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5. The Temptation of Jesus, Part I (Matthew 3:13—4:4)

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Life provides us with defining moments, moments which set the course of our lives, whether for good or evil. The events of 9-11-2001 were a defining moment for our President, George W. Bush. During his presidential campaign, Mr. Bush advocated a “hands off” international policy. I can remember him saying something like this in his debate with Al Gore: “We are not the world’s policeman.” George W. Bush suffered from a very marginal election victory. One could hardly say that his election provided him with a popular mandate. But the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers changed all that. Our President suddenly became “presidential,” and his leadership during our time of crisis has propelled him to a prominent place in history.

We can see defining moments in the lives of men and women in the Bible. Joseph experienced a defining moment when he chose to reject the advances of his master’s wife. Another defining moment came when Joseph grasped his God-given responsibility toward his family. Daniel’s defining moment seems to be described in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel, where he purposes, along with his three friends, not to be defiled by the king’s choice food. Peter’s “great confession” was one of his defining moments. Even Judas had his defining moments (John 12:1-8; 13:18-30).

I believe that our Lord’s baptism and temptation was a defining moment in His life and ministry. Here, the course of His life and ministry was proclaimed, tested, and confirmed. Every one of the Synoptic Gospels includes an account of our Lord’s baptism and temptation. John’s Gospel also includes an account of our Lord’s baptism, but does not mention His temptation. This may be due to the fact that John emphasizes the deity of our Lord, beginning in the very first verses of his Gospel. Who needs to be convinced that God cannot be tempted (see James 1:13)?

Let us give careful attention to the baptism and temptation of our Lord. Not only do these events provide a defining moment in the life of our Lord, they are a crucial prerequisite to the saving work of our Lord. In addition, we will learn much about Satan and how to deal with temptation in our lives. Let us listen well, then, to the words of Scripture, and look to the Spirit of God to make these words come to life in our lives. As our Lord Himself says in our text, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” These verses in Matthew, including the words spoken by our Lord, are “words that have come from the mouth of God.” Therefore, they are life-giving words.

Jesus’ Baptism
Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. 14 But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” 15 So Jesus replied to him, “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John yielded to him. 16 After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight” (Matthew 3:13-17).75

Jesus’ baptism appears to be more private than public. Jesus first arrives at the Jordan River to be baptized. It appears from Luke’s account that Jesus comes on the scene after everyone else had been baptized for the day:

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. And while he was praying, the heavens opened (Luke 3:21, emphasis mine).

From this I get the impression that there were no large crowds standing around watching when Jesus was baptized.76 I am inclined to think that Jesus arrived late in the day, after everyone else who was there for baptism had been baptized and then left to go home.77

Furthermore, if I am reading each account correctly, the heavenly witness actually came after John had baptized Jesus:

After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him (Matthew 3:16, so also Mark 1:9).

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. And while he was praying, the heavens opened (Luke 3:21, emphasis mine).

The sequence of our Lord’s baptism thus seems as follows: Jesus came to the Jordan, convinced John that He should be baptized, and then was baptized by John in the middle of the Jordan River. Jesus then made His way to shore. It seems as though He paused there for prayer, and it is at this time that the heavens opened,78 the Spirit descended on Him, and God spoke from heaven.

The baptism of our Lord was initiated by Him, not by John. Jesus came to John, requesting to be baptized. John was reluctant to baptize Jesus, a fact that only Matthew points out. We should call attention to the fact that while John’s Gospel informs the reader that John the Baptist did not know with certainty that Jesus was the promised Messiah until His baptism (John 1:29-34), Matthew’s account indicates that John the Baptist was familiar with Jesus, and may at least have suspected that He could be the Messiah. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John resisted. His response would indicate that he recognized Jesus to be someone who was superior to him.79 John not only realized that Jesus was greater than him; he also knew that Jesus’ baptism was superior to his (Matthew 3:11). John baptized with water; Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John’s baptism was one of repentance. People who came for baptism confessed their sins (Matthew 3:6). What did Jesus have to repent of? John must have recognized that Jesus was more righteous than him.

In spite of John’s reluctance, our Lord insisted that He be baptized by John. The only reason Jesus gave for this was that “they must fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Note that “fulfilling all righteousness” was something that both John and Jesus (see “us” in 3:15) were to do, and not just Jesus. Just what does our Lord mean here? In the baptism of Jesus, John and Jesus were doing something of great symbolic importance – they were fulfilling all righteousness. The term fulfill means, among other things, “to bring about,” “to bring to completion,” “to finish,” “to make fully known.”

I am inclined to understand our Lord’s words in this manner. The Old Testament established a standard of righteousness (the law), which no one was able to meet. The Old Testament also promised that God would provide righteousness to those who believed in Him. Jesus and John were carrying out God’s mission to provide this righteousness or salvation by commencing our Lord’s public ministry with His baptism. The words which our Lord spoke to John the Baptist anticipate, I believe, what our Lord is about to say to the crowds in His Sermon on the Mount:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do this will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, emphasis mine).

To “fulfill all righteousness” is to bring about or bring to completion the promised righteousness which was foretold in the Old Testament, and which was accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. The baptism of our Lord set in motion the final phase necessary to provide righteousness to lost, unworthy sinners. Therefore the baptism of Jesus set in motion the process of fulfilling God’s promise of righteousness for unworthy sinners.

