Matthew 4:1-11

The Lord Jesus Christ has been baptized with the baptism of John, which is the sign of the covenantal fulfillment of the righteousness of God; and the Holy Spirit has anointed Him for Kingdom inheritance and Messianic office.  One would think, now, that Christ would begin to vigorously prosecute the Covenantal law-suit in public, and demonstrating the fact that the Kingdom was at hand.

But that was not yet to be.  For He was lead by the Spirit, that is, the Third Person of the Trinity, into the wilderness in order to be tempted, or tested, or proved, by the devil.  Verse one.  Instead of the newly-anointed Son of God immediately confronting national apostasy and idolatry, there was a sudden return to a privacy and solitude more complete than the previous thirty years in Egypt and Galilee of the Gentiles.

He was not sought out and cornered by Satan, but He was lead, by Divine initiative, into the wilderness, in order to be tested by Satan.   Now, in order to understand Christ’s wilderness ordeal, we need to know something about Satan and how he is represented in Scripture.

Two different words are used here in the text.  Matthew, here in the first verse, uses O Diabolos.  “in ordered to be tempted by O Diabolos.”  The word means slanderer – or accuser.  In John chapter eight, Jesus says that “He is a liar, and the father of the lie.”  And he is presented in Scripture as the accuser of the elect before the throne of God.

Later, in verse ten of this passage, Jesus calls him Satanos – Satan.  Satanos is a Hebrew word which means adversary.  And in many cases in Scripture he is personified as the attorney for the prosecution.  He is the accuser who brings up legal charges against men in God’s court.  He is the “evil one” who tirelessly accuses the brethren “day and night.”  Satan was the accuser of Job before God, in chapter one of the account.  And of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah, three, verses one through ten.  And his legal accusations are just lies.  All of them.  Even when he uses words which are true, they are taken out of context or slanted toward falsehood.

He is the liar of the highest order, and he deceives the whole world.  It was Satan who was behind the slanderous accusations against the early Christians – all the rumors and criminal charges alleging that they were apostates from the faith, atheists, ritual murderers, cannibals, social revolutionaries, and haters of mankind and haters of authority.

He uses the Law of God against God’s redeemed people.  He is the chief coveter – he unlawfully applies the truth for his own ends, exchanging the truth for a lie.

He is described in Scripture, dozens of times, as the dragon, or the serpent, or leviathan, sea monster.  And his attempts to destroy the seed of the woman are recorded in every book of Scripture!  And, after Christ is born, there are various attempts to kill Him in an effort to keep Him from establishing the Kingdom.

Satan is described in Revelation as the beast, and the one behind the persecuting powers that sought to terminate the Kingdom of God.  They too are called “beasts”.  And Satan and his angels are revealed in Scripture as coming up from the abyss, or the pit, or the raging deep, in order to “cut off” the seed, or to torment the elect, or to destroy the Anointed One of God.  The persecution of the Royal Seed and his Covenant people is never merely a political contest, or a contest between men and ideas, it always originates in the pit of hell.

From the deception of Eve, to Cain’s killing of Abel, the corruption of the whole earth before the flood, attacks on the family of Abraham, the attempt to take the inheritance from Jacob and give it to Esau, the attempt at killing all the male babies in Egypt; the entire political apparatus of King Saul was thrown at a shepherd-boy named David because he carried the Royal Seed; Haman, the evil prime minister of Persia launched a full-scale assault on the race of Jews – and would have succeeded except for God’s Sovereign grace in Queen Esther; the attempts go on and on, and they are motivated by the father of lies – the dragon, who is Satan.

And that pattern of attempting to cut off the seed culminates at the birth of Christ, when the Dragon possesses Herod, and inspires him to slaughter the children of Bethlehem.  Then he tries to swallow the child again in the wilderness of Egypt.

