Week of October 8, 2017
The Point: We can follow Jesus’ example in defeating spiritual attacks.
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 is 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. [ESV]
“[4:1-11]. The chapter begins by saying, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Since the initiative in this account is with God (led by the Spirit), the necessary starting place for this study must be the nature of the temptation. In English the word ‘tempt’ has come to mean almost without exception ”tempt to do evil.” But the word for tempt in Hebrew and Greek means “to test or prove.” This can include a tempting to do evil, but it often means only a “testing to prove the value or good quality of,” just as a person might test gold by submersing it in acid. If the gold is pure, nothing happens. If it is not, the impurity is burned off. It was in this sense that Abraham was “tested” by God when he was called to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Job was tested by the things that happened to him. When the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan, the act was a test designed to show that Jesus really was God’s Son and that He would follow the path God had laid out for Him. But that is only from God’s point of view! It was God’s purpose. From the point of view of the devil and his purpose, the temptation was evil, for it was an attempt to get Jesus to question God’s word, misuse God’s promises in Scripture, and try to win the world for Himself by linking up with Satan rather than by going to the cross. How did Satan go about it? Was it an internal struggle within the mind of Jesus only? Or was there an actual appearance of Satan in some form? This is not an easy question to answer. Aspects of the temptation seem to be physical, such as the suggestion to turn the stones on the ground to bread. In fact, when Satan says, command these stones to become loaves of bread, he seems to be pointing to them. Similarly, when he tempts Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple, part of the temptation at least seems to include a spectacular public display. On the other hand, there is no mountain anywhere in the world, let alone in Palestine, from which the tempter and Jesus could literally see all the kingdoms of the world. That temptation seems to have been visionary. Therefore, it is difficult to say exactly how these temptations were expressed or what physical form, if any, Satan took. What is clear from the account is that the temptations came to Jesus from outside of Himself, for we are told that the devil came to him … took him to the holy city … took him to a very high mountain. This is not unimportant, for the only way Jesus could have been tempted was from an outside force and not internally. When we are tempted, we are assailed by an enemy within as well as by temptations from without. In fact, as James says, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire [James 1:14]. We are tempted by our fleshly natures, as well as by the world and the devil. Jesus, who had no sinful nature, could only be tempted from something outside Himself, which is what happens in this account. But what a setting for it! We cannot miss comparing the circumstances of Jesus with those of Adam and Eve in Eden when they were similarly tempted. Adam and Eve were in paradise: Jesus was in the vast, desolate wilderness of Judah. Adam and Eve were physically content and satisfied. They were free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, save the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Jesus was hungry, having fasted for forty days and forty nights. Adam and Eve were together. They had each other for company and mutual support; Jesus was alone. Yet Adam and Eve rapidly succumbed to Satan’s wiles, carrying the entire human race into sin, misery, destruction, and both physical and spiritual death, while Jesus stood firm as the Savior who was to bring life and salvation to the race.
Satan’s Three Temptations. Satan used three temptations: the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to test God by jumping from the temple, and the temptation to escape the cross by falling down and worshiping Satan. Each of these temptations is related to what Jesus had heard from heaven at His baptism, namely, that He was God’s Son with whom God the Father was well pleased. (1) If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread . Back in Eden, to which this account is certainly connected, Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt the word of God. God had told them that they would die if they ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree, but Satan countered, You will not surely die [Gen. 3:4]. Here, in a similar manner, Satan suggests that Jesus may not actually be God’s Son, or, if He is, He should settle any doubts on the matter once and for all by a miracle. Thus, it was a temptation to question the express word of God hidden under what seemed to be a concern for Jesus’ physical hunger. Jesus had no trouble answering Satan. He did it by quoting a verse from Deuteronomy: It is written. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God [4 (see Deut. 8:3)]. If the temptation were to misuse His supernatural power, Jesus’ reply would not be directly to the point. But if the temptation were to doubt the word of God by testing it, Jesus’ answer would mean, “It does not really matter much whether I have physical bread to eat, since God will preserve my life as long as he wants so I can do what he wants. I trust him in that. What does matter is whether I believe God’s word implicitly or not. If I should doubt his word, even for a moment, all is lost.” (2) If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down . The truth of God’s word lies behind the next temptation too. Jesus had rejected the devil’s first temptation by quoting Scripture. So the devil got into the act himself, saying something like this: “Well, I see you are a student of the Bible, since you’ve memorized that verse from Deuteronomy. But, of course, I am a Bible student myself, and not long ago, when I was reading Psalms, I came across Psalm 91:11-12, which says, He will command his angels concerning you, … on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Do you believe that? I believe it. In fact, I believe it so much that I am going to make this suggestion. Let’s go up to the highest point of the temple, and then you can jump off. God will save you, and the people who see the miracle will realize that you are the Messiah and follow you immediately. It will make a great impression and will get your ministry off to a rip-roaring start.” Satan tempted Christ to advance the work of God by spectacular and obviously worldly means, which is exactly what many evangelicals are doing today when they try to impress people with so-called “signs and wonders” or by entertainment reminiscent of television. We cannot accomplish invisible spiritual work by outward worldly means. At the same time, the devil’s suggestion was also a temptation to spiritual presumption, to demand a supernatural sign from God in response to an action he had neither encouraged nor commanded. Jesus replied to this suggestion by another quotation from Deuteronomy: Again it is written. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test [7 (see Deut. 6:16)]. He meant, “Satan, you want me to test God, but you have to understand that God is not the one who is to be tested. I am the one being tested, and that means my responsibility is not to challenge my Father but to trust him.” In this reply, Jesus introduced an important principle of sound Bible study, which is not only to trust the Word of God implicitly and absolutely (that is what the first temptation was about) but to interpret Scripture with Scripture, never taking a verse out of context but rather interpreting it by use of other verses of the Bible as a whole. This is what the Protestant reformers called “the analogy of faith,” meaning that Scripture interprets itself. This does not mean we will not encounter passages of the Bible that are difficult for us to understand. On the contrary, it suggests we will encounter such passages. But at the same time it says that God is the author of Scripture, and for that reason, the statements of Scripture will always complement and reinforce each other when rightly understood. If they do not do this, God is speaking with a forked tongue, which is impossible for Him to do. Jesus knew this, which was why He appealed to Deuteronomy 6:16 to reject the devil’s temptation. When taken as a whole, the Bible will always provide for a consistent and God-trusting way of life. (3) All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me . In the third temptation Satan threw off all subtlety and asked for Jesus’ worship. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and their glory and offered them in exchange for Christ’s worship. This is the only temptation that does not refer directly to the words, You are my Son. They are still in the background, however, since they come from Psalm 2:7-8, where the Father promises His Son precisely these kingdoms as His inheritance. This is what Satan was offering to Jesus – but in the world’s way, that is, by an alliance with Satan and evil rather than by the cross. Jesus has been appointed by God to rule the world. Revelation 11:15 says, The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. But the path to this triumph was through suffering. For Jesus, the entire world was not worth a single act of worship to Satan. Jesus replied to Satan using another verse from Deuteronomy: Be gone, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve [10 (Deut. 6:13)]. In all Scripture there is no better example of the power of specific sayings of the Word of God to turn Satan away and save the one being tempted.
Our Battle and Our Strong Weapon. It should be obvious from everything I have said about the temptations of Jesus and how He overcame them that there is direct application for our lives when we are tempted and must stand against Satan’s wiles. Let me summarize by these three statements. (1) We face the same battle. I sometimes point out when I am writing about Satan that the devil is not omnipresent as God is. Satan cannot be everywhere tempting everyone at all times. He is only a creature. This means that he has probably never tempted you or anyone you know directly. In the entire Bible we know of only a few people – Eve, Job, Jesus, Judas, and Ananias – who were tempted by Satan directly. But this does not mean we do not face spiritual battles every day. We do. Paul wrote about these battles in his letter to the Ephesians, saying, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places [Eph. 6:12]. These battles are so fierce that Paul warned us to be ready for them by arming ourselves with God’s armor. We are to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace [Eph. 6:14-17]. We must be fully equipped for the struggle. (2) We have the same choice. As Jesus did, we have the choice of trusting God and sticking to the path He sets before us or distrusting God and seeking to win victories for God or ourselves in the world’s way. What will it be? Will we go God’s way? Or will we follow the world, the flesh, or the devil? (3) We can have the same victory. The Bible says, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it [1 Cor. 10:13]. True. But what is that path to victory? The temptation of our Lord points the way: It is written … It is written … It is written. As Paul told the Ephesians, the only offensive weapon we have is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God [Eph. 6:17]. Remember Christ’s example. Here is Jesus – the holy Son of the almighty God, the one in whom neither Satan nor man could find any wrong or gain even the tiniest foothold. Jesus’ eyes were always on the glory of His Father. He lived in the closest possible communion with Him. But if Jesus, your Lord and Savior, needed to know Scripture in order to resist Satan and win the victory over him, how much more do you and I need it to win a corresponding victory! We must know it word for word. You say, “Well, I have a general idea of what the Bible is about.” That is a start, but it is not enough. You must know the Bible well and have key parts of it memorized if you are to overcome temptation. God’s words are wonderful words. They speak to every need of the human mind and heart. But to be useful to us, the Bible’s words must be yours and mine specifically. We must study them and memorize them, for only the words of God that we actually know will be useful to us in living for God and overcoming temptation.” [Boice, pp. 53-59].
Questions for Discussion:
- How does Boice define “tempt”? What did God want to accomplish in leading Jesus into the desert to be tempted? What did Satan hope to accomplish?
- Here in this passage we find that the devil’s favorite word is If, and Jesus’ favorite words are It is written. What can we learn from these words concerning the nature of temptation and how to combat temptation in our lives? Contrast how the devil uses God’s Word in verse 6 to how Jesus uses God’s Word. Examine how Jesus used God’s Word to fight off each temptation.
- Boice writes “We cannot accomplish invisible spiritual work by outward worldly means.” Do you agree with his statement? How does that statement apply to the church; to your own spiritual life?
- What does it mean to interpret Scripture with Scripture (the analogy of faith)? Seek to apply this principle in your own Bible study.
- What three conclusions does Boice draw for each believer from these three temptations?
Matthew, vol. 1, James Boice, Baker.
Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar, Eerdmans.
Matthew, David Turner, BENT, Baker.