Introduction

Regarding human temptation the Apostle James says, “When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). The temptation of Christ was different from human temptations. It was the Holy Spirit who led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1). God had a specific purpose in arranging this encounter in the desert. The temptation occurred after the baptism of Christ and 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Here I will compare the many parallels between the testing of Israel in the Pentateuch and Christ. Israel passed through the Red Sea (resembling baptism c.f. I Cor. 10: 2) and forty years in the wilderness, fed by God with manna and quail, and drank the water that God provided but they failed miserably in their test. But, the Son of God passed the test and came out victorious.

Three Areas that Satan Tempted Christ

The three agents of temptation are: Satan, the world (cosmos) and the flesh. When human beings are tested, the main areas of temptation are: the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). But Christ’s temptation was directed by the Holy Spirit and the agent was Satan. Just as Christ’s baptism was unique, so also was His temptation. He was tempted as the God-man. Satan’s question to Christ, began with, “if (since) you are the Son of God, ask the stone to become bread” suggesting that he assumed Christ’s divinity.

Christ the Son of God fasted for 40 days. The first temptation was in the wilderness near Jericho and it was with regard to food. God provided manna for Israel in the wilderness.  “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years; to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:2-3). The last part of this verse was the answer of Christ to Satan. Therefore, it is evident that the turning of the stones into bread in the wilderness had direct connection to the provision of manna in the wilderness. Israelites nor their fathers had known what manna was. The name ‘manna’ means “what is it?” in Hebrew. So, Moses tried to explain to the later generations, the size, color, texture, how it fell on the ground, how the Israelites collected it, how they were to use it, and its taste. It fell to the ground like flakes along with the dew in the morning. Its shape was round like “coriander seed”, but its color was white, its texture was like “bdellium” (aromatic resin, which was sticky), its taste was like wafers with honey. When cakes were made of the powdered form it tasted like cakes made with oil. They could use it by boiling in water to make gruel or cakes by powdering it. Therefore, we could assume that it was similar to some grains, naturally sweet, aromatic and a healthy food which provided nutrition for the Israelites for forty years of their wanderings. The grain naturally would have remained without any damage, but the development of maggots and stinky smell for the food kept for next day was God’s judgment. This is evident from the fact that the manna collected on Friday remained good for the Sabbath Day and the manna kept in the ark of the covenant remained good throughout centuries. From the question of Satan to Christ to turn stones into bread and Jesus’ quoting the last part of Moses’ statement in connection with manna suggested the possibility that God turned stones of the desert into manna. Whichever way God provided this food is miraculous. But God uses natural means to accomplish the great miracles, like the blowing of the east-wind all night to divide the waters of Red-Sea, opening the rock to provide water, God telling Moses to throw a piece of wood into the bitter waters of Marah to turn them sweet, manna appearing with the dew, a wind over the sea brought quail (Num. 12:4) or Jesus’ miracles.

Giving Manna was a test of their obedience. Every Israelite was to go and collect for themselves, including women and children, every morning (except on the Sabbath), before sunrise. They had to boil manna in water to make gruel or to grind it into powder in a mortar or hand-mill and make cakes. It tasted like something made with olive oil (Numbers 11:8). Manna was not ready to eat bread. It was a humbling experience for Israelite men to go out in obedience to God’s command. Collecting the coriander seed shaped manna from the sand one by one separating it from sand which had similar color and shape was a difficult task. God gave manna to test them and to humble them (Number 11:4-9, Deut.8:16). The psalmist called it the bread from heaven, the food of the angels (Ps. 78:24). Those who ate manna died in the wilderness because of their disobedience. They did not believe in the word of God. Christ was reminding Satan that it is more important to obey the Words of God than eating the manna (bread from heaven).

The second test was in the city of Jerusalem, on the top of the temple at its highest point. Satan asked Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, probably to the courtyard of the temple where people were present. Such a miraculous entry of Christ would be well received by the miracle loving crowd. Satan quoted Psalm 91:11,12, which is a psalm of Moses regarding the angelic promise. “See I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you” (Ex. 23:20-22).  The protection is guaranteed conditionally. If they would obey the angelic guidance, then he would protect them and bring them to the promise land. Satan was trying to make a conditional promise unconditional by omitting the phrase “to guard you in all your ways”. In answer to this challenge, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, which is given in the context of Israelite failure in Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarrel). Exodus 16 describes Israelites grumbling about food and God provided quail and manna. Soon afterward they complained of water. After seeing the great miracle of manna and quail which they continued to experience day after day, they failed to trust God. God provided water from a rock at Horeb. Moses struck this rock with the same staff which touched the Red-Sea in obedience to the command of God. For the next 38 years they drank from this rock. Paul says, “For they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:4).

