Let’s go back to the Old West, to the historic transcontinental railroad. As the Union Pacific line was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon. Before the bridge saw use, the builder loaded a train with extra cars and equipment, doubling its weight. The overburdened train was then driven to the middle of the new bridge and left there an entire day.
One worker asked his boss, “Are you trying to see if you can break our bridge?”
“No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove the bridge won’t break.”
We have a similar feeling when trials and temptations - times of testing - come into our lives. We think God is trying to break us.
Instead, He is trying to prove to us that we can take it after all. He is reminding us to trust in Him, rely on Him, and believe He has already given us all we need to endure the trial faithfully. Just as Jesus triumphed over His temptations, so can we!
Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.
1. Prologue. (4:1)
It seems strange to read that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into temptation. That’s the opposite of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Everyone knows that God doesn’t tempt His children (read James 1:13).
The location also feels wrong. The DESERT is where Israel disobeyed God and then had to wander around 40 years. In worldly logic, the DESERT is the opposite direction of where Jesus should be headed: Jesus should launch His ministry In Jerusalem.
You can sense God the Father left Jesus to deal with the devil and the desert alone. Did the Spirit lead HIM INTO THE DESERT (1) only to drop Him off? It’s possible; the next time any supernatural support is mentioned is after it’s over (v. 11). It is human nature to feel or assume God’s absence when we hurt. God is not absent during our trials. That’s discouragement talking, not faith.
2. The first temptation: bread. (4:2-4)
The devil appears AFTER Jesus endured 40 days and nights of fasting. I have a friend who has repeatedly fasted throughout the 40 days of Lent. If his experience is typical, abstaining from solid food does weird things to the body.
One might assume this experience left Jesus in a weaker physical and emotional state. Commentator Rodney Reeves interprets the lack of food as being a further sign of God the Father separating Himself from Jesus. After all, God provided daily food for Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).
It’s no surprise the devil’s first run at Jesus involves something as simple as food (3). But the devil didn’t just lay out a loaf of bread and invite Jesus to eat it. Instead, he used Jesus’ hunger as bait and said, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, TELL THESE STONES TO BECOME BREAD.”
The temptation is not eating but using His supernatural authority to feed Himself. The promise of food appealed to Jesus’ physical body; the desire to prove His identity appealed to His pride. In His reply, Jesus transcended mere human nature & kept His focus on God the Father (4). All three of Jesus’ replies are quotes from Deuteronomy 6 + 8. This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3, where
Moses reminded the people that God had kept them alive in the desert by providing daily bread for them.
Jesus’ reply refutes the temptation saying, “I do not need bread to survive, but I cannot last a minute apart from God’s word.” In keeping His focus on the Father, Jesus turned away from His physical hunger.
Ironically, later on in His ministry, Jesus will miraculously provide bread in the wilderness, feeding five and four thousand men at a time. The bread and the power are not the only issues; it’s also the timing and the motive.
3. The second temptation: fame. (4:5-7)
The second one is about shortcuts or laziness. The devil supernaturally and bodily moved Jesus to THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem (5). It’s hard to imagine a more visible location in all of ancient Judea. If Jesus were to have done as the devil suggested, it would have been a very visible, very public miracle. It would have launched His earthly ministry in a spectacular way.
This temptation - like the first - dares Jesus to establish His identity as the Son of God: “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.” The devil also knows Scripture and attempted to twist Psalm 91:11-12 to provoke Jesus into doing what amounted to a “publicity stunt” (6).
In His reply, Jesus rejects earthly power, popularity, and sensational stunts in attempts to “prove” God’s existence and/or His character. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, a section where Moses urged people not to test God’s patience with their disobedience, as they did at Massah. Massah/Meribah both mean “quarrel.” It was there the people quarreled with one another, Moses, and God (see Exodus 17). They complained against God and Moses and said, “Is the Lord with us or not?” We are not to repeat their lack of faith, doubting God’s love or power.
All temptations are shortcuts because we trust our self rather than God and follow worldly ways instead of God’s way. In this case, a successful jump from t temple’s roof might have allowed Jesus to assert His privilege and avoid that messy cross business. It was a shortcut.
OR, in an unsuccessful jump, Jesus’ body would have been destroyed, His blood would have been shed for no good reason. Either way, the devil would have won. Happily, Jesus refused the shortcut and reaffirmed His trust in God the Father.
4. The third temptation: power. (4:8-10)
The scene shifts again for the third temptation: Satan takes Jesus to A VERY HIGH MOUNTAIN (8). Why go atop a mountain? In ancient cultures, high places were the places where idols were worshiped. As the devil wanted to be idolized/worshiped by Jesus, this is an obvious choice.
With this temptation the devil abandoned subtlety. Showing Jesus ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR SPLENDOR, he offered them to Jesus if Jesus would BOW DOWN AND WORHIP him (9).
As all hypocrites do, the devil thought everyone has the same motives he did. He guessed Jesus would find this tempting for all the reasons he did. But was this even tempting to Jesus?
My guess is that, to Jesus, this was the least appealing of the three temptations.
Jesus’ response is to go right back to the same section of Deuteronomy 6. Verse thirteen says, FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD, SERVE HIM ONLY AND TAKE YOUR OATHS IN HIS NAME. It’s as if Jesus said, “Don’t disobey the 1st commandment; don’t worship to anything other than God.” Jesus refused to worship anything other than God no matter what He was offered.
Jesus rejected Satan’s offer so thoroughly, He ordered Satan to get lost; “AWAY FROM ME, SATAN!” He rejected an offer of authority by exercising His authority over Satan.
If this was possible at any time, I wonder why Jesus endured three temptations? The experience prepared Jesus for difficulties the next three years would throw at Him. Christ set a pattern for us to follow when we are tempted: trust God; follow His commands.
5. Epilogue. (4:11)
The devil had to leave Jesus. Jesus’ power is irresistible; the devil can be resisted (see James 4:7). After the devil left Him, Jesus was attended to by angels sent by God t Father. The text doesn’t say how they attended to Him, but my guess is that they…
…brought Him bread.
…assured Jesus they would protect Him from suffering harm before He got to the cross.
…encouraged Him that after this was over, He’d be seated at t right hand of God the Father.
In other words, as tokens of His victory over temptation, the angels gave Jesus all the things Satan had promised but never delivered.
Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.
Picture a married couple in bed. The husband is having trouble getting to sleep. He rolls over and says to his wife, who was having no trouble falling asleep, “Honey, are you awake? Can I ask you a question?”
She rolls over and says, “I’m awake now. What’s your question?”
“Is your love for me beyond temptation?” he asked. “Say Paul Newman was trying to woo you away. Would you still love me?”
She smiled at him and said, “Of course I would love you, dear. And I would miss you very much!”
It doesn’t sound like she’s planning to try very hard to resist temptation, does it? If we are to find victory over our own temptations, we have to follow Jesus’ example instead.
In this passage we’ve seen Jesus resisted the devil by doing the following:
1) Recognize temptations and trials will come - be prepared by prayer and Scripture knowledge.
2) Trust God’s promise that He has provided all you need to say no to temptation.
3) Expose falsehoods with the truth of the Bible.
4) In Jesus’ name, resist the devil; order him away.
The Story of God Bible Commentary, Rodney Reeves.