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February 18, 2007 First Baptist Church Series: Expository studies in Matthew

Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

5 Then the devil took* Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

8 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." 10 Then Jesus said* to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" 11 Then the devil left* Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

“Growing Stronger Every Day”

Introduction: Presentation of the King by Ancestry, by Advent, by an Ambassador, by divine Approval through baptism, and through temptations.

The background to the temptation of Jesus is God leading the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness to humble them and to test what was in their hearts, whether or not they would keep the commandments ( Deuteronomy 8:2 ). Thus through the instrument of Satan, God tests the obedience of his Son Jesus.

Do you love what God loves and hate what God hates?  God hates sin!


Psalms 11:4-7

4 The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. 5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates. 6 Upon the wicked He will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. 7 For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face.

Proverbs 14:14

14 The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his.

1 John 2:15-16

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world

Quarantaniaa mountain some 1,200 feet high, about 7 miles north-west of Jericho, the traditional scene of our Lord’s temptation (Matt. 4:8). [1]

Temptation – The Greek verb for “tempt” is peirazō (Mt 4:1, 3; et. al.). It can be used in a positive sense, as when Jesus tests His disciples (Jn 6:6), as well as in a negative sense, as when the Pharisees try to entangle Jesus in his conversation (Mt 22:15–22). In Acts 15:10 and 1 Corinthians 10:9 peirazō is used of challenging God. The word is best known for its use of the devil tempting in order to cause sin (Mt 4:1; par. Mk 1:13 and Lk 4:2.)

      James 1:12-27

Devil –

·        “Satan” means the adversary and Christ so terms the devil here [cf. Acts 9:4-6]; this is anyone or anything that keeps up from the praise, pleasure, and purpose of God [see Matthew 16:23]

·        The “slanderer” (diabolical one--διαβολου). Judas has this term applied to him [John 6:70] as it is to men [2 Tim 2:23-26; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3] and women [she devils, 1 Tim 3:11] who do the work of the arch slanderer

·        The “evil one” –(poneros)  πονηρος [the evil one] or το πονηρον [the evil thing]; it can either refer to the devil as the Evil One par excellence or the evil man whoever he may be who seeks to do us ill

Satan’s Temptations of Eve and of Jesus


A.  Position—independent spirit; rejecting God’s established authority “You are God’s Son

Deuteronomy 8:3 affirms that man does not live on bread alone, but by God’s Word

B.  Power—I can do it myself, “turn these stones into bread” to satisfy your legitimate hunger [your want, not necessarily your need]

@  How can we meet the temptation to gratify ourselves?  Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” In context, Paul’s authority is being undermined by those who are religious, but not righteous according to God’s pure, perfect, and powerful Word.  Satisfy self; be selfish—the exact opposite of love.

!!    “To obey is better than sacrifice”; Saul, first king of Israel performed a religious ceremony to “honor” God, but it was not a righteous sacrifice, and led to him and his being destroyed [1 Samuel 12-13]

++  Heb 5:8-9, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.  And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”


A.  Popularity – having to gain attention, drawing attention to self, trying to get a following

B.  Presumption

!!    The diabolical one was reminding Jesus of Malachi’s prophecy (Malachi 3:1), which had led to a common belief among the Jews that Messiah would suddenly appear in the sky, coming down to His temple.

++  Psalm 91:11-12 [without “in all Your ways”]; Deut 6:16 [Ex 17:6-7] when the people quarreled with their spiritual authority, the leaders God established over them; according to God’s Word

Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah” [Exodus 17:1-7].

Prov 13:10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.

@  How can we meet the temptation to gain, to greed? Hebrews 13:5, “be content with what you have.”


A.  Purpose

++  It is and is God’s design that Jesus Christ rule the world. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world with all their splendor. These kingdoms presently are Satan’s, as he is “the god of this Age” (2 Cor. 4:4), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the prince of this world” (John 12:31).

!! What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy Him for ever. (Ps. 73:25–28)” [from the Westminster Catechism].[2]

@  Our purpose is to praise God, to please God, and to full God’s purposes for holiness and helpfulness, to fulfill [created in His image—resemble—and according to His likeness—represent].  What is your life, and what are your lips saying to others about God?

B.  Plan

++  The diabolical one had the power to give all these kingdoms to Jesus at that time—if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. Satan was saying, “I can accomplish the will of God for You and You can have the kingdoms of this world right now.” This of course would have meant Jesus would never have gone to the cross. He supposedly could have been the King of kings without the cross. However, this would have thwarted God’s plan for salvation and would have meant Jesus was worshiping an inferior. His response, once again from Deuteronomy (6:13 and 10:20), was that God alone should be worshiped and served.

@  How can we meet the temptation to be like God, to have possessions or to have a position that is not ours? Phil 2:4-5, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude [mind] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Rom 12:3, “not to think more highly of self than you ought to think, but think so as to have sound judgment….”

Conclusion and Application:  “No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” [1 Cor 10:13].

This does not mean, “God won’t put more on me than I can stand or handle,” as so many think or say.

Go back to James 1:12-27.  Where do you most easily fall into the snares of temptation?

Physical – [body]; Personal – [soul]; Power – [spirit]; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24;   I John 2:15-17

Satan’s temptations of Eve in the Garden of Eden correspond to those of Jesus in the desert. Satan appealed to the physical appetite (Gen. 3:1-3; Matt. 4:3), the desire for personal gain (Gen. 3:4-5; Matt. 4:6), and an easy path to power or glory (Gen. 3:5-6; Matt. 4:8-9). And in each case Satan altered God’s Word (Gen. 3:4; Matt. 4:6). Satan’s temptations of people today often fall into the same three categories (cf. 1 John 2:16). The One who had identified Himself with sinners by baptism and who would provide righteousness proved He is righteous, and revealed His approval by the Father. Satan then left Jesus. At that moment God sent angels to minister to His needs.

Temptation  Genesis 3 Matthew 4
Appeal to physical appetiteDESIRE—“You are God’s Son” You may eat of any tree (3:1). You may eat by changing stones to bread (4:3).
Appeal to personal gainDENIAL—doubt You will not die (3:4). You will not hurt Your foot (4:6).
Appeal to power or gloryDISCOURAGEMENT—“like God” You will be like God (3:5). You will have all the world’s kingdoms (4:8-9).

2.     By Temptation (4:1-11) (Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

4:1-2. After being baptized, Jesus was led immediately by the Spirit of God into the desert (traditionally near Jericho; see map) for a period of testing. This period of time was a necessary period under God’s direction—a time in which the Son obeyed (Heb. 5:8). After fasting 40 days, when the Lord was hungry, the tests began. From God’s standpoint the tests demonstrated the quality of the Lord. It was impossible for the divine Son to sin, and that fact actually heightened the tests. He could not give in to the tests and sin, but He had to endure until the tests were completed. Heb 5:8-9, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.  And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”

1.    Parental Authority

4:3-4. The first test pertained to the matter of sonship. Satan assumed that if He were the Son, perhaps He could be persuaded to act independently of the Father. Satan’s test was subtle for since He is the Son of God, He has the power to turn the stones all around Him into bread. But that was not the will of His Father for Him. The Father’s will was for Him to be hungry in the desert with no food. To submit to Satan’s suggestion and satisfy His hunger would have been contrary to God’s will. Jesus therefore quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, which affirms that man does not live on bread alone, but by God’s Word. It is better to obey God’s Word than to satisfy human desires. The fact that Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy showed that He recognized the inerrant authority of that book, one often criticized by scholars.

4:5-7. The second test by Satan appealed to personal display or popularity. This test built on the first, for if He is the Son of God and the Messiah, nothing could harm Him. Satan took Him to . . . the highest point of the temple. Whether this was actual or simply a vision cannot be determined dogmatically. Here Satan made a subtle suggestion to Jesus as the Messiah. In effect he was reminding Jesus of Malachi’s prophecy (Malachi 3:1), which had led to a common belief among the Jews that Messiah would suddenly appear in the sky, coming down to His temple. Satan was saying, in essence, “Why don’t You do what the people are expecting and make some marvelous display? After all, the Scripture says His angels will protect You and You won’t even hurt a foot as You come down.” Satan may have thought if Jesus could quote Scripture to him, he could quote it too. However, he purposely did not quote Psalm 91:11-12 accurately. He left out an important phrase, “in all Your ways.” According to the psalmist, a person is protected only when he is following the Lord’s will. For Jesus to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in some dramatic display to accommodate Himself to the people’s thinking would not have been God’s will. Jesus responded, again from Deuteronomy (6:16), that it would not be proper to test . . . God and expect Him to do something when one is out of His will.

4:8-11. Satan’s final test related to God’s plan for Jesus. It was and is God’s design that Jesus Christ rule the world. Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world with all their splendor. These kingdoms presently are Satan’s, as he is “the god of this Age” (2 Cor. 4:4), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). He had the power to give all these kingdoms to Jesus at that time—if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. Satan was saying, “I can accomplish the will of God for You and You can have the kingdoms of this world right now.” This of course would have meant Jesus would never have gone to the cross. He supposedly could have been the King of kings without the cross. However, this would have thwarted God’s plan for salvation and would have meant Jesus was worshiping an inferior. His response, once again from Deuteronomy (6:13 and 10:20), was that God alone should be worshiped and served. Jesus resisted this temptation also.

Interestingly Satan’s temptations of Eve in the Garden of Eden correspond to those of Jesus in the desert. Satan appealed to the physical appetite (Gen. 3:1-3; Matt. 4:3), the desire for personal gain (Gen. 3:4-5; Matt. 4:6), and an easy path to power or glory (Gen. 3:5-6; Matt. 4:8-9). And in each case Satan altered God’s Word (Gen. 3:4; Matt. 4:6). Satan’s temptations of people today often fall into the same three categories (cf. 1 John 2:16). The One who had identified Himself with sinners by baptism and who would provide righteousness proved He is righteous, and revealed His approval by the Father. Satan then left Jesus. At that moment God sent angels to minister to His needs.[3]

4:5 Pinnacle of the Temple

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle (highest point, NIV) of the temple (KJV). (See Luke 4:9.)

A pinnacle is by definition a little wing. This is commonly supposed to have been the summit of the royal gallery built by Herod within the area of the temple buildings on the edge of the Kidron Valley. On the southern side of the temple court was a range of porches or cloisters forming three arcades. At the southeastern corner the roof of this cloister was some 300 feet above the Kidron Valley. The pinnacle, some parapet or wing-like projection, was above this roof, and hence at a great height, probably 350 feet or more above the valley.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, says of it: “This cloister deserves to be mentioned better than any other under the sun; for, while the valley was very deep, and its bottom could not be seen if you looked from above into the depth, this farther vastly high elevation of the cloister stood upon that height, insomuch that if anyone looked down from the top of the battlements, or down both those altitudes, he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.”[4]

The temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)

In the past many scholars took this pericope and its parallel (Luke 4:1-13) as imaginative embellishments of Mark's much briefer account. But J. Dupont ("L'Arriere-fond Biblique du Recit des Tentations de Jesus," NTS 3 [1956-57]: 287-304) has argued persuasively that Mark's brevity and the ambiguity of such statements as "he was with the wild animals" (Mark 1:13) implies that Mark's readers were familiar with a larger account to which Mark makes brief reference. The account could only have come from Jesus, given to his disciples perhaps after Caesarea Philippi (Dupont). Therefore it gives an important glimpse into Jesus self-perception as the Son of God (Mt 3:17; 4:3, 6), and, judging by the Scripture he quotes, the way he perceived his own relation to Israel (cf. France, Jesus, pp. 50-53).

Both Matthew and Mark tie the temptations to Jesus' baptism (see on 4:1). Luke, however, inserts his genealogy between the two, suggesting a contrast between Adam, who though tested in the bliss of Eden yet fell, and Jesus, who was tested in the hardships of the wilderness yet triumphed. Jesus' responses to Satan (all taken from Deut 6-8; i.e., 6:13, 16; 8:3) have led some to argue that this account is a haggadic midrash—i.e., explanatory but minimally historical stories—on the OT text (cf. esp. B. Gerhardsson, The Testing of God's Son [Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1966]). But the story line stands independent of the OT background; there are more themes allusively hidden in Matthew's account than first meet the eye (e.g., possible "new Moses" motifs: Davies, Setting, pp. 45-48; cf. Bonnard; Petr Pokorny, "The Temptation Stories and Their Intention," NTS 20 [1974]: 115-27); and the repeated reference to Deuteronomy 6-8 is better explained in terms of Israel-Christ typology.

Luke reverses the order of the last two temptations for topographical reasons. Matthew's order is almost certainly original (Schweizer; Walvoord).

It is difficult to be certain exactly what happened or in what form Satan came to Jesus. Standing on a high mountain (v. 8) would not itself provide a glimpse of "all the kingdoms of the world"; some supernatural vision is presupposed. Moreover a forty-day fast is scarcely the ideal background for a trek to three separate and rugged sites. When we remember that Paul was not always sure whether his visions were "in the body or out of the body" (2 Cor 12:2), we may be cautious about dogmatizing here. But there is no reason to think the framework of the story is purely symbolic as opposed to visionary, representing Jesus' inward struggles; if the demons could address him directly (e.g., Matthew 8:29-31), it is difficult to say Satan wouldn't or couldn't do this. 

1 Jesus' three temptations tie into his baptism, not only by the references to son ship and the Spirit, but by the opening "Then" (tote). Jesus' attestation as the Son (3:17) furnishes "the natural occasion for such special temptations as are here depicted" (Broadus). The same Spirit who engendered Jesus (1:20) and attested the Father's acknowledgment of his Sonship (3:16-17) now leads him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The "desert" (cf. on 3:1) is not only the place associated with demonic activity (Isa 13:21; 34:14; Matt 12:43; Rev 18:2; Trench, pp. 7-8) but, in a context abounding with references to Deuteronomy 6-8, the place where Israel experienced her greatest early and inward testings. **

The devil must not be reduced to impersonal "forces" behind racism and pogroms (Schweizer). The Greek word diabolos strictly means "slanderer"; but the term is the regular LXX rendering of "Satan" (e.g., 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-13; 2:1-7; Zech 3:1-2), the chief opposer of God, the archenemy who leads all the spiritual hosts of darkness (cf. Gen 3; 2Sam 19:23; John 8:37-40; 1Cor 11:10; 2Cor 11:3; 12:7; Rev 12:3-9; 20:1-4; 7-10; Maier). In a day of rising occultism and open Satanism, it is easier to believe the Bible's plain witness to him than twenty years ago.

That Jesus should be led "by the Spirit" to be tempted "by the devil" is no stranger than Job 1:6-2:7 or 2 Samuel 24:1 (1 Chronicles 21:1). Recognizing that "to tempt" (peirazo) also means "to test" in a good or bad sense somewhat eases the problem. In Scripture "tempting" or "testing" can reveal or develop character (Gen 22:1; Exod 20:20; John 6:6; 2 Cor 13:5; Rev 2:2) as well as solicit to evil (1 Cor 7:5; 1 Thess 3:5). For us to "tempt" or "test" God is wrong because it reflects unbelief or attempted bribery (Exod 17:2, 7 [Ps 95:9]; Deut 6:16 [Matt 4:7]; Isa 7:12; Acts 5:9; 15:10). Moreover God uses means and may bring good out of his agents' evil motives—see Joseph's experience (Gen 50:19-20). In Jesus' "temptations" God clearly purposed to test him just as Israel was tested, and Jesus' responses prove that he understood. **

2 The parallels with historic Israel continue. Jesus' fast (doubtless total abstention from food but not from drink; cf. Luke 4:2) of forty days and nights reflected Israel's forty-year wandering (Deut 8:2). Both Israel's and Jesus' hunger taught a lesson (Deut 8:3); both spent time in the desert preparatory to their respective tasks. Other parallels have been noticed (cf. Dupont). The main point is that both "sons" were tested by God's design (Deut 8:3, 5; cf: Exod 4:22; Gerhardsson, Testing God's Son, pp. 19-35), the one after being redeemed from Egypt and the other after his baptism, to prove their obedience and loyalty in preparation for their appointed work. The one "son" failed but pointed to the "Son" who would never fail (cf. on 2:15). In this sense the temptations legitimized Jesus as God's true Son (cf. Berger, "Die koniglichen Messiastraditionen," pp. 15-18).

!!    At the same time Jesus' hunger introduces us to a number of ironies to which Matthew more or less explicitly alludes: Jesus is hungry (v. 2) but feeds others (14:13-21; 15:29-39); he grows weary (8:24) but offers others rest (11:28); he is the King Messiah but pays tribute (17:24-27); he is called the devil but casts out demons (12:22-32); he dies the death of a sinner but comes to save his people from their sins (1:21); he is sold for thirty pieces of silver but gives his life a ransom for many (20:28); he will not turn stones to bread for himself (4:3-4) but gives his own body as bread for people (26:26).

3-4 The tempter came to Jesus—we cannot say in what form—and referred to Jesus' Sonship (v. 3). The form of the "if" clause in Greek (ei + indicative) does not so much challenge his Sonship as assume it to build a doubtful imperative. Satan was not inviting Jesus to doubt his Sonship but to reflect on its meaning. Sonship of the living God, he suggested, surely means Jesus has the power and right to satisfy his own needs. **

Jesus' response is based solely on Scripture: "It is written" (v. 4). The Scripture is Deuteronomy 8:3 [“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 (every word) that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord”] , following the LXX, which reads "every word" instead of a more ambiguous Hebrew expression (unless the non-LXX reading of D be adopted: cf. Gundry, Use of OT, p. 67); and it applies initially to Israel. But the statement itself is an aphorism [saying, maxim, adage, or dictum]. Even though "man" (ho anthropos) can specify old Israel (e.g., Ps 80:17), yet it is always true that everyone must recognize his utter dependence on God's word. Jesus' food is to do the will of his Father who sent him (John 4:34).

The point of each temptation must be determined by closely examining both the temptation and Jesus' response. This clearly shows that this first temptation was no simple incitement to use improper means of making bread (Morison), or an attempt to use a miracle to prove to himself that he was really God's Son (J.A.T. Robinson, pp. 55-56) or to act alone without thought of others (Riesenfeld, pp. 87-88); it was a temptation to use his Sonship in a way inconsistent with his God-ordained mission. The same taunt, "If you are the Son of God," is hurled at him in 27:40, when for him to have left the cross would have annulled the purpose of his coming. Similarly, though Jesus could have gained the aid of legions of angels, how then could the Scriptures that say Jesus had to suffer and die have been fulfilled (26:53-54)? Israel's hunger had been intended to show them that hearing and obeying the word of God is the most important thing in life (Deut 8:2-3). Likewise Jesus learned obedience through suffering as a son in God's house (Hebrews 3:5-6; 5:7-8). More necessary than bread for Jesus was obedience to God's Word. Heb 3:5-6; Heb 5:7-8

In the light of these parallels, we must conclude that Satan's aim was to entice Jesus to use powers rightly his but which he had voluntarily abandoned to carry out the Father's mission. Reclaiming them for himself would deny the self-abasement implicit in his mission and in the Father's will. Israel demanded its bread but died in the wilderness; Jesus denied himself bread, retained his righteousness, and lived by faithful submission to God's Word. (There may be an allusion to Hab 2:4; cf. J. Andrew Kirk, "The Messianic Role of Jesus and the Temptation Narrative," EQ 44 [1972]: 11-29, 91-102.)

5-7 The second temptation (Luke's third) is set in the "holy city" (v. 5), Jerusalem (cf. Neh 11:1; Isa 48:2; Dan 9:24; Matt 21:10; 27:53), on the highest point of the temple complex (hieron probably refers to the entire complex, not the sanctuary itself, which Jesus, not being a Levite, would not have approached; but see on 27:5). Josephus (Antiq. XV, 412 [xi.v]) testifies to the enormous height from the structure's top to the ravine's bottom. Late Jewish midrash says that Messiah would prove himself by leaping from the temple pinnacle; but apart from its lateness, it mentions no spectators. So it is unlikely that this was a temptation for Jesus to prove himself to the people as a new "David" who will again rid Jerusalem of the "Jebusites" (i.e., Romans—contra Kirk, "Messianic Role," pp. 91-95).

Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 (Mt 4:6) from the LXX, omitting the words "to guard you in all your ways." The omission itself does not prove he handled the Scriptures deceitfully (contra Walvoord), since the quotation is well within the range of common NT citation patterns. Satan's deceit lay in misapplying his quotation into a temptation that easily traps the devout mind by apparently warranting what might otherwise be thought sinful. Psalms 91:11-12 refers to anyone who trusts God and thus preeminently to Jesus. The angels will lift such a person up in their hands like a nurse a baby (cf. Num 11:12; Deut 1:31; Isa 49:22; Heb 1:14). At the temple, the place where God has particularly manifested himself, Jesus is tempted to test his Sonship ("If you are the Son of God") against God's pledge to protect his own. Deuteronomy 6:16 was Jesus' reply.

Jesus' hesitation came, not from wondering whether he or his Father could command the normal forces of nature (cf. 8:26; 14:31), but because Scripture forbids putting God to the test (v. 7). The reference alludes to Exodus 17:2-7 (cf. Num 20:1-13), where the Israelites "put the lord to the test" by demanding water. So Jesus was tempted by Satan to test God; but Jesus recognized Satan's testing as a sort of manipulative bribery expressly forbidden in the Scriptures (cf. esp. J.A.T. Robinson, Twelve, pp. 54-56). For both Israel and Jesus, demanding miraculous protection as proof of God's care was wrong; the appropriate attitude is trust and obedience (Deut 6:17). We see then, something of Jesus' handling of Scripture: his "also" shows that he would not allow any interpretation that generates what he knew would contradict some other passage.

8-10 The "very high mountain" (v. 8) does not seem much more than a prop for the vision of the world's kingdoms (cf. introduction to this pericope). It is doubtful that there is a conscious reference to Moses' looking at the Promised Land (Deut 34:1-4; contra Dupont, Hill); the parallels are not close. No condition Moses could have met at that point would have let him enter the land.

Satan offers the kingdoms of the world and their "splendor" without showing their sin. Jesus, however, came to remove sin. Here was a temptation "to achieve power by worship of God's rival" (France, Jesus, p. 52), a shortcut to fullest messianic authority. Satan was offering an interpretation of the theocratic ideal that side stepped the Cross and introduced idolatry. At Jesus' baptism the Voice spoke words that united Davidic Messiahship and suffering servanthood (cf. on 3:17); here was enticement to enjoy the former without the latter. Small wonder Jesus would later turn on Peter so sharply when the apostle made a similar suggestion (16:23).

Jesus recognized that Satan's suggestion entailed depriving God of his exclusive claim to worship: neither God's "son" Israel nor God's "Son" Jesus may swerve from undivided allegiance to God himself (v. 10; cf. Exod 23:20-33; Deut 6:13; cf. esp. McNeile, Bonnard). So Jesus responded with a third "it is written" and banished Satan from his presence. The time would come when Jesus' expanding kingdom would progressively destroy the kingdom Satan had to offer (Mt12:25-28; cf. Luke 10:18). The day still lies ahead when King Messiah's last enemy is destroyed (1Cor 15:25-26). But Jesus achieves it all without compromising his filial submission to the Father.

In other words Jesus had in mind from the very beginning of his earthly ministry the combination of royal kingship and suffering servanthood attested at his baptism and essential to his mission. Moreover the twin themes of kingly authority and filial submission, developed so clearly in the fourth Gospel (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, pp. 146-62), are already present as the complementary poles of the life and self-revelation of Immanuel: "God with us."

11 The devil left Jesus "until an opportune time" (Luke 4:13); and Matthew's present tense (aphiesin) may suggest the same thing (Hill, Matthew). Though the conflict has barely begun, the pattern of obedience and trust has been established. He has learned to resist the devil (cf. James 4:7). The angelic help is not some passing blessing but a sustained one (the imperfect tense is probably significant). Jesus had refused to relieve his hunger by miraculously turning stones to bread; now he is fed supernaturally (diekonoun, "attended," is often used in connection with food; e.g., Mt 8:15; 25:44; 27:55; Acts 6:2; cf. Elijah in 1 Kings 19:6-7). He had refused to throw himself off the temple heights in the hope of angelic help; now angels feed him. He had refused to take a shortcut to inherit the kingdom of the world; now he fulfills Scripture by beginning his ministry and announcing the kingdom in Galilee of the Gentiles (Mt 4:12-17).[5]


1Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the devil. 2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, speak so that these stones become bread.” 4But he answered and said, “It is written, ‘Not by bread alone shall one live, but by every word proceeding out of the moutha of God.’” 5Then the devil tookb him to the holy city, and he setc him upon the pinnacle of the temple, 6and saidd to him, “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down. For it is written that

He will command his angels around you

and with their hands they will bear you,

lest you should strike your foot against a stone.”

7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’ ”

8Again the devil tooke him to a very high mountain and he showedf him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9and he saidg to him, “All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus saidh to him, “Get away from me,i Satan. For it is written, ‘The Lord your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’ ” 11Then the devil leftj him, and look, angels came to him and were ministering to him.


A. The narrative of the testing of Jesus is closely related to the preceding narrative concerning the baptism of Jesus. The specific connective is found in the key term of this narrative, “God’s Son” (so Gerhardsson, Testing). Jesus is proclaimed Son of God in the events immediately following the baptism, and his sonship is vitally important to his mission. But how does he stand with relation to that sonship, especially in circumstances of testing? Does the Son exhibit those qualities that are called for in sonship to Yahweh, as for example those required of God’s son, Israel, e.g., trust, obedience, faithfulness? Indeed, in this passage we encounter a most interesting parallel to the experience of Israel in the wilderness. After the experience of her deliverance from Egypt and the establishment of the covenant relationship, Israel experienced a season of testing in the wilderness. The sequence in Matthew’s account of Jesus is similar: following the return from Egypt, we have the baptism (likened, by some scholars, to Israel’s crossing of the Sea of Reeds), the divine declaration of Jesus as God’s son, and the time of testing in the wilderness. The parallel is heightened by the fact that all of Jesus’ answers to the tempter are drawn from Deut 6–8, the very passage that describes Israel’s experience in the wilderness. Thus Jesus, the embodiment of Israel and the fulfiller of all her hopes, repeats in his own experience the experience of Israel—with, of course, the one major difference, that whereas Israel failed its test in the wilderness, Jesus succeeds, demonstrating the perfection of his own sonship. This account is placed here deliberately because it serves as an important prolegomenon to the ministry of Jesus. Although the motif of the testing of Jesus’ commitment to the will of his Father (the real criterion of true sonship) occurs again later in the Gospel narrative, the issue must be confronted at the beginning, as it is here, in a definitive and tone-setting manner.

B. The pericope is apparently not the work of Matthew since it is found also in Luke and is thus to be regarded as derived from Q. The agreement with Luke is very close, with four exceptions. The first is, of course, that Luke’s order of the temptations, compared to Matthew’s, is a, c, b. Matthew’s order is probably the original order (contra Grundmann), since in Matthew the two “Son of God” temptations occur together and the response of Jesus, ὕπαγε σατανᾶ (v 10), is most suitable in the final temptation (though the words are lacking in Luke). On the other hand, Luke may well have placed the “temple” temptation last in order to stress Jesus’ final victory in Jerusalem (Dupont, Grundmann). The second exception is that in segment c Luke has the devil say that the kingdoms of this world are in his power to give to whomever he wants, which Matthew has deleted (from Q material) probably because he regarded it as objectionable. Third, Jesus’ quotation of Scripture in segment a is longer in Matthew than in Luke, including the words “but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Luke has either abbreviated the quotation from what it was in Q, or else Matthew has extended the quotation of Q in order to include the positive aspect in Jesus’ response. Fourth, the actual wording of segment c is quite different throughout in Matthew and Luke. This may suggest different recensions of Q (see McNeile) or the influence of a variant oral tradition. It is difficult to know whether Mark knew the full account as contained in Q and greatly abbreviated it or he simply records all that is known to him. Matthew may show the influence of Mark in the concluding reference to angels ministering to Jesus (not found in Luke); both Matthew and Luke omit Mark’s introductory reference to Jesus’ being with the wild beasts (Mark 1:13).

C. The pericope consists of three temptation segments, framed by an introductory sentence (vv 1–2) and a concluding sentence (v 11): (1) to turn stones into bread (vv 3–4); (2) to jump from the pinnacle of the temple (vv 5–7); and (3) to receive the kingdom of the world by worshiping the devil (vv 8–10). The most characteristic feature common to the three segments is the quotation of Scripture by Jesus (in all three cases from Deuteronomy and introduced with γέγραπται, “it is written”) in response to the devil’s words. The temptations have a common pattern: (a) the setting (briefest in segment a, προσελθών); (b) the words of Satan; and (c) the response of Jesus. The remarkable parallelism of the passage, however, is broken at two points: first in the surprising quotation of Scripture by Satan in segment b (v 6) and second in the lack of εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, “if you are the Son of God,” in segment c (v 9), where furthermore the main clause is not an imperative but the promise “I will give you all these things.”

D. The genre of the passage is again that of haggadic midrash (see esp. Gerhardsson, Testing). The four OT quotations are of central significance to the whole passage. The account of Jesus’ testing is set forth and interpreted in terms of the quotations and by means of a stream of rabbinic exegesis with which the author was familiar. In this way the key items, such as Jesus’ own identity as Son of God, his consistent obedience to and trust in his father, the nature of his messiahship, and the parallelism with Israel’s own experience, receive theological emphasis. This does not, however, necessitate the conclusion that the story has no historical basis. Haggadic midrash here, as elsewhere, is not necessarily incompatible with the respect for and use of historical tradition by the author.

E. All three Synoptics agree in locating the temptation experience of Jesus in the wilderness—almost certainly the wilderness of Judea, probably not far from where John was baptizing. The baptism and temptation of Jesus belong together, as we have seen (cf. Mark’s εὐθύς, “immediately”: Mark 1:12). Whereas the time of Jesus’ testing is understood as occurring in the wilderness, two of the temptations speak of other locations: segment b, the pinnacle of the temple in “the holy city” (v 5), and segment c, a very high mountain (v 8). This suggests that the temptations are to be regarded as subjective experiences of Jesus rather than involving the literal transportation of Jesus to other places (however miraculously); this conclusion is further supported by the fact that no high mountain enables one to see “the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (v 8). There is furthermore a natural connection between fasting and the experience of visions (cf. Dan 10:3; 4 Ezra 5:20; 2 Apoc. Bar.. 20:5–6). It should be realized, of course, that to designate the temptations as a subjective experience does not lessen their reality or significance. It is not impossible that the Church created the temptation narrative for theological reasons, although the suggestion that we are to see here the reflection of a common motif of testing of heroes or divine figures found in other religious contexts is highly improbable (see Klostermann). There is no reason, on the other hand, why we may not have here a historical tradition that Jesus himself mediated to the disciples, perhaps as a means of encouragement in the face of the testing they were to confront.


1 Matthew uses his favorite connective τότε, “then” (for Mark’s εὐθύς, “immediately”), to introduce the pericope. ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, “led up to the desert,” refers probably to the highlands of the Judean wilderness west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea (it hardly refers to a vision, as Grundmann argues). The purpose of the leading into the desert is its particular suitability as a place of testing. The leading of the Son of God ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, “by the Spirit,” is in direct continuity with the descent of the Spirit upon him in the preceding pericope; the Spirit indeed is sovereignly active in and through Jesus’ life and ministry from the baptism onward. That it is the Spirit of God who leads Jesus into this period of testing should not be regarded as unduly strange. It is explained by the Jewish belief that God is behind all that happens as an ultimate cause (see Gerhardsson, 38–41). In the parallel account of the testing of Israel in the wilderness, it is Yahweh who leads Israel into the wilderness for testing (Deut 8:2: “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not”). In the case of Jesus, the testing is under the ultimate aegis of the Spirit (for important background, cf. Job 1:6–12). As the Son of God, Jesus proves to be triumphant in the testing, which in turn confirms his endowment with the Spirit as the obedient Son of God.

In the words πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου, “to be tempted by the devil,” the second ὑπό phrase of the verse occurs. Whereas it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness, it is the devil (διάβολος, lit. “slanderer,” occurs in Matthew outside the present pericope only in 13:39 and 25:41) who does the testing. The Spirit’s role is thus prior to that of the devil. The infinitive πειρασθῆναι expresses purpose in the sentence. Only Matthew expresses so strongly that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness in order that he might be tested by the devil.

2 νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα, “having fasted forty days and forty nights.” The testing takes place in conjunction with fasting, which is to be understood as commanded by God. The rabbinic notion of atonement through fasting (suggested by Grundmann) is far from Matthew’s mind. Several OT parallels are readily available. Both Moses (Exod 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:8) fasted for forty days and nights. Parallels have already been drawn between Jesus and Moses in chap. 2; the reference to Moses’ fasting for forty days and nights in Deut 9:9 occurs moreover in the context of Deut 6–8, which serves as the basis of the passage. Matthew, who alone among the Synoptists refers to forty nights, may show the influence of this language, but more probably the number forty itself (common to the Synoptics), which is of course a round rather than an exact number, goes back to the basic parallelism with Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Deut 8:2).

The shift from forty years to forty days is not difficult in rabbinic typology (in the OT, cf. Num 14:34; Ezek 4:6). Hunger (ἐπείνασεν, “he became hungry”) is also mentioned in the account of Israel’s experience (Deut 8:3), and, as Gerhardsson points out, the Hebrew ענה, ˓nh, in the piel can have the special sense of “cause to fast.” Matthew’s aorist participle νηστεύσας (and ὕστερον, “afterwards”) puts the testing explicitly after the forty days and nights, unlike the accounts of Mark and Luke, who set forth the entire period as a period of testing. This may suggest that Matthew conceived of the forty days and nights as a time of communion with God (cf. G. Kittel, TDNT 2:58). The evangelist thus reserves the actual temptations for Jesus’ weakest moment.

3 Only now does “the tempter” ( πειράζων) come to Jesus to accomplish his purpose (cf. Gen 3:1–7). For the importance of προσέρχετθαι, “come to,” in Matthew, see Comment on 5:1. The key clause in the pericope, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, “If you are the Son of God,” is repeated in segment b (v 6) and assumed in segment c (v 9). υἱός lacks the definite article because it precedes the verb, not because it is indefinite. The question has been prepared for in the baptism narrative, where Jesus is designated the Son of God (see Comment on 3:17). In the temptation pericope the relation of the Son to the will of his Father is called into question (cf. the likening of Israel to a son in Deut 8:5). The testing is accomplished here by the suggestion of something that, looked at from another perspective or in a different context, is within the power and prerogative of the Messiah. The tempter does not suggest uncertainty on his part concerning the divine sonship of Jesus by use of εἰ, “if” (in a first-class condition). Indeed, the situation here is like the narrative about the demons, e.g., in Mark 1:24, where, with the invasion of their realm, the demons have an intuitive knowledge of the true identity of Jesus. Thus, from the perspective of the devil, we might well translate εἰ here as “since.” (The same words are spoken in unbelief in 27:40.) McNeile is hardly correct when he says that the temptation to Jesus was to see if he had the power to work a miracle—i.e., a testing of Jesus’ own confidence in his identity. The question is one of obedience to the will of the Father.

ἵνα οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι ἄρτοι γένωνται, “that these stones might become bread.” It is unlikely that the plural οἱ λίθοι οὗτοιἄρτοι, “these stones … bread,” implies the feeding of multitudes in a messianic sense (so Lohmeyer-Schmauch). Since there is nothing intrinsically sinful about turning stones into bread, the meaning of the temptation must be explored more deeply. Fundamental to any correct understanding of this particular testing of Jesus is the realization that the fasting and hunger are, at this stage, the will of the Father for the Son. To turn the stones into bread would be in effect to refuse God’s will and would involve a disobedience that would belie Jesus’ sonship. But is there more significance than this in the testing? Given that the testing specifically involves the testing of the Son of God and that miraculous feeding is a messianic deed, perhaps an improper or ill-timed expression of messianic power is involved. If this is probably true, it still is a matter that involves only Jesus and his obedience to his Father’s will since there are no witnesses to the testing and no multitude to be fed. The testing then amou nts to this: shall Jesus exercise his messianic power for his own ends in a way that avoids difficulty and pain, or shall he accept the path of suffering (and death) that is his Father’s will? In this sense the testing is different from the testing of Israel, who did not have it in her power to turn stones into bread. It is, however, going too far to suggest that this testing involves the Messiah’s repetition of the manna-miracle of Israel’s wilderness experience, as expected by late rabbinic literature (see Str-B 2:481–2). That background is more appropriate to the miracle of the feeding of the multitude (cf. 14:15–21).

4 Jesus answers the command of the devil with an OT quotation introduced by the common formula of introduction in the perfect tense, γέγραπται, with the thrust “it stands written.” The quotation itself agrees exactly with the LXX of Deut 8:3 except for the omission of the article τῷ before ἐκπορευομένῳ. The context of that quotation—the wilderness wandering of Israel—is centrally important to the understanding of this pericope, wherein the Son of God relives the experience of God’s son, Israel, but in victory rather than in defeat. The words οὐκ ἐπʼ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ, “not by bread alone,” allow the necessity of bread for life but imply that bread alone is insufficient. Fundamentally important to life, as the next clause reveals, is one’s relation to the will of God. This is the point of the saying of Jesus recorded in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his will” (cf. John 6:35).

For ἀλλʼ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι, “but by every word,” the Hebrew text has literally “everything.” Matthew’s longer quotation (this clause is lacking in Luke) may be the work of his own extension of the quotation in Q. The effect is to give positive teaching concerning obedience by suggesting the reason for Jesus’ conduct (for a closely related statement, cf. Wis 16:26). This positive note supports Gerhardsson’s claim that the temptations are related to the Shema (Deut 6:5) with its threefold exhortation to love God with heart, soul, and might. In this instance Jesus shows that he loves God with his whole heart. Thus the Son will not exercise his messianic power to satisfy his own desires; he remains steadfastly obedient to the Father and to the fulfillment of a messianic role involving deprivation and suffering (cf. Heb 5:8). It should be noted here that Jesus serves as a paradigm for the Church when he subjects himself, as the human Son of God, to a commandment that specifically refers to a human being ( ἄνθρωπος) living by the word of God.