This miracle happened while they were in the wilderness of Zin (Ex. 17:1). This event is described as Meribah (quarrel) with God. The water came from the rock at Horeb (mountain of the Fathers), where Moses received the ten commandments. The second incident happened 38 years later in the wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20:1). This incident was also referred as Meribah (quarreling). “These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he showed himself holy among them” (Numbers 20:13). This makes it clear that the rock Moses struck in Horeb was same as this second one. Rock is inanimate object and it cannot be moved, but water can flow through the desert as a river. It was the water from the rock at Horeb that followed them. That may be one of the reasons the people went about in circles during the 38 years since the sin at Kadesh- Barnea. There is no mention of Israelites complaining of lack of water until this time at the end of the wilderness wandering. Most probably the water dried up in the river for the purpose of testing the people. This second time God asked Moses only to speak to this rock, but he was angry with the people and struck it twice. Here, this particular rock is mentioned with a definite article indicating it was referred to earlier. God was angry with Moses for his disobedience and destroying the typical meaning God preserved concerning the rock. Christ needed to die only once, but the benefit of His death was available by speaking to Christ. This is the reason why God was angry with Moses by vowing not to permit him into promise land. Thus, the importance of obeying the Word of God was made clear.

By pointing to these events, Christ told Satan that even Moses could lose the opportunity to enter the promise land by testing God (Massah) and the people for quarreling (Meribah). After the feeding of five thousand in Chapter 6 of John, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacle, where he made the statement, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38).

The third test was probably outside the promise land on top of a very high mountain. It was a place high enough for Satan to show Christ all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Moses was given a chance to see the promise land from the top of Mt. Nebo before he died. Moses was only able to see Canaan as far as Lebanon. So top of any earthly mountain was not high enough for Satan to show all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. According to Isaiah 14:13, God’s throne was referred as the sacred mountain, the mount of the assembly. When Satan sinned, he was demoted, but not thrown out of heaven. Satan is referred as the prince of the air and the fallen angels are referred as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ep. 6:12). Along with the sons of God, Satan also presented himself before God in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1). Only during the second half of the tribulation Satan will be thrown out of heaven to earth. “And there was great war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).  Therefore, it is safe to assume that Satan still has a place in heaven, and it is probably the first heaven. Paul was taken to the third heaven, the abode of God. So, Jesus was taken to his abode referred as the very high mountain where he made the offer of kingship to Christ. In answer to this offer, Christ quoted Deut. 6:13, which is the key verse of this chapter. There is only one God and all worship should be directed to Him. The conflict from the garden of Eden is about who has the right to rule. Man, by accepting the word of Satan and surrendering to him became a slave of Satan. Satan’s attempt to rule the world started in the Garden of Eden and manifested itself in the kingdoms of the world beginning in Babel. The rule of Anti-Christ is the final attempt of Satan to rule the world. He will be defeated by Christ and will establish the Millennial Kingdom. Satan will be bound for a thousand years and at the end of the thousand years, Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire (hell).

 Conclusion

The Holy Spirit’s purpose in the temptation of Christ was to prove that Christ, the Son of God is sinless and He is impeccable. Human beings are peccable and God allows temptation to purify them (I Cor. 10:13). Human temptation comes from sin nature, which we inherited from Adam.

Only Matthew and Luke among the gospel writers records this incident in the life of Christ, indicating Matthew’s purpose to show Christ as the legitimate king who defeated Satan using the Word of God as His weapon ( Luke is showing Christ as the Son of Man, which is a messianic title from Daniel). In Ephesians 6, Paul asks the believer to use the sword, which is the Word of God against Satan in our battle against him. Unlike, the people of Israel, Jesus, the Son of God won the victory against sin and temptation (1 Cor.10:1-13).

Also, there is some similarity between human temptation and Christ’s. The writer to the Hebrews says that Christ was tempted like all of us, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). John says that lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and pride of life are the three areas that man is tempted. Here also we can see that in these three areas that Satan tempted Christ. Yet Christ had no inherent sin and therefore, He had no lust or pride emanating from within. So, Satan attempted to provoke Christ to use His divine powers to satisfy His human need. If Christ had fallen prey to this temptation, it would have damaged the humanity of Christ. He never used His divine powers to satisfy His human need. No miracle was performed to satisfy His hunger, thirst or to show His powers to the world. Even when He was performing miracles for the sake of helping others, He told the disciples not to tell others. While he healed Malchus, whose ear was cut by Peter, Christ did not heal His own wounds.

Application

At this time of pandemic it is important to remember that God does not tempt anyone and He is not the cause of evil in the world. However, God will use the evil in the form of suffering to purify us. Suffering in this world is an opportunity to show courage, to hold on to what is good, to strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, to share the gospel, to love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit (1Thess. 5:14). Also, it teaches us to hold on to the Word of God and use it purposefully by understanding its meaning and the context. We can defeat Satan only through the use of the “sword”, which is the Word of God. It teaches us not to hoard things or riches. Sharing with those who are in need is an expression of our faith in God that He is the supplier for all our needs. Faith is obeying the Word of God even when it is not glamorous to do so. We should worship God and there should not be any idols in our life that we may give obeisance even light heartedly.

Temptation of Christ (Matt. 4:1-17)
Dr. Joy M. George

Dr. Joy M. George


Dr. Joy is the most senior teaching faculty at ETS (ACA). He has taught most of the courses offered in our curriculum, but his area of expertise is in Bible Exposition.

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