But, again and again, God administers blow after head-crushing blow, preserving His Son and the Church in Him.  And here he is, again, having been handed so many crushing provisional defeats, persistence personified, coming head to head with the God-man Who has just been baptized to fulfill all righteousness, and Who had just received the anointing of the Holy Spirit for Kingdom inheritance!  And he attempts, face to face with the God-man, by guile and deception, to cause Jesus to do something that would terminate His Messianic office.

If this didn’t work, then further attempts to kill Jesus would have to be set up.  But he, of course, didn’t understand that, by Divine deception, God’s plan was for Satan to be successful in killing Jesus, for by His death, and His resurrection, the final crushing blow to the head of the serpent was struck.

So, verse one says, “Then Jesus was lead into the wilderness, of the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil” – the slanderer – the accuser – the dragon! “And, having fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He hungered.”

The word “to tempt” basically means to try, or to test.  But the word takes on a sinister meaning because of the context, of who and because of who is doing it.  When the word is used with reference to Satan, then the meaning changes to tempt, as in “to do evil.”  Tempt to do evil.

Matthew says that Jesus was there forty days and nights.  And afterwards, He was hungry.  Then the devil approached Him.  Now, Matthew doesn’t give us many details, as you can see.  A few others are given in the other accounts.  But there is no reason to suspect that Jesus wasn’t hungry during the forty days of fasting – just that He was hungry after the forty days was done.  I’ll get to the significance of the forty days in a minute.  But also Matthew says that the devil approached Him after the forty days of fasting.

Now the apostle said that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin; but these three temptations of the devil certainly don’t complete the full range of temptations to evil with which men are faced!  Although they are comprehensive in their context, they don’t complete the spectrum of aberration from godliness for which we are liable.  So, I don’t think we could rule out the probability that Jesus was tempted during the entire forty days He fasted in the wilderness; and that Satan himself approached Him at the end – when the situation was most favorable to him.

Now.  Let me say this.  The sequence of baptism – then temptation – is highly suggestive of the sequence of events in a new Christian’s life.  In fact, I don’t think it’s a disputable point that the first thing that happens in a newly repentant person is a testing of his faith.  And from many directions.

But the point is, that the text focuses no attention on new believers.  Baptism isn’t the sign of new faith anyway!  Although every new believer will very soon have many opportunities to prove his faithfulness to the Savior, Matthew’s intent is to record the suffering of the Lord Jesus, and the reasons for that suffering.  The Gospel writer wishes the Messiah to be known!

Remember, Matthew isn’t recording history, for our benefit – so that we might have a pattern or lifestyle.  He’s recording the Gospel – at the inspiration of the Spirit.  So, if Matthew isn’t recording historical events for us, what’s he doing?  What is it that we’re supposed to see?  The better question is – Who are we supposed to know?

And the answer is – “This is My beloved Son in Whom I Am well pleased.”  It’s not at all accidental, or coincidence, that, at the baptism of Jesus, God affirmed that this was His Son!  And it’s not at all accidental, or coincidental, that God instructed Moses to say to Pharaoh concerning Israel, “This is My son, My firstborn, let My son go.”  (Exodus four, verse twenty-three)

And it’s not at all coincidental that Israel spent forty years in the wilderness being disciplined.  Moses spent forty days fasting on Sinai while receiving the Law of God.  And it’s not a coincidence at all that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tested and proved – at the end of which Satan approached with these words – “If you are the Son of God….”  And it’s certainly not coincidental that Jesus’ responses to Satan’s three temptations come from chapters six and eight of Deuteronomy, which are the chapters having to do with the discipline of Israel as the Son of God!

And it’s not accidental or coincidental that the apostle Paul, in First Corinthians chapter ten, verses one through thirteen, pictures Israel as “baptized” in the Red Sea experience, whereupon immediately the nation goes into the wilderness for forty years to be tested and disciplined.

So we can now see that Jesus, now baptized, must go on to submit to severe testing as the true Israel, the Son of God; and with all of true Israel in Him.  The former son failed – the latter Son, with the Church in Him, does not fail!

Jesus is Israel!  The people of God are in Him, and He is their King.  And He recapitulates, in Himself, the experience of Israel, with the perfect obedience and unbroken loyalty to God, which Israel failed to exhibit.  He was tempted in all points like as we are, but without sin.  He alone, alone in the wilderness, has steadfastly refused to worship other gods or to tempt God; and He alone has obeyed, entirely, the command – “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” – which, not accidentally, also comes from Deuteronomy chapter six.

Now, there are also allusions here to the first and second Adam as well – the first Adam depraved and the second perfect – both tempted to disobey God by food.

But the full context of Matthew’s proclamation here leaves it without question that Jesus, the Son of God, the true Israel, the Church, is being tempted by Satan in the wilderness.  The first Israel was birthed from the loins of Egypt, baptized by water ordeal in the Red Sea, tested for forty years in the desert, and was found wanting.

The second Son of God – the Only Begotten of the Father – conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, baptized of John, suffered severe deprivation in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan himself – was not found wanting, but emerged sinless and obedient to His Father.  His obedience was substituted for the first Israel’s disobedience, and He thereby became the perfect sin-bearer!  And He did that so that the church in Him would have the perfect obedience that the first Israel did not have!  So, where the old covenant nation was done away with because of the depravity and sin of men, the new covenant is eternal because of the perfections of Christ.

After the forty days of deprivation and testing, the accusor approaches Jesus and says, “If you are God’s Son, speak, that these stones might become bread.”  And Jesus’ reply is, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live only on bread, but on every Word flowing through God’s mouth.’”

Just as he did with Adam, the dragon tries to tempt Jesus to take the authority which belongs only to God the Father.   And, in doing so, he strikes a blow against the unity and diversity of the Triune Godhead.  You see, after a period of deprivation, the nation of Israel was given manna from God.  But they had murmured against Moses and against God.  They even had wanted to go back to Egypt.  And many died because of their faithlessness and murmuring.  They questioned that God was able and willing to provide what was needed when the food ran out.

Satan’s approach is to get Jesus to use His Divine Power to speak – and it will be – to change the molecular structure of common items for His Own benefit, thereby usurping the authority of the Father in providing for those needs.

But the Son of God will not speak for His Own benefit.  His Own words, later in this book are, “I came to glorify My Father.”  Instead, He speaks the written words of God from Deuteronomy six.  The second Son is to be afflicted as the first one.  And when there was no bread for the first one, God spoke.  And the manna came as their provision.  The Second Son, the God-Man, will not murmur, and He will not take the authority to Himself, and He will wait patiently for the provision of His Father.  He will be content to wait for His Father to speak.  And, of course, being the obedient – Only Begotten Son of God, His Father sent the holy angels to attend Him.

The second phase of Jesus’ temptation is recorded in verses five, six and seven:


“Then the accuser takes Him into the Holy City and sets Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and says to Him, “If you are God’s Son, cast yourself down, for it is written that ‘He shall command His angels concerning You, and they will bear you up lest you dash your foot on a stone.’  Jesus affirmed to him, ‘it is written further, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”


Satan takes Jesus up to the “little wing” of the temple (that’s what the word “pinnacle” means) and taunts Him with His Own Word.  He quotes from Psalm ninety-one which has to do with God’s care of His Son Israel during the wilderness wanderings – where God has promised to hold Israel under His wings and be their refuge in all their goings.  And if God’s word is true, then if Jesus jumps off, then the angels will bear Him up.  Will the Son of God dare to put the Father’s pledge to the test at the very temple?

Of course, as Satan always does, he twists God’s spoken word to mean something other than what was intended:  It is written “that” and God will not be provoked by men in foolhardy testing of His faithfulness.

Jesus’ quote from Deuteronomy six, sixteen stands as a warning from Moses to Israel not to put God to the test as the nation had done at Massah.  This was the occasion where water was brought forth from the rock to answer the murmuring and malcontentment of Israel.  The people were putting God to the test about His pledge of His presence and provision.  They said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Although Israel provoked God many times in the desert, this one is the occasion that is reported in detail, and the one used as the prime example in the Scriptures of malcontent.  The word “Massah” itself means “the testing”.  And the event occurred in the context, and at the time, of the quote Jesus makes from Moses.

To put God to the test is proof that one isn’t really trusting.  In a test such as this, the attempt is to make God the servant – obliged to give aid no matter how foolhardy the venture undertaken to test Him.  Satan was requiring a new Massah – a dramatic, momentary intervention, instead of a patient waiting for the revelation of His Will.

But the writer to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, stigmatizes this kind of unbelief, in chapter three where he says, concerning the hope and confidence of God’s faithfulness:


“Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness….  Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the Living God.” 


“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Your God,” Jesus says.  You shall not provoke Him with your malcontented murmuring.  It is a foolhardy thing to do, similar to jumping off a building and requiring Him to remember His pledge of faithfulness!

Well, ultimately, this Satanic temptation struck again at the very essence of the Godhead.  It was aimed at Jesus gaining the ascendancy over His Father by manipulating Him.  And rather than being in submission, the natural tendency of sin and depravity is to gain that manipulative authority over God and His spoken Word.  Jesus would have no part of that.  And He placed Himself under submission again by quoting the Word of God – which is the armor against all temptation.

The last phase of Jesus’ temptation is similar to the first two, but, in it, Satan becomes even more bold in revealing his own motives and goals!  After taking Jesus to an exceedingly high mountain and showing Him the kingdoms of the world, he says, “I will give all these to you if, falling down, you would pay homage to me!”  Then Jesus says to him, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written ‘You shall pay homage to the Lord your God and you shall serve Him only.’”

After a sweeping glance at the magnificence of world empires, Jesus is tempted to go ahead and do what the Jews expected of Him, which was to become the world political leader.  All He had to do was fall down and profess or acknowledge that Satan was able to give those kingdoms to Him.

But Satan didn’t have possession of those kingdoms!  He had only been given sway over them for a time.  The nations were the promised inheritance of the Messiah, and the uttermost parts of the earth His possession.  Psalm two.  In that Psalm, God says, “Ask of Me and I will give them to You.”  Satan tried to usurp the very authority of God the Father, and lied about his ownership of the kingdoms of the world.

But Jesus’ quote from Deuteronomy six, thirteen concerning the sovereignty of God is a crushing indication that God is Ruler of all, and that, whatever Satan has, has been given to him by God.

The devil seeks to be worshipped as equal with God, an autonomy which is at the root of depravity.  This is in deep contrast to the other angels of God, which, such as in the book of Revelation, abhorred worship.  Every time the apostle John fell down before the messenger of God, the angel said, “Don’t worship me – worship God.”

But, again, Jesus quotes from the written Word of God.  And His quote comes out of one of the great passages in Scripture, Deuteronomy six.  And in that chapter is the Shema Israel:


 “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord.  And you shall serve him only.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your strength.” 


And then comes the warning against idolatry.

But the Lord Jesus Christ was obedient unto death.  And He then received the reward (and the Church in Him) – the Name above every Name, the Kingdoms of this world, power and everlasting glory, worship equal to the Father, and a victorious elect in Him – of whom He lost not even one.

Although Satan left Jesus alone then, he didn’t abandon his attacks, which then began to take other forms.  On many occasions Jesus is tempted to do similar things, such as demonstrate that He is the Son of God by coming down from the cross.  And after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Son of God, he attempted to convince Jesus not to proceed to the crucifixion.  And, at that point, Jesus looked directly at Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan.”

This morning let it be a certainty that Jesus is the Son of God.  And let it be a certainty that the entire people of God are in Him.  And when He obeyed, so did we.  And although we are to suffer in many of the same ways He suffered, because of that very same unity with Him, be it assured that God is with His Son.  We need not and must not seek autonomy, but love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.  Malcontent is the sin of autonomy and faithlessness.  It is the attempt to unseat Christ from His Throne as King!

So do not murmur against the Sovereignty of God.  Use the written Word of God and obey it.  It’s the one thing that Satan cannot penetrate.