After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. But he succeeded where Israel had failed.
After his baptism, the Spirit “drove Jesus into the wilderness” for “forty days and nights,” just as Moses found himself alone on Sinai when he received the Law. And like Israel, Christ was “tested” in the wilderness. But unlike the Israelites, he overcame every test and emerged victorious from the desert – “full of the Holy Spirit” – well-equipped to proclaim the gospel.
The contest began in earnest to determine just what kind of Messiah Jesus would be – A mighty conquering hero or the humble Servant of the Lord? Moreover, his temptation was a vital step in preparing him to become the herald of God’s kingdom to the world. The Messiah of Israel must fully submit to the will of God and be empowered by His Spirit.
And not coincidentally, his temptation preceded his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ in which he pronounced his authoritative applications of the Law of Moses, and instructed his followers on what it means to be his disciple.
- (Matthew 4:1-2) – “Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
- (Deuteronomy 8:2) – “You will remember all the way which Yahweh your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to test you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.”
- (Deuteronomy 9:9) – “When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which Yahweh made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights; I did neither eat bread nor drink water.”
Just as Yahweh “led” Israel into the Wilderness to be “tested,” so the Spirit of God “drove” the Messiah into the Judean desert to be “tested by the Devil.” And just as Moses did not eat during his “forty days and forty nights” on the Mountain, so also Jesus “fasted” the entire time he was in the Wilderness.
“Led by the Spirit.” All three synoptic gospels leave no doubt it was the Spirit of God that led or “drove” Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. He was under divine necessity. As the Messiah, he had to succeed where Israel had failed – (Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1).
- (Matthew 4:3-4) – “And the tempter came and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
The first temptation recalls the complaint of Israel when the people murmured against Moses:
- “Would that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger” – (Exodus 16:1-4).
Yahweh responded graciously by feeding Israel with “manna” from heaven to sustain the nation. Jesus responded to Satan’s taunt by citing the passage from Deuteronomy that refers to the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna:
- (Deuteronomy 8:3) – “And Yahweh humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh does man live.”
Unlike Israel, the Messiah did not complain or mutter against God. Instead, he submitted to the will of His Father.
TEMPT NOT GOD
- (Matthew 4:5-7) – “Then the Devil took him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you; and, On their hands they shall bear you up, lest haply you dash your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, Again it is written, You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Ironically, having declared that the Messiah lives by every word that comes out of the “mouth of the Lord,” Satan next used one of those very words to tempt Jesus to commit a rash act.
Since devout Jews expected the Messiah to appear in the Temple, would it not advance his mission if he descended safely from the “pinnacle of the Temple” and landed gently in its courts before the nation at worship? – (Malachi 3:1).
Israel had “tested” Yahweh with their complaints, and more than once, but Jesus refused to do so.
At his baptism, the voice from heaven proclaimed him the “beloved Son” and Messiah, but he was summoned to fulfill that role as the “Servant of Yahweh” who “suffered” for his brethren.
This Messiah would be manifested to Israel in his submission and suffering for others, not in impressive displays of military might or royal majesty – (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17).
Again, Jesus responded by citing the passage from Deuteronomy – “You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah,” the place where Israel had complained once more – (Deuteronomy 6:16):
- “… And there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore, the people strove with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said to them: Why do you strive with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” – (Exodus 17:1-3).
Matthew intends for us to see this scriptural background in the testing of Christ by the Devil. And once again, where Israel failed, the Messiah overcame.
- (Matthew 4:8-10) – “Again, the Devil took him to an exceeding high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said to him, All these things will I give you, if you wilt fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
The third temptation was all too real. At his baptism, the heavenly voice alluded to the second Psalm, a messianic passage that promised that God’s “anointed” would inherit all the kingdoms of the world. Was not the power offered to Jesus by the Devil his by divine decree. – (Psalm 2:7-8, Matthew 3:17).
Most strikingly, he did NOT dispute Satan’s right to grant him sovereignty over all the governments of the earth, which would have included the Roman Empire. Imagine all the good that he could do if he wielded the might and majesty of Rome! If anyone deserved unlimited political power, it was the Son of God.
Yet Jesus rejected the offer out-of-hand, and in doing so, he quoted from the same passage he had just cited to fend off the second temptation:
- “You shall fear Yahweh you God; and him shall you serve… You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for Yahweh your God is a jealous God; lest the anger of Yahweh your God be kindled against you and he destroy you from off the face of the earth. You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah” – (Deuteronomy 6:13-16).
Having completed his test, the Devil left Jesus, then angels “came and ministered to him.” According to Luke, Satan “departed from him for a season,” indicating this was not his final attempt to derail Christ’s mission. On at least one other occasion, he again tempted Christ with political power – (John 6:15).
Having overcome every test by the Devil, Jesus next “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.” The presence of the Spirit in his ministry was vital for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God to succeed. Moreover, the suffering Servant of Yahweh would demonstrate true political power and how it must be administered in God’s kingdom.
And only at this point, after overcoming the Devil and being empowered by the Holy Spirit, did Jesus begin to proclaim the kingdom of God to the Jewish nation. But his messianic mission began in conflict as Satan gathered his forces to stop him, and so it remained until his death on Golgotha. The “wilderness” was not the only time the Messiah of Israel would be tempted with political power.