5 As in v 1, Matthew again begins with τότε, “then.” Here, in παραλαμβάνει, “takes,” and in λέγει, “says,” of v 6, he shifts to the historical present, but not consistently (ἔστησεν, “placed,” is again aorist, like the verbs in vv 1–4). If Q had the narrative in the historical present, Luke has been more consistent in changing the verbs to aorist; more probably, however, Matthew inconsistently alters some of the verbs to the historical present (by influence of oral tradition?). He now also picks up διάβολος, “the devil” (cf. v 1), the counterpart to πειράζων, “the tempter,” in v 3. τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν, “the holy city,” is a common designation for Jerusalem (so in Luke) and is so used in 27:53 (cf. Isa 52:1; Neh 11:1, 18; Dan 3:28 [LXX]; Rev 11:2; 21:2, 10; 22:19). In his trance-like vision Jesus sees himself perched upon one of the highest points of the temple.

Despite much discussion, exactly what is meant by the phrase τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, “the pinnacle of the temple,” remains unclear. πτερύγιον is the diminutive of πτέρυξ, “wing,” and may refer to the tip, end, or edge of something (BAGD, 727a). Suggestions have included the following: the (east) corner of the south wall of the temple, which overlooked a deep ravine (Josephus refers to its height, Ant. §§411–412); the roof of the temple or a projection thereof (a rabbinic tradition expects the Messiah to appear on the roof of the temple, Str-B 1:151); the “lintel” or “superstructure” of a temple gate (for which another Greek word, ὑπέρθυρον, would be expected, according to BAGD, 727a); a tower in the temple precincts. Gerhardsson suggests that whatever it refers to, the unusual word πτερύγιον may deliberately have been chosen in order to play on the idea of safety in God (cf. reference to the “wings” of God in Ps 91:4, the very psalm quoted in the next verse)—a plausible suggestion, given the occurrence of the idea in the context of Ps 91 and the rabbis’ penchant for such minute correspondences. The temple is portrayed as the location of this particular testing not because it is envisaged as a public spectacle but because the temple precinct always served as a very special place of divine protection. Moreover, as Gerhardsson (Testing, 56–58) points out, there are many common associations between protection in the wilderness and protection in the temple. Hegisippus’ account of the martyrdom of James the Just (Eusebius, H.E. 2.23.11) refers to him being thrown from the πτερύγιον of the temple in conjunction with his being stoned. Whatever that may say about the location of the “wing of the temple,” Hyldahl applies this to Jesus’ experience and argues that Jesus is commanded to submit himself to stoning as the sentence of judgment for the blasphemy of considering himself to be the Son of God—if he really were, he would receive the protection promised by God to his Son. But this is only interesting speculation.

6 The words εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, “if you are the Son of God,” are in verbatim agreement with v 3 (see Comment there). In the first test, Jesus is commanded by the devil to provide food for himself—i.e., to save himself by exercising his messianic power. Here, by contrast, he is commanded to put himself in mortal danger (βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω, “cast yourself down”) and thus to force God to save him (i.e., through the agency of angels). It is important to note that the test involves a jump to safety, i.e., to rescue by God, and not to destruction. By refusing to jump, therefore, Jesus chooses the path of continuing danger and hardship. This testing should be understood as involving a struggle between Jesus and Satan. There is no mention of and no need of witnesses for the passage to make sense. Again he is called not to capitalize upon his identity as the Son of God but to yield in obedience to the Father and to trust in his will.

The devil uses the same introductory formula, γέγραπται, “it is written,” used by Jesus in his three replies (see on v 4). Only here is recitative ὅτι used. That the devil quotes Scripture here is, of course, paradoxical. This is, however, hardly an example of Streitgespräch (controversy dialogue), a contest wherein the devil tries to outdo Jesus in his use of Scripture. The point of the command, βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω, “cast yourself down,” is beyond comprehension without the accompanying quotation to supply the significance of what is asked. To see the scriptural warrant is to set forth the justification that could be legitimately claimed by Jesus for jumping to safety, and accordingly to sharpen the struggle that goes on within him. The quotation is from Ps 91[LXX, 90]:11–12 and is in verbatim agreement with the LXX except for the omission after the first clause of the words τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου, “to guard you in all your ways” (of which Luke has the first three words). There is probably no significance in the omission (contra Tasker). The use of Ps 91 may presuppose a messianic understanding of the psalm, although there is nothing overtly messianic in it. More likely, the psalm is understood to apply to any faithful Israelite and thus a fortiori to the Son of God, who serves as the representative of Israel. The message of the psalm is simply that God protects the faithful. The force of the particular verses quoted here is the same. The reference to protecting angels anticipates Jesus’ statement at the time of his arrest that he could receive the help of twelve legions of angels if he asked for it (26:53). There is no specific messianic element here (contra Hill) but only the test of obedience and trust. Again no observers are mentioned to witness a messianic act.

7 With πάλιν γέγραπται, “again it is written” (see on v 4), Matthew continues to stress the importance of Scripture. The quotation is in verbatim agreement with the words as found in the LXX of Deut 6:16. The MT has “you” in the plural against the singular “you” of the LXX and Matthew, but the difference is of no significance. The LXX verse goes on to say, “as you tested him in the Testing (ἐν τῷ Πειρασμῷ)” (MT: “at Massah” = “testing”; cf. Exod 17:1–7). Israel in the wilder ness failed in obedience and tested God (cf. 1 Cor 10:9). But where Israel failed, the Son is obedient. In quoting Deut 6:16, Jesus asserts that he will not test God on this (or any other) issue. The words are not meant as a command to the devil not to test Jesus. At stake again is Jesus’ implicit trust in and obedience to his Father; Jesus will be obedient and will not fail as did God’s son Israel (cf. esp. Ps 95:9). To act otherwise—i.e., to jump to safety—would be to act only out of self-interest and to act against the will of God on the matter of testing. The Son, however, trusts the Father’s will and provision, though that trust may involve the risk of life (cf. 26:53–54; 27:40). The Son accordingly loves God with all of his life or soul (Deut 6:5).

8 πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν διάβολος, “again the devil takes him,” is in verbatim agreement with the beginning of v 5, except for πάλιν (cf. v 7); the syntactical structure of the testings is very similar (see aboveForm/Structure/Setting §C).

εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, “to a very high mountain,” is probably not to be taken literally, as can be seen from the following clause. (For evidence concerning a mythical mountain with similar panoramas, cf. Rev 21:10; 2 Apoc. Bar. 76:3. See Foerster, TDNT 5:486.) The reference, however, does have literal associations. Moses was commanded to go to the top of Pisgah (Mount Nebo) and from there not only to survey the promised land (Deut 34:1–4) but to look in every direction (Deut 3:27)—which the rabbis took symbolically to mean to survey the whole world (references in Gerhardsson, Testing, 63). In this connection Moses also warns the people not to be tempted by the riches of Canaan, for it is God who gives wealth (Deut 8:18). A secondary significance of the “very high mountain” may be the association with idolatry (see, e.g., Deut 12:2), which is of course pertinent to the devil’s words in the next verse. δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ, “shows to him,” continues the historical present tense (following παραλαμβάνει), against Luke’s aorist. πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” means “this world and all its wealth” or “all that this world has to offer.” The πάσας is all inclusive from the writer’s perspective. For δόξα in the sense of worldly splendor, see BAGD, 204a (s.v. 2).

9 The aorist εἶπεν, “he said,” is surprisingly used after two successive historical present tenses in the preceding verse. Further historical present tenses are used in vv 10 (λέγει, “he says”) and 11 (ἀφίησιν, “leaves”). The main clause in this third testing by the devil contains not an imperative, as in the preceding two (vv 3, 6), but a promise: ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω, “I will give you all these things.” Therefore, the conditional clause that follows, unlike the two previous conditional clauses (vv 3, 6), involves an actual condition to be met (cf. the use of ἐάν in a third-class condition in place of εἰ). The devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world is a parody in that God has already promised the messianic king, the Son of God, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8; cf. Ps 72:8; Rev 11:15). Again the devil tries to detour Jesus away from the will of the Father, offering him something within his rights (cf. 28:18), but, as the following clause shows, at the cost of idolatry: ἐὰν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι, “if you fall down and worship me.” What Jesus received from the magi (the same combination of participle and verb occurs in 2:11), Satan desires from Jesus. In this conditional clause, we have the key to the testing of Jesus, and indeed to all such testing. As in the very first account of testing, failed by Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1–7), the question centers on a choice between the will of Satan or the will of God, which involves implicitly the rendering of worship to the one or the other. Satan indeed vaunts himself as god in place of the only God. Thus, at stake here is the fundamental issue addressed by the first of the commandments: “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me” (Deut 5:6–7).

10 The response of Jesus is direct and unwavering: ὕπαγε, σατανᾶ, “get away from me, Satan.” Only here at the end of the three testings does Jesus respond with a command (cf. the similar words and same address in 16:23). Satan is the transliteration of the Aramaic סטנא, stn˓ (alternately spelled שׂטנא, śtn˒), “the Adversary” (cf. 1 Chr 21:1; Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7; Zech 3:1–2), and is essentially the equivalent of διάβολος (the common LXX translation). Satan has tested Jesus and has failed. Jesus sends him away with a command that calls attention simultaneously to his victory and to his authority.

For the third time (cf. vv 4, 6), Jesus answers Satan with a quotation from Deuteronomy (6:13), introduced with the γέγραπται formula. The quotation is exact except for two slight changes (found also in Luke, hence derived from Q): προσκυνήσεις, “you shall worship,” replaces LXX’s φοβηθήσῃ, “you shall fear”; and μόνῳ, “only,” is inserted before λατρεύσεις, “you shall serve.” The former may be chosen to echo the words of the devil in v 9, “if you worship me,” and is not far from the meaning of φοβηθήσῃ in this context (i.e., “reverence” or “respect”); the μόνῳ simply underlines what is evident in the following verse of Deuteronomy (6:14). Jesus thus employs a verse of Scripture that addresses the issue right at its heart. We may also note (with Gerhardsson, Testing) that when Jesus refused the world and all its wealth, he demonstrated that he loved God with all his might (wealth) and so perfectly fulfilled the commandment of Deut 6:5, in its third and final component as in the first two (see above). Again Jesus succeeds where Israel failed (cf. Exod 32). What Jesus declines to exploit on the mount of temptation, his messianic power and authority, he proclaims as his on the mount of the commission at the end of the Gospel (28:16; cf. Donaldson, 103, following Allen).

11 Again Matthew begins with his favorite initial τότε, “then” (as above, 4:1, 5). The historical present tense appears (ἀφίησιν, “leaves”), followed by an aorist and an imperfect. Matthew lacks Luke’s ἄχρι καιροῦ, “until an opportune time,” which is probably a Lukan addition rather than a Matthean omission since Matthew indeed knows of the reappearance of the tempter (cf. 16:23 and 27:40, both in relation to “Son of God”). For a similar association of ideas, see Jas 4:7 (cf. T. Naph. 8:4).

The motif expressed in ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ, “look, angels came to him and were ministering to him,” has a Jewish background. More than ministering to Jesus’ physical needs (e.g., hunger) is to be seen here. The angels come not simply to minister to a faithful Israelite (as promised in v 6) but to call special attention to the victory of the obedient Son (cf. Heb 1:6). The verse is thus symbolic of the true identity of the Son (cf. 26:53), which is again affirmed at this point. It also underlines God’s faithfulness to the obedient.


Just as the baptism of Jesus represents an identification with the people of God, so also does the narrative of the testing of Jesus. The newly adopted son of God, Israel, experienced testing in the wilderness for forty years; the newly proclaimed Son of God, Jesus, experienced testing in the wilderness for forty days and nights. That testing was real for Jesus, and the narrative must not be taken as a charade. But Jesus exhibits the faithful obedience of the Son to the Father where Israel failed. The things offered to Jesus—bread, safety, and the kingdoms of this world—are rightfully his by virtue of his sonship and messianic identity. Yet, as we see in the words spoken from heaven after the baptism, Jesus is called to be obedient not only as Son but also as Servant. He thereby is called to exemplify obedience to the will of the Father under the pressure of severe testing and at the cost of self-denial. He will, in particular, express his messianic identity only in accord with the will of the Father.

In this pericope we encounter a theme that is vital in the theology of the Gospels. The goal of obedience to the Father is accomplished, not by triumphant self-assertion, not by the exercise of power and authority, but paradoxically by the way of humility, service, and suffering. Therein lies true greatness (cf. 20:26–28). In fulfilling his commission by obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus demonstrates the rightness of the great commandment (Deut 6:5) as well as his own submission to it. In his faithful adherence to the teaching of the law, he reveals the fundamental consistency of his own teaching and ministry with the law rightly understood (cf. 5:17) and serves as a paradigm of conduct for the early Church. The sonship of Christians, too, must be expressed in full obedience to the will of God, involving, as it will, difficulties and testings (cf. 10:22, 24). Those testings will not be the same as those faced by Jesus, which relate to his unique identity and mission. But they will in principle be similar in that Christians too are called to self-sacrifice, and for them, too, obedience to the will of the Father alone is the measure of true discipleship.[6]

3. Jesus Alone: The Messiah’s Temptation (4:1–11)

One might expect the main, central period of Jesus’ public ministry to unfold at once, but one more crucial preparatory event must occur. Jesus could well have perverted the nature of his messianic sonship and bypassed the way of the cross in favor of some more glamorous political or military role as liberator of Israel. But refusing to die for the sins of the world would have given the devil rather than God the victory. So Jesus’ resolve to fulfill God’s plans for him must be tested and proved right at the outset of his ministry.

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

4:1–2 It is no coincidence that Jesus’ temptation immediately follows his baptism. Many of God’s people have had similar experiences. Right after conversion or some other significant spiritual event, precisely when a certain level of victory or maturity seems to have been attained, temptations resume more strongly than ever (cf. Elijah in 1 Kgs 19:1–18 and Paul in Rom 7:14–25).76

An important interplay between the work of the Spirit and that of the devil appears here. The same Spirit who has anointed Jesus in 3:16 now leads him to the place of temptation but does not himself cause the temptation, which is attributed instead to the devil. By this phrasing, Matthew warns against two common errors—blaming God for temptation and crediting the devil with power to act independently of God. In the New Testament, God is always so dissociated from evil that he is never directly responsible for tempting humans (Jas 1:13). Yet the devil is never portrayed as an enemy equal with but opposite to God; he always remains bound by what God permits.

“Devil” in Greek means accuser, as does “Satan” in Hebrew (v. 10). Scripture teaches that he was a created being, an archangel, and the leader of the rebellious angels who became forever opposed to God and whose ultimate doom Christ’s death ensured (e.g., Job 1–2; Zech 3:1–2; 1 Chr 21:1; Luke 10:18; Rev 20). The desert location again recalls the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus will succeed as the true representative and fulfillment of Israel where Israel had failed (Deut 8:2). Peirazō can mean both to test and to tempt (NIV). As something the devil does, it must here be taken as to tempt, in the sense of to try to entice to sin. But what the devil sees as a temptation, God may simultaneously use as a more positive test to prove Jesus’ faithfulness.77

Jews commonly practiced fasting in order to spend more time in prayer and to develop greater spiritual receptivity.78 Here the devil uses the result of Jesus’ fasting—hunger—as an entrée for his temptations. The “forty days and forty nights” offer another significant parallel with the forty years of Israel’s wanderings. Matthew’s wording does not preclude earlier hunger on the part of Jesus or earlier temptations by Satan (cf. Luke 4:2).

3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

4:3–4 Matthew now refers to the devil by his function. “The tempter” addresses Jesus with the same title God applied to him at his baptism (3:17). The first-class conditional clause, “If you are the Son of God,” does not imply any doubt on the devil’s part (cf. Jas 2:19). Rather, what is in doubt is what type of Son Jesus will be. If stones can become children of Abraham (3:9) or provide water for the Israelites (Exod 17:1–7), then they can surely satisfy Jesus’ hunger.

Jesus, however, replies by quoting Deut 8:3. In fact, for each of the three temptations he will refute the devil with Scripture, always from Deuteronomy, continuing the link with the Israelites’ desert experience. In this instance the text he cites originally underscored God’s provision of manna as an alternative to the Israelites’ reliance on their own abilities to feed themselves. The principle applies equally well to Jesus’ situation and to any other context in which people are tempted to give physical needs priority over spiritual needs.

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

4:5–7 The second temptation79 brings Jesus to the holy city, Jerusalem. “The highest point” is the wing or portico, not “pinnacle” (NASB). Portico refers to the flat-topped corner of Solomon’s porch on the southeast corner of the temple complex overlooking the Kidron Valley. This time the devil asks Jesus to demonstrate miraculously God’s ability to preserve his life. The devil again knows that Jesus has the power to do this, and he cites Ps 91:11–12 to justify it. There God promises all who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps 91:1) safeguarding and protection. The devil’s mistake is to confuse the psalmist’s stumbling so as to fall with Jesus’ deliberately jumping off.80 We must not test God’s faithfulness to his word by manufacturing situations in which we try to force him to act in certain ways. We dare not deliberately put our lives in danger as some kind of fleece. Jesus thus replies by quoting Deut 6:16 on not testing God. The original context alluded to Israel’s rebellion against the Lord at Massah (again harking back to Exod 17:1–7).

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”

11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

4:8–10 After having tempted Jesus to satisfy a legitimate bodily appetite in an illegitimate way and then to use his supernatural power to rebel against God even while seeming to demonstrate great faith, Satan now makes the most brazen offer of all. He will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in return for worship.81 Ironically, Jesus would receive this glory anyway after his death and resurrection; but here the devil tries to seduce him with instant power, authority, and wealth apart from the way of the cross. Satan regularly tempts Christians in the same way— with the success syndrome, empire building, or alleged guarantees of health and wealth. But the devil’s price is damning. He requires nothing short of selling one’s soul in worshiping him, which leads inexorably to eternal judgment. Whatever joy and power he can offer vanishes with death. Jesus rightly rejects the devil’s offer and quotes Deuteronomy for a third time (Deut 6:13). Only one is worthy of worship, the One who redeemed Israel from Egypt, the Lord God Yahweh himself. Jesus’ insistence on worshiping God alone makes the characteristic Matthean theme of worshiping Jesus (e.g., 2:2; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:17) all the more significant as evidence for his divinity.

4:11 With this rebuke the devil departs, but he will resume similar temptations at the beginning of the next key stage of Jesus’ life (16:21–23). The very help Jesus had rejected when it would have put God to the test now makes itself available as angels arrive to serve him. They apparently stay for some time, since Matthew uses the imperfect tense (diēkonoun, were serving) to describe their ministry. Jesus has passed the test, recovers from his fast, and is ready to begin his public ministry.82

Interesting parallels emerge between Jesus’ three temptations and those of Eve and Adam in the garden (Gen 3:6—“good for food,” “pleasing to the eye,” “desirable for gaining wisdom”). Both of these triads seem to parallel John’s epitome of human temptation: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16, RSV). Jesus’ temptations therefore illustrate the precious truth that he was indeed tempted in every way common to human experience (Heb 2:17–18; 4:15). This does not mean that he underwent every conceivable temptation but that he experienced every major kind. Someone who appreciates the insidious lure of one addictive drug, for example, need not be tempted by every other drug in order to empathize with those temptations. But the three temptations Matt 4:1–11 presents encompass a remarkable amount of human experience. We are tempted to gauge life by human comforts and consumerism, to misuse spiritual gifts and power for our own glory and benefit rather than serving others, and to seize power by shortcuts, such as equating a particular political agenda with God’s will.

