Led by the Spirit – Temptation and Testing
The Spirit of God, having descended upon Jesus at his baptism, led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested through the tempting of the devil.
The location of in the wilderness for 40 days and nights recalls Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. Matthew presents Jesus as a recapitulation of Israel’s history. Already Matthew has spoken of Jesus’ refuge and Exodus from Egypt (Matthew 2) “Out of Egypt I called my Son”. The baptism at the Jordan recalls Israel’s crossing the Jordan to enter the land.
Jesus succeeds in the wilderness where Israel failed
In the wilderness Israel repeatedly failed. When they had no bread – they murmured. When their life was endangered with no water – they tested God asking whether he was present with them or not. When they came to the edge of the wilderness at Baal Peor they sought an inheritance by worshipping the Baals rather than remain faithful to the LORD.
Jesus is presented as facing the same three temptation – bread, testing God, worshiping other than God. Each temptation is about Jesus using his power as the son of God to independently and in denial of his Father. Fatherhood involves three things:
Provision – turn bread into stones (in the wilderness)
Protection and presence – demand God to be present (at the temple) and act (via his angels)
Inheritance – get it another way (on a high mountain)
In each case Jesus remained faithfully obedient where Israel did not.
Could Jesus have sinned? Two unique things about Jesus
Although Jesus had a human nature – he did not have a corrupted fallen human nature – inclined to sin – but neither did Adam and he still sinned.
Jesus not only has a man-nature – he also has a God-nature. Jesus’ God-nature cannot sin. Therefore the person of Jesus could not sin.
Were Jesus’ temptations real?
Yes because he had a real body made of flesh – real appetites and desires – real hunger and desperate for food. He did not want death – throwing himself down from the temple really would kill him unless God intervened. The temptations and desires of his body, his human nature, were real.
How did Jesus overcome temptation?
Not by drawing upon his God-nature by which he could not sin but by using those things available to his human nature to resist sin – prayer to his Father, trusting his Father’s wisdom and goodness, relying on the power of the Spirit.
In fact, he quotes Scriptures directly related from Israel’s temptations in the wilderness – all from Deuteronomy.
- Man shall not live by bread alone
- Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
- Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
No doubt it can be helpful to quote Scripture when being tempted but quoting Scripture of itself is not what saved Jesus from temptation and nor will it save you necessarily. The reason Jesus succeeds is not because he quoted Scripture but because he lived a God-saturated life and God’s word was in his heart – and what was in his heart flowed out of his mouth.
The vindication of Jesus having been tested
Jesus was vindicated and proven righteous. The evidence of this is seen in Matthew 4:11 where at the end of the testing, the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering [serving food] to him.
Notice that he was given by the Father the very things he had denied himself – bread (provision), angels (presence and protection) and served as the king of heaven (inheritance).
A Representative Head’s active obedience credited to us
Jesus’ temptation has greater significance than his simply being proved to be righteous. As a Representative Head, whereby Jesus represents his people, Jesus’ life of obedience as a man is credited to our account. We are not only forgiven by his obedience at the cross but his obedient life (of which the temptation was one example) has been imputed or credited to our account. Hence, we are both forgiven of our sin and declared righteous.
As Adam’s disobedience was imputed to us making us sinners, so Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to us making us righteous.