Bible Studies, The Gospels

The Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness in Mt. 4:1-11, Mk. 1:12-13, and Lk 4:1-13

The main point of this passage is to introduce to us how Jesus will not pursue his mission.  His goal is not to draw attention to himself, but to focus on God’s work and God’s truth, which he is called to carry out.  Jesus will not use his power to serve himself, but he will lift up others and minister to both their physical and spiritual needs.

This passage reveals three truths to us and goes deeper each time.  These truths are themes that are going to be reoccurring throughout the ministry of Jesus.  The first truth is that Jesus is the devout Son who has unwavering allegiance to God.  Second, the battle between Satan and Jesus will run through the entire Gospel.  And third, the success of Jesus in the wilderness recalls Israel’s failure there.  (Bock, 1994, p. 363)

Again, God is transitioning us from the Old Testament to the New Testament in this passage.  In the Old Testament, we see that at the center of the storyline has been the Nation of Israel.  However, now it is made clear that Israel and Jesus are complete opposites.  The Old Testament stories are there to show us how we all have fallen short of what God has required for us, but Jesus is pointing us to the one that will fulfill the law and redeem us.

It is worth pointing out that no one but Jesus, Satan, and some wild animals are present at this testing.  That means this account could only have come from Jesus.  Therefore, it gives an important glimpse into Jesus’ self-perception as the Son of God, and judging by the scripture he quotes, the way He perceived his own relation to Israel.  (Carson, 1995, p. 111)

The reference to the forty days in the wilderness is reminiscent of the  forty-day fasts of Moses (Ex. 34.28; Dt. 9.9) and Elijah (1 Kg. 9.8), and the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert (Nu. 14.33; 32.13).  The only parallel developed, however, is the wilderness wanderings of Israel, as demonstrated by Jesus’ quotes from the book of Deuteronomy.  As God led Israel into the wilderness, likewise the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.  God tested Israel in the wilderness, and they failed; God allowed Jesus to be tempted by the devil, and he resisted.

First Temptation

The first temptation (Mt. 4.3,4) was an attempt to get Jesus to doubt God’s providential care.  Would Jesus use His miraculous power to meet His own needs?  If Jesus had turned the stones into bread, He would have been acting independently from His heavenly Father.  The devil’s comment concerning Jesus’ sonship should not be understood as an attempt to get Jesus to doubt His sonship, for that had just been announced from heaven at His baptism (Mt. 3.17).

Rather, the devil argued that since Jesus is the Son of God, he should use His powers to meet His own needs.  Jesus’ response (Dt.8.3) teaches that spiritual nourishment is more significant than physical nourishment.  Israel’s hunger had been intended to show them that hearing and obeying the word of God is the most important thing in life.  However, Israel demanded its bread, but died in the wilderness.  Jesus, however, denied himself bread, retained his righteousness, and lived by faithful submission to God’s word.  Therefore, we see that God’s word is the most important thing in this world.  (Carson, 1995, p. 113)

What Can We Learn About Preparing For Battle in the First Temptation?

First of all, we see that Jesus practiced solitude in preparation of His temptation.  With that fullness the Holy Spirit led him into solitude for forty days.  He went away from family and friends and crowds and lived in the desert for forty days.  That is almost six weeks.  No radio.  No television.  No computers.  No cellphones.  No text messages.  And this wasn’t the only time: Luke 5:16 shows that other times Jesus went away alone.  It must be that preparation for ministry demands significant times of solitude.  We simply cannot maintain a radical God-centeredness under an unbroken barrage of human interaction.  The depth and value of what you bring in your heart to other people will depend on what you do with your solitude.

Second of all, we see that Jesus practiced fasting.  Why?  The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.  God richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17)!  Why should the perfect Son of God go without?  To demonstrate that he was not enslaved by anything but God.

Your spiritual power will be weakened to the degree that you cannot say no to your bodily appetites.  Physical appetites are not evil (Jesus was hungry!).  However, when they take the precedence in your body, your spiritual power will decline.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  For forty days Jesus pommeled his body to certify and demonstrate that his appetite for food and for sex gave no foothold to Satan in his life; for he was mastered by a superior appetite for God. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34).

This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit—to be so full of God and his purposes that food, even after forty days of fasting, does not control us.  Paul said (in Ephesians 5:18), “Do not be drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit” (see Luke 1:15).  Conquer your physical addictions with spiritual addictions.  No other way will bear long-term fruit.  Drive the demon of gluttony out the front door and seven more will come in the back, unless you fill your house with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was full from the start and no demon ever had a toehold in his marvelous life of discipline.  (Piper, 1984)

However, we also see in Matthew 6:16-17 that Jesus expects us to fast.  Normal fasting involves abstaining from all food, but not from water.  We are told in Matthew 4:2, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry.”  It says nothing about Him becoming thirsty.  Furthermore, Luke 4:2 says that He “ate nothing during those days,” but it does not say He drank nothing.  Since the body can normally function no longer than three days without water, we assume that He drank water during this time.  To abstain from food but to drink water or perhaps fruit juices is the most common kind of Christian fast.


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