Our Lord’s baptism identified Jesus with John, his ministry, and his message. As John endorsed Jesus as the promised Messiah, so Jesus endorsed John and his ministry.

Furthermore, Jesus’ baptism identified Jesus to John as the Messiah:

31 “I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining, this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:31-34).

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was divinely designated as the promised Messiah by the pronouncement of the Father and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Here is one of those texts where we are compelled to acknowledge the Trinity. 80 Father, Son, and Spirit are all present at our Lord’s baptism.

The words of the Father must be compared with several Old Testament texts in order to understand their meaning:

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight” (Matthew 3:17).

12 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings (2 Samuel 7:12-14, emphasis mine).

4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the sovereign Master taunts them.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage.
6 He says, “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 The king says, “I will tell you what the Lord decreed.
He said to me: ‘You are my son!
This very day I have become your father!
8 You have only to ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property.
9 You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will smash them as if they were a potter’s jar’” (Psalm 2:4-9).

This is a very important statement, and one that we must understand correctly. “You are my son” was not an admission of paternity, a statement concerning biological ancestry. It was the formula by which a king was installed on the throne. In Psalm 2, the kings of the earth who are conspiring against heaven are warned that God will install Israel’s king, the Messiah, and He will defeat all his foes and rule over them. The writer to the Hebrews draws these two Old Testament texts together to make an important point:

3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my son!
Today I have fathered you”?

And in another place he says,
“I will be his father
and he will be my son”
(Hebrews 1:3-5).81

In 2 Samuel 7, we find the Davidic Covenant. In the preceding context, David has just expressed his desire to build a house (a temple) for God. God counters with a promise, a covenant, that he will make a house (a dynasty) for David. He promises that a descendant of David will be the eternal king of Israel. That is why our Lord is so often referred to as the “Son of David,”82 or “the one who will sit on the throne of his father, David” (Luke 1:32). The point of the Father’s words is clear: Jesus is the One whom God the Father has appointed to rule over Israel as His Son, that is, as His designated king.

Being the Messiah meant more than just becoming Israel’s king, as important as that was. Being the Messiah meant Jesus would die as a sacrifice for our sins. I am greatly indebted to James Montgomery Boice for calling this second aspect of the Father’s affirmation to my attention:

The second part of the sentence (“with him I am well pleased”) comes from Isaiah 42;1, at the beginning of the prophecies of God’s suffering servant who would atone for Israel’s sin (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:1-11; and 52:13-53:12).83

Jesus was therefore officially designated (by God the Father, and God the Spirit) as the Messiah, who would first offer up Himself as the Suffering Servant, and then would later establish His rule on the earth at His second coming.

At His baptism, Jesus is endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. When Israel’s kings were designated by God’s prophet, they were endued with the power of the Holy Spirit.84 It was in this power that the kings were to rule over Israel. Our Lord’s baptism by the Spirit was made visible by means of a dove,85 who descended upon the Savior and remained. This was the sign that confirmed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah to John the Baptist (John 1:29-34). It is my understanding that while our Lord, as God, had power of His own, He voluntarily chose not to exercise that power, but determined rather to carry out his mission and ministry in submission to the Father’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was very closely related to our Lord’s sacrifice as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It was through the Spirit that this sacrifice was accomplished:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:13-14, emphasis mine).

At His baptism, our Lord symbolically expressed His commitment to obey the Father in His earthly ministry, particularly by making atonement for the sins of guilty men. Today, believer’s baptism looks back to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. By baptism, one not only publicly professes their identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, they also indicate their intention of following Christ by obeying His commands:

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

While believer’s baptism looks back to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11), our Lord’s baptism by John looks forward, anticipating His death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of guilty sinners. Our Lord’s baptism cannot include his repentance and confession of sin for He had no sin (as His temptation and subsequent conduct will verify). It may be that He was baptized in order to identify with sinners, but not to identify Himself as a sinner. Based on our Lord’s own words to John, it seems not to have focused as much on sin as on the righteousness that would be accomplished by our Lord’s ministry, in which John the Baptist was a partner.86

It was only after our Lord’s baptism that He was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. He appears to have been baptized only moments before He was driven into the wilderness to be tested for 40 days. When we come to the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, notice that it is our Lord’s baptism that provides the basis for Satan’s temptations. Thus, the baptism of Jesus is the basis for our Lord’s temptation and subsequent ministry.

The Setting of the Temptation
Matthew 4:1-2

Let us begin by calling attention to several important observations about the wilderness, the setting for our Lord’s temptation.

First of all our Lord’s wilderness experience identified Him with the nation Israel.

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished (Matthew 4:1-2).

Our Lord’s ordeal in the wilderness for 40 days and nights certainly links Him with the nation Israel, just as Matthew has already done earlier (see Matthew 1:1-17; 2:15). Israel first underwent its “baptism” and then was led into the wilderness for 40 years, where God tested them:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought87 you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

Jesus was baptized by John and the Holy Spirit, and then He immediately went into the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days and nights and was tempted by Satan. Jesus is the “true Israel,” the “true Son of God,” which is evident by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, and by His victory over the temptations of the devil. Whereas Israel failed their testing, Jesus was victorious, which shows Him to be qualified for the atoning work that He had been appointed to accomplish at Calvary.

