Immediately after Jesus was immersed by John in the Jordan River, He was "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1). It was the will of God for Jesus to be tempted by Satan because it was necessary that He be "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin," so that He could be a Savior sympathetic to our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). When we are tempted to do wrong today, it does not automatically mean that we have sinned (otherwise Jesus could not have been sinless since He was tempted on this occasion and others). It is when one willfully yields to illicit desire that sin results (cf. James 1:14,15).
"And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry" (Matt. 4:2). It is thought by some that a fast of such length would be impossible without divine help, but such has been accomplished in modern times (where only water is ingested). Interestingly enough, there are only two other men of the Bible who are noted for fasting for a forty day duration, Moses and Elijah, and both of them appeared with Christ at His transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:3; Exo. 34:28; I Kings 19:8). Truly, those who share Christ's sufferings shall also share His glorification (cf. Rom. 8:17)!
For Matthew to write that Jesus hungered after the forty day period sounds strange to most. Why would He fast for so long and then become hungry? It must be understood that when one's stomach starts "growling" the body does not yet need food. The noise is simply the emptying of one's stomach. At this point the body begins fueling itself by using up deposits of fatty tissue. Eventually, if one fasts for a long period of time, all of the fatty tissues are exhausted and the body starts feeding on muscle tissue. It is at this point that true hunger pains begin as the body literally consumes itself. Jesus, at the end of forty days, had surely entered this stage and His fleshly body was craving food more at that time than at any other. He was certainly physically weak and probably as vulnerable as He had ever been. Can anyone doubt that Satan knew this was one of his best opportunities? The devil tried his hardest to cause Jesus to yield to his temptations; he assaulted the Lord with everything he had. Yet, in the end, it was not enough. Jesus the Christ resisted the tempter and caused him to flee (cf. James 4:7).
TEMPTATION #1 - THE LUST OF THE FLESH
"If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matt. 4:3). Satan first struck at the faith of Christ by using the word "if." The Father's voice had recently declared the Sonship of Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:17), yet the devil boldly questioned the truthfulness of God's word, just as he did in the beginning (cf. Gen. 3:1-5). It's as if the tempter said, "Surely, Jesus, if you really are God's Son, then You shouldn't have to suffer like this! Make Yourself some bread. That isn't too difficult for You, is it?" The devil wanted to provoke Jesus into proving Himself. This was a subtle prick at Christ's ego--made with the hope that He would be goaded into verifying His identity by providing for His physical needs through the use of divine power. No doubt this was a very strong temptation to Jesus because His body desired food to an extreme degree (and He could have easily performed the task). Additionally, the sinfulness of the act was skillfully disguised which made Satan's suggestion even more appealing. Such an act would have been a misuse of Jesus' God-given powers that were never intended to selfishly provide for Himself. There were natural ways and means for Jesus to acquire food for His physical body. There is no record in the scriptures of any miracle-worker performing a sign purely for personal benefit. Miracles were always performed to confirm the truthfulness of the message being delivered (cf. John 20:30,31; Mark 16:20).
Jesus was able to resist this temptation by quoting scripture: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3). The meaning behind this statement is that God's will is more important than food or any other physical want. On this occasion, turning a stone into bread would have elevated the physical above the spiritual; He would have satisfied the desire of His flesh in an unauthorized manner. Jesus refused to give in to this enticement. Instead, He trusted God--the One who had led Him into the wilderness to begin with. When God led the children of Israel into the wilderness where there was no bread, they sinned by murmuring against Him (cf. Exo. 16:1ff). Some probably proposed to seek bread their own way; that is, by turning back to Egypt. Christ would have committed a similar sin by demonstrating a lack of trust in God had He actually transformed the stones into bread. Jesus had no reason to distrust God, and neither do we. In fact, we have many reasons to confidently place our trust in the Almighty. He is the giver and sustainer of life, and His Son's life was given to redeem mankind from sin (cf. Acts 17:25ff; I John 2:2). God may let a man suffer hunger, but that man will not starve to death if he puts his trust in the Lord and seeks "first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). May we, like Jesus, understand that although the stomach is useful, it is not the source of life. Those who think that the securing of bread is the first essential to sustaining life will eventually perish--not from physical hunger but spiritual hunger.
