Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.Matthew 4:1-2
The Spirit Jesus received in Baptism led Him into the desert to fast and be tempted. In our own Baptisms, we have become eligible to follow Him into the desert. Our Lent is meant to be a continuation of His fasting. We pray that, in imitating Him, we might know Him ever more intimately, love Him ever more ardently, and follow Him ever more closely. Then our fasting will lead to victory.
Temptation of the New Man
In these temptations, Christ represents the New Man. The Old Man, Adam, was in a beautiful, fruitful garden and wanted for nothing. The New Man is in a desert and is hungry. The Old Man fails in his temptation and is driven from the garden by angels. The New Man banishes the devil and is ministered to by angels.
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”Matthew 4:3-4 (referencing Deuteronomy 8:3)
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”Matthew 4:5-6 (referencing Psalm 91:11-12 and Deuteronomy 6:16)
Again the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'”Matthew 4:7-10 (referencing Deuteronomy 6:13)
Each time Jesus speaks, He references Deuteronomy. This book of the Old Testament tells the words of Moses after Israel’s forty years’ of wandering in the desert. It is a review of what the people had endured and an explanation of their suffering.
After God saved His people from slavery, He gave them the Ten Commandments and the ordinances on Mount Horeb. At that time, the people were not ready to meditate on the law, to see the deeper truths behind it; they were too willful and arrogant. So they wandered for forty years. One generation died, and the new generation was cleansed of attachment to Egypt. Only then were they were ready to enter the land the Lord had given them.
The name Deuteronomy comes from the Greek words meaning “second law”, for in it Moses presents the law to the people again. This time, they are ready to understand that the law is God’s love for them and that they must trust His words. In referencing this book, Jesus signals to Satan and to all of us that He trusts God’s love. Trust leads to humility, and humility is the strength we need to conquer all temptations.
Humility in temptation
Having that humility, knowing God, Himself, and the devil’s strategies against mankind, allows Christ to answer Satan’s temptations.
First, Satan tries to sew doubt about Jesus’s identity and mission. He suggests that, if He is the Son of God, He should use His power to produce bread. Then all mankind will follow Him!
In answer, Jesus references the passage that Man lives by every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God. He Himself is the Word that Man must live by. If He brought the people bread, they would forget Who He is. They would see nothing else, hear nothing else. And they would perish without Him.
The Lord your God
Next, Satan says that the angels of God will protect, carry, and save those the Lord loves. He tries to twist Christ’s childlike trust. He implies that mankind should set up tests for God’s goodness.
Jesus answers, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” He reminds us that testing God’s goodness is not our place. We ought to know that our ideas of goodness are not the highest or the truest. We are to form our ideas of goodness from God’s.
More than that, Christ knows Satan should be an angel of God. Yet instead of protecting, carrying, and saving, he is destroying all of mankind. Even worse, he is literally tempting the Lord his God!
Finally, Satan has been given all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He offers them to Jesus, knowing that He intends to win them for God. All He has to do is bow down and worship the devil.
Jesus says, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” In saying this, He banishes Satan. For the devil has broken the most central commandment. Who does Satan worship? Not the Lord his God. And he will not serve.
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.Matthew 4:11