Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone

Matthew 4:1-4

Matthew 4:1-4 Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But He answered, ‘It is written,

Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew tells us He went out to the wilderness the be tempted. This is another story that a lot of us might be familiar with. I know I’ve read and heard this story preached countless times. Because it is so familiar, I want to take some time to slow down and study it a bit deeper.Over the course of a couple of posts,  I’ll show you guys some of what God has shown me as I’ve studied this story. The fun part is there is a lot going on in these verses. So, I will try to share everything God showed me, but I won’t be able to hit everything. 

As always, I want to encourage you to study it on your own. Take some time to summarize the story. Make any notes of things that stick out to you. Ask questions and go find answers. Pray for God to help you to see Jesus as you study. Ask Him to work in your heart. And, of course feel free to share what God shows you!


First, let’s summarize these first four verses.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights. I love that Matthew points out how Jesus was hungry. It’s such a simple statement. But it’s also profound. The Son of God felt what we feel. Even something as human as hunger, Jesus felt it. And it wasn’t just like I haven’t eaten lunch yet hunger. It was starving hunger. It was desperate hunger. 

Then, the tempter, or the devil, came and tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. But Jesus answered by saying:

“It is written

‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The First Temptation of Jesus

Now I want to spend some time digging through what we just read. As always I want to keep a few key things in mind. First I want to always be thinking about how this story builds on what I’ve already read in Matthew. How does Jesus being tempted in the desert help Matthew make his case that Jesus is the Christ? 

And I also want to be looking for what this story teaches me about Jesus. Matthew isn’t just trying to make a case for Jesus being the Christ. He’s also trying to help his readers understand what that meant. He wants his readers to understand what kind of King Jesus came to be. 

Finally, I want to let the Spirit lead me as I dig. Look for things that catch your attention. Ask questions. And just follow where He leads, even if it seems off course for a bit. Sometimes when I’m studying I’ll ask a very simple question about the passage I’m reading and it’ll take me on a journey I definitely didn’t plan. But those are often some of my deepest moments with Jesus. Be willing to let Him convict and comfort as you study. It’s easy for Bible study to become this intellectual, academic exercise. Of course, you’re not always going to have these deep moments. There are a lot of times where I just take notes and nothing else spectacular happens. But there are also times where God uses what I’m studying to really prick my heart. We just have to be open to how He decides to lead us each day when we study. 

Jesus Was Tempted

Something that always hits me is the simple yet profound fact that Jesus was tempted. Maybe we don’t always see how that’s significant. I know for a long time reading about Jesus being tempted was just normal. I never thought much about it because it’s just part of the story. But over the years God has helped me see just how amazing the temptation of Jesus is. And He has turned Jesus’ temptation into a source of comfort as well. 

The story of Jesus’ temptation reminds me of a couple of verses in Hebrews 2. In Hebrews 2 it says, 

“For surely it is not the angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I think Hebrews 2 is so powerful. In fact, it’s one of my favorite passages in the Bible. And God has used those verses to encourage my heart quite a bit. And it blows my mind to think that Jesus, the Son of God, God with us was tempted. 

Jesus was tempted. Jesus was tempted like I am. Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted so He could help me as I’m being tempted. 

What kind of God does that? 

I think understanding Hebrews 2 is so helpful for understanding the significance of Jesus’ temptation. He wasn’t just tempted to pass a test or to show that He’s holy. He didn’t need to do that. Instead, Jesus, the Son of God and God with us, was tempted just like we are so that He could help us as we’re tempted. This isn’t just a regular old Bible story. This is the gospel. He not only takes our sins upon Himself, He chooses to face them head-on in His own temptation. He makes an effort to sympathize with us as we face temptation. 

Jesus Suffered When Tempted

And according to Hebrews, Jesus suffered as He was being tempted.

Until I read those verses in Hebrews, I had never made a connection between temptation and suffering. Jesus wasn’t just tempted. He suffered as He was tempted. And because He suffered as He was being tempted, He is able to help us as we suffer when tempted. 

For a long time, I always thought God was annoyed with me when I faced temptation. I had this vision in my head of God watching me thinking, “You’d better not do it. Don’t do it.” My version of God was one who had very little sympathy. He had no desire to help me because I should just be able to get myself out of this on my own.

But in the temptation of Jesus, we see clearly, that God has compassion for us when we are tempted. Jesus was made like us in every respect so that He could be a merciful high priest. He doesn’t look at us in temptation and roll His eyes. Instead, He comes to us, with mercy, and says, “I’m right here with you. I know what this feels like.”

Jesus knows what it’s like to be us.

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone

Now let’s look at how Jesus responds to temptation.  