TEMPTATION #2 - THE PRIDE OF LIFE
"Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, [and] set Him on the pinnacle of the temple" (Matt. 4:5). It appears that Satan literally exercised control over Jesus' body and placed Him on the temple's peak. "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you.' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matt. 4:6). Here the devil imitated Jesus by quoting scripture (Psa. 91:11,12). However, we soon see that the tempter misapplied the passage, and therefore his conclusion was incorrect. How sad it is that Satan's head is full of scripture, but to no profit, for his heart is empty of it! The first temptation related to a lack of confidence in God, and this temptation pertained to overconfidence and presumption. The tempter here seemed to say, "If you really are God's Son, prove it to me by throwing Yourself down. After all, God won't let You get hurt; His angels will protect You."
Jesus understood that Psalm 91:11,12 simply meant that God would care for His people. It was not intended to be an encouragement to do something foolish in an attempt to force God into showing His love. Jesus quoted a portion of Deuteronomy 6:16 (cf. Matt. 4:7). This was not done to contradict what Satan spoke, for all scripture harmonizes; rather, Jesus cited scripture to point out that the promise Satan quoted was modified by the precept: "You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah" (ESV). In the context described (i.e., Exo. 17:1-7), the Israelites lacked water and accused Moses of having brought them out in the wilderness to die. They demanded that Moses give them water to see if God was really with them. They tested God to see if He was in their presence, and they sinned in so doing. Had the Father given Jesus a command to jump, He would have done so, but, since He hadn't, Jesus was not about to put Himself into a dangerous situation, hoping to draw forth a show of loving deliverance. If Jesus had cast Himself down, He would have demanded of the Father a needless miracle to prove His Sonship and would have thereby put the love of God to an unnecessary test. Jesus would not surrender to the temptation of His pride to do this.
TEMPTATION #3 - THE LUST OF THE EYES
The tempter then took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him "all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory" (Matt. 4:8). Satan spoke, "All these things will I give You if You will fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9). He didn't even attempt to hide the sin here. He must have hoped that Jesus' desire itself would've been enough to cause Him to succumb. "Just bow down and worship me, and everything Your eyes can see will be Yours!" Certainly Satan had the power to fulfill this promise or else this would not have been a temptation to Christ. The devil asked Jesus to transfer His allegiance from God to him. His desire was for Jesus to make him His god, and in return Satan would give Him the kingdoms of the world (cf. John 12:31). This too was a very strong temptation in that it would allow Jesus to realize the dream the Jewish nation envisioned. Imagine the decision: He could become a king over all the kingdoms of the world through one, simple, painless act, or He could become a king over all the kingdom of heaven who would sit at the right hand of God, by carrying out God's plan and suffering immensely by being crucified upon a cross! Which way would He choose to become the King of Kings--Satan's way, which was smooth and pleasurable, or God's way, which was full of difficulties and suffering?
In spite of the fact that Satan offered Jesus his very best, the Lord was not interested enough in physical kingdoms and their glories to forsake God's will. Christ didn't sell out to Satan--not even for the whole world (cf. Matt. 16:26)! Jesus did not need to weigh the worthiness of Satan so far as worshipping him was concerned; He only needed to know that God alone was to be worshipped. Jesus paraphrased Deuteronomy 10:20 as He rebuked the devil to leave: "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matt. 4:10). It should be observed that this verse makes a distinction between worship and service to God, a distinction that is blurred by some today. Also, it is worthy to note that by serving God, Jesus obtained all the earthly authority that Satan could have given Him, as well as all heavenly authority (cf. Matt. 28:18). Let us never forget that the benefits of being faithful to God are always so much better than anything Satan may offer us (cf. Rom. 6:23).
"Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and ministered to Him" (Matt. 4:11). Notice that the order here is suffering first and then comfort. So it is today! Now we must fight the battle against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (cf. I John 2:15-17); now is not the time to grow "weary" (Gal. 6:9). Remember, our "rest" comes later (Heb. 4:1-10)!
Luke adds the following statement regarding this incident: "Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). Satan had utterly failed in every way to obstruct Christ's mission (cf. Luke 19:10), but the last phrase implies that he had no intention of terminating his efforts to make a shambles of the eternal purpose of God. The tempter would return at an opportune time and continue his wicked efforts.
It is worthwhile to observe that although Christ had the Spirit without measure (cf. John 3:34), there is no indication that He received any direct or supernatural strength from the Holy Spirit to resist Satan's temptations. Rather, it appears that the Lord drew His strength from the Scriptures by consistently responding with: "It is written" (Matt. 4:4,7,10). In so doing, He left a flawless example for all as He fought off temptation with "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17). If Jesus could overcome the strongest of temptations without any supernatural help from the Spirit, certainly Christians can do so today also. Christ treasured the word of God in His heart that He might avoid sin and overcome temptation. May we endeavor to do the same (cf. Psa. 119:11)! Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.