Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10). This was Christ’s response to Satan after his third temptation in the wilderness.
Satan must have known Christ would not sin, and yet he tried to tempt Him anyway. Why bother? And why is this episode included in the New Testament since Satan’s attempts were useless?
The Three Temptations
Christ had not eaten for 40 days and nights. He had retreated to the wilderness to be with the Father and to pray after his cousin, John, baptized Him. At His weakest point, Satan tried to break the Savior. He urged Jesus to do three things:
1. Turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3)
2. Jump from the pinnacle of the temple so the angels could save Him (Matthew 4:6)
3. Bow down and worship the devil in exchange for power (Matthew 4:8-9)
Satan kept upping the ante, as though he believed Jesus was only waiting for the right temptation; the best offer. Christ resisted all of these temptations because it was “impossible for Jesus to sin.” The Son was wholly obedient to the Father. Jesus used the Word of God against Satan to “clarify that God alone is God.”
One writer says that, as Satan tried to lure Christ away from God’s side, he “believes he will prevail.” His goal is to “somehow kill Jesus” and thereby enjoy victory over God, vengeance perhaps for being thrown into the fiery pit of Hell with his fellow conspirators following their rebellion. Since Jesus was fully God and fully man, able to sympathize with the reality of temptation to men, Satan must have believed He would succumb to the desires of the flesh.
Romans 8 says that “those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Immanuel was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” but did not set His mind on earthly desires.
At Jesus’ baptism, “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matthew 3:16). Christ lived by the Spirit, so Satan could not tempt His flesh.
What is the reader meant to do with Satan’s futility? And how can one live up to the sinlessness of Christ when we know that if we were put under this much pressure, we would “probably yield to it?” The purpose is not to make us feel small, but to empower and educate the reader as to how he or she can resist temptation.
James 4:7 says that the power to resist the Devil is ours if we do what Christ did: submit to the Lord. Christ is our model: turn the Word against the evil one and worship God. Every word of the Bible is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16).
This episode took place because God allowed it and we can use it to learn how to stand firm against the Devil, just as God permitted Satan to tempt Job and Job worshiped the Lord. Satan tempted Job by taking everything from Him, but Christ’s temptations were the opposite. The Devil tempted God’s Son to be obedient elsewhere; to derive power from and forego the coming trials at Satan’s side.
The Almighty wanted to demonstrate how far Satan would go and what is at stake for us as believers because Satan targets the same areas in the lives of Christians today. Believers are more likely to sin when faced with hunger or fatigue.
Christians still wrestle with doubt (will God really save me?) and pride (the desire for power). As Jesus waits for God to minister to His body, He trusts the Father’s plan for eternity and submits to the Lord. As heirs of Christ, we can do it too. The serpent fails.
Straight Path in the Wilderness
Matthew 4:1-11 reminds Christians to expect and endure evil without giving in; but also shows us how to resist by using the very words of God. Even Christ quoted Scripture as His defense, rather than coming up with some new wisdom. In his farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul said “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
Christ is the Word by which believers receive the inheritance of God; the grace which is our salvation and our stronghold. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” In this encounter with Satan, Christ essentially protects Himself with — Himself; the truth of who He is: the unchangeable I AM.
Christ responded to Satan with the truth and “was the first to quote scripture in His encounter with Satan,” always beginning “It is written.” Today, Satan twists Scripture to confuse and fool us which is why we must know the Bible.
We utilize the Word of God, “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), and thereby invoke the power of Christ for our defense. “Satan takes his cue from our Lord’s words.” Once he understands Jesus’ defense, He “seeks to twist our Lord’s trust in the Father.” Satan tries some “subtle twisting of God’s word,” and perhaps “the adversary felt certain he could overthrow our Lord even on biblical grounds!”
Of course, Christ has the advantage. He knows the Word; He is the Word, but memorizing the Bible is not enough: we must come to grips with what God means to say and who He is. Not only the word but the speaker matters. Even non-Christians use Bible verses out of context, adopting them as devices to mold truth to their purposes and desires.
The Son “hangs on every word of God. [...] Every word. Not a few words. Not the words particularly easy to accept.” What a shallow and short-lived victory that would have been: to be manipulated by Satan into taking Scripture out of context. Those who are “hostile to God” do not “submit to God’s law” (Romans 8:7).
Jesus did not turn the stone into bread because God had said: “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). He did not jump from the top of the temple because God’s people “do not put the Lord [their] God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
Christ did not bow down to Satan in exchange for power because Satan had no power to bestow: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus did not need new words; the Father had spoken sufficiently in the law He gave to Israel when they were in the wilderness. Deuteronomy literally means “Words” in Hebrew.
Out of context, the Lord’s words seem lifeless, powerless. But Christ always knew what the Father meant by what He said. He did not read the Word to get something out of it for Himself. “Jesus read the word in order to trust God, not test God.” “Give careful attention to proper interpretation” and “hide God’s word in your heart so you can live by it.”
This is our shield and our sword. Christ has shown us by way of His own experience with Satan’s temptations, at a time when He was weakened by hunger and thirst and isolation, how to defend ourselves when we are weak.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.