Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written:
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, 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 ‘with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “Again it is written,
‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.Matthew 4:1-11
Lessons in the Desert
Bread of the Word
After his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus, led by the Spirit, journeyed into the Judean desert to combat the devil. Fasting for forty days and nights, he sharpened the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.1
To the prowler, the famished man looked like prey.2 If you are the Son of God, he baited, prove it by turning these stones into bread. Seeking to divert Jesus from the way of the cross, the tempter showed him a more expedient path. Use your power to feed yourself and others! Become the bread king of the world!
Resolutely, Jesus routed the ruse. Recalling Israel’s hunger in the wilderness, he refuted his opponent with Moses’ maxim:
One does not live by bread alone,Deuteronomy 8:3
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
True Filial Trust
Next, from the parapet of the Jerusalem Temple, the devil dared Jesus to hurl himself down. Returning scripture with scripture, he served up Psalm 91:11-12, cajoling God’s child to test his Father’s providence. The Lord will send his angels to rescue his beloved! The tempter twisted filial trust into a demand for signs and wonders. The same temptation had ensnared the Israelites in Meribah and Massah. Complaining against the Lord in the wilderness, they clamored for a sign of his presence.3 Heeding Moses, Jesus rebutted:
“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”Deuteronomy 6:16
The Cross in the Father’s Will
Finally, the devil cut to the chase by revealing his ultimate aim: apostasy and Satan worship. If Jesus obeys his Father, he will suffer ignominy and death. If he worships Satan, instant glory and fame will be his. In the eyes of the world, the cross is but madness and folly. The worldly-wise follow Satan’s strategy of power and prestige.
“Get away, Satan!” Jesus rebuked.
“The Lord, your God, shall you worshipDeuteronomy 6:13
and him alone shall you serve.”
Vanquished, the devil departed. Then angels came and ministered to Jesus in the true spirit of Psalm 91:11. Faith does not test the Lord but trusts in his goodness like a child.
From the Desert to the Cross
Limitation of Bread Miracles
Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert prepared him for the setbacks in his mission. In Galilee, the multiplication of loaves and fish failed to convert the masses. Instead, awed by the miracle, they rose to crown him king by force.4 Not long afterward, the same mob cried for his crucifixion. Indeed, one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me,” Jesus declared.5
Tempters at the Cross
Echoing Satan’s temptation to jump off the temple parapet, mockers goaded Jesus to come down from the cross. Words eerily similar to the tempter’s twisted version of Psalm 91 pelted him:
Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”Matthew 27:39-43
In Mark’s version, they jeered, “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”6 Words not of faith but sensation seeking seared the Son. Authentic faith cherishes the person of the Father above all, not signs and wonders.
Cursing the Cross
Finally, Jesus’ disciples repudiated the cross in favor of a powerful, earthly Messiah. While Judas betrayed him secretly, Peter rebuked him to his face. Worldly ambition repulsed a crucified Christ. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded.7
During Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter’s true feelings surfaced. Recognizing the disciple by his appearance and accent, onlookers questioned him. Caught off guard, Peter denied Jesus three times, cursing and swearing: “I do not know the man!”8 In Christ’s hour of disgrace, Peter renounced him. But when the cock crowed, he wept over his weakness.
Christ’s temptations in the desert revolve around the cross, for Satan fears a suffering Messiah whose love is invincible. False Messiahs buy followers with earthly bread, then leave them empty. But the true bread of life, crushed like wheat, satisfies the hungry. Signs and wonders point beyond themselves to the sender: “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.”9 Children of the Father, crucified with Christ, keep faith even when the whole world mocks.
Fasted Christ for forty days and nights.
The Word of God slayed the devil’s sleights.
1 Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12.
2 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
3 Exodus 17:1-7.
4 John 6:15.
5 John 4:34 (RSV).
6 Mark 15:32.
7 Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33.
8 Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27.
9 John 14:10.