Second, the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).

The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness (Mark 1:12).

It would seem, then, that the Gospel writers wish us to understand that the first prompting of the Spirit was to direct Him to the wilderness, where He would be tempted. Mark goes further than Matthew, adding the significant detail that the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. It was no mere impression Jesus received; it was a compelling directive.

Third, the Spirit led Jesus through the wilderness:

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1, emphasis mine).

It is one thing to be sent out to the wilderness by the Spirit; it is quite another for the Spirit to have guided Jesus day-by-day in the wilderness. The Spirit did both. The reason will be obvious in a moment.

Fourth, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for the entire 40 day period. It would be easy to assume that Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days and nights and then was tempted at the end of this period. We might come to this conclusion based upon Matthew’s Gospel alone. But we dare not overlook the words of Mark and Luke:

13 He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs (Mark 1:13, emphasis mine).

1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished (Luke 4:1-2, emphasis mine).

Luke is particularly clear on this point: Our Lord endured Satan’s temptations for the entire 40 day period and not just at the end of 40 days. The three temptations that Matthew and Luke record took place at the end of 40 days, but if we are to take Luke’s words seriously, we must also conclude that there were other earlier temptations as well.

I would understand Matthew to be informing us that the Holy Spirit played a significant role in the life of our Lord during the 40 days of fasting and temptation. Yes, Jesus did rely on the Word of God for His strength and guidance during His temptation. But Luke also makes it clear that Jesus was Spirit-directed during those 40 days. Thus, it was both the Word of God and the Spirit of God that guided and enabled our Lord as He prevailed over Satan in His temptation. It is, after all, the Spirit of God who enables us to comprehend and apply the Word of God (see 1 Corinthians 2; John 14:25-26; 16:12-15).

Fifth, the wilderness itself was a part of our Lord’s testing. I’m a “country boy” and always will be. I grew up in the country, and sometimes I would have to ride my bicycle in the dark to a friend’s house several miles away. (I also have had to walk some distance in the woods in the dark of night.) I have to tell you that there are wild animals in the woods and in the wilderness. How often I have wondered if I would happen to meet a bear or a deer (or some other creature, even a cougar), in one of my night walks!88 From Deuteronomy 8 and Mark 1, we learn that Israel and Jesus were in the wilderness with wild animals:

15 And who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, a thirsty place of no water, bringing forth for you water from flint rock and 16 feeding you in the desert with manna (which your ancestors had never before known) so that he might test you and eventually bring good to you (Deuteronomy 8:15-16, emphasis mine).

12 The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs (Mark 1:12-13).89

Just try to imagine what it would have been like to have been alone in the wilderness with all those wild animals around, especially if you have already committed yourself to relying on God the Father rather than on your own strength? (If Jesus would not act on His own to feed Himself, why would we think He would use His divine powers to defend Himself from these wild creatures?)

Sixth, during His 40 days and nights in the wilderness, Jesus voluntarily fasted. Nowhere are we specifically told that Jesus refrained from drinking any water, but we are told that He refrained from eating any food.

After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished (Matthew 4:2).

This is not because there was no food at all in the wilderness. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness for a long while, sustained by locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4).

There are two different views concerning our Lord’s “fasting” in the wilderness. There are those like Chrysostom90 and John Piper91 who believe that Jesus’ fasting gave Him spiritual strength, preparing Him to be victorious over Satan’s temptations. And then there are others, like Calvin and Luther,92 who do not see our Lord’s fasting as strengthening, but as weakening. I include myself in this latter group. I believe that God is contrasting the temptation of Eve with that of our Lord. Adam and Eve had no lack of food or water in the garden, and they fell by choosing to eat the one forbidden food. Jesus had no food, and yet He resisted Satan’s temptations. Matthew is endeavoring to show that our Lord withstood Satan’s temptations, and thus he focuses on our Lord’s victory at His weakest moment rather than at His strongest moment.

The First Temptation of Jesus
Matthew 4:3-4

3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

Notice that Matthew refers to Satan here as “the tempter.” Mark calls him “Satan” (1:13), while Luke calls him “the devil” (4:2). Matthew is doing more than merely identifying our Lord’s opponent; he is describing his nature and his character. This is who Satan is; this is what Satan does. He is the “tempter,” and then, if he is successful, he becomes the “accuser” (see Revelation 12:10; Zechariah 3:1). Satan finds his joy in tempting, deceiving, and ultimately destroying men (he is both a liar and a murderer – John 8:44). This is who Satan is, but notice carefully how Satan presents himself when he tempts (both at the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and here). He comes alongside as an objective, helpful “friend.” He discloses no conflict of interest. He appears to have nothing to gain. No wonder Eve can say (and Paul agrees – 1 Timothy 2:14) that the devil deceived her (Genesis 3:13).

I need to pause to offer a word of caution here. Some of the very worst counsel you will ever receive will be from well-meaning friends. Job’s “friends,” for example, felt they were being helpful, and that their counsel was right. But in the end, they were wrong (see Job 42:7-9). Peter thought he was being a “friend” to Jesus when he rebuked the Savior for talking about His death on the cross, but Jesus makes it clear where Peter’s “counsel” was coming from:

20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. 21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s” (Matthew 16:20-23, emphasis mine).

