Scripture: 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. Matthew 4:1-2 ESV
Observation: Over the next four days, we will review the temptations of Jesus and consider how each applies to our lives. Today’s focus is on the context of the passage and opening remarks.
While Matthew and Mark place Jesus’ temptations after his baptism, Luke separates the two stories with Christ’s genealogy, perhaps intending to contrast the first Adam’s failed test in a garden with the second Adam’s triumph in a wilderness. However, all three authors recognize the significance of the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the harsh arid environment for testing immediately after his glorious baptism and commissioning. Indeed, “testing” is equally suitable given the Greek word peirazō may be translated as either and used accordingly within context throughout the New Testament.
Regarding the word translated “devil” in verse 1, the Greek is diabolos which more accurately means “slanderer,” certainly, an apt name for the fallen angel who slanders humankind as made in the image of God. And in our story, Satan begins his attack with the slanderous undertone, “If you are the Son of God,” seeking to seduce Jesus into a defensive posture.
Takeaway: There are uncanny similarities between Christ’s and Israel’s tests in the wilderness. The narrative of Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 portrays a nation that struggles to trust God and rely on his provision. The parallels include:
- The testing time is associated with the number 40 (forty years for Israel and forty days for Jesus).
- Both parties suffered hunger pains to teach a lesson regarding obedience and loyalty.
- God intentionally tested both to prepare them to take possession of their Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:3, 5).
Thus, as most evangelical scholars agree, Matthew’s audience would recognize the similarities and the contrasts. Jesus (our prototype of a child of God) succeeded in each instance where the nation failed. This compare-and-contrast motif would stir a sense of hope in Matthew’s audience, then and now. Where all God’s people continually fail to uphold his law, Christ always listened to and obeyed his Father and demonstrated loyalty unto death on a cross.
So how does this big picture apply to our lives? Understanding that we are no different than Israel, when we fail to uphold the Father and Son’s commands, we can rise above our shortcomings by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work. So what does this look like in practical terms? When we wander through seasons of testing, rather than trying to fix ourselves or quit on life, we press through them, yielding to the Holy Spirit, who has led us to this point. And with his help, we override the tempting thoughts of Satan that spur anger or self-pity with the truths of Scripture that tell us:
- Our Father is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
- Nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39).
- He will exalt us at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).
Then, once our testing season is over, the Holy Spirit will reveal how we have grown in our faith and will enlarge our understanding of our gracious and loving Triune God, with whom we will spend eternity enjoying and worshipping. Only then will we be fit for the next leg of our earthly mission and one step closer to the glorious place Christ has prepared for us in his heavenly kingdom (John 14:2).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, our prototype of a child of God in all manners of righteous living. Would you please help us to press through seasons of testing, relying on your love, your Son’s grace, and your Holy Spirit’s guidance, that we might be fit for our next mission and your eternal kingdom? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling