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Matthew 4:1-10 by Robert Dean
Temptation! Enticing and alluring. It comes at us from every direction. Even Jesus, who is both God and man in one person forever, faced it. Listen to this lesson to see that God's purpose was not to see if Jesus could sin but rather to demonstrate Jesus' Messianic character. Follow the devil's three lines of temptation and learn how Jesus taught us not to rely on miracles but showed all believers to face tests by dependence on God's Word and the Spirit of God.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:50 mins 31 secs

Testing: Demonstrating the Character of the Messianic Servant
Matthew 4:1-10
Matthew Lesson #013
November 24, 2013

The episode we are addressing is the temptation of Christ. The three synoptic Gospels address this immediately following our Lord's baptism by John the Baptist, that He is directed by God through the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He will go through a period of fasting for forty days, followed by these three great temptations.

A question that is often raised about Jesus and Temptation is, Could Jesus sin? We think of temptation to day in terms of what I would called a post-fall environment. That is, we think of temptation in the light of our experience of temptation because we as fallen human beings all have what the Bible refers to as a capacity for sin, a sin nature. We have predilection to sin. Therefore we cannot comprehend what it is to be tempted when there is no internal attraction or desire to sin. That is exactly the circumstance that the first man, Adam, faced. In the Scriptures Jesus is compared to Adam. Jesus is compared by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 to be the last Adam or the second Adam. He is going through a period of testing that is a counterpoint to Adam's testing. It is nevertheless real because Adam did not have a sin nature. God created man perfect, without sin, and yet he yielded to temptation without that internal draw. The counterpart is that Jesus' experience not only imitated that situation again but His environment was much worse than the environment of Adam. 

There are two things we need to understand in our background before we get to directly addressing the question of whether Jesus could sin. We have to understand the person of Jesus and what is going on in the dynamic of the temptations in Matthew chapter four.

In the Hebrew Scriptures there is the prophecy that the Messiah will not only be human but that He will also be divine. We have studied passages such as Micah 5:2 where He is identified as the one whose goings forth are from eternity. That indicates that he is eternal. It indicates that he is born (His humanity) and that He is eternal. In Isaiah chapters seven and nine we are told aspects of the Messiah: that He is going to be born but He is also going to be called the Father of eternity. He is given the attributes and the appellations of deity. So we see these passages that predicted a Messiah who would be both God and man. In the New Testament this is clear and indicated as fulfilment of prophecy, and after the New Testament has been written we have the development of Christianity's understanding of what that meant.

The term the early church came up with to describe this was the hypostatic union: from the Greek word hupostasis, which means the essence or the actual nature of something. In their understanding of the unity of deity and humanity in the one person of Jesus they said that this term they were using described the union of two natures: undiminished deity and true humanity united together in the one person of Jesus Christ. That is important for us to understand because Jesus is fully God on the one hand and true humanity on the other, but He is one person. How they work together is difficult for our finite minds to comprehend but the Scriptures are very clear that this unity is inseparable. He will always be the God-Man into the future. It is the one-person, Jesus, who is being tested in the wilderness.

The second doctrine, also very complex, is what is called the kenosis. The word is used in Philippians chapter two to describe what happened when the eternal second person of the Trinity entered into human history. It says He took on humanity. It doesn't drop His deity; He doesn't leave out His deity; it doesn't diminish His deity in terms of its essence, but He adds true humanity to that. So the definition is that during the period of His incarnation Jesus Christ willingly restricted the use of His divine attributes so as not to use them to solve problems related to His humanity. Although Jesus is fully God He is not relying upon His deity to solve the problems in His humanity, because as the Messiah He is supposed to be fully human and the ideal King setting the standard of perfection as a man, not as God. God can easily do these things but He must do them as a man.

This leads us to our question: Could Jesus sin? First we need to understand something about this concept of testing. Hebrews 4:15 NASB "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin."

The concept of testing that we see has two meanings in Scripture. One is objective testing, to evaluate something or to expose or reveal what its characteristics are. Another use of the word is one that we often think of when we hear the word "tempted", and that is an enticement to sin. What we see here in the temptation of Jesus is that this isn't an enticement to sin, although Satan is certainly doing that. In God's plan it is not to see if Jesus sins or doesn't sin, it is to demonstrate that in His humanity He will rely exclusively upon God's power and God's Word to sustain Himself in the midst of testings. It is demonstrating that He won't sin. The testing is not there to find out if He will sin, it is there to demonstrate that He will completely and totally depend upon the Father and upon the Word and the Holy Spirit, and therefore He does not sin. It is an example for us but what is interesting is that He is qualified to be the Messiah.