The first recorded temptation of our Lord actually sounds tempting to me. In some ways, it seems very logical for our Lord to command stones to become bread. Let’s imagine that you were hiking in the mountains of Colorado, far from civilization, when you fell and broke your leg. You are out of supplies, you cannot walk, and help is far away. Then you realize that you have your cell phone with you. Doesn’t it make sense that you would use the cell phone to call for help? What could be wrong with using any available resources to save your life?

In my opinion, the reasoning Satan employs in the first temptation of our Lord goes something like this:

“Here you are, Jesus, out in the wilderness where there is no food. Forty days have passed already, and if you don’t do something soon you will be dead. Now what good could you possibly be to anyone if you are dead? Save yourself by commanding that these stones become bread. And, after all, you are the Messiah are you not, so you have the power to do this.”

On the surface, it may seem that this first temptation has little correspondence to Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eden was the perfect place, a lush and fruitful garden, with a vast selection of delicious foods. It had plenty of water as well, and no wild beasts to fear. While the settings of these two temptations (in the Garden of Eden and in the wilderness) may be very different, the temptations themselves have a number of points of similarity. Consider the following:

(1) The tempter is the same person – Satan.

(2) Both cases involve eating food which should not be eaten. In the Garden, Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the one tree. In the wilderness, the Holy Spirit had led Jesus to fast, and thus eating anything would be wrong, until God indicated that the time of fasting had ended.

(3) Both temptations were a direct attack on the right to rule of the ones divinely appointed to do so. Adam and Eve were commissioned to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28), and so was our Lord (Matthew 3:13-17).

(4) The temptation of both is based upon the Satan’s insinuation that God does not have their best interest in mind. In the case of the deception of Eve, Satan implied that God withheld a good thing from them when He forbade them to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the case of our Lord, Satan implies that Jesus is about to die of starvation.

(5) In both cases, Satan seeks to entice those who are to be in submission to God to act independently of God, seeking to achieve what Satan has declared to be in their best interest.

(6) In both cases, Satan solicits individuals to rebel against the revealed will of God. In the case of Adam and Eve, they rebelled by disobeying a direct command of God which forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the case of our Lord, Satan sought to persuade Him to act in a way that rebelled against the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who had “driven” (Mark 1:12; “led,” Matthew 4:1) Jesus into the wilderness, and who was leading Him not to eat.93

Understanding the First Temptation

I must admit that I initially allowed myself to get sidetracked by the fact that food was involved in this first temptation. Needless to say, Jesus was famished because He had not eaten for 40 days. Satan attempted to convince Jesus to create food for Himself out of the stones. But in the end, it is not really food that is at issue, but life. Let me illustrate this by calling your attention to the story of Jacob and Esau in the Book of Genesis:

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright (Genesis 24:27-34, emphasis mine).

Like Jesus, Esau was famished when he came in from the fields. (One hardly gets the impression that he is really about to starve to death, even though he is very hungry.) Jacob had made some tasty stew, and Esau wanted some of it. Rather than give his brother some stew, Jacob used it to obtain his brother’s birthright. When Moses records this story, he does not tell us that Esau justified selling his birthright merely because the stew was so tempting; he tells us that Esau gave up his birthright because he was, in his words, “about to die.” What good would his birthright do Esau if he died of hunger?

We have a saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Esau justified his actions because he convinced himself that he was about to die. Saving his life became Esau’s justification for selling off his birthright. I think the truth is more on the side that Esau despised his birthright than it is on the side that his life was really at risk.

In our Lord’s wilderness temptation, Satan is playing the part of Jacob as it has been described in the Genesis text above. Jesus has fasted for 40 days, and He is now famished. Humanly speaking, death may not have been all that far away had Jesus not eaten soon. Since our Lord’s life was at risk, why shouldn’t He take whatever steps were necessary to save it? Since He was the Son of God, He had the power to turn stone into bread.94 Yet in order to preserve His life, He would have to give up His “birthright,” the right to rule.

Our Lord’s response to Satan’s temptation is the key to understanding what the first temptation was all about:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

This response is drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8, where Moses is speaking to the Israelites concerning the lessons they should have learned from their 40-year wilderness journey:

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything [every utterance] that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, emphasis mine).

We know that God sustained the Israelites for 40 years by providing manna and water for them. It was not for lack of food that any died. So far as I can tell from the Old Testament, not one Israelite died of thirst or hunger in the wilderness. God’s supernatural provision for the Israelites while in the wilderness became a symbol of His faithfulness:

15 You provided bread from heaven for them in their time of hunger, and you brought forth water from the rock for them in their time of thirst. You told them to enter in order to possess the land that you had sworn to give them. 16 “But they—our ancestors—behaved presumptuously; they rebelled and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and did not recall your miracles that you had performed among them. Instead, they rebelled and appointed a leader to return to their bondage in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and unfailing in your loyal love. You did not abandon them, 18 even when they made a cast image of a calf for themselves and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up from Egypt,’ or when they committed atrocious blasphemies. 19 “Due to your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. The pillar of cloud did not stop guiding them in the path by day, nor did the pillar of fire stop illuminating for them by night the path on which they should travel. 20 You imparted your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths; you provided water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them. Even in the desert they did not go wanting. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell (Nehemiah 9:15-21).

10 They did not keep their covenant with God,
and they refused to obey his law.
11 They forgot what he had done,
the amazing things he had shown them.
12 He did amazing things in the sight of their ancestors,
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and led them across it;
he made the water stand in a heap.
14 He led them with a cloud by day,
and with the light of a fire all night long.
15 He broke open rocks in the wilderness,
and gave them enough water to fill the depths of the sea.
16 He caused streams to flow from the rock,
and made the water flow like rivers.
17 Yet they continued to sin against him,
and rebelled against the Sovereign One in the desert.
18 They willfully challenged God
by asking for food to satisfy their appetite.
19 They insulted God,
saying, “Is God really able to give us food in the wilderness?
20 Yes, he struck a rock and water flowed out,
streams gushed forth.
But can he also give us food?
Will he provide meat for his people?”
21 When the Lord heard this, he was furious.
A fire broke out against Jacob,
and his anger flared up against Israel,
22 because they did not have faith in God,
and did not trust his ability to deliver them.
23 He gave a command to the clouds above,
and opened the doors in the sky.
24 He rained down manna for them to eat;
he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Man ate the food of the mighty ones.
He sent them more than enough to eat (Psalm 78:10-25).
37 He brought his people out enriched with silver and gold;
none of his tribes stumbled.
38 Egypt was happy when they left,
for they were afraid of them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a cover,
and provided a fire to light up the night.
40 They asked for food, and he sent quails;
he satisfied them with food from the sky.
41 He opened up a rock and water flowed out;
a river ran through dry regions (Psalm 105:37-41).

God’s “salvation” of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery included their “baptism” (1 Corinthians 10:2), being divinely led into and through the wilderness, instruction by the Spirit, and the provision of food and water (Nehemiah 9:19-20; see also Psalm 78:10-25). It also included the divine revelation of God’s Word, the giving of the law through Moses, which Israel was to obey and by which Israel was to live.

God’s provision for Israel’s needs at the exodus became a prototype of the provisions of God in future times of salvation:95

8 This is what the Lord says: “At the time I decide to show my favor, I will respond to you; in the day of deliverance I will help you; I will protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people, to rebuild the land and to reassign the desolate property. 9 You will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ and to those who are in dark dungeons, ‘Emerge.’ They will graze beside the roads; on all the slopes they will find pasture. 10 They will not be hungry or thirsty; the sun’s oppressive heat will not beat down on them, for one who has compassion on them will guide them; he will lead them to springs of water. 11 I will make all my mountains into a road; I will construct my roadways.” 12 Look, they come from far away! Look, some come from the north and west, and others from the land of Sinim! 13 Shout for joy, O sky! Rejoice, O earth! Let the mountains give a joyful shout! For the Lord consoles his people and shows compassion to the oppressed (Isaiah 49:8-13, emphasis mine).

10 They were shouting out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood there in a circle around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes—who are they and where have they come from?” 14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat,96 17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:10-16).

Coming back to our Lord’s response to Satan, I believe that He is making this argument:

(1) “Life” certainly includes physical existence, but it also involves much more. Life has a spiritual dimension, which transcends the physical dimension. Let’s go back to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam that in the day he (or Eve) ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). They did eat, but they also lived on physically for many years. The “death” they first experienced was spiritual death – separation from God. Life is much more than mere physical survival; it is living in fellowship with God.

(2) Spiritual life takes precedence over physical life. Spiritual life is eternal; it endures after physical death. Thus, Spiritual life is more important than physical life.

(3) Food sustains physical life, but the Word of God commences and sustains spiritual life.

22 You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:22-25; see also Romans 10:17).

46 He said to them, “Instill in your mind all the things I am testifying to you today, things you must command your children to observe, all the words of this law. 47 For this is no idle word for you—it is your life! By this word you will live a long time in the land you are about to cross the Jordan River to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

(4) Following Satan’s suggestion (temptation) would require Jesus to disregard and disobey God’s guidance through the Spirit and to submit Himself to the devil’s leadership. It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness, and even to fast. If Jesus were to break His fast before the Spirit directed Him to do so, He would not only disobey God’s leading through the Spirit, but He would also act independently of God; He would act in accordance with Satan’s “leading.”

Will our Lord entrust His life to the Father’s care? Will He endure physical death, if need be, in order to live in obedience to the will of His Father? This strikes at the very center of God’s purpose for our Lord. This will not be the last time our Lord will have to deal with the suggestion that He save Himself while disobeying the will of the Father:

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:21-26)

Notice how our Lord contrasts physical life with spiritual life. The one who seeks to save his (physical) life will lose it, while the one who loses his (physical life) for our Lord’s sake will find it (spiritual, eternal life).

On the cross, our Lord will once again be challenged to save His physical life:

35 The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” 37 and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39, emphasis mine)

I believe that at His baptism Jesus publicly identified Himself with God’s eternal purpose of providing righteousness for undeserving sinners. He committed Himself to do what His act of baptism would come to symbolize – His death, burial, and resurrection. At His temptation in the wilderness, He reaffirmed His resolve to die in the sinner’s place. Throughout His earthly ministry, He continued to press toward Jerusalem and His sacrificial death.

Did Jesus understand the significance of what He was symbolically saying at His baptism and during His first temptation? I am convinced that He did. Notice the words our Lord spoke in John 4:

10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” … 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:10-14, 31-34, emphasis mine).

Literal water temporarily preserves life and quenches thirst. Our Lord’s “water” (salvation) gives eternal life and gives permanent satisfaction. Literal food is not as important to our Lord as His spiritual food – doing the will of the Father.

Jesus was in a wilderness, a deserted place, when He fed the 5,000. The crowds wanted Jesus to keep the meals coming. Notice how the principles which undergirded our Lord at His temptation are now central to our Lord’s teaching in John 6:

24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food that the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” 28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father—for every one who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:24-40).

Jesus was the “true water” and the “true bread.” His “water” sustains life and permanently satisfies thirst. He is likewise the “true bread” (6:32). The bread that God gave Israel sustained physical life, but it did not grant eternal life. Jesus, the “true bread,” does provide eternal life. He therefore warns His audience not to seek physical bread, but rather to seek the heavenly bread – Jesus Himself, and not just Jesus, but Jesus crucified, sacrificed for sinners.


Our Lord’s baptism and temptation have many practical implications and applications to Christians today.

(1) The Lord’s baptism and victory in temptation proved Him to be qualified for His saving work on the cross of Calvary. Our Lord alone has triumphed over temptation, sin, and Satan. He alone is qualified to die in the sinner’s place as the spotless Lamb of God. His victory in the midst of His temptations is crucial to His work as the Lamb of God.

(2) Our Lord’s testing not only qualified Him for His saving work at Calvary, it qualified Him to be our sympathetic High Priest.

14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16).

7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:7-10).

(3) Our Lord’s victory over this temptation qualified our Lord to teach on these matters with authority. Jesus had no tolerance for hypocrites, those who taught one thing and lived in a manner that was inconsistent with their teaching:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:1-3).

The apostle Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on consistency between one’s teaching and one’s conduct:

16 I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

17 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. 18 For many live (about whom I often told you, and now say even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

Our words and our works should be consistent, or otherwise we are hypocrites.

Only two chapters removed from the account of our Lord’s temptation, we find these words on the subject of eating and drinking, and life:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the sky: they do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

We will wait till we come to the text to expound it carefully, but for the time being allow me to call this text to your attention. In the first temptation, Satan certainly sought to cause our Lord to worry about what He ate and drank. He urged Jesus to set aside His worries by commanding stones to become bread. But Jesus knew that the Father cared for Him and would provide from Him in His time, and in His way. He knew that life was more than food; it was depending on every Word of God. Jesus applies the lesson He learned in His temptation to everyone.

(4) Suffering, adversity, and testing are not contrary to God’s favor, or the presence and power of His Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father indicated that He was well pleased with the Son. Also at His baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon our Lord and remained on Him. In other words, He was indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into temptation. It was the Holy Spirit who guided our Lord while in the wilderness and through His temptations. The point I wish to emphasize is that while Jesus was in favor with the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, He found Himself in the wilderness, without food and water, threatened by wild animals, and tempted by the devil.

There are those who would seem to find this difficult to believe. There are those who tell us that if we trust in God and are filled with His Spirit, we will avoid suffering and adversity, and will experience only God’s blessings. Our text calls this assumption into question. The apostle Paul informs us that we may sometimes experience abundance, and at other times, we may do without:

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

Job’s friends were all too quick to find Job to blame for his trials, and yet God pointed Job out to Satan as a devout man, whose faith was in God (Job 1:1-8). Job’s suffering was not due to his sin; it was a divine test. How tragic to suggest to one who is suffering that his affliction is a sure sign of sin! It could be so, but it is not necessarily so, as in the case of Job or Paul. Those who are truly spiritual may very well suffer for the sake of Christ.

Suffering and affliction may be an indication of divine favor:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but healed (Hebrews 12:1-13).

In my years of prison ministry, I have watched work crews hoeing fields and raising food for the prison. We have seen such men performing all kinds of hard labor. What they are doing is a consequence of the crime(s) they have committed. But I have seen similar work being done at a military base. Particularly in boot camp, new recruits are put through all kinds of adversity. Is their adversity an indication of some wrong they have done? Not at all! The adversity they face is an indication of the missions they will be given and of the substantial tasks that they will perform. Israel’s afflictions in Egypt prepared them for the difficulties they would soon face on the other side of the Red Sea. Affliction may not be punishment at all, but rather preparation.

(5) Times of extreme difficulty and danger are not an excuse for disobedience, but an occasion in which our faith is proven by our obedience to God’s Word. For all too many people, times of extreme danger or difficulty become their “lion in the road,”97 their occasion for what I call a “moral mulligan.”98 King Saul failed because he viewed a crisis situation as his excuse to disobey God’s Word:

5 For the battle with Israel the Philistines had amassed three thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 The men of Israel realized they had a problem because their army was hard pressed. So the army hid in caves, thickets, cliffs, strongholds, and cisterns. 7 Some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan River to the land of Gad and Gilead. But Saul stayed at Gilgal; the entire army that was with him was terrified. 8 He waited for seven days, the time period indicated by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the army began to abandon Saul. 9 So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” Then he offered a burnt offering. 10 When he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul went out to meet him and to greet him. 11 But Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the army had started to abandon me and that you didn’t come at the appointed time and that the Philistines had assembled at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me at Gilgal and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I was compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom will not continue. The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:5-14, emphasis mine).

