s not what he wants us to think about him. He wants us to think of him as our friend but the sober minded Christian will remember that Satan is the true enemy and constantly seeks to undermine us in everything that we do for Christ. In that regard, he is like the lion who is seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). We must resist him in all things and with all prayer (1 Peter 5:9). When we so resist, he will flee from us, because he is truly a coward (James 4:7).
Vs. 2 – Fasting means abstinence from eating food for a period of time (Luke 4:2). Jesus fasted so as to focus himself for the challenge of temptation that He was about to face. Being tempted directly by Satan was no ordeal into which one ought to enter unprepared. Prayer is often accompanied with fasting (Mark 9:29, Luke 2:37, Acts 14:23) and no doubt Jesus involved Himself in this activity as well though the text does not so say. A wise teacher once told me, “You can pray without fasting, but you can’t fast without praying.” Fasting helps the prayer life.
There seems to be a significance in the number 40 here. The earth was cleansed in 40 days and 40 nights of rain during the flood. Joseph’s embalming process was 40 days (Genesis 50:3). The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. It seems to be a number that indicates cleansing and purification. The numerology is consistent in the case of Jesus’ fasting as well.
After fasting for forty days and nights, it would be very natural for Jesus to be hungry.
Jesus Tempted by Satan to Make Bread
Vs. 3 – Matthew calls Satan “the Tempter” in this verse. It is yet one more characteristic of Satan against which we need to be on guard. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
In our translation, Satan says “If.” We ought not to necessarily think that Satan doubted that Jesus was the Son of God from this word. The Greek language had several ways to express conditional statements. In the way the word “if” is used here, it indicates that Satan believed Jesus was the Son of God. Some have suggested that it be translated “since” instead of “if,” but that’s not necessary. We understand that “if” sometimes indicates belief instead of disbelief. We may say, “If you want to drive the car, then buy some gas.” There’s no indication of doubt in that statement. Merely condition. Such was also the case with Satan’s statement. Since Jesus was the Son of God, then why not change these stones to bread. He had the power to do it, so do it. That was the essence to Satan’s temptation here.
In tempting Jesus with bread, Satan attempts to use Jesus’ source of spiritual strength (His fasting) against Him. Satan knew Jesus was hungry. This shows that Satan does in fact have knowledge of the human condition and he knows how to use that condition against man (2 Corinthians 2:11). Perhaps Satan thought that the same ruse would work on Jesus that worked on His fleshly mother, Eve, in the garden. Fortunately, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) isn’t as easily swayed as the first.
Satan’s temptation, however, was not in the form of offering bread directly to Jesus, but in tempting Jesus to use His power for purely selfish purposes. Jesus used His power to multiply the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:39-44). But he did it for selfless purposes in that case. Here, the sin would have been two fold; first it would have been an abuse of God’s power, and second, it would have been obeying the voice of Satan. The word would be in a much better place today if only we would follow Jesus’ example in not listening to the voice of Satan.
Here is also a great lesson for us. Satan would have us believe that the things with which he tempts us are for our own good. Sadly, there are many who fall for it hook, line, and sinker. However, we must look beyond the immediate benefits of such temptation and see the thing for what it really is; Satan’s effort to ensnare us in his web of deceit.
Vs 4 – Jesus’ response to Satan was to quote scripture. He cites Deuteronomy 8:3 where God instructs the children of Israel regarding the manna with which He fed them. They were to know and realize that it wasn’t be bread alone that they survived, but by the very words of God themselves. In that regard, the word “every” is used both here and in Deuteronomy. It is not by just SOME of God’s words that it is sufficient for us to live, but all of them. The ASV 1901 translates Psalm 119:160a, “The sum of thy word is truth.” It takes all of God’s teaching on any one given subject for us to know what the entirety of that teaching is. It is ALL scripture that is given that the man of God may be complete (2 Timothy 3:16,17). It was using the scriptures that Jesus powerfully refutes Satan’s temptation. So it can be for us today as well. The Psalmist writes, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).
Jesus Tempted by Satan to Jump from a Great Height
Vs. 5 – The holy city was Jerusalem and the pinnacle of the temple was the highest point on the top of the temple which overlooked the lowest valley on one of it’s sides making for a height of around 700 feet. It was a height from which if anyone would fall they would certainly meet death. Whether Jesus stood on the roof or in a portico as some have suggested doesn’t really matter all that much. The height would have been more or less the same and the fact that it was still the “pinnacle” not diminished in the slightest.
