As we turn to the Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, we need to remember that the purpose of Matthew’s gospel, like the other gospels, is to teach us about the Lord Jesus. So, as we study this passage, we have to keep in our mind the question, ‘What does this passage say about him?’ Very often we’re tempted to assume that every part of the Bible is about me. And when we open the Bible and study it, the question we have in our mind is, ‘What does this passage say about me?’ So, when we read about the Lord’s temptations, we’re tempted to ask ourselves, ‘What does this passage say about me and my temptations?’ But the passage is not primarily about me or you, it’s about him. It’s about the Saviour. So, what does this passage teach us about him? And the answer is that it once again shows us that he is the new and better Israel.
Verses 1 and 2
We read in verse 1 that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. And verse 2 tells us that he was there in the desert for forty days and forty nights. This recalls what we read about the people of Israel after their escape from Egypt, because they were led by God through a desert for forty years. And, according to Deuteronomy 8:2+3 the Lord led them all the way in the desert to humble them and to test them. So, God led the Israelites through the desert for forty years to test them. And God led the Lord Jesus into the desert for forty days and nights where he was tempted by the devil.
Matthew tells us that the Lord was hungry after his forty days of fasting. That too recalls what we read about the Israelites, because they also hungered and thirsted in the desert. However, when the Israelites were hungry and thirsty, they complained to Moses and Aaron and to the Lord, and, instead of trusting in the Lord to provide for them, they were ready to give up their journey to the Promised Land and to return to their captivity in Egypt. They were ready to submit themselves to Pharaoh once again in order to fill their stomachs. However, the Lord Jesus refused to submit himself to Satan and he continued to trust in his Heavenly Father.
So, there are these parallels between the people of Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ. And as we read about the Saviour we hear these echoes of what happened in the days of Moses. And we hear the echoes all the more clearly in the way that the Lord responded to each of Satan’s temptations by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, a book which was addressed to the people of Israel in the desert.
According to verse 3, the tempter came to the Lord Jesus and said: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ As we’ve seen, Jesus is the Son of God in two senses. He’s the Eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. That was revealed at the time of his baptism, when God the Father addressed him as his Son and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. In that one event, God revealed himself to be a Trinity of Three Persons and Jesus is the Son. But he’s the son of God in the sense that he is the new and better Israel. And since God once regarded the people of Israel as his son, so he regarded the Lord Jesus as his son. We saw that when Matthew took the words of Hosea 11:1, where God said, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ and applied those words about Israel to the Lord Jesus. However, when the devil addressed him here as the Son of God, presumably he has in mind Christ’s divine Sonship, because only God has the power to turn stones into bread. However, God the Son had not come into the world to do as he pleased. He had come into the world to be God’s obedient son and to do his Father’s will.
And so, as God’s obedient son, the Lord Jesus refused to listen to the voice of Satan. Instead he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3. In that verse’s original context, Moses reminded the people of Israel about the manna from heaven. Remember? God told them not to keep any of it overnight, because he would provide them with new bread every morning. However, he also said that he would not provide them with bread on the seventh day, because it was the Sabbath Day and holy. And therefore he commanded them to gather on the sixth day enough for two days and he promised that it would not spoil overnight. But some of the people didn’t listen to God’s voice at that time. They tried to keep it overnight and it spoiled, just as God said it would. And they went out on the Sabbath Day to look for bread, when God said there would be none. So, they did not listen to God’s voice. At that time, God wanted to teach them that they should rely, not so much on the special bread, but on him and his word. Trust and obey what he says, because he loves his people and will provide for them at the proper time. And by refusing to do what Satan had suggested, the Lord Jesus showed that he was willing to listen to his Father’s voice and to do only what he commanded.
When God tested the Israelites in the desert, they failed the test. They doubted his word and disobeyed him. But the Lord Jesus was prepared to trust his Father’s word. And we need to remember he had not come into the world to save his own life with bread, but he had come to give up his life for the sake of the world in obedience to his Father’s will.
According to verse 5, the devil took the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem, the holy city. Though the Lord Jesus is the Son of God, who made all things and who rules over all things, for a time he allowed the devil to take him wherever he wanted. And the devil brought him to the highest point of the temple. And the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.’ And the devil went on to quote from Psalm 91 where God promises to protect his servant from harm. He’ll send his angels to keep his servant from falling so that his servant who trusts in him won’t even strike his foot against a stone.
But once again, the Lord Jesus refused to listen to Satan’s voice, even though Satan was quoting the Scriptures. Instead of listening to Satan’s voice, he listened to the voice of his Father who said in Deuteronomy 6:16 that we must not put the Lord to the test. In that verse’s original context, Moses reminded the people of the time when they came to a place called Massah and they complained to the Lord because they had no water to drink. And at that time, they tested the Lord in the sense that they tested his ability and willingness to help them. And even though they had done a wicked thing, by testing the Lord, the Lord gave them water from a rock.
So, in the past, the people of Israel tested God’s ability and willingness to help them. And in Matthew 4, the devil was suggesting that the Lord Jesus should deliberately put his life in danger to see whether God had the ability and willingness to save him. But instead of listening to the voice of Satan, he listened to his Father’s voice, speaking in the Scriptures, commanding us not to test him. And we should remember that he had not come into the world to test his Father’s ability and willingness to save him from death, because he had come into the world to suffer and to die in obedience to his Father’s will, because there was no other way for Christ to save us than by giving up his life on the cross for us and for our salvation.
According to verse 8, the devil took the Lord Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And the devil promised to give him all of these kingdoms if only he will bow down and worship the devil. According to Luke’s version of the temptations, the devil was able to make this promise because the kingdoms and their splendour have been given to him. Or, as John tells us in his first letter, for now the whole world is under Satan’s control. And yet the devil was prepared to give it all up if only the Son of God would worship him.
Once again, though, the Lord Jesus refused to listen to the voice of Satan; and instead he listened to the voice of God, who says in the Scriptures that we must worship the Lord our God and serve him only. When the people of Israel were in the desert, they bowed down and worshipped the golden calf which they had made with their own hands. But when the Lord Jesus was in the desert, he refused to bow down and worship the devil, because we must worship the Lord alone. And so, as God’s obedient son, he refused to listen to Satan’s voice. And we need to remember that he did not come into the world to rule over an earthly kingdom. He came into the world to establish the kingdom of God, which is a heavenly kingdom. The kingdoms of the world are destined to perish, but the kingdom of Christ our King will last for ever. And he established his kingdom by dying for his people, in accordance with his Father’s will, before rising again and ascending to heaven.
When the people of Israel were in the desert for forty years, the Lord humbled them and tested them. He made them hunger to see if they would rely on his word. But they did not listen to his word and they disobeyed him. When the Lord Jesus was in the desert for forty days, he too was hungry. But he refused to listen to Satan and he made clear that he would only listen to his Father’s voice and to do only what he commanded.
When the people of Israel were in the desert, they tested the Lord’s ability and willingness to help them. When the Lord Jesus was in the desert, he refused to put his Father to the test.
When the people of Israel were in the desert, they worshipped an idol. When the Lord Jesus was in the desert, he refused to worship Satan.
The Lord’s experience in the desert recalls the time when the Israelites were in the desert. However, whereas they were a disobedient son, the Lord Jesus was an obedient son to his Father in heaven. His experience in the desert also recalls the time when Adam was in the Garden. At that time, Adam had everything he needed. But when the serpent came along and tempted Eve and then Adam, Adam listened to his voice and disobeyed God. However, when the Lord Jesus was in the desert, he had nothing at all, because he had been fasting for 40 days. Then Satan came along and tempted him. But, unlike Adam, the Lord Jesus refused to listen to Satan and he remained obedient to his Father in heaven. And whereas Adam, by his disobedience, brought death into the world, Christ, by his obedience, has brought life into the world, because whoever believes in him receives the hope of the resurrection and of everlasting life in the new and better world to come. And he not only gives his people the hope of eternal life, but he gives us his Spirit to help us to obey the voice of our Father, who speaks to us in his word.