Sadly, Saul did not learn his lesson here. When commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites and every living creature, Saul and his army held back the most prized spoil on the pretext that it was to be sacrificed to God. Listen to what God says in response to this sin:

2 Here is what the Lord of hosts says: ‘I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. 3 So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.’” … 9 However, Saul and the army spared Agag, and the best of the flock, the cattle, the fatlings, and the lambs, as well as everything else that was of value. They were not willing to slaughter them. But they did slaughter everything that was despised and worthless… .

20 Then Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the Lord! I went on the campaign the Lord sent me on. I brought back King Agag of the Amalekites, after exterminating the Amalekites. 21 But the army took from the plunder some of the sheep and cattle—the best of what was to be slaughtered—to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 22 Then Samuel said, “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and presumption is like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:2-3, 9, 20-23).

David was confronted with a similar test, and thankfully he did not fail.99 Saul was actively seeking to kill David. David fled from Saul’s presence and lived his life in remote places as a fugitive. Twice God put Saul’s life in David’s hands, and twice David was urged to take advantage of this situation by killing Saul. Although David’s life was in grave danger, David refused to remove Saul by taking his life (1 Samuel 24:1-7; 26:6-12). David entrusted his life to God and refused to do the wrong thing just because his life was in danger.

It is no test for me to hand one of my granddaughters a five dollar bill and instruct her to buy an ice cream cone. It is a test to take her to the doctor and tell her to allow the doctor to give her a shot. Adverse circumstances provide the context whereby our faith and obedience are put to the test.

(6) The strongest of all human instincts is that of self-preservation, and yet Christian faith calls upon us to “die to self” and to “mortify the flesh.” One could spend a great deal of time here. “Self” is by far the dominant theme of the fleshly life. Whether it is the preservation of one’s life (“Better Red than dead,” it was once said), or the preservation of one’s self-esteem, when self is threatened most people are willing to set aside the written Word of God. What a tragedy it would be if there were not some who believed that some things are more important than physical life! Soldiers go out to war knowing that their lives will be at risk, but assured that their cause is worth dying for.

How much more true this should be for Christians! We desperately need men, women, and children who value obedience to God’s Word more than the preservation of their physical lives. We need people who have Paul’s attitude toward life and death:

20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. 25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:20-25).

6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).

We need people who are not afraid to die, who see the cause of the gospel as more important than personal comfort or safety. Thank God for men like David, who willingly stood up to Goliath when others (including Saul) feared for their lives. Praise God for those in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, who did not shrink back from suffering and death, but who remained faithful to God and to His Word. Praise God for the many in our time who have set aside “playing it safe” for the sake of the gospel. Many more like this are needed. Those who set personal comfort, safety, and self-preservation above the gospel will never know the joy of “living on the edge,” nor will they ever hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Praise God that our Lord set His face toward Jerusalem from the very outset of His earthly ministry, and that He would not be turned aside from His mission for reasons of personal comfort or safety.

(7) What about, “Lead us not into temptation”? I know there are those who are wondering about these words, which our Lord instructed us to pray:

“And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).

The Spirit of God led Jesus into temptation, did He not? Why then, did our Lord instruct us to pray that God would not lead us into temptation? We could point out that the Greek word peirazo can mean “tempt” (solicit to do evil) or “test” (test, with the hope of being approved). That really offers us no help here.

We must begin with the boundaries that other Scriptures set. We are told, for example,

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).

Therefore we know that while God may test us for our good (Deuteronomy 8:16), He never tempts us. When He allows Satan to tempt us, it is really a test from God’s point of view (as in the case of the temptation of our Lord by Satan).

We do not have to convince God to refrain from tempting us. I believe that when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking God to give us the desire not to be tempted. If we don’t wish to sin, then we surely should not wish to be tempted. I fear that sometimes we want to enjoy the temptation without falling into the sin. Our desire should be to avoid temptation altogether. This is what Joseph did when Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce him. He fled. He fled not only the sin, but the temptation. This should be our attitude as well. We should pray that temptation may not come our way, and that our desire would be to escape temptation. Thus, it should also be our prayer.

May God grant that when temptation does come our way, we may see it for what it is (through the Word of God and the Spirit of God), and respond accordingly.

(8) Let us close by noting that our Lord’s victory over temptation was His victory over Satan. This is the first “face-off” between Satan and the Savior, though it will not be the last. But in this encounter with His arch enemy, Jesus prevailed. Matthew is informing his readers, I believe, that this is a foretaste of “things to come.” He lets us know early in his Gospel that Jesus always wins over Satan. Our Lord’s victory in the wilderness is the “first fruits” of the greater victory which our Lord will win on the cross of Calvary, the very thing Satan’s success in temptation would have prevented. Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

74 This is the edited manuscript of Lessons 5 & 6 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 16 & 23, 2003

75 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at:

76 We should first take note that Jesus has not yet called His disciples. That happens after His baptism, in Matthew 4:18-22. Peter was present at our Lord’s transfiguration, when he heard the Father speak virtually the same words, and he mentions this fact in 2 Peter 1:17-18. But Peter never speaks of overhearing the Father speak to Jesus at His baptism.

