Summary: How did Jesus overcome the temptations of Satan in his wilderness experience? How can we overcome the temptations and the trials that we face in our lives?
Matthew 4:1-11 (NASB) (From Bible Gateway.com)
The Temptation of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He [a]then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “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 ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand 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,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “[b]On the other hand, 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 things I will give You, if You fall down and [c]worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND [d]SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
It is important, when we read any passage from the Bible, that we make sure we read it in context. This means being aware of what came before, and what came after. It means being aware of how the passage fits in with the rest of the paragraph, the rest of the chapter, the rest of the book, the rest of the Testament (New or Old), and the rest of the Bible.
This particular passage, Matthew 4:1-11, comes directly after the story of Jesus’ baptism. There is stark contrast. The Baptism talking place in the lush Jordan river, the temptation happening in the barren Judean wilderness The Baptism being among the large crowds who had flocked to John the Baptist, the temptation happening in absolute solitude. In Baptism the Spirit descends as a dove, in temptation the Spirit is driving him into wilderness for the express purpose of temptation. From the voice of the Father’s affirmation to the voice of the tempter’s enticements.
We cannot look at the temptations of Matthew 4 apart from the baptism of Matthew 3. Jesus’ anointing, in the Jordan is what prepared him to face the testing in the wilderness. Jesus submitting himself to be baptized, to do the Father’s will, to “fulfill all righteousness,” as it says in Matthew 3:15, prepared him to resist the temptation he was about to face.
Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. For a first century Jewish person, reading or hearing that Jesus spent this specific amount of time in the wilderness would have immediately drawn them to the Old Testament.
When Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he met with God on Mount Saini. Exodus 24:8 says that Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. This association of Jesus with Moses would have also drawn the people’s attention to Deuteronomy 18:15, in which Moses says that God would raise up a prophet like him.
Another connection the people would have made to 40 days and 40 nights was the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 19 Elijah flees the evil queen Jezebel. He eats a meal, and on the strength of that he traveled for 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah was the second most important prophet in Israel’s history, next to Moses. Elijah most famously faced down the prophets of Baal and ascended into heaven on a chariot of fire.
The significance of 40 days and 40 nights would also have connected with the wanderings of Israel in the desert, after they refused to enter the promised land. One of the commentaries I read said that:
“[The] primary background [of the temptations of Jesus is] Deuteronomy 8:1-5, from which Jesus also quotes his first reply to the devil. There Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites in the wilderness 40 years ‘that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.’ Here at the beginning. Of His ministry Jesus is subjected to a similar test and shows himself to be the true Israelite who lives ‘by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.’” (NASB footnotes Matthew 4:1)
So, in the first verse of chapter 4, Matthew is telling us a lot about who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who is approved by the Father and led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who is the promised prophet like Moses, upon whom God promised to put His words. He is like Elijah, who was to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he is like Israel, but able to do what Israel is not.