Jesus experienced temptation more strongly than anyone else because he never gave in and sinned. The temptation always remained before him. Whether or not Jesus could have sinned is a question that has historically divided Christians. Some argue that it was impossible even in his human nature for him to have sinned. Others believe that in order for him to be truly human he had to have a sinful nature, but that unlike the rest of humanity he never yielded to that nature in committing a sinful action. A mediating and more convincing alternative is that Jesus could have sinned but never did and that like Adam and Eve before the fall he had a sinless human nature. It is difficult to see how he could have been tempted in every way as we have been without at least the possibility of sinning. That very possibility makes his ability to sympathize with us all the more precious.83 Of course, we should not associate that possibility of sinning with his divine nature but only with his human nature; God cannot sin. And some have argued from this that Jesus’ divine nature overruled the possibility of his sinning in his human nature. But the historic Christian doctrine of the union of Christ’s natures has regularly viewed him as relinquishing the independent exercise of his divine attributes, so this argument collapses.

These debates of course go far beyond the text of Matthew, whose key point is that Jesus did remain obedient to God and died for our sins rather than meeting other, triumphalist messianic expectations of his day. Even Hebrews merely stresses his ability to relate to our experience of life. Yet many Christians find it difficult to believe that Jesus can identify with them when they are severely tempted or that he can forgive them when they commit some heinous sin, especially when it happens over and over. No area offers a better test for how biblical one’s understanding of Christ’s temptation is than that of sexuality. Do we seriously envisage Christ as being tempted to lust or commit sexual sin so that he can sympathize with our sexual temptations and sins? If not, our Jesus is not the one of Scripture!84 [7]


In biblical thought “to tempt” means to test something or someone in order to determine or demonstrate worth or faithfulness. Temptation also refers to an attempt, often by Satan (see Demon, Devil, Satan), to incite a person to sin. The Gospels depict Jesus experiencing a range of temptations.

1.      Terminology and Background

2.      The Temptation in the Wilderness

3.      Temptation in the Gospels

1. Terminology and Background.

The Greek verb for “tempt” is peirazō (Mt 4:1, 3; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mk 1:13; 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Lk 4:2; 11:16; [Jn 8:6?]). It can be used in a positive sense, as when Jesus tests his disciples (Jn 6:6), as well as in a negative sense, as when the Pharisees try to entangle Jesus in his conversation (Mt 22:15–22). In Acts 15:10 and 1 Corinthians 10:9 peirazō is used of challenging God. The word is best known for its use of the devil tempting in order to cause sin (Mt 4:1 par. Mk 1:13 and Lk 4:2; see 2. below) so that the devil can be called “the tempter” (ho peirazōn, only in Mt 4:3 and 1 Thess 3:5). The noun “temptation” (peirasmos) is used of trials sent by God or encountered while serving him (Lk 22:28; Acts 20:9). It is also used of trials or tests that do or may lead to sin (Mt 6:13 par. Lk 11:4; Mt 26:41 par. Mk 14:38 and Lk 22:46; cf. Lk 22:40) as well as the temptation of Jesus by the devil (Lk 4:13). The word is also used to describe a trial or test which causes a follower of Jesus to fall away or apostatize (Lk 8:13).

The Greek verb dokimazō (“prove” or “examine”) can be used interchangeably with peirazō (2 Cor 13:5; 1 Pet 1:6–7). However, while dokimazō generally implies that the testing will have positive results (1 Thess 2:4; 1 Tim 3:10), peirazō came to signify the testing for good or evil (Mt 16:1; 19:3; 22:18), and even the hope or expectation of failure (Mt 4:1; 1 Cor 7:5; Rev 2:10).

In the LXX peirazō translates the strong active form of the verb nasāh (Gen 22:1; Ex 15:25; Num 14:22) and the Greek peirasmos is used to translate the Hebrew noun massāh (Ex 17:7; Deut 4:34; 9:22; Ps 95 [94]:8). A sword and armor could be tried or tested (1 Sam 17:39), though almost always the testing has a person al object. People can test each other’s reputation (1 Kings 10:1 par 2 Chron 9:1), they can “make a test of pleasure” (Eccles 2:1) and test another’s beliefs (Dan 1:12, 14), or simply attempt or try to do some thing difficult (Deut 4:34; 28:56; cf. 7:19; 29:3). Daniel 12:10 uses peirazesthai of the eschatological tribulations which will act as a means of purification before the end (see Eschatology). Most often in the OT it is God who is depicted as testing the faithfulness and obedience of his own people to know whether or not they are true to him (Gen 22:1–19; [Heb 11:17–20]; Ex 15:25; Deut 8:2; 33:8; 1 Kings 22:21–23; 2 Chron 32:31). On the other hand, God is not said to test heathen people. None of the peir-group of words occurs in LXX of Job for “testing” (cf. 4:2; 9:23), but the theme of God permitting the testing of the faithfulness of his servant, here through Satan, is evident (Job 1–2). To pass the test is to remain obedient to God despite profound and incomprehensible suffering. In 2 Samuel 24:1, 10 the Lord is said to incite David to sin. However, the later rewriting of this story introduces Satan as the one enticing to sin (1 Chron 21:1). Similarly, the tendency to say that someone is tempted or is in temptation, avoiding the idea that God tempts directly, is a development in post-exilic thought (Jub 17:15–18).

Also frequent in the OT are references to God’s people wrongfully putting him to the test, notably by questioning his care as at Massah (Ex 17:2, 7; Deut 6:16; 9:22; 33:8), by refusing to recognize and re member his obvious power (Num 14:22; Ps 78:40–43; 106:14), by asking him to prove himself (Is 7:12) or by disobeying him (Mal 3:15). To test God was the antithesis of trusting him and thus a very serious violation of God’s honor.

In Hellenistic times peirazō was used to reflect God educating his people (Wis 3:5–6) and testing the obedience of his servants, of which Abraham was a model of faithfulness (1 Macc 2:51–52) as he was in the rabbinic literature (m. ˒Abot 5:3). The experience of testing also highlighted God’s care in times of trial (Sir 33:1).

In the Dead Sea Scrolls God’s people are depicted as continually facing afflictions which may deflect them from faithfulness (CD 1:15; 1Q14 11:1; 1QH 4:12, 16; 1QS 3:24; 5:4–5; 4QpHos 2:5; 6QD 3:3).

In the rabbinic literature the theme is maintained that God tests and disciplines those whom he loves (Ps 11:5; Prov 3:12; 2 Apoc. Bar. 79:2; b. Ber. 5a). Further, the homonymous verbs nāsāh (“test” or “tempt”) and nāśā˒ (“exalt”) give rise to the often used rabbinic pun: “God tempts the righteousness, implies that the Holy One, blessed be He, never exalts a man without first having tested and tempted him; if that man withstands the temptation, then he exalts him” (Num. Rab. 15:12; cf. Gen. Rab. 32:3; 34:2; 55:2–3; Exod. Rab. 2:2–3; Cant. Rab. II:16:2).

2. The Temptation in the Wilderness

Mark’s very brief account gives no details of the temptation (Mk 1:12–13), while Matthew’s and Luke’s stories are in the form of a longer, three-part conversation not unlike the debates of the scribes which utilize proof-texts from Scripture (Mt 4:1–11 par. Lk 4:1–13; cf. the secondary Gos. Heb. [Origen, Comm. Joh. II:12:87]).

It has been suggested that Mark’s version is an abbreviation of the tradition known to Matthew and Luke. However, in view of the importance of the conflict between Jesus and Satan in Mark, it is unlikely he would undertake such an abbreviation. Also, the paradisal motif inherent in the mention of Jesus being with the wild beasts is to be contrasted with the Exodus theme recurrent in Matthew and Luke. Thus, it is more likely that Mark’s tradition is independent of that shared by Matthew and Luke, the latter being derived most probably from Q. However, it is possible that the narrative is a late addition to Q, for the temptation story is anomalous in what is generally thought to be a collection of sayings and speeches.

In all three Synoptic Gospels the importance of the account of the temptation of Jesus is seen from its position in the Gospels: after his baptism and immediately prior to and introducing his public ministry.

The Fourth Gospel has no account of the temptation in the wilderness (see Mountain and Wilderness). However, in a scene reminiscent of the Synoptic temptation narrative, the people who saw the miracle of the loaves and fishes (6:1–14) want a sign similar to the gift of the manna in the wilderness so that they can believe in Jesus as the second Moses (6:30; cf. Rab. Eccl. 1:9). Jesus’ reply in John 6:32–33 echoes both Deuteronomy 8:3 and his reply in the first temptation in the wilderness (Mt 4:4 par. Lk 4:4).

2.1. The Origin of the Temptations. It is difficult to establish definitely the origin of the temptation narrative as being in the life of Jesus. But the history-of-religion parallels from the stories of Buddha and Zarathustra, for more distant examples, at least indicate that holy men were thought to experience times of testing.

The first three Evangelists agree that the Spirit (see Holy Spirit) led Jesus into the wilderness and that he was tempted by Satan (Mk 1:13) or the devil (Mt 4:1 par. Lk 4:2). The sharp saying “Get behind me Satan” directed at Peter (Mk 8:33), which is hardly likely to have been invented by the early church, also depicts Jesus being tempted by Satan. The Fourth Gospel also reflects the idea of Jesus being tempted (Jn 6:15, 26–34; 7:1–4).

It can be stated with some certainty that the temptations are so distinctive that they are hardly likely to have been created in the light of later Christian experience of temptation, even though Jesus and his followers later may have shared other trials (cf. Lk 22:28). Also, if the temptations revolve around the sonship of Jesus (see 2.3. below), then the early church would have been unlikely to create material showing Jesus’ inner struggle with his obedience and trust in God and the responsibilities of his relationship with his Father. Further, the difficulty early Christians had with the idea of the Messiah (see Christ) being tempted is probably suggested by the affirmations of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews that Jesus suffered being tempted, though without sin (Heb 2:18; 4:15–16; cf. 5:7–9).

That the scenes comprising the temptation Narrative in Q resemble a scribal haggadic midrash does not in itself tell against their historicity, but that a Palestinian origin for them is likely, even though the OT quotations from the LXX show the tradition has passed through the hands of a Greek-speaking community (see Tradition Criticism).

The temptation story is told as a visionary experience. There are two other reported visionary experiences of Jesus in relation to his dealing with Satan, each of them handed down in the first person. In Luke 10:18 Jesus says that he has seen Satan falling from heaven in relation to his disciples’ exorcisms. In Luke 22:31–32, reminiscent of the heavenly court scenes in Job 1:6–12 and 2:1–6, Jesus says he has prayed for Simon because he and the other disciples are going to be sifted like wheat. It is possible then that Jesus could have related to his disciples his experiences now reflected in the temptation Narratives. Furthermore, it is quite probable that, anticipating the nature of his ministry, Jesus had to face just such issues as conveyed in the temptation narratives. Therefore, there is no need to suppose that Jesus’ desert experience was invented. Rather, it is quite probable that the temptation narratives have their origin in the initial stage of the ministry of the historical Jesus, who later reported his visionary experiences to his disciples, perhaps in the context of later teaching about trials and temptations (see 3. below).

2.2. The Order of the Temptations. Given the historicity of both stories, the association of the temptation with the baptism is to be expected for, as Sirach 2:1 says in reflecting human experience, “My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.” The same pattern is found in the story of the Israelites who, after passing through the waters of the Red Sea, spend time being tested in the wilderness (Deut 8:2–5; cf. 1 Cor 10:1–22).

Matthew and Luke agree that the devil (Matthew has “tempter”) first tempts Jesus to demonstrate that he is the Son of God (see Son of God) by turning stones into loaves of bread. But while Matthew says Jesus was then taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and thirdly to a high mountain, Luke has these in reverse order. If Luke’s order is original then Matthew has made the last temptation correspond to the climax of his Gospel (Mt 28:18). On the other hand, Luke’s interest in Jerusalem and the Temple (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4; 6:8–7:60; 21:17–22:21) means that he is likely to have wanted the temptations to reach a climax there (Lk 4:9). Alternatively, it has been suggested that Luke may have relied on Psalm 106 to reorder the scenes. For in this psalm there is reference to the manna (v. 14), worship of the golden calf (v. 19–20) and the testing of God in the wilderness (vv. 32–33), all in the order they appear in the Lukan temptation story. However, this explanation is probably too subtle, even though the same order of themes is evident in 1 Corinthians 10.

Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Matthew has maintained the order of the temptations in Q and that Luke has changed the order of the last two. For there is a progression in Matthew’s order from desert to Temple pinnacle to a mountain. Also, Matthew has a tidy reverse order of the quotation of Scripture from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16, 13), and the two temptations concerning Jesus’ sonship come together in Matthew.

2.3. Jesus and the Temptations. The opening words of the temptation story in all three Synoptic Gospels are remarkably similar to Deuteronomy 8:2. Therefore, the importance of Deuteronomy and the Exodus theme in understanding the narrative is suggested from the beginning.

That Jesus should have been especially conscious of the presence and direction of the Holy Spirit in his desert experience of temptation (Mk 1:12 par. Mt 4:1 and Lk 4:1) is not surprising, for the OT speaks of the presence and leading of the Spirit (Neh 9:20; cf. Is 63:7–10) during Israel’s desert wandering, as does later Jewish literature (e.g., Rab. Exod. 23:2).

That Satan tempts Jesus here is probably due to an increasing desire in the period to preserve the transcendence and loving goodness of God by not depicting God as directly involved in being tempted (see 1. above). The role of Satan also recalls that in Job where the faithfulness of God’s servant is being tested in Satan’s attempt to cause failure.

2.3.1. The First Temptation (Mt 4:3–4 par. Lk 4:3–4). In calling on Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread the devil appeals to Jesus’ power as Son of God. This could be seen as a temptation to repeat the miracle (see Miracles and Miracle Stories) of the provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:13–21; 2 Apoc. Bar. 29:1–30:1; Josephus Ant. 20.8.6 §§167–68; J.W. 7.11.1 §438), or to perform a sign expected of the messianic age in order to win over people (cf. Jn 6:1–40) or perhaps, depending on the conditional “if” for this interpretation, the devil is to be seen attempting to raise doubt about Jesus’ miraculous powers and, hence, his divine sonship.

However, the text of Jesus’ reply, “Not on bread alone shall a person live … ,” is almost exactly that of Deuteronomy 8:3, where allusion is made to the Israelites being disciplined in the wilderness as a man disciplines his son. For this reason Jesus is probably being tempted to assert his independence from God by performing a miracle for his own benefit, rather than trusting God as a son for all his needs (cf. Deut 28:1–14; Ps 33:18–19; 34:10). The Israelites failed their test; they grumbled against their leaders and God, craving different food from what God was providing (Deut 2:7; Neh 9:21; Ps 23:1; 78:18–22). But in the first scene of the temptations the Son of God rejected the devil’s temptation and remained obedient to his Father, being satisfied with his Father’s nourishment and care.

2.3.2. The Second Temptation (Mt 4:5–7 par. Lk 4:9–12). In this scene the devil is said to take Jesus to the “pinnacle” (pterugion) of the Temple. Pterugion (“winglet”) was used figuratively of the edge or extremity of something and first used here of some high and visible part of the Temple (Josephus Ant. 15.11.5 §412; Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 2.23.11). In asking Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple, the devil may be tempting Jesus to display his messiahship, for a rabbinical saying in the Pesiqta Rabbati says that “when the King, the Messiah, reveals himself, he will come and stand on the roof of the temple” (36). However, we cannot be certain that this saying reflects expectations of Jesus’ time.

In any case, in light of Jesus’ reply that “you shall not tempt the Lord your God” (cf. Deut 6:16), the devil is more likely to be understood as tempting God by challenging God to keep his promise of protection for his children (Ex 19:4–5; Deut 28:1–14; 32:10–11), particularly in the Temple (Ps 36:7–9; 91). This interpretation is further supported by noting that the devil has already quoted Psalm 91:11–12 about God’s protection (Mt 4:6 par. Lk 4:10). Furthermore, the Fourth Gospel depicts Jesus’ brothers suggesting a dangerous course of action, that he go to Jerusalem in order to display his works and identity. Jesus connects their suggestion with the evil world, Satan’s domain, and rejects it on the grounds that his hour has not completely come (7:1–13).

2.3.3. The Third Temptation (Mt 4:8–10 par. Lk 4:5–8). In Matthew’s order the temptation narrative climaxes with the devil taking Jesus to a very high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, as an ancient land seller might take a prospective buyer to a vantage point to see the land (Cicero Pro Tullio; cf. Gen 13:14–15; Deut 34:1). Perhaps recognizing that no actual mountain could give such a vantage point, and emphasizing the visionary nature of Jesus’ experience, Luke does not mention the mountain, but only says that the devil led Jesus up (4:5, anagō). This temptation appears to break the pattern of the narrative. Satan does not mention Jesus’ sonship, but says, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” However, the echo of Psalm 2 maintains the issue of Jesus’ sonship in these scenes.

It has been suggested that the temptation is of a political nature. That is, this temptation explains that Jesus rejected zealotism and the role of a miraculous political Messiah as a satanic option. But the meaning of the temptation, again governed by OT background, is probably quite different. In the story of the baptism which immediately precedes the temptations there is an echo of Psalm 2:7, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son. …’ ” The psalm goes on to say, “Ask me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance” (2:8). So clearly is this part of the background to the third temptation that the devil is thereby seen to be offering Jesus what is not his to give in return for the worship of the devil.

That the essence of this temptation is for Jesus to receive his rightful inheritance without obedience to God is confirmed in Jesus’ reply, which is a quotation from Moses warning the Israelites against idolatry as they enter the promised land (Deut 6:10–15). In the OT idolatry and demon worship are closely associated (Deut 32:17; Ps 106:37–38; cf. 1 Enoch 99:7). So, in being tempted to idolatry or to acknowledge the devil rather than God being in control of the world, Jesus answers the devil with the command of God “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Deut 6:13; Mt 4:10 par. Lk 4:8). This final temptation is, then, the most devilish of all; the call to Jesus to receive his proper inheritance without obedient worship of God.

Each of the temptation scenes recalls aspects in the Exodus story when the Israelites failed to remain faithful to God. By contrast, Jesus remains the obedient Son. As the Exodus through the wilderness confirmed that the Israelites were God’s chosen, so in his experience in the desert Jesus is confirmed to be God’s Son. The three scenes of Jesus’ visionary experience show him triumphing in his battle with Satan to remain obedient to his Father without recourse to cheap displays of power.

2.4. The Emphases of the Gospel Writers. For all the Synoptic Evangelists the background to the temptation of Jesus is God leading the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness to humble them and test what was in their hearts, whether or not they would keep the commandments (Deut 8:2). Thus through the instrument of Satan, God tests the obedience of his Son Jesus.

2.4.1. Matthew. The first Evangelist has maintained the Q association between the baptism and temptation stories of Jesus. The climax of the baptism story is the voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17), so that the theme of sonship overshadows the story of the temptation in the wilderness. Matthew maintains the theme of Jesus’ sonship in the first two temptations (4:3, 6) and highlights the idea that the temptations in the wilderness are God testing his Son (cf. Deut 1:31; 8:5; 32:5) through an attempt by Satan to cause Jesus to displease God through being a disobedient Son (cf. Mt 3:17; 4:3, 6).