77 Assuming for the moment that there were people standing nearby when Jesus was baptized, I’m not sure that they would have understood what was taking place. It may well have been something like John 12:27-30 where the Father spoke from heaven for the benefit of those standing around. Even so, they do not appear to have understood what God said. Likewise with those who were with Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:9).

78 Compare Isaiah 63:15; 64:1; see also Isaiah 11:1-2.

79 The argument here is similar to what we find in Hebrews 7:1-10, where the author reasons that the lesser offers tithes to the one who is greater. Thus, when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, he unwittingly indicated that Melchizedek was greater than he, and thus the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek was superior to the Aaronic priesthood, which descended from Abraham.

80 In Matthew, the Trinity is seen at the baptism of Jesus and is also referred to in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19).

81 See also Hebrews 5:5. Note incidentally, that when the writer of Hebrews uses these two Old Testament texts, he does so in relation to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. At His baptism, Jesus was introduced as the One who would rule over Israel, seated on the throne of David. On the mount of transfiguration, the three disciples were given a preview of the coming reign of our Lord (Luke 9:27). The writer to the Hebrews then brings the whole thing home. He argues that, in order for Jesus to reign eternally on the throne of David, He must first be resurrected from the dead.

82 See for example Matthew 1:1, 20; 9:29; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31, etc.

83 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), vol. 1, p. 51.

84 When Samuel designated Saul as Israel’s first king, the Spirit of God came over him (1 Samuel 10:1-13; see also 11:6). In 1 Samuel 16:13, the same thing happened to David when Samuel anointed him as Israel’s king.

85 My friend, Tony Emge, suggested that the dove here provides a symbolic link the Noah and the waters of the flood. The dove returned (the second time) with a freshly picked olive leaf, a sign that new life would emerge from the destruction of the flood. Is the dove in our Lord’s baptism a sign that out of the waters of God’s judgment of Christ (which His baptism symbolized), new life would emerge?

86 This partnership would explain the “us” in Matthew 3:15.

87 The NASB, KJV, NKJV, and NIV all render this word “led.”

88 Deer were a probability; bears and cougars were remote possibilities, but that gave me little comfort as I whistled my way through my night walk.

89 It is interesting to note that Mark does not call attention to the fact that Jesus fasted those 40 days.

90 See Fredrick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: A Historical/Theological Commentary (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), vol. 1, p. 103.

91 n

92 Luther had never seen a right fasting or a fasting that did not encourage trust in good works; right fasting is to accept God-sent hardships … Calvin, 1:124-135, points out that neither Jesus nor Moses fasted every year, but only once in their lives according to the biblical records.” Bruner, p. 104.

Actually I think Calvin is wrong here. Jesus did “fast” on several occasions (see Mark 3:20-21; John 4:31-34); Moses also fasted more than one time – it is mentioned 3 times in Deuteronomy, and this refers to at least 2 different occasions: the initial giving of the Law, and Moses’ intercession after Israel’s sin with the golden calf (see Deuteronomy 9:9, 11, 18, 25; 10:10).

93 Just as Jesus would not act independently of God by making a meal for himself, I doubt that He would have determined, independently of God, not to eat in the first place.

94 I cannot overlook the fact that Jesus was “the rock that followed Israel” according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Jesus was not just aware of what took place in the wilderness those 40 days because He read about it in the Scriptures; He was actually there. He was the stone that produced water. How easy it would be for Him to turn stone into bread!

95 The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to see an important prophetic theme here. The prophets, especially Isaiah, use the symbolism and terminology of the exodus (God’s first great act of salvation) to describe the salvation He will provide in the future (more immediately from Babylonian captivity; ultimately from the captivity to sin, through Christ). When I look at texts like Isaiah 35:6-7; 44:3-4, I see a play on exodus terminology. The last salvation is far greater than the first. When Israel was in the wilderness, God caused water to flow from the rock. But in the greater salvation, God will create rivers in the wilderness. God will literally turn the wilderness into a watered garden.

96 Revelation thus quotes Isaiah 49:10. The salvation our Lord accomplishes is the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:10, and its antitype, the exodus. I’m inclined to understand the reference to the sun not beating down on the people, with all its heat, to be an indication that this final salvation is far better than the earlier deliverance from Egypt, because the Israelites did have to endure the heat of the wilderness.

97 See Proverbs 22:13; 26:13. The sluggard’s “lion in the road” is his compelling excuse for avoiding that which he is too lazy to do. After all, who would leave the safety of their home to go on and work in the fields if there actually was a lion in the road? We all look for compelling reasons to avoid what we dislike or what is unpleasant. A neighbor and I used to run on the high school track nearby. If it began to rain lightly, he (it may have been me, come to think of it) would stick his head out the door and shout across the street to me, “We can’t run in this storm.”

98 Trust me, I know a lot about “mulligans” from the little bit of golf I have played. It is my excuse to kick the ball out of the rough and back onto the fairway, or to hit a second ball after my first drive fell short.

99 Though he certainly did fail some other tests.

Related Topics: Christology, Temptation

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