Matthew’s Gospel: Temptation
40 Blogs of Lent: 6
Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness and overcomes his tempter during a period of fasting. The temptations are something happening during the time of fasting, everything is concurrent, it is not meant to be sequential, All of this happens, possibly more than once, during the 40 days.
40 is not always a literal number in the Bible, it is used for an unknown long period of time, such as the 40 years wandering in the desert. All we know is that Jesus spent some time alone fasting in the Judean wilderness. Mark and Luke’s gospels mention 40 days, Matthew adds and nights a link back to the 40 days and nights of fasting of Moses before the 10 commandments were given and the 40 days and nights Elijah spent before meeting with God. Matthew is linking the new covenant being brought in by Jesus back to the old covenant of the Jewish Law and Prophets.
Jesus is led three times in this passage.
In the first instance, Jesus is led by the Spirit. In the other two Jesus is led by the devil. The reason for the Spirit leading Jesus is in order for the devil to tempt him, Jesus allows himself to be led by the devil. The devil is never the subject the way Matthew writes, Jesus is the subject and it is clear that despite allowing the devil to lead, Jesus is always in control.
This shows that to be led by the Holy Spirit can be a challenge, we may be called into ecstatic worship, but also we can be called to confront evil where we find it.
From the very start of the Bible the devil has been shown to be a liar. “You shall surely die,” Gen 2:17, is turned to, “You will not surely die.” In the temptations there are two lies:
The first is that Jesus could be shown all the kingdoms of the world, even if the world were flat, there is no vantage point high enough to see all the then known world.
The second lie is that power is a good thing to have. The glory of the world is not what matters. The ending we have in the Lords Prayer makes it clear that the power and the glory belong to God for ever and ever. They are not the devils to give away.
The word of God is final
Three times Jesus is tempted; three times he replies from scripture. The devil takes the replies as final because they are final – he has no reply.
Even when the devil himself quotes from the Bible Jesus quoting from elsewhere in the Bible is final. The word of God in the Bible is powerful, but it matters who is saying it and how they use it. The word of God, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, when spoken as directed by the Spirit in the power of the Spirit will do what God intends it to do. It will not be easy, there may be a backlash after all one of the things the Spirit does is lead us into a place to confront evil, as he is doing with Jesus here.
Jesus confronted the devil and won. He was tempted to be selfish, go for personal power and to show off. He overcame the temptations. The victory is still his. As Jesus said to his disciples in John’s Gospel, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
For those who wish to follow the reading, here it is:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 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,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 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.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Matthew 4 ESV
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The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.