Wednesday night at youth group we were covering the temptation of Jesus as described in Matthew 4:11. I’ve been doing some studying on it by myself since then and it’s absolutely fascinating! I’m really excited about what I’ve been learning and the questions I’ve been asking. I’ve been using Matthew Henry’s Commentary to help stimulate my brain, and I want to tell you what I’ve learned. I have so much to say on each part of this passage that I’ve decided to divide it into parts. This section will be about the first four verses of Matthew 4.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
This is happening right after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The order of these events makes sense. Jesus has just devoted his life to God ~ of course it was already devoted to Him, because Jesus is the Son of God, but I think he did it more as an example to us. We can expect to be attacked by Satan after giving ourselves to God like this. The devil has a particular spite for good, useful people.
And so Jesus headed out to the desert. After communion with God, it’s good to be private for awhile, lest we lose what we have received in the hurry and bustle of the world. This gives us an opportunity to meditate on what we have been given and what we have promised God. And, as Matthew Henry’s Commentary (MHC) says, “Those are not fit to speak of the things of God in public to others, who have not first conversed with those things in secret by themselves.” But keep this in mind: though solitude is good for meditation, Satan knows how to use it against us, and we should be wary in how often we are alone. As Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. That is why he went there. He was directed into the combat. One thing to remember when applying this to yourself is this: WE ARE NOT JESUS. We should not look for tempting situations to put ourselves into, but we should be ready for it when it comes, and we shouldn’t think it strange. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:8-10 NIV)
Now Jesus was tempted by the devil and the devil only. This I found interesting: that we, humans, can tempt OURSELVES through our desires and our thoughts. “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14 NIV) Can you believe that? Isn’t it frightening? It’s like you can’t even trust yourself. God Himself is the only One you can trust. Your sin nature will lead you to sin as well as the devil himself would. Now, remember, temptations are not sins if you don’t yield to them. It’s not sinning to be tempted. It IS sinning to give in, though.
Jesus’ fasting was like a wrestler dieting for combat, readying his body for the fight. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” (1 Corinthians 9:25a, NIV) But can you believe it? 40 DAYS AND NIGHTS. Forty. The big 4-0. I don’t know if it’s even possible for a human to go without food for that long. He certainly didn’t NEED to fast ~ Jesus had no corruption. But in doing so he humbled himself and he recommended fasting to us. Isn’t it interesting how he wasn’t hungry at all during those forty days and nights, but that he BECAME hungry when they were over? Jesus was sustained simply by conversing with God. And that is epicly cool.
These forty days are so intriguing to me. I want to know how it went. How could you just not be hungry for forty days? That’s ridiculous! I’d be starving. How long before that did he eat? Like did he leave immediately after the baptism without eating anything? Did he go the next day after breakfast? He just wandered around the desert for that long? What kind of a desert was it? It obviously wasn’t all sand because the first temptation is about stones, but was it the rocky kind of desert where everything is stone plateaus and boulders? How was it not incredibly boring just wandering around all that time? Did he need to drink and sleep? It’s a desert ~ surely it was very hot. Did he drink water from cactuses (cactii? cactea?)? Was there shade? What kind of talking with God did he do? I mean, being alone in the desert, easily some angels could come down or God Himself and have a straight-up face-to-face spoken conversation with Jesus and we’d never know. But Jesus is fully God as well as fully man. God is him and he is God. So did he speak to God in his mind, because God was there obviously. If you’re God do you even need to talk to God like us humans do? It’s like having a conversation with yourself, isn’t it? But not? Is it like when you have an incredibly close sibling or friend and you can always tell what they’re thinking and you’re so close to them that it seems like you’re the same person? Was anybody else in the desert? Like, merchants traveling across to different countries? They’d probably go around if they could, though, wouldn’t they? And did any part of Jesus long for human companionship at this time? I mean, like in the movie RocketMan, even the friendless nerdy weirdo went insane after being alone for a month. Jesus is fully God, but he’s also fully man, like I said ~ did the man part of him ever long for human companionship while he was alone for so long? Or was God’s presence enough to sustain that as well? I know that when I think really hard about something, I go into my mind palace, and everything about the world around me just fades away and I am completely unaware that I’m actually still in a body in the world. So is that what happened to Jesus out there in the desert? Did he just mind-palace for forty days and nights? Otherwise it would have seemed like a very long time. That would explain the hunger thing as well. But it would take a heck of a lot of concentration to construct a forty-day mind palace.
