Beckett: Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11, The Temptation of Jesus

Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It it written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Then the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple 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,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” 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.'” Then the Devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.

The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in His Baptism and then sends Him to do His work. Before Jesus begins His earthly ministry in Galilee, He fasts for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. When I was a child, I mistakenly thought “wilderness” meant the forest, since that is the wilderness of Michigan. No, the wilderness in Scripture is the desert.

It was St. Augustine who postulated Jesus’ temptation in the desert was a dual recapitulation of what occurred in the garden and then the desert during Israel’s wandering. In the wilderness, Jesus accomplished what we could not in the Garden of Eden: He resisted the Devil (notably with God’s Word). Just as Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years with only manna to eat, so Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights without complaining to God as the Israelites did.

This could as well have been Jesus’ preparation for His earthly ministry—fasting and praying. Perhaps every man considering the Pastoral Office should imitate Jesus’ fasting here, though not as drastic. (This is just a thought.)

There is a stair step progression to Jesus’ temptation. First, Satan tempts Jesus with His most basic need: food. Jesus resists him with God’s Word from Deuteronomy 8:3, showing His perfect trust in His Father.

Satan responds as if to say, “Touché. You have proven me wrong with God’s Word. So, I raise you His Word from Psalm 91:11-12,” just as he did with man in the garden. As he goes up this step, he brings Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus recognises his cunning twist of God’s Word and quotes the Word at him from Deuteronomy 6:16.

Satan then takes Jesus up another step to a very high mountain and tempts Him with all the kingdoms of the earth, if only He will worship him. Jesus resists with Deuteronomy 6:13 and commands him to leave. Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel spits in Satan’s face, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (28:18). From whom? From God the Father.

Utterly defeated, Satan departs and the angels begin ministering to Jesus, His fasting now ended. Remember, this temptation took place over the course of 40 days and 40 nights. He tempted Jesus only three times. He tempts all human creatures—especially God’s people—in their greatest moment of weakness. It would not be surprising, then, that Satan tempted Jesus in His weakest moments according to His human nature for over a month.

Yet Jesus is the Son of God. He is God and man in one person. He is perfect. By His perfect obedience, He saves us. Satan fought a losing battle. He likely knew he would fail against the second person of the Trinity.

Satan is merely a dog on a leash, permitted only to do what his Master allows—a vicious, frothing dog who will be put down in the end. Satan knows this; thus, he is raging boldly, seeking anyone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is really a dog with rabies, chained to his jail cell, biting at anything that moves, eating his own excrement and doomed to perish forever.


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