Today’s chapter of Matthew contains the account of Jesus being tempted after being “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” (4:1). This opening verse arrests the attention for it seems astonishing that God’s Spirit brought about Christ’s temptations.
Now that “the Spirit of God” had come “to rest on him” (3:16) Jesus is first tempted to use that power to create “bread” (verse 3) as there is no food in the wilderness, and 40 days had elapsed. He showed his power to create food later when he fed the 5,000; to feed himself would have been easy.
The primary lesson that jumps out as we read the different types of temptation is how Jesus rejects temptation by quoting in each case, words, which God caused Moses to write in Deuteronomy. The temptations each have a sense of unreality about them, there is for example, no “very high mountain” from which a tempter could have “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (verse 8).
They are examples of the three basic types of temptation in 1 John 3: “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (verse 16).
How did Matthew in writing his gospel get the information about Christ’s temptations? Jesus has not yet started to call any disciples to him; not until chapter 9:9 is there a reference to Matthew being called. The disciples could only have known about his temptations through Jesus telling them! And how did Jesus teach? Much of the time he taught by parables – and these were often not of literal events.
So we conclude Jesus told of his temptations in the form of a parable, the primary aim being to show he too suffered temptation (see Hebrews 4:15) and, even more, how temptations are overcome – that is the power of the narrative we read today. His mind was full of what God had caused to be written for human instruction.
We especially noted his quotation to “the tempter” from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. And that is the fundamental way in which we push fleshly temptations to one side. Is that not a primary reason why we read God’s word every day? How much of God’s word comes to the surface in our thinking – when the need arises? It should do!