Could Jesus sin?

1.      Though Jesus has restricted the use of His divine attributes His essential divine nature does not change. He is still fully God. Because He has restricted the use of His attributes doesn't mean that His nature has changed.

2.      As undiminished deity, as fully God, nevertheless the one person of Jesus in union with humanity could not sin.

3.      It is incorrect to assume that the purpose of the temptation was to see if Jesus would sin. That is not the purpose. An analogy from metallurgy: If you were going to test the quality of gold bullion, when you test it you are not doing it to see if it has changed or if it could be something else; you know. You are just exposing and verifying the quality of what is there. The temptation wasn't to see if Jesus would sin. But to demonstrate that as Messiah, as the second Adam, he would not sin, and that as John the Baptist had announced He was in deed the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

4.      He demonstrates that as man in dependence upon God the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures He will not sin. That is a great example for us, that we can follow Him in that. As long as we are walking by the Spirit in dependence upon God's Word we can avoid any kind of temptation and not sin.

5.      How legitimate is the test? It is legitimate because it wasn't to see if He would sin but to prove or demonstrate His sinlessness. It is lie an experiment. Many people, when they think of the Word experiment, they think of it in one of its sense where it means to test or see what will happen under certain circumstances an to test or evaluate a hypothesis or theory. Experiment is defined as a scientific procedure undertaken to demonstrate a known fact. That is what is going on with the testing of Jesus.

6.      The testing demonstrates that He is sinless and it also shows that as a man He experienced in His humanity the intensity of physical and emotional distress. He is under physical and emotional distress in the testing in His humanity and experiencing all of the limitations in negative circumstances of humanity, and learning the limitations of creaturely capabilities. He is tested in all points, as we are, without sin.

Matthew 4:1 NASB "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."     

It is an interesting way this is phrased in each of the different Gospels. The passive verb was "led up"; the subject is "by the Spirit." It is a classic, Greek construction here indicating that the Spirit is actively leading Christ into the wilderness. Other writers state it a little differently. All together it stresses that this is God's direction for Jesus. We must understand that God in His sovereignty allows, permits and sometimes actively takes us through times of adversity. It knocks us on our rear end; it teaches us humility, to depend upon Him. It reminds us that what He desires of us is that radical dependence upon Him, and so God allows us to go through these times of stress and adversity and difficulty to reach us how to be dependent upon Him. We have the promise in Romans 8:28 that God works all things together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes. It is a part of His plan, therefore we can be thankful and we can rejoice.

We see in the Greek that the word to be led is anago which means to be taken up, to raise, to lead or convey from one location to another. In Mark it is a different verb. The KJV says, "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness." The Greek verb is ekballo, the word that Jesus uses when He cast out a demon. It has the idea of some intensity and it is translated to drive out, to cast out, or to impel. The NASB says, "The Spirit impelled Jesus into the wilderness." God directs us into some testing to evaluate our spiritual growth. We are told in Luke 4:1 NASB "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness." The problem with this translation is that it is too close to Ephesians 5:18 which says that we are to be filled by the Spirit. It uses a different phraseology; it uses a different verb. In fact this isn't a verb at all. It is translated, "Jesus being filled" as if it is a participle and it is not a participle or verb at all. It is not like pleroo in Ephesians 5:18, it is pleres, an adjective. That means it is a noun and it identifies something as being full of something else. It is followed by a genitive phrase, not a dative phrase. It is not filled by the Spirit, it is full of the Spirit.

This phrase "being full of the Spirit" is an interesting one. It is an idiom describing the characteristics of the quality of someone or something. We see it in a negative sense in Acts 13:10 describing one who is full of all deceit and fraud. It is simply saying that his character is deceitful and fraudulent. It is an idiom in that sense. In Acts 6:5, 8 Stephen is called a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It is simply saying that his life is characterized by faith and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Stephen is described as being full of grace and power. Again, his life was characterized by grace and power. This phrase, even though the way it is translated in passages, sounds similar to the Ephesians 5:18 command for believers to be filled by means of the Spirit, it is a different word, and it is a different prepositional phrase. They are not the same; this is a distinct type of leadership here which characterizes Jesus as being full of the Spirit. He is characterized by dependence upon God the Holy Spirit.

