After His baptism by John, Jesus heads out to the Wilderness (desert) to be tempted by Satan. In this narrative, we see once again Matthew’s fondness for connecting his story about Jesus with the history of Israel, in this case, with the 40 years of wandering. I truly doubt that God was, as some might suggest, testing Jesus to make sure that He could be fully trusted; it was a little late for that. Instead, it seems to me that God was drawing a contrast between the faithfulness of Jesus His Son, and the people who for forty years wandered in the Wilderness because of their lack of faithfulness to God. In fact, we will see this tendency in Jesus all through the story of His life.
Satan plays an interesting role in all of this, but then he played a behind the scenes role in the original story as well, as seen by the constant grumbling and complaining of the Israelites. In our story, Satan interacts with Jesus in the role of tempter; yes, he seems focused on pulling Jesus away from his Father and into Satan’s orbit and service. I can’t say whether or not Satan really thought he could succeed in this; he must have known it was a long shot, but he tried.
The drama begins after Jesus has fasted for forty days and forty nights. Now that Jesus is really hungry and physically weak, Satan drops in to taunt Him saying “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies by quoting Deut. 8:3: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
If Jesus can quote the Scriptures, it might interest us to know that Satan can as well, and in his second taunt, that is exactly what he did, after transporting the scene to the highest point of the Temple: “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.” (cf. Psalm 91:11-12)
Jesus isn’t buying Satan’s twisting of the Word of God, this time quoting Deut. 6:16: Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
At this stage in the story, Satan is about to get to his actual point; it was never his mission to test Jesus to see if He was really the Son of God; he knew exactly who Jesus was, after all, why else would old Herod have been so anxious to kill Jesus as an infant? No sir, Satan knew exactly who he was talking to, and his whole reason for being there was to try and “turn” Jesus, to gain His worship, just the way he had “turned” Adam and Eve, and so he comes to his point:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (4:8-9)
When we think about this, it seems a little strange for Satan to make such an offer as though he actually held the power to deliver on his promise, but then he is a liar and the father of lies. Jesus, as God’s Son is heir to the entire universe and beyond, but His path to His destiny is not by stealing or betrayal, it is the path of service, a path that, as we will see, leads to the cross. This is the path that Matthew is leading us on through the rest of His account of Jesus’ story, but even more than that, it is our path as disciples of Jesus today, for we too have become co-heirs with Christ to everything, but our path to inheriting everything is not through stealing, scheming or conquest, but by the path of service.
At this point in the story, Jesus is done with Satan:
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (4:10-11)
Quoting Deut. 6:13, Jesus equates Satan’s “offer” with idolatry and dismisses him. An obvious, but often overlooked aspect of this is that even in His weakened condition, Jesus told Satan to leave, and Satan obeyed.
Interesting isn’t it?
So here we are, followers of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and we think we have so many problems and that the devil is so strong, unstoppable and alluring, but all of that is the devil’s lie! What did James say about this?
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.