An adult Jesus appears on the stage of Scripture on the bank of the Jordan River where He asks His cousin John to baptize Him. And as Jesus comes up out of the water, He sees the heavens open, and the Spirit of God descends like a dove and settles on Him, and a voice from heaven declares, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
After that declaration, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights and is hungry. At that moment of physical weakness, the devil shows up for a showdown. “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3).
The devil’s challenge to Jesus here isn’t really to perform a miracle or feed His hunger. At the Jordan, God had said, “This is my beloved Son;” now Satan says, “If you are really God’s Son…prove it.” Satan is asking Jesus to prove what God has already declared. But Jesus has no obligation to prove His Sonship. It is evident on the basis of God’s word. So He replies with the words of Scripture: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God” (4:4). Miraculously feeding His hunger would not make Jesus the Son of God; the word coming from the mouth of God, “This is my beloved Son,” makes Him the Son of God. Jesus is, and we are, what God says we are.
If Jesus had never eaten again and starved to death there in the desert, it would not have changed the reality that He was the Son of God, because that is who God declared Him to be. Many would come to Jesus looking for signs and wonders (like turning stones into bread) as proof that there was something special about Jesus. But the thing that was special about Jesus was that God said, “That’s my Son. I love Him. He’s doing just what I want Him to do.”
Next the devil says, “So You want to quote Scripture?” And he takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and again He asks Jesus to prove something: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written: ‘He will give His angels orders concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will lift You up, So that You do not strike Your foot against a stone’” (4:6). Jesus answers, “Scripture also tells us not to put God to the test” (4:7). Again, Satan says, if you’re the Son of God, prove it. Jesus says I don’t need to prove it; God said it, and it need not be tested.
Finally Satan gets around to what he’s really after. Those first two temptations were just trying to goad Jesus into a demonstration. Now, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain where they can see all the kingdoms of the world and offers all of it to Jesus if only Jesus will fall down and worship Satan (4:8-9). In reality, what the devil is offering is a shortcut: “What if I told You that You didn’t have to go through with this whole incarnation thing? What if You could have all of this simply by switching Your allegiance to Me?”
When Jesus rejects Satan’s offer, again with the words of Scripture (“You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (4:10)), what Jesus was choosing…was the cross. Satan was offering to give Jesus the glory that He would have to earn through obedience to death, but Jesus believed what God said about Him and remained committed to the Father.
And do you know what the end of the story is? “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). I’d say Jesus chose wisely.
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair