Summary: Using the Word of God to defeat the devil.
THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS
The wilderness (Matthew 4:1).
When God created man, He placed him in a garden (Genesis 2:15). The world when it was created resembled something more like a garden than it does today. God created all things ‘very good‘ (Genesis 1:31), but man’s collective disobedience has ushered in the principle of death. The garden is turned into a wilderness of destruction, disaster, and disease.
It is fitting, then, that it is “into the wilderness” that the Spirit leads Jesus right at the beginning of His public ministry, to confront the devil.
1. The first temptation (Matthew 4:2-4).
Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and He was hungry.
Many centuries before, Moses had fasted for forty days, partaking of neither food nor drink before receiving the Words of God, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Likewise, Elijah the prophet had taken a journey of forty days into the wilderness on the strength of the food he had before leaving (1 Kings 19:8).
After centuries of deceiving man, the devil’s approach is still exactly the same: he wishes to undermine who God is, and what He has said. The devil’s approach to the woman in the Garden of Eden was, ‘Did God say..?’ (Genesis 3:1). To Jesus he says, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3).
It is still his method today, seeking to undermine the Word of God, the Bible, and to induce us to disobey the commandments of God. ‘Has God said..?’ ‘If you are really a Christian then…’
Given the real humanity of Jesus, the nature of the first temptation was understandable enough. ‘You’re hungry. Why not use your God-given gifts to satisfy yourself?’ (Matthew 4:3).
Jesus’ ministry was not primarily concerned with self-satisfaction. ‘For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). God’s gifts are not to be used for selfish ends.
Every answer Jesus gives is based in Scripture. This too is how we must answer temptation in our own hearts and lives. Even when God gave the gift of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness, it was so they might know that ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD’ (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Later in His ministry, Jesus would teach, ‘The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world… I AM the bread of life’ (John 6:33-35).
It is important that we yield ourselves to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. He gives us life, and His teachings help us to live for His glory. A right knowledge of Scripture enables us to overcome the temptations which so frequently assail us.
2. The second temptation (Matthew 4:5-7).
If the first temptation had to do with self-satisfaction, the second had to do with self-glory. Jesus was tempted to undermine the providence and rule of God by doing something totally irrational and dangerous, which would serve no other end than to set Himself up as some sort of wonder-worker. Or to hasten His death!
It is part of the seeming reasonableness of the devil to assert some part of Scripture (out of context) in order to justify us in doing what God has not commanded. This again is where it is necessary for us to be well acquainted with the Scripture, and to seek to understand things in the context in which they are written.
“If you are the Son of God,” he says again (6), “throw yourself down!” To you and I, he says, ‘If you are Christians, then surely this or that is permissible - after all, has God not promised to look after you?’
In quoting Psalm 91:11-12, however, the devil is only using that part which seems to suit his purpose. Had he cared to read the next verse he would have seen his own doom: ‘the serpent you will trample under foot’ (Psalm 91:13). It was as a serpent that he had first tempted Eve.
The children of Israel had tempted God in the wilderness, putting Him to the test and saying, ‘Is God with us or not?’ (Exodus 17:7). The Psalmist warns against this attitude: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as on the day in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me and put me to the proof…’ (Psalm 95:7-9). We too must be wary that we do not tempt God, nor provoke Him to anger.
3. The third temptation (Matthew 4:8-10).
The audacity of Satan is seen in its true colours in the third temptation. Unable to entice Jesus to satisfy Himself, or to tempt God, he tries promising Him comfort and riches which are really not his to give! “All this I will give you,” he says (Matthew 4:9), “if you will fall down and worship me.”