The Temptations of Jesus

Matthew 4:5-11

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“He will command His angels concerning you,”
And
“On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to HIm, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“You shall worship the Lord your God
And Him only shall you serve.”’ 

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Looking at the Last Temptations of Jesus

In the last blog post, we looked at the first temptation of Jesus. Here we will take a look at the last two temptations and try to make sense of what Matthew may be trying to tell us about Jesus in this entire story. We’ll walk through each temptation and then try to wrap it all together. 

The Second Temptation of Jesus: Putting God to the Test

First, after tempting Jesus with bread, the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. He told Jesus to jump off. This time in his temptation, he quoted Scripture in order to make his temptation sound more reasonable. He specifically quoted Psalm 91. 

As always, I want to stop here and take a look back at Psalm 91, so we can get some better context for the verses the devil quoted.

Psalm 91 talks about how God is a refuge for those who love Him. When they are in trouble, He will take care of them. It starts out with these lines:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and  my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust.”

The psalm goes on to detail what will happen for those who trust in God. For those who trust in God, He will guard them and keep them. 

The devil reminded Jesus about two specific verses in Psalm 91:

“For He will command His angels concerning you”

And

“On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

But of course, there is a huge difference between the message of Psalm 91 and the way the devil used these verses. In Psalm 91, the psalmist describes what happens when we turn to God as our refuge in times of trouble. However, there is a big difference between simply trusting God to take care of us when we’re suffering and jumping off a building and expecting God to save us. There is a difference between trusting God and testing God, as we see in Jesus’ response.

It is also quite ironic that he stopped quoting right before this verse:

“You will tread on the lion and the adder;
The young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

It’s almost like he avoided this verse. Because he knew that’s what Jesus came here to do. Jesus came to tread on the lion and trample the very serpent who was tempting Him in that moment. That’s what the Son of God came here to do.

The Third Temptation of Jesus: An Act of Worship

After tempting Jesus to jump off the temple, he took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. And then, he told Jesus if He would worship him, the devil would give all the kingdoms to Him. 

Jesus once again quoted Scripture in response to both temptations. In the last response, Jesus told the devil to go away. Satan left and then angels came to Jesus and ministered to Him.

What Does All This Tempting Mean?

The interpretation I grew up hearing for this story was how important it is to know your Bible. You need to know your Bible because you can use Scripture to fight temptation. And sometimes the devil will even use Scripture in his temptations. But he’ll twist it and use it incorrectly. So, you not only need to know the Bible, you need to know it well.  

I absolutely think this is a great lesson to learn from these verses. As we learned in a previous post, a lot of the time we read the Bible in short bursts. We know a few verses here and there. But we often fail to see those verses in light of the verses around them. Then, it’s very easy for us to not know when Scripture is being misused.

Helping people really understand their Bibles is a huge passion of mine. It’s why I’m writing this series after all. My whole goal in all of this is for you to know the Gospel of Matthew better and to know God better as a result. 

There’s More to the Temptation of Jesus Than Just Knowing the Bible Better.

But, knowing the Bible to fight temptation is a crucial lesson for us to learn, I think Matthew is doing a lot more in this story. And in order to figure out what he’s doing, we’ll need to dig a little deeper.

 Let’s start by looking up the verses Jesus quoted in response to Satan.

Testing God at Massah

In response to the temptation to jump off the temple, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16. So, let’s go over to Deuteronomy.

 I will just take a look at Deuteronomy 6 specifically in this post. If you want to know more about the context and the general point of Deuteronomy, you can take a look at the last blog post, this video from the Bible Project, or of course you can always read Deuteronomy yourself.

“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people who are around you- for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God- lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 6:14-15.

These two verses give you a glimpse of what God was telling His people in this section. In Deuteronomy 6, God through Moses told the Israelites what He expected of them as they entered Canaan. The most important thing He warned them about is not worshipping idols. They were about to enter the Promised Land. And they were going to find a lot of good things there. These were good things God was giving them. And it would be easy for the Israelites to forget God. They would be surrounded by other nations who were worshipping other gods. It would be easy for the Israelites to get sucked in and forget who gave them the land in the first place. 