In saying that Jesus was “led up” (anēchthē) into the wilderness, Matthew may be showing a knowledge of the Judean desert plateau above the Jordan.

Matthew has associated the forty days and forty nights in the wilderness with Jesus’ fasting so that the story conforms to Moses fasting for the same period. Matthew has already drawn parallels between Jesus and Moses in 2:13, 16, 20–21. In the temptation story the parallels continue. Jesus was led into the wilderness just as Moses went to Mount Sinai in the wilderness (Deut 9:9); Jesus was not only forty days but also forty nights (Mt 4:2; cf. Lk 4:2) in the wilderness, as was Moses in the wilderness forty days and forty nights. During this time Jesus fasted (nēsteuō), just as Moses neither ate nor drank in the story in Exodus 34:28 (cf. Deut 9:9–18, 25). It is most likely that Matthew sees Jesus’ fasting as an example, for he is the only Evangelist to give the followers of Jesus directions for fasting (16:16–18; cf. 9:14–15). Finally, Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world from a mountain as Moses saw the promised land from a mountain (Deut 3:27; 34:1–4).

After the first temptation to turn stones into loaves of bread, it is probably Matthew who extends Jesus’ reply in light of his interest in enhancing the wisdom motif to include the words from the LXX, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (4:4; cf. Deut 8:3). In this way Matthew is able not only to affirm the view that Jesus was victorious in being obedient to God (contrast Israel in Ex 16; Num 11) but also to begin to establish the view that Jesus is the new wise teacher of Israel (cf. Prov 9:1–5).

Matthew is probably responsible for calling Jerusalem the holy city (4:5 par. Lk 4:9), for the only other place it occurs in the Gospels is in Matthew 27:53 where the Evangelist relates a story of events surrounding the crucifixion. If Matthew intended his readers to associate this story with that of the temptation, it is possible that Matthew is saying that while Jesus refused to tempt God by throwing himself down from the highest point of the holy city, when he was “thrown down” on the cross (see Death of Jesus), in the resurrection he was shown to be the Son of God (cf. 4:6 and 27:54) and to be cared for by God (cf. 27:53).

In retaining the temptation to worship Satan as the climax of the story, Matthew highlights the ensuing battle in his Gospel between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of Satan (cf. 12:24–29). In resisting this temptation Matthew has Jesus say, “Go, Satan!” (hypage satana), just as he has Jesus say later in his ministry to the demons (Mt 8:32; cf. Mk 5:13 par. Lk 8:32) as well as to Peter as he represents Satan (16:23 par. Mk 8:33).

In this temptation Jesus is shown not only to win the battle here, but later Matthew depicts Jesus again on a mountain, having his sonship affirmed in a visionary experience (17:1–13). Finally, Matthew’s Gospel affirms Jesus’ victory by ending with Jesus on a mountain, as ruler of the world, declaring to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18).

For Matthew Jesus’ victory over Satan in the temptations is complete. However, Jesus will go on doing battle with Satan in other areas. Thus the devil is said to leave (aphiēsin, historic present) Jesus, so that Matthew may be intending to give the impression that the departure is only temporary (cf. Lk 4:13). Further, God is seen to be faithful, providing Jesus’ needs. Following Mark, Matthew says that angels ministered to him, which would imply the provision of food (cf. 1 Kings 19:5–8).

2.4.2. Mark. As in the Q tradition, Mark has the story of the temptation tied directly to Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven declaring, “You are my son …” (1:11). Thus for Mark the temptation is to be seen as a test of Jesus in relation to his sonship. Also, as Satan is the archdemon in Mark, Jesus is depicted as being involved in a spiritual and cosmic battle of the highest order.

The temptation narrative in Mark consists of four simple statements, each linked by “and” (kai). The brevity of the account, along with Jesus’ frequent conflict with Satan through his exorcisms (3:22–27; cf. 1:21–28, 39; 3:11; 5:1–20; 7:24–29; 9:14–29), through encounters with the Pharisees (see 3. below), as well as through his disciples (8:33), gives the impression that Jesus’ ministry was an almost-uninterrupted confrontation with Satan.

Perhaps to indicate that the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry was directed by the Spirit, Mark says that the Spirit drove or compelled (ekballō) Jesus into the wilderness, though not to temptation (1:12). There is an emphasis on the place of temptation being in the wilderness (erēmos), probably not because it is a place of prayer (cf. Lk 5:16), but because Israel had been tested in the wilderness (Ps 78:17–20), because the age of salvation was expected to begin in the wilderness (Mk 1:3; cf. Is 40:3; Josephus J.W. 2.13.5 §261; 7.11.1 §438) and because the wilderness was the habitat of the demons (1QM 1).

“Forty” is a common round number in the OT, and it is often used in stories of fasting and God’s sustenance (Gen 7:4, 12; Ex 34:28; 1 Kings 19:4–8; cf. Adam and Eve 6:1–2), a motif reinforced in Mark’s temptation story with his reference to the angels ministering to Jesus (Mk 1:13 par. Mt 4:11). Although Mark does not mention Jesus’ fasting, he may intend it to be implied here.

Jesus said to be with the wild beasts (thēria) and the angels ministering to him does not emphasize the loneliness of the temptation but recalls the OT eschatological expectation of harmony in the animal kingdom and between people and animals (Is 11:6–9; 32:14–20; 65:25; Hos 2:18) as it was in Genesis 1:26–28. As early as Justin a paradisal background to Mark’s story of the temptation has been suggested (Dial. Tryph. 103). And there was a Jewish tradition that Adam and Eve were being ministered to by the angels (Adam and Eve 4; b. Sanh. 59b) and associated demons, wild beasts and angels (Ps 91:11–13; T. Iss. 7:7; T. Benj. 5:2; T. Naph. 8:4). This probably means that, for Mark, whereas Adam failed to resist temptation, Jesus overcame Satan and was able to live at peace with the wild beasts and receive the ministration of the angels.

It is generally accepted that Mark gives no hint of the nature nor the outcome of the temptation. How ever, the association of the temptation with the declaration of Jesus’ sonship (1:11) and the reference to ministering angels (1:13) recalls the second temptation in Q (Mt 4:5–7 par. Lk 4:9–12). Thus Mark may have in mind that Jesus was being tempted to doubt his sonship and put God to the test. It is more likely that the nature of the temptation can be gleaned from noting that in Mark Satan’s role is to attempt to deflect Jesus from his mission (3:23, 26; 4:15; 8:33). That in Mark’s temptation story Satan attempts to deflect Jesus and that Jesus emerges victorious, can also be seen by the fact that immediately following the temptation, Mark has Jesus embarking on his mission (1:14–15). Jesus’ victory is also suggested in the mention of the angels who, in the OT, ensured the safe passage of God’s chosen servant through a difficult period (Ex 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; 1 Kings 19:5–7). Further, Jesus being with the wild beasts also suggests a victory to be contrasted with Adam’s failure (see above). There is no suggestion in the Markan temptation story that Satan was completely or finally overthrown or bound.

2.4.3. Luke. In view of the temptations immediately following the baptism in Mark and Matthew, it is most probable that Luke has inserted the genealogy (3:23–38) between the two narratives. The genealogy allows Luke to support the declaration at the conclusion of the baptism—that Jesus is the Son of God—by a genealogy which traces Jesus back through Adam to God. In turn, the temptations maintain a focus on the sonship of Jesus being at stake. As a faithful Son Jesus is bringing to an end the human disobedience typified in Adam and the Israelites during the Exodus.

In Luke, not only is it emphasized that Jesus is being led (ēgeto, imperfect passive) by the Spirit, but he is filled (plērēs) with the Holy Spirit. This, along with his precise echo of Deuteronomy 8:2 (en tē erēmō, “in the wilderness”), shows that Luke understands that it is God who is leading Jesus in the temptations, to test what was in his heart and his faithfulness to God (Deut 8:2). Matthew (4:2) gives the impression that the tempter came to Jesus after he had fasted forty days in the desert. For Luke, Jesus was being tempted by the devil for the whole forty days (4:1–2). The most significant alteration Luke has made to the temptation narrative is the order of the scenes, transposing the last two so that the order is bread, kingdoms of the world and pinnacle of the Temple. It is probably too subtle to expect Luke’s order to reflect the reverse order of the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It is more reasonable to suppose that Luke wanted the temptations to reach their climax at the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke’s order also maintains the theme of the testing of the Son of God (4:9).

In the first scene of the temptations the devil’s challenge “If you are the Son of God …” recalls the declaration of Jesus’ sonship at his baptism. For Luke, Jesus’ sonship is not in doubt, but the way Jesus will use his power. The singular “bread” and “stone” (cf. Mt 4:3) emphasize that the devil is testing to see if Jesus will use his powers for his selfish ends rather than depend on what God supplies (Lk 4:4).

In the second scene Jesus is not taken to a high mountain, not only perhaps because no mountain could afford such an advantage (see 2.3.3. above), but because for Luke a mountain is primarily a place of prayer and revelation (6:12; 9:28; 22:39). The awkwardness of verse 6 and Luke’s interest in “authority” (exousia; see Authority and Power) means that he has probably added it here and it has a political meaning as in 12:11; 20:20; 23:7. That is, Jesus is being tempted to take up political authority and its associated glory. This offer Jesus rejects.

Luke sums up the temptations by saying that the devil finished “every temptation” (4:13). That is, in these three scenes Luke sees portrayed the whole range of temptations Jesus will face in his ministry. In turn this means that while Jesus’ victory over temptation may have been an encouraging model for Luke’s readers, Jesus’ experience was unique to his sonship and mission. In fact, every other time Luke uses the word temptation of followers of Jesus, it does not have a positive outcome (8:13; 11:4; 22:28, 40, 46). From his unique ending of the story—that the devil left him until an opportune time—it is obvious that Luke does not intend to convey the idea that Satan was finally defeated, or that this marks the absolute end of temptation for Jesus. Rather, he anticipates the conflicts between Jesus and Satan (10:18; 11:18; 13:16).

3. Temptation in the Gospels

Outside the temptation narrative the Synoptic Gospels depict Jesus as continuing to be tempted, principally by the Pharisees.

In Mark 8:11 (par. Mt 16:1) the Pharisees are said to test Jesus by seeking from him a sign from heaven (cf. Lk 11:16). As this request comes in the context of a series of miracle stories and as the Synoptic Gospels never use “sign” (sēmeion) to refer to a miracle, the Pharisees are being portrayed as seeking more than a miracle or a display of power from Jesus. In the tradition of the OT (Deut 13:1–2; 1 Sam 2:30–33; Is 7:10–14) they sought some obvious, compelling authentication of Jesus’ divine ministry beyond the healings (see Healing) which they may have seen in others of their holy men. They may have expected some apocalyptic sign in the heavens of cosmic proportions (cf. Ezra 5:4; 7:39) or, as with the prophets (Deut 13:2–6; 18:18–22; 2 Kings 20:1–11; Is 7:10–14), they may have expected God to confirm Jesus’ status. Such testing recalls the Q temptations testing the sonship of Jesus. Mark says that Jesus refused to offer a sign (8:12), probably because such lack of insight could never be satisfied, for it sets human conditions for faith, and those with an eye of trust already knew who Jesus was. In light of the temptation story this aligns the Pharisees with Satan.

Jesus is also depicted as being tempted in the sense of the Pharisees trying to trap him (Mk 10:2 par. Mt 19:3; cf. Mt 22:35 par. Lk 10:25, ekpeirazō). In just one instance Jesus speaks of himself being trapped or tempted by the Herodians (see Herodian Dynasty) and Pharisees (Mk 12:15 par. Mt 22:18).

In Luke 22:28 the whole of Jesus’ ministry is described as temptations, that is, being confronted continually by Satan in the trials and tribulations of his ministry. In that the disciples are paradigms of discipleship for Luke, this verse also shows that being a follower of Jesus includes sharing in his temptations or trials. However, in the use of peirasmos in the story of the Garden of Gethsemane (see Gethsemane), Luke and the other Synoptic Evangelists show they see the climax of Jesus’ trial and battle with Satan to be in the Easter story. In the Garden the disciples are said to be encouraged not to enter or succumb to temptation, that is, fall away. In view of the absence of the definite article with “temptation” in this story (Mk 14:38 par. Mt 26:41 and Lk 22:46; cf. Lk 22:40), it is unlikely that the eschatological tribulation is in mind. Luke also sees temptation causing those who hear and receive the word with joy, to fall away (8:13).

In John’s Gospel peirazō is used of Jesus "testing” Philip’s understanding of and trust in Jesus’ ability to meet the needs of those who come to him for food (6:6). In light of 6:32 and the great number of people requiring feeding (6:7), John probably intends to convey the message that on a spiritual level Jesus is able to meet the profound needs of those who come to him.

In the temptation stories Jesus is not portrayed as being tempted to satisfy people’s material needs, nor to display his wonder-working power for all to see but to test whether or not he would remain obedient and loyal as the Son of God. The faithfulness of Jesus is highlighted against the background of the disobedience of the children of Israel in their wanderings in the desert. While the temptation narratives are primarily Christological in intent, they are also a source of encouragement for the followers of Jesus in their trials and sufferings. There is no suggestion in any of the Synoptic Evangelists that Satan was completely destroyed in the temptations. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is depicted as continuing to face temptation from the evil one who was bound principally through Jesus’ ministry of exorcism.[8]


I. Synoptic Accounts

All three Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness following His baptism by John. Mark states little more than this: only that the Spirit “drove” Jesus to this location, that Jesus remained there forty days with the wild beasts, and that angels ministered to Him (Mk. 1:12f). In closely parallel accounts Matthew and Luke elaborate in some detail, describing three main confrontations between Satan and Jesus. In each case Jesus successfully thwarts the devil’s ploys (Mt. 4:1–11; Lk. 4:1–13). In response to the challenge to turn stones into bread, Jesus affirms that God’s Word is the ultimate, true sustenance. Replying to the challenge to throw Himself off the wing (not “pinnacle”; probably the southeast portico) of the temple so that the angels could come on a spectacular rescue mission, Jesus cites the commandment not to tempt God. In rejecting the offer of all the world’s kingdoms in return for allegiance to Satan, He banishes the devil with the reminder that God alone merits worship.

The relationship between the shorter (Markan) and longer (Matthaean and Lukan) versions of the temptation narrative has been variously explained. Some view the longer version as an expansion and embellishment of the shorter; others see one or both versions as an abbreviation of a longer original. The most common and preferable view is to explain the two as independent traditions, probably stemming from the pre-Markan and Q sources. The main distinctive of Mark’s account is its reference to wild beasts. Their presence speaks against the view that the wilderness was a place for serene contemplation, while the idea that they point to Jesus as a second Adam in Paradise finds little support elsewhere in Mark. Rather, the beasts fit in with the austere nature of the wilderness (presumably the Judean desert) hinted at in Mk. 1:1–11, and with the common association of deserts with demonic activity (cf. Lk. 11:24).

The most noteworthy difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts is the inversion of the sequence of the final two temptations. Matthew’s order is almost certainly the most original, for three reasons: (1) Only Matthew uses the potentially chronological Greek connective tóte (“then”) to connect the first two temptations (Mt. 4:5; cf. kaí, “and,” in Lk. 4:5); (2) this order corresponds to that of a well-known midrash on the Shema, which links loving God with “heart,” “soul,” and “might” (Dt. 6:5) with loving despite one’s evil (physical) inclinations, and with the possibility of losing one’s life or surrendering one’s property (see esp Mish Berakoth ix.5); and (3) Luke’s climactic relocation of the second temptation ties in with his redactional interest in the temple as the locus of God’s saving activity.

II. Historicity

Evaluations of the historicity of the accounts have come to diverse conclusions. Many view the story as a creation of the early Church, which supposedly wanted to dramatize Jesus’ sinlessness or (as is more commonly held) underline His humanity vis-à-vis those who held too exalted a view of the Christ. More recently the temptations have been associated with an anti-Jewish polemic. On the other hand, several considerations strongly support the historical authenticity of the temptations, including the profound theological coherence of these narratives with the details of the rest of Jesus’ ministry, the unlikelihood of the Church inventing an account about the temptation of One they believed to be God (in the light of the consistent OT teaching against putting God to the test), and the narratives’ depiction of a kind of vulnerability that contrasted sharply with the messianic expectations of the first disciples.

To affirm the historicity of the temptations does not, however, settle the question of how they were experienced. At least two features suggest that the temptations were some kind of visionary or inward, spiritual experience: (1) the impossibility of someone seeing all of the world from any mountain peak, and (2) the extreme improbability of one who has fasted for forty days embarking on such an arduous journey. The narratives’ “historicity is not dependent” on Jesus’ “having been taken to a specific geographical location” (R. Mounce, Matthew [Good News comm, 1985] p. 27), although tourists today are still shown the traditional “Mount of Temptation” overlooking Jericho.

III. Significance

More important is the debate over the significance of the temptations. The history of interpretation discloses four main approaches: (1) a parenetic or psychologizing view, in which Jesus’ temptations represent the three main categories of all human temptations (cf. 1 Jn. 2:16: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”; cf. also the three appeals of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for Eve in Gen. 3:6); (2) a Christological approach, which stresses the obedient nature of the Son of God; (3) a messianic interpretation, in which Jesus is tempted to reject the way of the cross in favor of following the more political, nationalistic hopes of His countrymen; and (4) a salvation-historical option, in which Jesus obeys the commands of God that Israel had disobeyed in its wilderness wanderings, thus proving Himself to be the true representative of Israel. None of these views necessarily excludes any of the others, although (1) has the least textual support.

Other features of the narratives also have theological significance. The temptation follows the baptism as a strategically located initial test of Jesus’ commitment to the role His Father has earmarked for Him. The Spirit leads Jesus to the place of temptation but is not the one who tempts Him, thus displaying God’s sovereignty over evil but also His dissociation from it. Each of Jesus’ replies quotes Scripture (Dt. 8:3; 6:16; 6:13) as the authoritative answer to the devil’s challenges — one of which itself quotes Scripture (Ps. 91:11f). Satan’s departure at the end of the ordeal “until an opportune time” (Lk. 4:13) does not contradict the demonic opposition Jesus continued to encounter in the exorcisms (or even in Peter’s rebuke of Mk. 8:33 par), but it does suggest that such an intense conflict was not to be repeated until Gethsemane and Golgotha.[9]

1. The Sources:

The sources for this event are Mk 1:12, 13; Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13; compare Heb 2:18; Heb 4:15, 16, and see GETHSEMANE. Mark is probably a condensation; Mt and Luke have the same source, probably the discourses of Jesus. Matthew is usually regarded as nearest the original, and its order is here followed.

2. Time and Place:

The Temptation is put immediately after the Baptism by all the Synoptists, and this is psychologically necessary, as, we shall see. The place was the wilderness; it was "up" from the Jordan valley (Matthew), and was on the way back to Galilee (Luke). The traditional site, Mt. Quarantana, is probably a good guess.

3. Significance:

At His baptism, Jesus received from heaven the final confirmation of His thought that He was the Messiah. It was the greatest conception which ever entered a human mind and left it sane. Under the irresistible influence of the Spirit, He turned aside to seek out in silence and alone the principles which should govern Him in His Messianic work. This was absolutely necessary to any wise prosecution of it. Without the slightest precedent Jesus must determine what a Messiah would do, how He would act. Radical critics agree that, if such a period of meditation and conflict were not recorded, it would have to be assumed. By this conflict, Jesus came to that clearness and decision which characterized His ministry throughout. It is easy to see how this determination of guiding principles involved the severest temptation, and it is noteworthy that all the temptation is represented as coming from without, and none from within. Here too He must take His stand with reference to all the current ideas about the Messiah and His work.

4. The Reporter:

Jesus alone can be the original reporter. To this Holtzmann and J. Weiss agree. The report was given for the sake of the disciples, for the principles wrought out in this conflict are the guiding principles in the whole work of the kingdom of God on earth.

5. Exposition:

(1) Fasting.

Jesus was so intensely absorbed that He forgot to eat. There was nothing ascetic or ritualistic about it, and so this is no example for ascetic fasting for us. It is doubtful whether the text demands absolute abstinence from food; rather, long periods of fasting, and insufficient food when He had it. At the end of the forty days, He woke to the realization that He was a starving man.

(2) The First Temptation.

The first temptation is not a temptation to doubt His Messiahship, nor is the second either. "If thou art the Son of God," i.e. "the Messiah," means, simply, "since thou art the Son of God" (see Burton, Moods and Tenses, sections 244,245; Robertson, Short Grammar, 161). There was not the slightest doubt on this point in Jesus' mind after the baptism, and Satan knew it. There is no temptation to prove Himself the Messiah, nor any hint of such a thing in Jesus' replies. The very point of it all is, How are you going to act, since you are Messiah? (Mt 4:3 parallel Lk 4:3).

The temptation has these elements: (a) The perfectly innocent craving for food is imperious in the starving man. (b) Why should He not satisfy His hunger, since He is the Son of God and has the power? Jesus replies from Dt 8:3, that God can and will provide Him bread in His own way and in His own time. He is not referring to spiritual food, which is not in question either here or in Deuteronomy (see Broadus' just and severe remark here). He does not understand how God will provide, but He will wait and trust. Divinely-assured of Messiahship, He knows that God will not let Him perish. Here emerges the principle of His ministry; He will never use His supernatural power to help Himself. Objections based on Lk 4:30 and Jn 10:39 are worthless, as nothing miraculous is there implied. The walking on the water was to help the apostles' faith. But why would it have been wrong to have used His supernatural power for Himself? Because by so doing He would have refused to share the human lot, and virtually have denied His incarnation. If He is to save others, Himself He cannot save (Mt 27:42). In passing, it is well to notice that "the temptations all turn on the conflict which arises, when one, who is conscious of supernatural power, feels that there are occasions, when it would not be right to exercise it." So the miraculous is here most deeply imbedded in the first principles of Messianic action.

(3) The Second Temptation.

The pinnacle of the temple was probably the southeast corner of the roof of the Royal Cloister, 326 ft. above the bottom of the Kidron valley. The proposition was not to leap from this height into the crowd below in the temple courts, as is usually said, for (a) there is no hint of the people in the narrative; (b) Jesus reply does not fit such an idea; it meets another temptation entirely; (c) this explanation confuses the narrative, making the second temptation a short road to glory like the third; (d) it seems a fantastic temptation, when it is seriously visualized. Rather Satan bids Jesus leap into the abyss outside the temple. Why then the temple at all, and not some mountain precipice? asks Meyer. Because it was the sheerest depth well known to the Jews, who had all shuddered as they had looked down into it (Mt 4:5-7 parallel Lk 4:5-8).

The first temptation proved Jesus a man of faith, and the second is addressed to Him as such, asking Him to prove His faith by putting God's promise to the test. It is the temptation to fanaticism, which has been the destruction of many a useful servant of God Jesus refuses to yield, for yielding would have been sin. It would have been (a) wicked presumption, as though God must yield to every unreasonable whim of the man, of faith, and so would have been a real "tempting" of God; (b) it would have denied His incarnation in principle, like the first temptation; (c) such fanaticism would have destroyed His ministry. So the principle was evolved: Jesus will not, of self-will, run into dangers, but will avoid them except in the clear path of duty. He will be no fanatic, running before the Spirit, but will be led by Him in paths of holy sanity and heavenly wisdom. Jesus waited on God.

(4) The Third Temptation.

The former tests have proved Jesus a man of faith and of common sense. Surely such a man will take the short and easy road to that universal dominion which right-fully belongs to the Messiah. Satan offers it, as the prince of this world. The lure here is the desire for power, in itself a right instinct, and the natural and proper wish to avoid difficulty and pain. That the final object is to set up a universal kingdom of God in righteousness adds to the subtlety of the temptation. But as a condition Satan demands that Jesus shall worship him. This must be symbolically interpreted. Such worship as is offered God cannot be meant, for every pious soul would shrink from that in horror, and for Jesus it could constitute no temptation at all. Rather a compromise with Satan must be meant -- such a compromise as would essentially be a submission to him. Recalling the views of the times and the course of Jesus ministry, we can think this compromise nothing else than the adoption by Jesus of the program of political Messiahship, with its worldly means of war, intrigue, etc. Jesus repudiates the offer. He sees in it only evil, for (a) war, especially aggressive war, is to His mind a vast crime against love, (b) it changes the basis of His kingdom from the spiritual to the external, (c) the means would defeat the end, and involve Him in disaster. He will serve God only, and God is served in righteousness. Only means which God approves can be used (Mt 4:8-11 parallel Lk 4:9-13). Here then is the third great principle of the kingdom: Only moral and spiritual means to moral and spiritual ends. He turns away from worldly methods to the slow and difficult way of truth-preaching, which can end only with the cross. Jesus must have come from His temptation with the conviction that His ministry meant a life-and-death struggle with all the forces of darkness.

6. The Character of the Narrative:

As we should expect of Jesus, He throws the story of the inner conflict of His soul into story form. So only could it be understood by all classes of men in all ages. It was a real struggle, but pictorially, symbolically described. This seems to be proved by various elements in the story, namely, the devil can hardly be conceived as literally taking Jesus from place to place. There is no mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. This view of the matter relieves all the difficulties.

7. How Could a Sinless Christ be Tempted?:

The difficulty is that there can be no drawing toward an object unless the object seems desirable. But the very fact that a sinful object seems desirable is itself sin. How then can a sinless person really be tempted at all? Possibly an analysis of each temptation will furnish the answer. In each ease the appeal was a real appeal to a perfectly innocent natural instinct or appetite. In the first temptation, it was to hunger; in the second, to faith; in the third, to power as a means of establishing righteousness. In each ease, Jesus felt the tug and pull of the natural instinct; how insistent is the demand of hunger, for instance! Yet, when He perceived that the satisfaction of these desires was sinful under the conditions, He immediately refused their clamorous appeal. It was a glorious moral victory. It was not that He was metaphysically not able to sin, but that He was so pure that He was able not to sin. He did not prove in the wilderness that He could not be tempted, but that He could overcome the tempter. If it is then said that Jesus, never having sinned, can have no real sympathy with sinners, the answer is twofold: (1) Not he who falls at the first assault feels the full force of temptation, but he who, like Jesus, resists it through long years to the end. (2) Only the victor can help the vanquished; only he, who has felt the most dreadful assaults and yet has stood firm, can give the help needed by the fallen.[10]


3985 πειράζω [peirazo /pi·rad·zo/] v. From 3984; TDNT 6:23; TDNTA 822; GK 4279; 39 occurrences; AV translates as “tempt” 29 times, “try” four times, “tempter” twice, “prove” once, “assay” once, “examine” once, and “go about” once. 1 to try whether a thing can be done. 1a to attempt, endeavour. 2 to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself. 2a in a good sense. 2b in a bad sense, to test one maliciously, craftily to put to the proof his feelings or judgments. 2c to try or test one’s faith, virtue, character, by enticement to sin. 2c1 to solicit to sin, to tempt. 1c1a of the temptations of the devil. 2d after the OT usage. 2d1 of God: to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith. 2d2 men are said to tempt God by exhibitions of distrust, as though they wished to try whether he is not justly distrusted. 2d3 by impious or wicked conduct to test God’s justice and patience, and to challenge him, as it were to give proof of his perfections.[11]

Matthew 4:1

To be tempted of the devil (πειρασθηναι ὑπο του διαβολου [peirasthēnai hupo tou diabolou]). Matthew locates the temptation at a definite time, “then” (τοτε [tote]) and place, “into the wilderness” (εἰς την ἐρημον [eis tēn erēmon]), the same general region where John was preaching. It is not surprising that Jesus was tempted by the devil immediately after his baptism which signified the formal entrance upon the Messianic work. That is a common experience with ministers who step out into the open for Christ. The difficulty here is that Matthew says that “Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.” Mark (1:12) puts it more strongly that the Spirit “drives” (ἐκβαλλει [ekballei]) Christ into the wilderness. It was a strong impulsion by the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to think through the full significance of the great step that he had now taken. That step opened the door for the devil and involved inevitable conflict with the slanderer (του διαβολου [tou diabolou]). Judas has this term applied to him (John 6:70) as it is to men (II Tim. 3:3; Tit. 2:3) and women (she devils, I Tim. 3:11) who do the work of the arch slanderer. There are those today who do not believe that a personal devil exists, but they do not offer an adequate explanation of the existence and presence of sin in the world. Certainly Jesus did not discount or deny the reality of the devil’s presence. The word “tempt” here (πειραζω [peirazō]) and in 4:3 means originally to test, to try. That is its usual meaning in the ancient Greek and in the Septuagint. Bad sense of ἐκπειραζω [ekpeirazō] in 4:7 as in Deut. 6:16. Here it comes to mean, as often in the New Testament, to solicit to sin. The evil sense comes from its use for an evil purpose.

Matthew 4:2

Had fasted (νηστευσας [nēsteusas]). No perfunctory ceremonial fast, but of communion with the Father in complete abstention from food as in the case of Moses during forty days and forty nights (Ex. 34:28). “The period of the fast, as in the case of Moses was spent in a spiritual ecstasy, during which the wants of the natural body were suspended” (Alford). “He afterward hungered” and so at the close of the period of forty days.

Matthew 4:3

If thou art the Son of God (εἰ υἱος εἰ του θεου [ei huios ei tou theou]). More exactly, “If thou art Son of God,” for there is no article with “Son.” The devil is alluding to the words of the Father to Jesus at the baptism: “This is my Son the Beloved.” He challenges this address by a condition of the first class which assumes the condition to be true and deftly calls on Jesus to exercise his power as Son of God to appease his hunger and thus prove to himself and all that he really is what the Father called him. Become bread (ἀρτοι γενωνται [artoi genōntai]). Literally, “that these stones (round smooth stones which possibly the devil pointed to or even picked up and held) become loaves” (each stone a loaf). It was all so simple, obvious, easy. It would satisfy the hunger of Christ and was quite within his power. It is written (γεγραπται [gegraptai]). Perfect passive indicative, stands written and is still in force. Each time Jesus quotes Deuteronomy to repel the subtle temptation of the devil. Here it is Deut. 8:3 from the Septuagint. Bread is a mere detail (Bruce) in man’s dependence upon God.

Matthew 4:5

Then the devil taketh him (τοτε παραλαμβανει αὐτον διαβολος [tote paralambanei auton ho diabolos]). Matthew is very fond of this temporal adverb (τοτε [tote]). See already 2:7; 3:13; 4:1, 5. Note historic present with vivid picturesqueness. Luke puts this temptation third, the geographical order. But was the person of Christ allowed to be at the disposal of the devil during these temptations? Alford so holds. On the pinnacle of the temple (ἐπι το πτερυγιον του ἱερου [epi to pterugion tou hierou]). Literally “wing:” the English word “pinnacle” is from the Latin pinnaculum, a diminutive of pinna (wing). “The temple” (του ἱερου [tou hierou]) here includes the whole temple area, not just the sanctuary ( ναος [ho naos]), the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. It is not clear what place is meant by “wing.” It may refer to Herod’s royal portico which overhung the Kedron Valley and looked down some four hundred and fifty feet, a dizzy height (Josephus, Ant. XV. xi. 5). This was on the south of the temple court. Hegesippus says that James the Lord’s brother was later placed on the wing of the temple and thrown down therefrom.

Matthew 4:6

Cast thyself down (βαλε σεαυτον κατω [bale seauton katō]). The appeal to hurl himself down into the abyss below would intensify the nervous dread that most people feel at such a height. The devil urged presumptuous reliance on God and quotes Scripture to support his view (Psa. 91:11f.). So the devil quotes the Word of God, misinterprets it, omits a clause, and tries to trip the Son of God by the Word of God. It was a skilful thrust and would also be accepted by the populace as proof that Jesus was the Messiah if they should see him sailing down as if from heaven. This would be a sign from heaven in accord with popular Messianic expectation. The promise of the angels the devil thought would reassure Jesus. They would be a spiritual parachute for Christ.

Matthew 4:7

Thou shall not tempt (οὐκ ἐκπειρασεις [ouk ekpeiraseis]). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy again (6:16) and shows that the devil has wholly misapplied God’s promise of protection.

Matthew 4:8

And showeth him (και δεικνυσιν αὐτῳ [kai deiknusin autōi]). This wonderful panorama had to be partially mental and imaginative, since the devil caused to pass in review “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.” But this fact does not prove that all phases of the temptations were subjective without any objective presence of the devil. Both could be true. Here again we have the vivid historical present (δεικνυσιν [deiknusin]). The devil now has Christ upon a very high mountain whether the traditional Quarantania or not. It was from Nebo’s summit that Moses caught the vision of the land of Canaan (Deut. 34:1–3). Luke (4:5) says that the whole panorama was “in a moment of time” and clearly psychological and instantaneous.

Matthew 4:9

All these things will I give thee (ταυτα σοι παντα δωσω [tauta soi panta dōsō]). The devil claims the rule of the world, not merely of Palestine or of the Roman Empire. “The kingdoms of the cosmos” (4:8) were under his sway. This word for world brings out the orderly arrangement of the universe while οἰκουμενη [ oikoumenē] presents the inhabited earth. Jesus does not deny the grip of the devil on the world of men, but the condition (ἐαν [ean] and aorist subjunctive, second class undetermined with likelihood of determination), was spurned by Jesus. As Matthew has it Jesus is plainly to “fall down and worship me” (πεσων προκυνησῃς μοι [pesōn prokunēsēis moi]), while Luke (4:7) puts it, “worship before me” (ἐνωπιον ἐμου [enōpion emou]), a less offensive demand, but one that really involved worship of the devil. The ambition of Jesus is thus appealed to at the price of recognition of the devil’s primacy in the world. It was compromise that involved surrender of the Son of God to the world ruler of this darkness. “The temptation was threefold: to gain a temporal, not a spiritual, dominion; to gain it at once; and to gain it by an act of homage to the ruler of this world, which would make the self-constituted Messiah the vice-regent of the devil and not of God” (McNeile).

Matthew 4:10

Get thee hence, Satan (ὑπαγε, Σατανα [Hupage, Satanā]). The words “behind me” (ὀπισω μου [opisō mou]) belong to Matt. 16:23, not here. “Begone” Christ says to Satan. This temptation is the limit of diabolical suggestion and argues for the logical order in Matthew. “Satan” means the adversary and Christ so terms the devil here. The third time Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, this time 6:13, and repels the infamous suggestion by Scripture quotation. The words “him alone thou shalt serve” need be recalled today. Jesus will warn men against trying to serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). The devil as the lord of the evil world constantly tries to win men to the service of the world and God. This is his chief camouflage for destroying a preacher’s power for God. The word here in Matt. 4:10 for serve is λατρευσεις [latreuseis] from λατρις [latris] a hired servant, one who works for hire, then render worship.

Matthew 4:11

Then the devil leaveth him (τοτε ἀφιησιν αὐτον διαβολος [tote aphiēsin auton ho diabolos]). Note the use of “then” (τοτε [tote]) again and the historical present. The movement is swift. “And behold” (και ἰδου [kai idou]) as so often in Matthew carries on the life-like picture. “Angels came (aorist tense προσηλθον [prosēlthon] punctiliar action) and were ministering (διηκονουν [diēkonoun], picturesque imperfect, linear action) unto him.” The victory was won in spite of the fast of forty days and the repeated onsets of the devil who had tried every avenue of approach. The angels could cheer him in the inevitable nervous and spiritual reaction from the strain of conflict, and probably also with food as in the case of Elijah (I Kings 19:6f.). The issues at stake were of vast import as the champions of light and darkness grappled for the mastery of men. Luke 4:13 adds, that the devil left Jesus only “until a good opportunity” (ἀχρι καιρου [achri kairou]). [12]


Satan’s attempts at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to divert Jesus from God’s way of accomplishing His mission (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:3).

Mark (1:13-14) recorded that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where He remained 40 days, was tempted by Satan, was with the wild beasts, and was ministered to by angels. This reinforces the Old Testament ideas that the wilderness, the place of wild beasts, was the appropriate place for sin (Lev. 16) and that when one was in distress in the desert, the angels of God ministered to the afflicted.

Matthew (4:1-11) spoke of the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The temptation was preceded by a fast of 40 days and 40 nights. Then Jesus was hungry. Before the first two temptations, the tempter mocked Jesus with the insinuating phrase “If you are the Son of God.” The Greek also permits the translation, “Since you are the Son of God.”

The first temptation was to turn into bread the flat stones of the desert, which looked much like the flat round loaves of Middle Eastern bread. Jesus replied in the words of Deuteronomy 8:3 that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (NIV).

Matthew’s setting for the second form of Jesus’ temptation is the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem where Jesus was challenged to jump off. The dare was accompanied by the quotation of Psalm 91:11-12 that God’s angels will rescue and bear up God’s anointed. The Rabbis taught that there was a specific pinnacle of the Temple where the Messiah would suddenly appear and jump off, floating down to earth sustained by angels. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 that one should not tempt “the Lord your God.”

Matthew’s third setting for Jesus’ temptation was a high mountain from which worldly kingdoms could be seen. The taunt is missing, but Satan promised to deliver the kingdoms of this world to Jesus. Jesus concluded this temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 and by commanding Satan to leave. The devil left, and angels ministered to Jesus.

The force of the temptation experiences in Matthew is to be a bread messiah, a spectacular messiah, and a compromising messiah. Jesus was to be faced with these challenges all through His ministry and to the end of His life. When Jesus refused to continue to be a bread messiah, the crowds left Him (John 6:25-68). When Jesus came to the Temple, it was not to perform miracles but to cleanse it (Matt. 21:12-17). When the people came to make Him king, He eluded them, choosing instead to be exalted (“lifted up” in Greek) on the cross.

In Luke the second setting of the temptation is the high mountain, and the third is the Temple. This difference in arrangement may reflect Luke’s Gentile/cosmopolitan interests to put the kingdoms of all people second. Luke’s final phrase is that the devil left Jesus “for a time” or until an opportune time for further temptation. There is no account of the wilderness temptation in John. In the Fourth Gospel the temptation seems to be the confrontation with the religious authorities and His critics (see John 7-8) In John the devil comes to Jesus through the treachery of Judas, His friend and follower (John 6:71; 13:27). The culmination of Jesus’ temptation in John’s Gospel occurs where Jesus sought release from His suffering (John 17). Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was thoroughly and completely tempted. The evil one has nothing in which to find Him guilty (John 14:30).

The major temptation of Jesus was to do God’s will the devil’s way. The great purpose of Jesus was to follow the will of God. The evil one sought to have Jesus be a Messiah some other way than the way of suffering God had appointed. Jesus did not yield to this great temptation, nor did He yield to temptation at any point.