Vs. 6 – Once again Satan challenges Jesus to show His power. “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down and prove yourself to be such. The angels will bear you up so that you don’t hurt yourself.” This was little more than what we would today call a “dare.” “I dare you to do it.” It is a childish practice that often ends up hurting those who participate in it more than it does help the self esteem of the one who is challenged to do it. It should come as no surprise that another characteristic of Satan is that he is childish and immature in his antics.
Satan does, however, wise up in one regard. This time he quotes scripture to Jesus. It is a grave lesson to us. Satan knows what God’s word says and is prepared to use it against us if we are not educated and knowledgeable in it. Satan even uses the scriptures in, at least, their immediate context. He quotes from Psalm 91:11,12. These were legitimate prophecies concerning the Christ and the protection that He would be afforded while on earth. Satan, however, always has in mind a misappropriating spirit and while he seemingly understands these passages correctly, he makes an incorrect application of them. Jesus’ correction is thus, forthcoming.
Vs. 7 – Jesus’ reply to Satan corrects his use of scripture. God’s word must be understood as a whole, not by taking one part of it and using it separate from what the other parts teach. There are several contexts in which we must handle scripture. There is the immediate context (the passage), there is the mediate context (the book), and there is the remote context (the entire Bible). Satan appears to have used this scripture correctly so far as the immediate and mediate contexts are concerned. But he doesn’t consider the remote contexts and thereby he causing the word of God to contradict itself. We simply cannot afford to make the same mistakes that Satan makes here. We simply cannot afford to handle God’s word in a way that is inconsistent with other parts of that word and message. We must handle God’s word correctly (2 Timothy 2:15).
In casting himself off the temple, Jesus would have been deliberately testing God when the situation did not warrant it. Thus, Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:16. The follower of God doesn’t deliberately test, try, or tempt God. This isn’t the same as testing the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1). In such a case, it isn’t God that is being tested, but the individuals who claim to be speaking for God. But rather, this is a case where one says, “Ok, God, you’ve said you will do this and that; so let’s see if you really mean it.” It is a haughty spirit that so speaks to God, not a spirit of humility.
Does this mean that there is never an occasion where we can test, try, or prove God? No, it doesn’t mean that. Certainly we can use the information that is in the world to come to the right conclusions about God as we are seeking after Him. Certainly we can seek to discover whether or not the Bible is the inspired word of God and so ask legitimate questions in that regard. But this test of Satan is not a legitimate test. Satan knows what God can and cannot do, as does Jesus himself. Hence, to test something that you already know can be done, is merely an affront. It is childishness. We might as well imagine the conversation of two young boys here. “Can you break that stick in two pieces?” “Of course I can.” “Well, then prove it.” That is Satan’s attitude here; not one of legitimately showing that God keeps his word.
Jesus Tempted by Satan to Rule the World
Vs. 8 – Again, Satan takes Jesus to another locale and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. The text says it was a “high mountain.” We don’t know what mountain this was and it is pointless to speculate. It seems, however, that this must have been a miraculous vision as it is literally impossible to see all the kingdoms of the world from any one mountain and as Luke points out it was all “in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5).
Not only does Satan show Jesus the kingdoms themselves, but also their “glory.” Satan emphasized their honor, splendor, and beauty. What Satan didn’t show Jesus was their wickedness, wretchedness, and sinfulness. Satan is the great deceiver. He only showed Jesus that which would tempt Him. To show Jesus the other aspects of these nations would only have emphasized to Jesus the great need that these nations had for the gospel. Such would be counterproductive to Satan’s purposes. Today also, Satan only desires to show man the “glory” of sin and not the gutter of it. The greatest illustration of this in modern day society is the beer commercial. The commercials often show people who are having a good time, laughing, and enjoying life. The commercials don’t show the man who is hugging the toilet, beating his wife and kids, or spending all of his paycheck while his family starves. The true side of sin is always ignored by Satan, because if everyone always saw the consequences of sin instead of the immediate pleasures, it would never be chosen. In that regard, let us follow the example of Moses who chose to suffer rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25).