Then, God said:

“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested HIm at Massah.”

So, what is God talking about here? Well, now we have to go back even further in the Old Testament to Exodus 17. I will give you a quick summary here, but as always I encourage you to read this story on your own. 

Very soon after God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, they complained about not having water. They questioned God’s goodness. They even began asking if God had brought them out of Egypt just to kill them. In response, God told Moses to hit a rock with his staff, and from that rock, water came. Exodus 17:7 says, “And he allied the name of the place Massah and Merribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’”

The Israelites tested God. They basically asked God to prove Himself to them. And this is what Matthew’s readers would have had in mind when they read Jesus’ words.

Worshipping God Alone

Then, in response to the temptation to worship Satan, Jesus quoted from the same chapter of Deuteronomy 6:13, only a few verses before what we just looked at. Again, God was giving His people instructions for how they are supposed to live once they enter Canaan. He specifically warned them about worshipping other gods. And it is in this context that Jesus’ quote comes from. 

“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.”

Now, let’s go back and look at Matthew 4.

The Core of the Temptation of Jesus: If You Are the Son of God…

One thing that can be helpful when studying a passage in the Bible is to look for patterns in the story. Is there a phrase or a word that comes up a lot? Do the different parts of the story use the same structure or pattern? Write these patterns down as you study and pray through them a little. Take some time to read the story over a couple of times and think about how these patterns can help you understand what’s going on. Of course, as always you need to be careful to not read too much into the story, but just see what makes sense. 

When I was studying this story one thing that caught my attention was the way the devil started the first two temptations: “If you are the Son of God…” The only temptation that doesn’t start this way is the last one. I also thought it was interesting that this story happened right after Jesus was baptized.

Why?

Well, what happened as Jesus was coming out of the water? A voice from heaven said, 

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

God had just declared Jesus as His Son. And then, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted. And the first two temptations start with a direct challenge to His status as the Son of God. I also think the last temptation is related to Jesus being the Son of God, but we’ll get there in a minute. 

Jesus is the Son of God

I think the main point of this story isn’t about knowing your Bible better. The point is that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s the point Matthew is getting at here. We’ve already discussed how one of the main points we see in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the Christ. That’s the case Matthew has been making since the beginning of the Gospel. And he’s also showing his Jewish audience what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. He has already made the point that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. And in the baptism of Jesus Matthew tells his audience that Jesus is also the Son of God. Then, the devil comes in and says, “Is He really the Son of God?” “If He really was the Son of God…” And he challenges Jesus to prove Himself.

These were probably the questions Matthew’s Jewish audience was asking as well. Matthew just told them that Jesus was the Son of God. The Christ, the Messiah they had been waiting for was not just a man, according to Matthew. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah was the Son of God.

Now, what about that last temptation? How does that relate to everything else we just looked at? It doesn’t start with “If you are the Son of God…” Well, I still think in a way it’s still a challenge to Jesus’ status as God’s Son. By not worshipping the devil, Jesus makes it very clear that He is the Son of God. If He wasn’t really the Son of God, He would have given into that temptation. He could get the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross. He could rule the world without the pain and suffering that awaited Him.

But the Son of God chose the cross. He knew, obviously that nothing would come of worshipping the devil. He knew that as God with us, He already had the world in His hands. But I still think it’s cool that in this temptation we see Jesus turn away from the potentially easy route, for our sake and God’s glory. In this last temptation, we see that Jesus is in fact the Son of God.

Jesus’ Victory Over Temptation

All of this makes it even more ironic that the devil leaves out the verse about treading on the lion and the serpent. Because that’s how Jesus will actually prove Himself. Instead of turning rocks into bread and jumping off buildings, Jesus will prove He is the Son of God by completing the task God has assigned to Him. He will prove He is the Son of God by dying for the sins of the world and rising again, trampling the serpent beneath His feet. 

Other Resources on the Temptation of Jesus

Of course, Scripture is deep and it’s hard to pull out everything that a passage or story means. I just shared what God showed me as I studied. As always, I encourage you to share what God showed you when you studied this story. I also wanted to share a couple of other views on the temptation of Jesus.

  1. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/temptation-jesus/
  2. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-temptations.html