Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus turning away from temptations of bread, worldly kingdom, and pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple.
 "Jesus turning away from temptations of bread, worldly kingdom, and pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


This text reminds us immediately of Genesis 3: Satan came to Eve and engendered doubt; "Did God really say etc.?", verse 1. Then a false promise: "You're not going to die," verse 4. Then another false promise: "You'll be like God," verse 5. Though surrounded with good food, Eve fell, and caused her husband to sin, verse 6. Then, conscience bothered, verse 7, they try to hide and lie.

The first thing God did was to announce utter defeat to Satan, verse 15, through the Seed of the woman. The outcome was prophesied and clearly assured. Through Adam, sin and death passed upon all human beings. Through Christ righteousness was truly attained for all human beings. See Romans 5:12-21. If sin and death are universal, the imputed righteousness for all men are surer, a lesser to greater argument. Read Hebrews 2:14,18; 4:15; 5:8. The God-man, Jesus, our Great High Priest, was tempted, suffered, died, conquered Satan vicariously, in our place.

In the baptism of Jesus, Matthew 3:13-17, the human nature of Jesus was permanently anointed with the Holy Spirit. And the Father openly declared the incarnate Christ The Son of God. Now comes the great test immediately.

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

"Then" is immediately after the baptism. He is fittingly called Jesus, the Savior. Jesus is truly human.

He was led up, toward Jerusalem, from the depression of the Jordan to the lonely wilderness, a wilder part than mentioned in 3:1.

Here is a remarkable concurrence of the Holy Spirit and Satan but for different purposes. Jesus was willing, Hebrews 10:9-10, but did this not of His own accord.

Matthew 4:2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

From Mark and Luke it is clear that Jesus was tempted for forty days and nights. Why did He fast?

  1. He trusted His Father completely;

  2. He was in a place where there was no food.

The text says nothing about "communion with God" "devotion to prayer." He went where the Spirit led Him, where there was no food. The number "forty" is reminiscent of Moses in Exodus 34:28 and Elijah in 1 Kings 19:8.

Bengel: But the condition of Moses, when without food, was one of glory; that of Christ, one of humiliation. An angel brought food to Elijah before his fast commenced; many angels ministered to Christ after His fast ended.
Lenski: It is useless to refer to the two periods of forty days spent by Moses on Sinai without food or drink or to the forty foodless days of Elijah while traveling to Horeb or to other long fast of ordinary men.

If anything, it is contrast and comparison. Furthermore, these forty days in humiliation are in contrast to Jesus' forty days on earth after His resurrection in exaltation.

Satan is called the slanderer, the accuser.

Matthew 4:3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

As mentioned above, Jesus had been tempted for forty days already. Now first we read "after he approached," or "came to him." Who? The tempter. Satan has great strength, see Luke 10:19. He clearly approached Jesus. He was clearly aware of what the Father had said in 3:17. But he did not believe it. And he wanted Jesus to doubt it. Unbelievers always put things in such a way that believers will begin to doubt. Look at Genesis 3:1

"But" if you are, prove it. The Jews demanded a sign as proof of Jesus' divinity. They would get only one, the sign of Jonah, three days in the grave. Look at the fact conditions in Luke 23:35-39. They did not believe He was the Christ. They demanded proof. Unbelievers always talk just as does Satan, doubting and trying to cause doubt. Jesus' human nature, endowed with the Holy Spirit, was being tempted to distrust the Father.

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Jesus does not argue or debate. He does not deny that He is hungry nor that He is the Son of God. He does not remind Satan of what the Father said, because he would not have believed it anyway, and He does not "pray for the Holy Spirit." He answers Satan, in great humility, by quoting Scripture. Bengel reminds us that He doesn't even say "I say unto you." He sticks to Scripture.

By the way, with "it is written" Jesus stamps Deuteronomy 8 as the very Word of God.

Hendriksen: Deuteronomy 8:3 pictures Moses reminding Israel of God's tender care for his people during the forty years of the wilderness journey. Particularly, it shows how the Lord had fed them with manna, heretofore completely unknown to them and their fathers, that he might teach them 'that not by bread alone does man live but by everything proceeding out of the mouth of Jehovah does man live.'

Literally, "not on bread along there will live the man." Jesus means Himself by using "the man," and uses the generic sense, meaning every human being. This is true of all people, whether they believe it or not. Food is produced by the creative power of God. Believers know and believe that. Unbelievers reject it, but it is still true.

The Word of God alone causes and sustains life, not just physical food. The Holy Spirit had led Jesus to a wilderness where there was no food. Jesus trusted the Father. His Word would sustain Him. Of course, He is not saying that food is evil. Satan is attacking Jesus' confidence and trust in the Father.

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

Matthew is giving us the historical order of these severe temptations.

"Took" is the same word used by Matthew of Joseph "taking" Mary and the Child in chapters 1 and 2. Lenski translates "to take possession of and thus also to take along." For the moment the devil is given power over Jesus.

"To the holy city," of all places. When Satan wanted to tempt Job he appeared right in the presence of God, Job 1:6. Jerusalem, the holy city, brings memories of that which is holy. That's where Satan appears. Luther said: "Where God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel." Satan had full power, allowed by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 4:6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Note the following about this verse:

Matthew 4:7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Jesus and Satan truly spoke to each other. But here Satan's quotation of Scripture was not in keeping with the principle: "Scripture interprets Scripture." Satan loves to set Scripture against Scripture. Unbelievers attempt to show that Scripture contradicts itself.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16.