Jesus quoted Scripture in response to temptation. A typical application of this story is how important it is to know your Bible. And that’s definitely something we can learn from this text. Knowing the Bible is essential to fighting temptation. But, I think if we take time to dig a little, we can find that there’s more to what’s going on in this story than we see on the surface. 

So, let’s take a minute to look up the verses that Jesus quotes here. Remember, Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience. And they would have known exactly what Jesus was quoting. And I think if we look at the verse He quotes in its original context we can see a bit more of what Jesus is doing here, and what Matthew is trying to tell us about Him.

This first quotation comes from Deuteronomy 8. Before we look at the exact verses Jesus quoted, I want to take a look at the context first. I’ll give you guys a quick overview of Deuteronomy in case you’re not familiar with it or if you need a refresher. You can also learn more about Deuteronomy in this video from the Bible Project. 

Deuteronomy is the last book of a section in the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is made of the first five books of the Bible. These books are also known as the Law of Moses. The other books in this section include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

Genesis talks about the beginning of the world and the nation of Israel. We see God’s hand in the creation of the world and of His chosen people. In Exodus, we read about their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. A good portion of Exodus is dedicated to setting up the priesthood and place of worship. Some parts of Exodus also include a few laws. We see most of the Laws for the people of Israel in Leviticus. Finally, Numbers talks about how the Israelites were about to enter the land of Canaan, which God promised them. Unfortunately, they were afraid of the Canaanites and didn’t want to enter. Because they did not trust God, He made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Deuteronomy is set after the 40 years in the wilderness. Deuteronomy spends a lot of time reminding Israel of their past and the Law. God spoke through Moses and reminded the Israelites of everything He has commanded them. Over and over in Deuteronomy, we see God remind His people that He saved them from slavery in Egypt. Because they saw the wonders God did to save them from slavery, they should be able to trust Him in leading them into the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy 7, Moses reminded Israel that God chose them. He set them apart from all other nations. Moses also reminded the Israelites about not conforming to the idolatry of the nations around them. 

Then, in chapter 8, Moses said this:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord your God swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Moses reminds the Israelites of how God provided for them as they wandered in the wilderness. He led them into the wilderness in order to humble them. He let them go hungry. And when they were hungry, He provided. God fed His people with manna. This manna came directly from Him. They didn’t grow it or plant it. It was simply given to them by God. All they had to do was gather it. God gave them this bread in order to help them see that they couldn’t live by their own efforts. Their only hope for life was to depend on God. And this is significant considering why they were in the wilderness in the first place. They were there because they didn’t trust that God would provide. They didn’t believe God would give them what they needed. Their hunger in the wilderness gave God an opportunity to show His people that He would give them what they needed.  

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8 right after spending 40 days and nights in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus spent 40 days. The Israelites were hungry as they wandered. So was Jesus. Remember, Matthew specifically points out that Jesus was hungry. He felt the same physical hunger that the Israelites felt. And so His response to the temptation to turn stones into bread becomes even more significant. 

Jesus isn’t just randomly quoting Scripture here. He’s pointing back to Israel’s broken history.

If You Are the Son of God

Now, let’s take all of that and try to see how it all fits into the rest of the story Matthew is trying to tell. Remember, Matthew is trying to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is the Christ. And as he does that he is also helping his readers understand what that means. 

So, how do we see that here in the temptation of Jesus?

Well, first of all, we can see it immediately in how Satan first tempts Jesus. The first thing he does is question whether or not Jesus is really the Son of God. If He was the Son of God He could easily solve His hunger problem. And surely, Matthew’s readers had similar questions. How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God? In fact, later on in Matthew’s Gospel and the other Gospels, we see the Jews challenging who Jesus really was. Matthew begins to address this question head-on.

Surely if Jesus was the Son of God He would be able to turn stones into bread. Surely the Son of God wouldn’t feel hungry. 

But remember what we’ve already talked about. Yes, Jesus could have solved His hunger problems. But then He would have contradicted His own purpose. The Son of God came to suffer when tempted. He came to suffer what we suffer so that He could be a merciful high priest. He came to feel the same hunger, the same pain we feel. In Jesus’ response to His first temptation, Jesus once again chooses to identify Himself with sinners. He chooses to identify with those who suffer when faced with temptation.

Next Week

Hopefully, this first post sparked a little interest in digging deeper into this story. The temptation of Jesus is not a story I have studied much. But since I’ve been studying it for this blog, God has really shown me so much of who He is. And at the same time, I feel like I’m just tapping into what is going on in these verses. I challenge you to dig in for yourself. Next week, we will be looking at the second temptation of Jesus in verses 5-7. Go ahead and look up the Scripture quoted in these verses for yourself. Pray for God to help you see what He is trying to teach you about Jesus. And share anything you learn in the comments in this or the next post!