Matthew 4 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 of diligent readers. 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 was no food in the wilderness, and he had not eaten for 40 days. He showed his power to create food later when he fed the 5,000; feeding himself would have been easy.
The lesson that jumps out from the different types of temptation is how Jesus rejects temptation by quoting words which God caused Moses to write in Deuteronomy. Each temptation has a sense of unreality about them (e.g. there is no “very high mountain” from which all the kingdoms of the world and their glory could be seen. But they are examples of the basic types of temptation in 1 John 3:16, “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”.
How did Matthew get the information about Christ’s temptations? Jesus has not yet called any disciples and not until chapter 9:9 is their 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 it is possible Jesus told of his temptations in the form of a parable, the primary aim being to show he too suffered temptation (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.
Note especially the quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. That is the fundamental way in which we push fleshly temptations to one side. Is that not a primary reason why we read portions of 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!