The word to be tempted is the Greek word peirazo. It has the idea of testing the genuineness and sincerity of something. It is proving or exposing the quality, the characteristics of something that is there, not the second meaning to entice someone to evil—even though that is the motivation of Satan, but it is not why God is leading Jesus to be tempted. He is leading Jesus to be tested to show, to reveal to everyone the quality of His character and to show that He is qualified to be the servant Messiah.

Matthew 4:2 NASB "And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry."

In Scripture we see that fasting is often indicated by a period of forty days. Both Moses in Deuteronomy 9:9 and Elijah in 1 Kings 19: 8 fasted for forty days. Thus the number has significance for Israel. In the Old Testament the number forty is often associated with sin in some sense. In Genesis 7:4, 12; Numbers 14:33; 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:25; 25:3; Psalm 95:10; Jonah 3:4 each contexts has something to do with a sinful situation or cleansing from sin, or purification, something like that. Sin is always in the context, as it will be here at the end of the forty days. Jesus is tested to show that He does not sin.

At the time in Judaism there were two types of fasts. One was a complete fast, which was a complete refusal of food and water and this did not usually last more than a day because you can't go very long without water. Then there would be a partial fast in which one would possibly eat just morals of bread, occasionally drink water, sometimes water and no food. No one can go more than three or four days without water. Jesus' fast was a partial fast.

One of the purpose for fasting is to focus attention on a particular task or issue or for a particular reason. It indicated humility. Psalm 35:13 NASB "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, And my prayer kept returning to my bosom." So fasting was a sign of humility and dependence upon God to sustain in the midst of the fast.

Matthew 4:3 NASB "And the tempter came and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.'"

The "if" clause has three different ways in Greek of expressing this kind of condition. If and it is true; if and it is not true; if and we are not sure what the circumstances are. Here we have the first class condition, the assumption that He is the Son of God. Both Satan and Jesus knew He was the Son of God, so we might translate this, "Since you are the Son of God." What Satan is asking Jesus to do is to solve the problem in His humanity, to solve the pressure of the ravenous hunger by using His humanity to perform a miracle. What Jesus is going to demonstrate is that our problems are not to be solved by miracles. They are to be solved by depending upon the Word of God, that God will sustain us through His Word. Furthermore, when Satan uses the term "Son" this takes us back to the announcement at Jesus' baptism in Matthew 3:17 when God the Father spoke from the heavens and the whole multitude heard Him: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." This "Son" terminology takes us back into the Hebrew Scriptures to Psalm two where God announces that the Messiah, the anointed one, is His Son. So Satan recognizes who this is but he is seeking to distract Him and derail Him so that He will solve His human problems by depending on His deity.

In order to perform His mission as savior and Messiah Jesus had to live His spiritual life like a human being on the basis of the same resources that God has given us—on the basis of the Spirit of God and the Word of God Jesus is going to handle the problem. So He appeals to the Word of God. It is interesting that in each of the three temptations Jesus answers the temptation with a quote from the Torah, from the book of Deuteronomy. He relies exclusively on Old Testament Scripture in order to parry the attack from Satan. So quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3 …


The context of that in Deuteronomy 8:3 was a reminder by Moses to the Israelites that when they were in the desert God supplied their needs every day through manna. This was a type of bread that appeared like dew every morning to feed and sustain the Israelites. Deuteronomy 8:3 NASB "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD."

This is not saying that the need is wrong or providing or eating bread is wrong, but he says that man shall not live by bread alone. He is saying there is more to life than just the material life and sustaining the immediate gratification of our needs when we are involved in testing. What is more important is to do it the right way, depending radically upon God to provide for us and sustain us in the midst of testing. This is the same thing the apostle Paul learned when he was going through his testing that is identified as a messenger from Satan, some sort of demonic oppression, and Paul concluded that by saying that this was God teaching him: 2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.'"