Lenski: This word of God rests on the incident recorded in Exodus 17:17. Their sin was that they tested out God, tried or tempted Him. . . The people chided and challenged God . . . They did it by presumptuous lack of trust.
Hendriksen: This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16, which reflects the situation of the Israelites described in Exodus 17:1-7, now at a place called Massah and Meribah they made trial of Jehovah and rebelled against Moses because of lack of water. . . They were almost ready to stone Moses . . . They insolently and provocatively challenged God saying 'Is Jehovah among us or not?'

Had Jesus thrown Himself down, it would have been arrogance and insolence, not trust. Jesus is saying: "You will not be arrogant or presumptuous toward the Lord, your God."

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

"Again" introduces the third and final temptation. For the third time, Satan is called "the devil."

Where was this mountain? We know not. It could have been Everest. We know not. John Calvin classifies this as a vision. Hendriksen follows Calvin and defends him by quoting Ezekiel 40:2 and Revelation 21:10 but these are clearly called visions. Satan truly and really took Jesus to the top of a mountain. He has great power and the Holy Spirit permitted this to happen. All Lutheran commentators reject the "vision" idea. Furthermore Satan was granted the power to show Jesus the vast splendor of all earthly kingdoms. That is incomprehensible to us, but so is Satan's power.

Matthew 4:9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

Luther says that in the first temptation Satan showed himself as a black devil, in the second as a white devil. But, in the third, he displays himself as a divine, majestic devil, who comes right out as though he were God himself. He drops his mask and appears as the prince and ruler of this world.

His statement is based on a lie. He is not the owner of the world and its kingdoms. He is a usurper. He has arrogantly caused the world to be sinful. He works through sinful men and thus gives the appearance of owning all.

God owns all. He gives unconditionally. His gifts are followed by worship. Satan owns nothing. He gives conditionally. He expects to be worshiped before he gives. It is total perversion.

Note the condition is future more vivid this time. He is not trying to cause doubt this time. Furthermore, apodosis precedes protasis, promise first, condition second. That is subtle.

Bengel: But the Son is already the heir of all things, and whatever authority Satan possessed on account of man's defection from God, that, Christ, stronger than he, took from him, not by compact, but by conquest. What the devil could not persuade Christ to do in his temptation, that he will effect by his vassal the Beast, see Revelation 13:2. And what he offered to Christ, he will give to that adversary of His, the kingdoms of the world . . . What the angel did not permit John to do, that the tempter demands of Jesus, the Lord of all, Revelation 22:8,9.

Satan begins very subtly in verse 3. He becomes bolder and bolder. In his blind rage in verse 9 he defeats himself by his utter evil. Unbelievers believe in him. But not Christ, as is apparent in the next verse.

Matthew 4:10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

The Greek begins with the word "right then." Note how often Matthew uses this expression, in verses 1, 5 and 10.

It was not a vision or a dream. It actually happened. Here Jesus calls the devil by his right name "Satan." This does not mean that Jesus did not recognize him until then. He addresses Satan as His adversary.

"Be gone" reminds one of Jesus' word to Peter in Matthew 16.

Bengel: 'Get thee behind me Satan' said the Lord to Peter. But to Satan He said 'Depart, Satan: go, not BEHIND Me, but plainly FROM Me.

Here Jesus' divinity clearly shows through, but not until now. It is His very own divine Word to Satan. But He adds "because it stands written." As our true vicarious Savior He continues to quote Scripture to the end.

He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13. There we have the verb "fear" which Jesus here supplants with the word "worship" because Satan had just used this verb. But the meaning is substantially the same.

"Worship" denotes the service of religion. Jesus means these words for Himself, a true human being. It is God's will that He, our Substitute, worship and serve God alone.

Matthew 4:11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Another and final "then."

"Left" means the leaving caused by defeat. We think of Luke 10:18, the utter defeat of Satan. Of course, Satan attacked Jesus again and again in Jesus' lifetime. Satan never learns. There is no truth, no obedience in him. Note that he is called "the devil" once more.

"And" always in this context denotes something remarkable. The reason should be obvious. Just how the angels served Jesus, we know not. But it is a remarkable fulfillment of the very verse which Satan quoted to Jesus in verse 6. And it reminds one of Hebrews 1:14.

The same verb "attended" is used in Mark 10:45. Jesus came to serve me by giving His life for me. And, in the process, the angels served Him.

And it reminds one of Luke 22:43.

Though Jesus, the God-man, was sinless, He died and rose from the dead in our place. His death and resurrection were real. Though Jesus, the God-man, was sinless, He could not fall into sin. And yet He was truly tempted in our place. It was real.

To be tempted is not sinful or otherwise Jesus would have sinned. When we are tempted by Satan and the world, that is not sin on our part. It becomes sin if and when we yield. We differ from Jesus in that we have a sinful flesh. Read Galatians 5:13-26. Life is a constant battle between the new man and the flesh. By faith in Christ the Christian resists every impulse of the flesh. Like Christ he employs the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, Ephesians 5:10-17.

Through a life of obedience and suffering Jesus attained all that Satan promised: daily sustenance, verse 3, the protection of the angels, verse 6, and the authority in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18, given to His human nature. But it was according to the Father's will, done in perfect obedience.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 53-56. Used with permission.

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