Orthodox Christology insists that Jesus was sinless. Later theologians had trouble in reconciling the reality of Jesus’ divinity with the possibility of being able to sin and the reality of Jesus’ humanity with His not having sinned. Was He able to sin or not able to sin. The New Testament does not answer these questions posed by the latter “two-natures-in-one-person” theory. The New Testament affirms both that He was tempted, but He did not sin; that He was divine and that He also was thoroughly human. See Devil; Jesus, Life and Ministry of. William L. Hendricks [13]

Jesus Is Tempted 

 (Matthew 4:1-11)

Before the Lord Jesus presented Himself to Israel as the promised King He had to pass through a period of testing, which He did for forty days.  Jesus met Satan, the strong man armed, and bound him before He began His public ministry and went forth to spoil Satan's goods.

Why was Jesus tempted? And being tempted, was there a possibility that He might have sinned, and so jeopardized or annulled the whole plan of redemption?  These are questions asked often and it behooves us to be able to give Scriptural answers concerning them.

If we would be clear in our thinking as to this, we must remember that while our Lord was, and is, both human and divine, He is not two persons, but one. Personally He is God the eternal Son who took humanity into union with His deity in order to redeem sinful men. He has therefore two natures, the divine and the human, but He remains just one person. Therefore as man here on earth He could not act apart from His deity. Those who maintain that He might have sinned may well ask themselves, "What then would have been the result?"  To say that as man He might have failed in His mission is to admit the amazing and blasphemous suggestion that His holy divine nature could become separated from a defiled human nature and so prove the incarnation a farce and a mockery. But if we realize that He who was both God and man in one person was tempted, not to see if He would (or could) sin, but to prove that He was the sinless One, all is clear. The temptation was real, but it was all from without, as Adam's was in the beginning. But Adam was only an innocent man; whereas Jesus, the last Adam, was the Lord from Heaven, who had become man without ceasing to be God, in order that He might be our kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:48).

The temptation and His attitude toward it proved that He was not a sinful man, either in nature or in act, and He could therefore take our penalty upon Himself.  He could bear the curse of the broken law for others because He was not under that curse Himself.  Scripture tells us definitely that He "knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21); He "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22); "in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5).  He could say, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30).  There was no lurking traitor within to answer to the voice of the enemy without.  There was no sin within to tempt Him. (A literal rendering of Hebrews 4:15 is, "He was tempted as we are sin apart.").  From the moment of His birth He was holy, not merely innocent (Luke 1:35).

The temptation of Jesus took place, if we may trust tradition, on mount Quarantania, west of the Jordan, across from Jericho, a very forbidding and desolate wilderness.  It followed His baptism almost immediately, in the early part of a.d. 27, shortly before the Passover.

As the perfect man, Jesus was ever subject to the Spirit's control. Mark tells us the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness (Mark 1:12).  He was impelled to go, for it was imperative that His holiness be demonstrated from the very beginning of His ministry.  Temptation is really testing.  He was tested by Satan, that evil personality who is the foe of God and man.  It was he who tested the first Adam and found him wanting.  Now he must be overcome by the last Adam, the second man (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47).

Jesus fasted for the full period of testing--forty days.  It was not until all this was over that He is said to have become hungry.  Then, in the hour of nature's weakness came the tempter, endeavoring to overcome Him.  The tests were threefold: the appeal to the body, the soul, and the spirit.  They involved the desires of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (the ostentation or vainglory of living).  The order of the temptation is different in Matthew and in Luke.  Matthew evidently gives the three points in their historical order, taking them exactly as they occurred. Luke gives the moral order, in accordance with 1 John 2:16.  Thus the first appeal was to appetite, the desire of the flesh, the physical; the next to the esthetic nature, the desire of the eyes, the soul; and the last appeal was to the spiritual nature, the pride of life, or the vainglory of living.  The Lord Jesus was impervious to every suggestion of evil.

These are the same temptations in character that the serpent brought to bear on Eve in Eden.  She saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh), pleasant to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and to be desired to make one wise (the pride of life).  She succumbed on every point and when Adam collaborated with her in disobedience to God, the old creation fell.  They were tested in a garden of delight, a most beautiful environment.  Jesus was tempted in a dry, thirsty wilderness among the wild beasts, but stood firm as a rock against all Satan's wiles and blandishments.  Thus He manifested Himself as King of righteousness, and so the suited One to be crowned King of peace (Hebrews 7:1-2).  He who triumphed over the enemy after being tested in all points like as we, apart from sin, is now our great high priest, appearing in Heaven on our behalf, ready to assist us in every hour of weakness and temptation.

"And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."  Every test was a direct assault on the truth of His divine-human personality.  There might seem to be nothing inherently wrong for Jesus to satisfy His hunger by making bread from stones, but as man He had taken the place of dependence on the living Father (John 6:57).  Therefore He acted only in obedience to the Father's will, and He could not entertain any suggestion coming from another and an opposing source.  He would not act on the enemy's advice, even to relieve His hunger.

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."  Jesus met each temptation with a definite word from God--a quotation from the holy Scriptures.  In this instance He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses reminded Israel that the spiritual nourishment found in the Word of God is far more important than material food.  When God provides food for His children He does not give them stones for bread, nor make bread out of stones; but when we get out of the place of dependence on the Father, we are very likely to break our teeth on hard stony bread, which we thought would be better than that which comes from God.

"Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple."  Whether the devil actually did this or it was only in vision we are not told, nor is it important that we should know.  The point is that even the sanctuary may be a place of temptation, for pride of grace is one of the greatest snares to which we are exposed.  From that elevated place Jesus saw the throngs gathered in the courts below.  Satan was about to use this as a reason why He should display His power.

In tempting Christ, Satan quoted only a part of Psalm 91:11-12.  He omitted the most pertinent portion--"To keep thee in all thy ways."  It was no part of the holy ways of the Son of God to leap spectacularly from the temple heights in order to astonish the worshiping multitudes below as they beheld Him suspended in the air above them, sustained by angel hands.  This would have been a presumptuous use of the promise.  When Satan quotes Scripture, look closely at the text and be sure nothing vital is omitted, for it is possible to back up the gravest error with a text from the Bible used out of context.

"Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."  Where God commands, faith can act upon His words, knowing--as Augustine said--"God's commands are God's enablings."  But to expose oneself to danger needlessly is to tempt God, and this is contrary to the principle of faith.

"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them."  These things belonged to Christ, the heir of all things; but Satan has usurped the inheritance.  He attempted to present to Jesus what might be called a shortcut to world-dominion.

"And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."  Actually, they were Satan's to give only by God's permissive will, for "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).  Satan had robbed Adam of the authority given him and reigned as usurper in the hearts of wicked men.  But he had no undisputed title to the kingdoms of the world, which he offered to give to Jesus if He would worship him, thereby obtaining the kingdom without the cross.

"Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." By another "saying" of God the foe was vanquished.  Jesus did not dispute Satan's word as to his sovereignty of the kingdoms of the world.  It is not by debate the victory is won, but by the Word itself.

"Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him."  What a glorious consummation to the temptation!  The defeated, foul fiend fled away.  Holy messengers from the court of Heaven came with gladness to minister to their Creator, who in grace had taken the creature's place. When we think of angels ministering to Jesus as they did in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, we realize how truly human He had become, in that He who had created those glorious beings should now be served by them.

God's King must reign in righteousness.  The sinner's substitute must be as an unblemished lamb--with no defect outwardly or inwardly.  Therefore the Lord as a man must be subjected to the most searching tests to demonstrate His fitness for the great work He came to do.  Had the temptation brought to light any evidence of inbred sin or moral corruption of any kind, it would have been the proof that Jesus was not the holy One of God, destined to bring in everlasting righteousness and to make propitiation for iniquity.  But nowhere was the perfection of Jesus demonstrated more clearly than when Satan made every effort to find some defect in His character, some form of self-seeking in His heart.  The King was tested and proved to be all that God the Father had declared at His baptism--the One in whom He had found all His delight.

We read in Hebrews 2:18 that our Lord Jesus "suffered being tempted."  We suffer as we resist temptation, and so are kept from sinning against God (1 Peter 4:1).  In this we see the great contrast between Christ as the holy One, and ourselves as sinners with a nature that delights in evil.  When born of God we are made partakers of the divine nature, and so we too hate iniquity.

Having been tried and proved to be perfect in all His ways, the King then began His public ministry, accredited by mighty signs and wonders, which should have made it clear to all Israel that He was in very truth the promised Messiah.[14]

Barnes’ Notes

Verse 1:

The wilderness. See Barnes "Mat 3:1".

The Spirit. Luke says, (Luke 4:1,) that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. It was by his influence, therefore, that Christ went into the desert.

To be tempted. The word to tempt, in the original, means to try, to endeavour, to attempt to do a thing; then, to try the nature of a thing, as metals by fire; then, to test moral qualities by trying them, to see how they will endure; then, to endeavour to draw men away from virtue by suggesting motives to evil. This is the meaning here, and this is now the established meaning of the word in the English language.

The devil. This word originally means an adversary, or an accuser; thence any one opposed; thence an enemy of any kind. It is given in the Scriptures, by way of eminence, to the leader of evil angels--a being characterized as full of subtlety, envy, art, and hatred of mankind. He is known, also, by the name of Satan, Job 1:6-12 Mt 12:26; Beelzebub, Mat 12:24; the old Serpent, Rev 12:9; and the prince of the power of the air, Eph 2:2. The name is sometimes given to men and women. 2Ti 3:3 Truce-breakers, slanderers--in the original, devils. 1Ti 3:2: So must their wives be grave, not slanderers--in the original, devils.

Verse 2:

Had fasted. Abstained from food.

Forty days and forty nights. It has been questioned by some whether Christ abstained wholly from food, or only from bread and the food to which he was accustomed. Luke says, (Luke 4:2,) that he ate nothing. This settles the question. Mark says, Mark 1:13, that angels came and ministered unto him. At first view, this would seem to imply that he did eat during that time. But Mark does not mention the time when the angels performed the office of kindness; and we are at liberty to suppose that he meant to say that it was done at the close of the forty days; and the rather as Matthew, after giving an account of the temptation, says the same thing, Mark 4:2. There are other instances of persons fasting forty days, recorded in the Scriptures. Thus Moses fasted forty days, Ex 34:28. Elijah also fasted the same length of time, 1Ki 19:8. In these cases, they were no doubt miraculously supported.

Verse 3:

The tempter. The devil, or Satan. See Mat 4:1.

If thou be the Son of God. If thou art the Messiah--if God's own Son--then thou hast power to work a miracle; and here is a fit opportunity to try thy power, and show that thou art truly his Son.

Command that these stones, etc. The stones that were lying around him in the wilderness, No temptation could have been more plausible, or more likely to succeed, than this. He had just been declared to be the Son of God, (Mat 3:17) and here was an opportunity to show that he was really so. The circumstances were such as to make it appear plausible and proper to work this miracle. "Here you are," was the language of Satan, "hungry, cast out, alone, needy, poor, and yet the Son of God! If you have this power, how easy could you satisfy your wants! How foolish is it, then, for the Son of God, having all power, to be starving in this manner, when by a word he could show his power, and relieve his wants, and when in the thing itself there could be nothing wrong!"

Verse 4:

But he answered and said, etc. In reply to this artful temptation, Christ answered by a quotation from the Old Testament. The place is found in De 8:3. In that place the discourse is respecting manna. Moses says that the Lord humbled the people, and fed them with manna, an unusual kind of food, that they might learn that man did not live by bread only, but that there were other things to support life, and that every thing which God had commanded was proper for this. The term "word," used in this place, means very often, in Hebrew, thing, and clearly in this place has that meaning. Neither Moses nor our Saviour had any reference to spiritual food, or to the doctrines necessary to support the faith of believers; but they simply meant that God could support life by other things than bread; that man was to live, not by that only, but by every other thing which proceeded out of his mouth; that is, which he chose to command men to eat. The substance of his answer, then, is:--"It is not so imperiously necessary that I should have bread, as to make a miracle proper to procure it. Life depends on the will of God. He can support it in other ways, as well as by bread. He has created other things to be eaten, and man may live by everything that his Maker has commanded." And from this temptation we may learn,

(1.) that Satan often takes advantage of our circumstances and wants to tempt us. The poor, and hungry, and naked, he often tempts to repine and complain, and to be dishonest in order to supply their necessities.

(2.) Satan's temptations are often the strongest immediately after we have been remarkably favoured. Jesus had just been called the Son of God, and Satan took this opportunity to try him. He often attempts to fill us with pride and vain self-conceit, when we have been favoured with any peace of or any new view of God, and endeavours to urge us to do something which may bring us low, and lead us to sin.

(3.) His temptations are plausible. They often seem to be only urging us to do what is good and proper. They seem even to urge us to promote the glory of God, and to honour him. We are not to think, therefore, that because a thing may seem to be good in itself, that therefore it is to be done. Some of his most powerful temptations are when he seems to be urging us to do what shall be for the glory of God.

(4.) We are to meet the temptations of Satan, as the Saviour did, with the plain and positive declarations of Scripture. We are to inquire whether the thing is commanded, and whether, therefore, it is right to do it, and not trust to our own feelings, or even our wishes, in tho matter.

Verse 5:

Taketh him up. This does not mean that he bore him through the air, or that he compelled him to go against his will, or that he wrought a miracle, in any way, to place him there. There is no evidence that Satan had power to do any of these things; and the word translated taketh him up does not imply any such thing. It means, to conduct one; to lead one; to attend or accompany one; or to induce one to go. It is used in the following places in the same sense. Numb. xxiii. 14: "And he (Balak) brought him (Balaam) into the field of Zophim," etc.; that is, he led him, or induced him to go there. Mat 17:1: "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James," etc.; i.e. led, or conducted them--not by any means implying that he bore them by force. Mat 20:17: "Jesus, going to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart," etc. See also Mat 26:37 27:27 Mr 5:40. From these passages, and many more, it appears that all that is meant here is, that Satan conducted Jesus, or accompanied him; but not that this was done against the will of Jesus.

The holy city. Jerusalem--called holy because the temple was there, and it was the place of religious solemnities.

Setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple. It is not perfectly certain to what part of the temple the sacred writer here refers. It has been supposed by some that he means the roof. But Josephus says that the roof was covered by spikes of gold, to prevent its being polluted by birds; and such a place would have been very inconvenient to stand upon. Others suppose that it was the top of the porch or entrance to the temple. But it is more than probable that the porch leading to the temple was not as high as the main building. It is more probable that he refers to a part of the sacred edifice sometimes called Solomon's porch. The temple was built on the top of Mount Moriah. The temple itself, together with the courts and porches, occupied a large space of ground. See Barnes "Mat 21:12". To secure a level spot sufficiently large, it was necessary to put up a high wall on the east. The temple was surrounded with porches or piazzas fifty-five feet broad, and seventy-five high. The porch on the south side was, however, sixty-seven feet broad, and one hundred and fifty high. From the top of this to the bottom of the valley below was more than seven hundred feet; and Josephus says that one could scarcely look down without dizziness. The word pinnacle does not quite express the force of the original. It is a word given usually to birds, and denotes wings, or anything in the form of wings, and was given to the roof of this porch because it resembled a bird dropping its wings. It was on this place, doubtless, that Christ was placed.

Satan proposed that he should cast himself down thence; and, if he was the Son of God, he said it could do no harm. There was a promise that he should be protected. This promise was taken from Ps 91:11,12.

To this passage of Scripture Christ replied With another, which forbade the act. This is taken from De 6:16, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." That is, thou shalt not try him; or, thou shalt not, by throwing thyself into voluntary and uncommanded dangers, appeal to God for protection, or trifle with the promises made to those who are thrown into danger by his providence. It is true, indeed, that God aids those of his people who are placed by him in trial or danger; but it is not true that the promise was meant to extend to those who wantonly provoke him, and trifle with the promised help. Thus Satan, artfully using and perverting Scripture, was met and repelled by Scripture rightly applied.

Verse 6:

No Barnes text on this verse.

Verse 7:

No Barnes text on this verse.

Verse 8:

An exceeding high mountain. It is not known what mountain this was. It was probably some elevated place in the vicinity of Jerusalem, on the top of which could be seen no small part of the land of Palestine. The Abbe Mariti speaks of a mountain on which he was, which answers to the description here. "This part of the mountain," says he, "overlooks the mountains of Arabia, the country of Gilead, the country of the Arnorites, the plains of Moab, the plains of Jericho, the river Jordan, and the whole extent of the Dead Sea." So Moses, before he died, went up into Mount Nebo, and from it God showed him "all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar," De 34:1-3. This shows that there were mountains from which no small part of the land of Canaan could be seen; and we must not suppose that there was any miracle when they were shown to the Saviour.

All the kingdoms of the world. It is not probable that anything more here is intended than the kingdoms of Palestine, or the land of Canaan, and those in the immediate vicinity. Judea was divided into three parts, and those parts were called kingdoms; and the sons of Herod, who presided over them, were called kings. The term world is often used in this limited scale to denote a part, or a large part of the world, particularly the land of Canaan. See Rom 4:13, where it means the land of Judah; also Luke 2:1, See Barnes "Luke 2:1".

The glory of them. The riches, splendour, towns, cities, mountains, etc., of this beautiful land.

Verse 9:

All these things, etc. All these kingdoms. All these dominions Satan claimed a right to bestow on whom he pleased, and with considerable justice. They were excessively wicked; and with no small degree of plausibility, therefore, he asserted his claim to give them away. This temptation had much plausibility. Satan regarded Jesus as the King of the Jews. As the Messiah, he supposed he had come to take possession of all that country. He was poor, and unarmed, and without followers or armies. Satan proposed to put him in possession of it at once, without any difficulty, if he would acknowledge him as the proper lord and disposer of that country; if he would trust to him, rather than to God.

Worship me. See Barnes "Mat 2:2". The word here seems to mean, to acknowledge Satan as having a right to give these kingdoms to him; to acknowledge his dependence on him rather than God; that is, really to render religious homage. We may be surprised at his boldness. But he had been twice foiled. He supposed it was an object dear to the heart of the Messiah and he seemed not to be asking too much, if he gave them to Jesus, that Jesus should be willing to acknowledge the gift, and express gratitude for it. So plausible are Satan's temptations, even when blasphemous; and so artfully does he present his allurements to the mind.

Verse 10. Get thee hence. These temptations, and this one especially, our Saviour met with a decided rebuke. This was a bolder attack than any which had been offered. Others had been but an address to his necessities, and an offer of the protection of God in great danger; in both cases plausible, and in neither a direct violation of the law of God. Here was a higher attempt, a more decided and deadly thrust at the piety of the Saviour. It was a proposition that the Son of God should worship the devil, instead of honouring and adoring Him who made heaven and earth; that he should bow down before the prince of wickedness, and give him homage.

It is written. In De 6:13. Satan asked him to worship him. This was expressly forbidden. And Jesus therefore drove him from his presence.

Verse 11:

The devil leaveth him. The devil left him for a time, Luke 4:13. He intended to return again to the temptation, and if possible to seduce him yet from God.

And, behold, angels came and ministered. See Mat 1:20. They came and supplied his wants, and comforted him. From the whole of this we may learn,

(1.) That no one is so holy as to be free from temptation; for the pure Son of God was sorely tempted by the devil.