So anyway, those were mostly the questions I came up with. Except for the companionship thing ~ I just came up with that one now. Anywho, Satan tempted him in the hopes of making him imperfect and therefore rendering him unacceptable as a sacrifice for others’ sins. The first two temptations seem pretty innocent: to satisfy your own hunger and to prove God’s power. This kind of temptation needs great wisdom to discern. The third was a temptation of desire ~ a strong temptation that requires great resolution to resist. I’m sure you’ve wanted something very badly before and was tempted to use somewhat shady means to get it. Whether you gave in to that temptation or not is none of my concern.
The Devil came to him, but not as something frightening, I think. I definitely think he came in some kind of physical form, because like I said, Jesus has no corruption in him. The Devil cannot get into his head and tempt him mentally like he can with us. But personally, if I was starving and had the ability to turn stones into food and this Ringwraith-looking thing shows up and says, “Turn those stones into bread so you won’t be hungry,” I’d be like, “HECK no! I’m not taking orders from you, you creep! I do not trust you at all.” So I think the Devil must have gone to Jesus in the form of something more pleasant, so as to have an advantage over him. Perhaps as an angel of light, or someone else Jesus would trust.
Jesus was hungry, so turning stones into bread sounds very necessary. It’s one of Satan’s specialties to take advantage of our outward condition. In this statement of Satan’s, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” he’s suggesting that God is failing to care for His Son. He’s questioning Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Satan aims at convincing us that God is not our Father, so we don’t depend on Him or owe Him anything. The Spirit calls us children of God, and the devil does everything he can to shake that testimony.
MHC said something cool here and I wanted to share it. Okay, here goes. “If Christ seemed to be a mere Man now, because he was hungry, why was he not confessed to be more than a man, even the Son of God, when for forty days he fasted, and was not hungry?”
Satan was giving Jesus the opportunity to prove that he was the Son of God. He’s saying, “If you have this power, why don’t you use it now, when you need it for yourself?” The greater appearance of good in it, the more dangerous the temptation. Note that he didn’t say, “Pray that the Father turns them into bread,” but rather, “TELL them to become bread.” He’s implying that God had forsaken Jesus. He’s saying, “Don’t be beholden to God.” Satan always tries to give people an opinion of self-sufficiency.
So why didn’t Jesus do it? It seemed plausible. How did he detect the temptation? Well, first of all, it was questioning the truth in the voice from heaven that was heard while he was being baptized, forty (or forty-one) days before. Second, it questioned the Father’s care for him. Third, it suggested self-dependence rather than dependence on God. And fourth, it was doing something that Satan asked him to do.
Satan’s plan for Jesus in this first temptation was elaborate. First, he would have him question his sonship because he was hungry and the Father didn’t feed him. Second, he would have him distrust the Father’s love and care. Third, he would have him immediately looking for supply. And fourth, he would have him supply himself with bread. But people don’t need bread to live ~ the Israelites went forty years on just manna from heaven. Anything God gives man can maintain him just as well as bread can, and we can also have bread and not be nourished if God denies His blessing (Micah 6:14). In fact, God sustained many without bread: Israel with manna, Elijah with food sent by ravens, and the widow’s meal miraculously multiplied. We must humbly pray for what He sees fit to give us. “It is better to live poorly upon the fruits of God’s goodness, than live plentifully on the products of our own sin.” (MHC)
Looking at the entire passage for a moment, isn’t it interesting how Jesus answered to all of the devil’s temptations with “It is written”? Jesus had God’s mind. He had no need to refer to the writings of Moses. But in doing so, he put honor to the Scripture and set for us an example. This is the method WE must use when being attacked by the devil. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, as it says in Ephesians 6:17. This sword, you will notice, is the only offensive weapon in the Christian armory. How cool is that? Sacrifices and purifications can’t drive Satan away, but moral precepts, evangelical promises, and faith are mighty.