But where lies the temptation for Jesus in Satan’s showing all of these kingdoms? The temptation was for Jesus to take the easy path for world “salvation.” With control of all the nations, Jesus could force everyone to do His will. After all, He created this world and these are His subjects. Why not compel them to obey Him instead of having to go through the future He knew He had in store? Because such is not the way of God. God desires to reason with man regarding his sins (Isaiah 1:8), not force upon man His ways. Jesus authority would come from His self sacrificing spirit, and humble example (Philippians 2:5-9), not from a desire to rule and conquer the earth with the sword (John 18:36).
Vs. 9 – Did Satan have the power to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world? But in what sense did Satan mean he would give Jesus these kingdoms? Did he mean that Jesus would be allowed to rule as an earthly king over the entire world? Or did he mean that he simply wouldn’t interfere in whatever Jesus had planned? Luke’s account records Satan as saying, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:6). Satan offered Jesus the power and the glory of all the kingdoms of the world. He certainly stated that he possessed these things and that he could give them to whoever he desired. But Satan is a liar (John 8:44). Was this merely a ruse? 2 Corinthians 4:4 states that he is the god of this world. He certainly holds influence, through sin, over the majority of the world and he may have had a temporary power to control the world, but ultimately all things are under God’s control and Satan must have known that. So even if Satan had the power to offer these things, what he offered Jesus could only have been a temporary affair and ultimately not part of God’s eternal plan to save man.
But Satan asks too much of Jesus for these things; he asks Jesus to worship him. We should note that here we have doubt in the word “if” in this verse. Satan was completely unsure as to whether Jesus would worship him or not. The Greek construction indicates this uncertainty.
Bowing down to worship Satan is a thought that is repulsive even to the weakest of Christians and it doesn’t appear to be too long before Jesus is disgusted with the request and quickly refuses. The word “worship” means to engage in a peculiar and exclusive act of reverential homage or tribute to someone or something. Satan wanted Jesus to “fall down” or “bow down” and worship him. The act of falling down prostrate at the feet of another is often characterized in the New Testament as an act of worship, and when it is done wrongly, it is always corrected. Peter so corrected Cornelius in Acts 10:25,26. An angel so corrected the apostle John in Revelation 19:10 and 22:9. When it is done correctly, however, it is never rebuked. We find such in Matthew 2:11 with the example of the wise men worshipping the infant Jesus. In Matthew 8:2 a leper worshipped Jesus. The apostles also worshipped Jesus after His resurrection (Matthew 28:9). Such seems to be what Satan wanted Jesus to do here.
Vs. 10 – Jesus flatly refused to worship Satan. It was an appalling concept. Jesus answers Satan with the words “Get thee hence,” “Be gone,” “Go away,” or in the modern vernacular “Get out of here.” It is a strong rejection and one which was closely followed, once again, by scriptural rebuke.
Jesus quotes from the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 6:13. God alone is worthy of our worship, no other. See comments above on verse 9.
This is the third time that Jesus has quoted from scripture to refute Satan. It is a powerful example to us that if we know the scriptures then we can route Satan’s temptations. Again, Psalm 119:11 is very appropriate, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” When we know and understand God’s word, we have the greatest weapon of righteousness with which to go on the offensive against Satan (Ephesians 6:17).
Vs. 11 – The devil left Jesus, at least, for now. Satan may leave us alone for a time, but he will always return and seek us out again. As long as we are on this earth, we have temptation.
God has promised, however, that he will not completely abandon us to Satan’s devices. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” There are four things in this verse that give us assurances that we can overcome temptation when Satan brings it upon us. 1) We can know that all temptations are common to men. Somewhere someone else has been able to overcome that temptation. 2) We can know that God is faithful. Thereby, we can rely upon Him for all things and need not be tempted by anything. 3) God will not allow us to be tempted above our ability to resist. Knowing this, we can understand that whatever temptation comes our way, it is something that we know we can refuse or else God wouldn’t have allowed it. 4) With each temptation there is a way to escape out of it so that we don’t sin. We need to look for that escape route. With all of this help in time of temptation, we certainly have the ability to effectively resist sin in our lives. We ought to note, however, that these promises are not given to those who are not Christians. Satan has his complete way with them.
After forty days and nights of no food, Jesus needed sustenance and once the temptations had ceased, miraculous aid was at hand. God kept his promise to take care of Jesus as Satan himself pointed out and now appropriately and without sin, the angels ministered to him fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 91:11,12. We don’t have the details as to what they did, but food and personal rest as was done for Elijah once (see 1 Kings 19:1-8), seem appropriate.