Therefore this should be our attitude. Take pleasure in our infirmities. How many times do we think about that when we go through adversity—when we are going through health tests, financial crises, the loss of a job, when we are dealing with the world around us and all of its evil and horror. We are to take pleasure in that. It is similar to what James says in James 1:2, 3 NASB "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." The word there for testing is the same word that we find in these passages and in the context it shows that it is to reveal or expose the quality of our spiritual life. Paul rejoices, and what we are to take from this is that in testing we learn to trust God and so therefore we rejoice because we are able to give evidence of His grace and power in our lives.  

The second test: Matthew 4:5 NASB "Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple."

The holy city is a reference to Jerusalem and the centre of Jerusalem is the temple. The indication of both the temple and holy city has a messianic context. Jesus as the Messiah is to come to Jerusalem. The temptation that Satan offers is …

Matthew 4:6 NASB 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'; and 'ON {their} HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'"

Again Satan recognizes that He is the Son of God and that this was a title for the Messiah. He is also appealing to a rabbinic tradition here that there would be a particular kind of sign that would indicate the Messiah. It was not in the Old Testament Scripture, it had become a rabbinic tradition. This is perhaps what is being described in John 6:30 when the Pharisees said to Jesus: "What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?" According to rabbinic tradition there was the view that when the Messiah came He would stand upon the roof of the temple and this would then indicate that He was the Messiah. Jesus is not going to yield to this testing because He is going to demonstrate that He is the Messiah the way God has planned for Him and not for such a sign where He would be on the pinnacle of the temple.

Another thing that is going on here is the quote that Satan is using comes from Psalm 91, which has no indication in it of the circumstances surrounding the writing of the Psalm. It was not necessarily written during the time of the wilderness wanderings or the time of the Babylonian captivity. We don't know when it was written, but it is extolling the value of the one who is dependent upon God to supply all of his needs. Satan comes along and quotes from part of verse 11 and verse 12, that God will sustain us. But the implication is that Jesus can do something foolish and force God's hand to sustain Him. It is a wrong application of the passage. Satan's response to Jesus' use of Scripture in the first temptation is: Oh, if you are going to use the Scripture, I can too. But here we see Satan doing some Scripture twisting. He says to Jesus that He should go up to the pinnacle of the temple and throw Himself off and God would protect Him, because this is what it says in the Scripture. It is an illegitimate application of the passage.

Psalm 91:11, 12 NASB "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone."

Jesus again replied by quoting Deuteronomy. Matthew 4:7 NASB "Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

What He is implying is I am not going to do what you say because I would be testing God. It is not the role of the creature to test God and I will not do it. As a man, as the Messiah, He is not going to violate Scripture and put God to the test with something foolish. 

The third test: Matthew 4:8 NASB "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 things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."

We don't know what that mountain was but this is probably a metaphoric or figurative description of some place very high where He would have the vantage point. The temptation here is a temptation for Jesus to avoid the suffering, the adversity of His humanity, and going to the cross. And he would be getting the kingdom first. Jesus never questions the right of the devil to do this. In various passages such as 2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan is referred to as the god of this age. In Ephesians 2:2 he is described as the prince of the power of the air. In John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 he is called the ruler of this world.

The test is really, are you going to get the crown, be the King without going through the cross. It is clear from the Old Testament in many passages--Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and numerous others—that the Messiah was to come and He would suffer. He would be rejected, despised among men, and the cross, the suffering must come before the glory, the crown. What Satan is offering Jesus is that He could get there without going through the suffering of the cross; He could get there without bearing the sins of mankind.

Yet Jesus is going to submit to the plan of the Father that He has to go through the cross. The kingdom is going to be given Him by God the Father, not by Satan. So He is not going to yield to an illegitimate source for the kingdom.

Psalm 110:1 clearly proclaimed that the son of David would rule the kingdoms of the earth. As the son of David, therefore, Jesus is demonstrating that He will not accept the kingdoms from the hand of Satan. So He concludes by saying …

Matthew 4:10 NASB "Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"

He is not going to bow to Satan or accept anything from his hand. He knows that the right thing has to be done the right way and He will not accept the crown apart from the cross. This is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:13.

Throughout this passage we learn that we, too, undergo testing. We are to have the same attitude of joy in the midst of suffering. James 1:2, 3 NASB "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."

The reason we go through trials and testing is to continue to teach us to be radically dependent upon the Spirit of God and the Word of God in everything we do.