2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and 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 will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. – Matthew 4:2-11 ESV
Jesus has just received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and an audible and verbal testimony from God Himself confirming Him to be the Son of God. His long-awaited earthly ministry is about to begin and the very first thing we see Him doing is heading into the wilderness, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to be tempted by Satan himself. God has just expressed His pleasure with Jesus and, yet, God’s immediate plan for Him was going to be a period of severe temptation at the hands of the enemy. There is a seeming dissonance in this narrative that should leave us feeling a bit uncomfortable and uncertain. Why was this the first major act of Jesus’ earthly administration as the Son of God and the King of the Jews? Why was there no grand announcement to the people of Israel concerning His arrival? His unique genealogical record and virgin birth established Him as the legitimate heir to the throne of David. His baptism illustrated His willingness to fulfill the righteous will of God and confirmed His status as God’s Son and His role as the promised Messiah. But instead of beginning His ministry with a speech or a gran entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the vast emptiness and stark loneliness of the Judean wilderness. And there was a singular purpose behind this strange inaugural act of Jesus’ earthly ministry: To be tempted by the Devil. For a period of 40 days, Jesus went without food and water, while suffering a direct onslaught from the enemy. And Matthew simply matter-of-factly states that, at the end of 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry. But Luke reminds us that Jesus was not alone. He had entered the wilderness “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV). It had been the Holy Spirit who had led Jesus into the wilderness and He would be with Him throughout this long ordeal.
The immediate temptation of Jesus, His battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness, reveal that His earthly ministry was going to be met with intense opposition. Satan, the prince of this world, was not going to stand back and allow Jesus to enter into his domain unopposed. It is important to remember how John the Baptist had described Jesus upon seeing Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). John had recognized that Jesus was coming as more than just a physical, earthly king. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world and because of His coming, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). Satan recognized the significance of Jesus’ arrival on the scene and was ready to do everything in his power to thwart God’s plan of redemption by eliminating His agent of redemption.
The apostle Paul knew well the spiritual battle that is waging on this planet because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He wrote, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). The entrance of the Son of God into a world long dominated by Satan and his demonic forces was destined to result in a battle of epic proportions. And Satan tried to eliminate any potential threat by personally attacking the God-appointed means of man’s salvation. If he could dissuade Jesus from doing the will of God, Satan knew he could thwart the plan of God.
Satan appears to question the validity of Jesus’ Sonship, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3 ESV). But this was probably less an expression of doubt concerning Jesus’ deity than a vain attempt on Satan’s part to appeal to the pride of Jesus by tempting Him to flaunt His divine power as the Son of God. He was trying to get Jesus to use His divine attributes to satisfy self rather than submit to the will of God. Satan appealed to Jesus’ physical need of hunger by stressing His divine power to create. But Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, obedience to the will of God took precedence over His own physical well-being. He found nourishment in doing what His Father commanded rather than in meeting His own needs. Which is why He would later tell His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). It is why He could say in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mathew 5:6 ESV). Jesus had come to do the will of God, even when that will meant suffering pain and enduring an undeserved and unbearable death on the cross. In the garden on the night He was betrayed, Jesus pleaded with His Father, “if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). And Paul records that Jesus did the will of His Father and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).
But Satan was not done. Again, he seems to question Jesus’ deity, stating, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matthew 4:6 ESV). He was really trying to get Jesus to flaunt His power and position by testing His Father’s love for Him. In a classic case of showmanship, Satan took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and tried to get Him to leap from the highest point. What a great way to attract a crowd and make an impression. Surely, this kind of dramatic miracle would convince the people of Israel that He was their Messiah. But the problem with Satan’s scenario was that it was not God’s plan. Jesus saw Satan’s ploy for what it was: An attempt to get Him to test His own Father’s love for Him. Which is why Jesus simply responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7 ESV). Satan wanted Jesus to test the faithfulness of God. He wanted Jesus to question the Father’s love for Him by putting His life on the line. But Jesus knew that He had no reason to test God’s love. His relationship with His Father had never been in question. His confidence in His Father’s care and concern for Him had never been in doubt. Jesus had heard His Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and He had believed Him. No questions asked. No tests required.
Finally, Satan gave one final try to distract Jesus from His God-ordained mission. And this one was aimed at getting Jesus to circumvent God’s plan for His future exaltation by avoiding the crucifixion. Satan was offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” but without any need for suffering on His part. And all Jesus had to do was worship Satan instead of God. He had to swear allegiance to the enemy and, in doing so, He could have glory without cost. But that was not God’s plan. That was not God’s will. And the apostle Paul made it perfectly clear that the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, which were rightfully His as the Son of God, would come only after Jesus had done the will of God.
8 …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV
There are no short-cuts to glorification. There would no salvation apart from the crucifixion. There would be no resurrection apart from Jesus willing obedience to suffer humiliation. Worship of Satan brings no one glory but himself. His tempting offer of self-glorification is a lie that benefits no one but himself. And Jesus saw through Satan’s lie, shouting, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10 ESV). And at that, Satan left Him. The enemy had failed. He had met his match. In Jesus, Satan had met a man like no other man he had ever encountered. He was the God-man, filled with the Spirit of God and willing to live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He was not tempted by self-gratification, self-preservation or self-glorification. His will was subordinate to that of His heavenly Father. And Satan, out of tricks and out of his league, left Jesus alone. But as we will see, the battle was far from over.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.