(2.) That when God permits a temptation or trial to come upon us, he will, if we look to him, give us grace to resist and overcome it, 1Co 10:3.

(3.) We see the art of the tempter. His temptations are adapted to times and circumstances. They are plausible. What could have been, more plausible than his suggestions to Christ? They were applicable to his circumstances. They had the appearance of much piety. They were backed by passages of Scripture--misapplied, but still most artfully presented. He never comes boldly and tempts men to sin, telling them that they are committing sin. Such a mode would defeat his design. It would put people on their guard. He commences, therefore, artfully, plausibly, and the real purpose does not appear till he has prepared the mind for it. This is the way with all temptation. No wicked man would at once tempt another to be profane, to be drunk, to be an infidel, or to commit adultery.. The principles are first corrupted; the confidence is secured; the affections are won; and then the allurement is by little and little presented, till the victim fails. How should every one be on his guard at the very first appearance of evil, at the first suggestion that may possibly lead to evil.

(4.) One of the best ways of meeting temptation is by applying Scripture. So our Saviour did, and they will always best succeed who best wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, Eph 6:17. [15]


TEMPTATION OF JESUS. Within the NT a narrative account of the temptation of Jesus is given in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). Reference is made to Jesus’ temptation in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2:18; 4:15), but it is otherwise passed over in silence by the NT literature.

In each of the Synoptics, the temptation narrative is an integral part of the introduction to the Gospels’ story about Jesus’ ministry. The three accounts agree among themselves as to the place of the temptation (“the wilderness,” Gk erēmon), the role of the Spirit in leading Jesus to this place, and a 40-day duration of time, but they otherwise differ among themselves as to the details of the narrative. The three accounts even identify the tempter in different fashions: “the tempter” (ho peirazōn) in Matt; “the Satan” (ho Satan) in Mark; and “the devil” (ho diabolos) in Luke.

A.     The Synoptic Problem

Discussion as to the literary relationship among the three accounts is an integral part of the Synoptic problem. Proponents of the two-source theory generally hold that the Markan account enjoys literary priority vis-à-vis the other accounts, that Matthew’s account largely stems from the Q source, and that Luke’s account is a conflation of Markan and Q material. Other scholars would take issue with each of these three positions. Wilhelm Wilkens (1982), for example, has argued that the Matthean account is a creation of Matthew, who was then followed by Luke.

Scholars who admit the dependence of the Matthean and Lukan accounts upon Q disagree as to whether Matthew or Luke more faithfully reproduces the Q sequence of three temptations. The majority believe that the Matthean order (bread-temple-kingdoms) better reflects Q than does the Lukan order (bread-kingdoms-temple). That Matthew’s order is more logical, leading to the issue of sovereignty as its climax (Matt 4:8–10), and that he juxtaposes the two similarly structured temptations (bread-temple) are among the principal reasons in favor of the Matthean sequence. On the other hand it is noted that Luke’s sequence has a topographical schema and brings the series of temptations to their conclusion in Jerusalem, features of the narrative which are consistent with Lukan interests and his redactional techniques.

B.     Mark 1:12–13

The relatively simple Markan account (Mark 1:12–13) bears the imprint of Mark’s editorial work and is characterized by its christological context. In it, the Spirit of God appears as an overpowering force who drives Jesus into the wilderness, the place of temptation. Mention of the Spirit highlights the action of God (Jesus himself is not named in Mark’s account) and links the temptation to the account of Jesus’ baptism (1:9–11). Jesus is God’s agent in the confrontation with Satan.

Mark’s account is devoid of specific mention of fasting, which some infer from the final mention of angels who “minister” (diakoneō, a word whose primary meaning is “to serve at table”). Also, Mark does not identify any specific temptations. Rather, Jesus is described as being tempted during a period of “forty days and forty nights,” a span of time during which he is in the presence of wild beasts. These traits have led some scholars to see an allusion to Moses (Exod 24:18; 34:28) and/or the Exodus (Exod 16:35; Num 14:33–34; Deut 8:2; Acts 7:42) or, alternatively, to an Adam christology and/or a paradise motif (Gen 2:19; see Mahnke 1978: 28–38). Since the account forms an integral part of Mark’s initial portrayal of Jesus, and “40” is a stylized number, some scholars take the account as a symbol of the struggle with Satan and the forces of evil which is characteristic of Jesus’ entire ministry.

C.     Matthew 4:1–11

In Matthew’s account, the temptation comes after a 40-day fast from food. An infinitive of purpose (peirasthēnai, “to be tempted,” 4:1) emphasizes that the temptation is part of the divine plan for Jesus. A conditional clause (“if [= “since”] you are the Son of God,” 4:3, 6) links the temptations to Jesus’ baptism (3:13–17). The three temptations form a single unit. Their form is that of a rabbinic scriptural disputation: various passages of the Scriptures are passed in review. The substance of the debate ultimately focuses on the meaning of Jesus’ sonship.

In their original context, the three scriptural passages cited by Jesus (Deut 8:3; 6:13; 6:16) referred to the trials of Israel during the Exodus and are presented according to the sequence of these trials according to the book of Exodus. Thus, Matthew seems to present a contrast between the faithful response of Jesus as Son and the infidelity of Israel as son (cf. Hos 2:11 in Matt 2:15). By respectively refusing the role of the wonder-worker, tempting God, and the assumption of political power, Jesus is presented as faithful to God’s word and faithfully responsive to his baptismal call. Each of the temptation episodes probably reflects Jewish-Christian debate within Matthew’s community and discussions between Jews and Christians relating to the role of Jesus. **

D.     Luke 4:1–13

The Lukan sequence of the three temptations represents a more natural geographic movement, from the wilderness to the temple. The final episode is set in Jerusalem, a center of Lukan interest. The three temptations are bracketed by the “Son of God” motif (4:3, 9), which links the temptation narrative not only to the baptismal scene (3:21–22) but also with the genealogy (3:23–28). The temptations highlight the true identity and function of Jesus.

For Luke, the 40-day period is one of temptation and of fasting. Luke’s redactional interests are apparent in his reworking of the Markan material. The additional reference to the Spirit (4:1) is in keeping with an emphasis throughout Luke–Acts. The fasting sets the scene for the first of the three specific temptations. The devil’s departure “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13) may anticipate the role of Satan in the Passion (Luke 22:3) and may suggest that the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry was free from Satan (Conzelmann 1960: 28).[16]


1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’a

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’b

7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’c

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’d

11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

4:1–2. Following Jesus’ emergence from the water the ensuing temptation narrative is perhaps the clearest expression of Matthew’s fondness for linking his story of Jesus with the experiences of the Israelite nation. The same Spirit of God who is “particularly active among the Israelites during the exodus and wilderness wanderings” (cf. Num 11:17, 25, 29; Neh 9:20; Ps 106:33; Isa 63:10–14)1 now leads Jesus into the desert “to humble [him] and to test [him] in order to know what was in [his] heart, whether or not [he] would keep his commands” (see Deut. 8:21). The “testing” (πειράζω, peirazō)2 of Jesus is therefore not a fortuitous event, but is staged by God to demonstrate his strength of character and depth of devotion (cf. Gen 22; Job 1:6–8). Essentially, Satan’s efforts are calculated to encourage Jesus to exercise his divine prerogatives and supernatural power in a way that would belie the lowly path of service and obedience suggested by the commission of 3:17. The fast, lasting forty days and forty nights, most probably is intended to recall the forty year experience of Israel in the desert (Deut 8:2).

4:3–4. The words of Satan in the first temptation (If you are the Son of God) should not be construed as expressing some doubt on the part of the Tempter. In fact, the statement assumes the validity of Jesus’ Sonship (first class condition), but raises significant questions concerning what it means to be God’s Son. For Satan, Sonship certainly assumes the right to exercise divine power in order to sustain one’s life (cf. 16:22–23; 27:42–43). Jesus appropriately responds by citing Deut 8:3, thus demonstrating that he has learned the lesson that Israel failed to perceive, i.e., he will trust his God to be the giver and sustainer of life and will not break faith by yielding to Satan’s suggestion to satisfy his physical need by the exercise of divine power. True Sonship finds sustenance in compliance to the Father’s will which takes priority over even the preservation of one’s own life (cf. 16:25–26).

4:5–7. Next, Satan seeks to persuade Jesus to test God’s protective care by leaping from the pinnacle 3 of the temple. The change of sites from the desert to the temple is most likely a visionary experience designed to set the stage for Satan’s response to Jesus’ absolute trust in God’s care. The temple represented the very presence of God, the place where divine protection was certainly most assured.4 By citing Psalm 91 Satan invites Jesus to test God’s promise that he will “rescue” and “protect” the one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High” (see vv. 1, 14). Essentially, Satan would have Jesus condition his loyalty to God upon God acting in certain ways. Like Israel at Massah (Exod 17), who made their faithfulness contingent upon God meeting their physical needs (cf. Num 14:22; Ps 78; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb 3:7–4:13), Satan suggests that Jesus test his Father’s concern by staging an event to make God demonstrate his power or faithfulness. Jesus avoids the sin of Israel by citing Deut 6:16, thus emphasizing that his fidelity is not dependent upon manipulating God to protect him from all harm. As God’s ideal Son, Jesus is resolved to be faithful and trust even if it means a path of suffering and death (cf. 16:21f.; 26:53–54; 27:40).

4:8–11. Jesus’ visionary experiences take him from the desert to the temple and finally to a very high mountain,5 where Satan offers him world sovereignty in exchange for his worship.6 Although sovereignty over the nations is promised the Son (see Ps 2:6–8), it will only be realized by a lowly path of service leading to the cross (cf. 28:18–20), not by shifting allegiance to Satan. Jesus repudiates Satan’s proposal by citing Deut 6:13, thus indicating that he understood submission to Satan as tantamount to idolatry, the ultimate renunciation of one’s loyalty to God. For the sake of political advantage or momentary prosperity Israel repeatedly renounced loyalty to God in favor of foreign gods. Jesus refuses to compromise his devotion to God for the ease of an alternative path that would avoid the path of suffering and service. The Devil is therefore forcefully dismissed (ὕπαγε, hypage, cf. Luke 4:13) and is replaced by angels who minister to his need (cf. Matt 26:53), thus signifying both the victory of God’s obedient Son (cf. Heb 1:6), and the ultimate faithfulness of God toward the obedient (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:5–8).7

The temptation narrative succinctly maps out the path that Jesus, as the lowly servant, will take. The episode provides the reader with significant character insights that help to explain the actions and words of Jesus in subsequent scenes. The will of God and his devotion to fulfill it will take precedent over everything else, including sustaining his own life (cf. 16:20–21; 26:36–46). The mission of Jesus embodies and concretizes what it means to say: that in Jesus God is with his people (1:23). Jesus refuses to carry out his divine mission according to the principles of the world. Hence, the exercise of his divine power and the accomplishment of God’s will are not determined by popular expectations or human ambitions (cf. 16:1–4; 27:40). The extraordinary power and transcendent status belonging to Jesus as God’s Son is necessarily tied to his submission to God’s will and the lowly path of service marked out for him by the Father. The temptation narrative constitutes Jesus’ response to the heavenly voice in 3:17, as the Son resolves to walk the path of total devotion to God’s sovereign will. The Son conquers where Israel failed (Deut 6:10–19; 8:1–10; cf. Exod 4:22–23) because he is the obedient Son who loves God with his whole heart.[17]


[1] Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

par. parallel passage in another/other Gospel(s)

[2] Westminster Catechism

[3] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (2:25). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4]Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible. "Rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick"--Cover.; Includes index. (Rev. ed.].) (404). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

[5] Expositor’s Bible Commentary

a a. D lacks “proceeding out of the mouth,” ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος. This constitutes a “Western non-interpolation” in D, which generally includes the fullest reading.

b b. The Gr. has a historical present here: παραλαμβάνει.

c c. TR has apparently harmonized the aorist tense of the earlier mss (ἔστησεν) to agree with the historical presents on either side of it, by substituting the present tense ἵστησιν (cf. the same phenomenon in v 9).

d d. The Gr. text has a historical present tense here: λέγει.

e e. The Gr. text has a historical present tense here: παραλαμβάνει.

f f. The Gr. text has a historical present tense here: δείκνυσιν.

g g. TR apparently again substitutes a historical present (λέγει) to agree with the other historical presents, against the earliest mss, which here have the aorist.

h h. The Gr. text has a historical present tense here: λέγει.

i i. TR and the Western text (D, it) and syc add ὀπίσω μου, apparently by influence of 16:23. As Metzger notes, no good reason can be found for its omission if it were the original reading (TCGNT, 11).

j j. The Gr. text has a historical present tense here: ἀφίησιν.

e.g. exempli gratia, for example

Q “Qumran”, “Qere” Qere (To be “read.” Masoretic suggested pronunciation for vocalized Hebrew text of the OT), or Quelle (“Sayings” source for the Gospels)

esp. especially

OT Old Testament

cf. confer, compare

2 Apoc. Bar. Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch

lit. literally

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., tr. G. W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ET (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76)

i.e. id est, that is

Str-B H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4 vols. (Munich: Beck’sche, 1926–28)

LXX The Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT

BAGD W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ET, ed. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich; 2d ed. rev. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (University of Chicago, 1979)

Ant. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews

MT The Masoretic Text [of the Old Testament] (as published in BHS)

s.v. sub verbo, under the word

[6] Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary (61). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

76 Cf. F. D. Bruner, The Christbook (Waco: Word, 1987), 100: “There is no dominically instituted rite of confirmation in the Gospels except temptation.”

77 Cf. Allison and Davies, Matthew, 1:360. Genesis 50:20 offers the classic scriptural paradigm of God’s good intentions being worked out through free, evil human choices.

78 The particular kind of fasting here is not described. Sometimes Jews went without food but were permitted to drink. Sometimes they went without one or both during the day but were permitted one or both during nighttime hours. More generally, cf. J. F. Wimmer, Fasting in the New Testament (New York: Paulist, 1982).

79 Matthew’s order is probably more chronological (cf. τότε—[“then”] in v. 5) and Luke’s more thematic (Luke 4:1–13), in which the temple episode appears last as a climax in keeping with Luke’s distinctive emphasis on Jesus’ relationship with the temple.

80 Cf. Nolland, Luke, 181: “According to the Devil’s theory there should be no martyrs!”

81 The action of v. 8b, of course, could not have literally occurred, since no mountain in the world offers a view of the entire globe. Nothing in Scripture suggests the devil has the power to alter this situation. So probably some type of visionary experience is in view here. This in turn makes it at least plausible that v. 8a and perhaps also v. 5 (cf. Ezek 8:3) were visionary as well, inasmuch as walking all the way to the temple would have been extremely hard and climbing a high mountain impossible in Jesus’ weakened condition unless he drew on the very supernatural power to which he otherwise refused here to appeal. But the temptations would have been no less real for being to a certain measure subjective (cf. Mounce, Matthew, 27). This interpretation is at least as old as Theodore of Mopsuestia and other Antiochene theologians of the fourth century (generally the most literal interpreters of the Patristic period). It was endorsed by Calvin and is well defended today by Ridderbos, Matthew, 64–65.

82 Interestingly, the Greek behind 3:15 (“then [John] consented”) and 4:11 (“then [the devil] left him”) is identical. Though the verb ἀφίησιν is used in two different ways, the two passages are parallel in that both John and the devil, wittingly or unwittingly, were trying to deter Jesus’ appointed course but failed.

83 See especially M. Erickson, Christian Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 720.

84 For an introduction to the temptations of Christ more generally but with specific reference to Matt 4:1–11, see C. L. Blomberg, “Temptation of Jesus,” ISBE 4:784–86. The fullest modern study of this passage is B. Gerhardsson, The Testing of God’s Son (Lund: Gleerup, 1966), though the parallels drawn with the three elements of loving God in Deut 6:5 seem remote.

[7] Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

par. parallel passage in another/other Gospel(s)

LXX Septuagint

m. Mishna

˒Abot ˒Abot

CD Cairo (Genizah text of the) Damascus (Document/Rule) or
Church Dogmatics,
Karl Barth

1QH Hôdāyô or Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran Cave 1

1QS Serek hayyaad or Rule of the Community, Manual of Discipline from Qumran Cave 1

2 Apoc. Bar. Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch

b. Babylonian Talmud

Ber. Berakot

Rab. Rabbah (following abbreviation for biblical book: Gen. Rab. = Genesis Rabbah)

Gos. Heb. Gospel of the Hebrews

Comm. Joh. In Johannem Commentarius

Ant. Antiquities of the Jews

J.W. Jewish Wars

Hist. Eccl. Historia Ecclesiastica

1 Enoch Ethiopic Enoch

1QM Milāmāh or War Scroll from Qumran Cave 1

Adam and Eve Life of Adam and Eve

Dial. Tryph. Dialogus cum Tryphone Judaeo

Sanh. Sanhedrin

T. Testament of Issachar

T. Benj. Testament of Benjamin

T. Naph. Testament of Naphthali

[8] Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (821). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

f following


esp especially

Mish Mishnah (See TALMUD 1)

OT Old Testament

comm commentary, commentaries

f following

par (and) parallel passage(s)

[9] Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (4:785). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

[10] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

v v: verb

TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

TDNTA Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume

GK Goodrick-Kohlenberger

AV Authorized Version

[11] Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G3985). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[12] Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Mt 4:1). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[13] Holman Bible Dictionary

[14] H. A. Ironside Commentaries

[15] Barnes' Notes on the New Testament

NT New Testament

Gk Greek

Q Qere; “Q”-source; Qumran texts (e.g., 4QTestim)

cf. confer, compare

[16] Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6:382). New York: Doubleday.

a Deut. 8:3

b Psalm 91:11, 12

c Deut. 6:16

d Deut. 6:13

1 Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:355.

2 The notion expressed by the verb is theologically ambiguous. In the OT, as B. Gerhardsson, The Temptation of Jesus: The Testing of God’s Son (Matt. 4:11 & Par.), ConBNT 2.1 (Lund, Sweden: Gleerup, 1966), p. 31, has shown, the term often has the more positive “to test,” where God “tests” his people for the purpose of developing character (see Lev 22:1–2; Exod 20:20; Deut 13:3; Judg 2:22; Ps 26:2). Gundry, Matthew, p. 55, observes that “πειράζω refers to testing when God stands in the forefront, to temptation when an evil force such as the Devil stands in the forefront. The leading of the Spirit and the enticement of the Devil give the verb a double connotation here.”

3 The exact meaning of the term “pinnacle” (πτερύγιον, pterygion) remains unclear: “it serves to designate the tip or extremity of anything” (BAGD, p. 727). Suffice it to observe that Jesus found himself on a very high portion of the temple.

4 The temple was viewed as the place where Yahweh had put his name, where God’s presence was manifested in Israel (see, e.g., 1 Kgs 8:48; 9:3; Ps 76:1–2; 87:1–3; Isa 49:14–16; Ezek 43:6–7).

5 On the importance of the “mountain” theme in Matthew see T.L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology, (JSNTSup 8; Sheffield: JSOT, 1985).

6 On Satan as the “god” or “ruler” of this world see 2 Cor 4:4; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.

7 Hagner, Matthew, 1:69.

[17] Chouinard, L. (1997). Matthew. The College Press NIV commentary (Mt 4:1). Joplin, Mo.: College Press.

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