In Matthew 4, Jesus is confronted by Satan in the desert. In this story, we learn how Jesus used Scripture in spiritual warfare against Satan. Today, I want us to look at Matthew 4:1-11. This temptation is an attempt by Satan to subvert God’s plan for human redemption by causing Jesus to fall into sin and disobedience, and thus disqualify Him as the sinless Savior.
Matthew 4:1 says that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit guided Jesus in His earthly life, providing a pattern for His followers to be empowered and led by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18). The Greek word for tempted (perirazo) can also mean test. While God never tempts anyone to do evil (James 1:13), He does use circumstances of all types to test a person’s character (Hebrews 11:17). Diablos (Greek, meaning slander, or accuser) is here preceded by the definite article to indicate the one who tempts. Although the devil intended to thwart God’s plan and purposes, the Father uses this evil intention for the good purpose of strengthening Jesus in His messianic role.
Jesus fasted “forty days and forty nights” according to Matthew 4:2. Jesus’ experience of 40 days of fasting in the wilderness corresponds to Israel’s experience of 40 years of testing in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). Jesus endured His testing victoriously and obediently. Moses also fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights on two occasions (Exodus 24:18, 24:28). Fasting was a means of focusing intently on prayer. Forty days is also about the longest a human can fast without permanent bodily harm.
Matthew 4:3 says, “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus was and is the Son of God, but He refused to be tricked by the devil into using His divine prerogatives to make the trial any easier for Himself. Jesus obeyed as a man; as the representative for all who believe, so as to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) on behalf of His people. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said: “It is written…” Jesus responds to each temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy, linking His experience to Israel’s in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s testing through hunger and His miraculous provision of manna.
The holy city is Jerusalem and the pinnacle of the temple is the southeast corner of the temple area, the top of which was some 300 feet above the floor of the Kidron Valley (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 15.411-412). The devil’s use of Matthew 4:6-7, a quotation from Psalm 91 is a blatant misuse of Scripture, and is used by Satan in an effort to manipulate Jesus. Such a spectacular display as jumping from this great height unharmed would have gained Him an enthusiastic following, but it wouldn’t have followed the Father’s messianic and redemptive plan of suffering and proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven.
Satan tells Jesus in Matthew 4:9 to “fall down and worship me.” The devil offers a shortcut to Jesus’ future reign in God’s kingdom— a shortcut that side-steps Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross and comes at the cost of exchanging the love of the Father for the worship of Satan. Satan’s words, “all these I will give you” is a lie.
Matthew 4:11 records that the “devil left him”. Jesus resisted the devil by standing firm on God’s Word, setting an example for His followers. Angels came and were ministering to Him and their ministering included much needed physical sustenance. All of Heaven knew the significance of Jesus’ initial victory in this cosmic battle.
What We Can Learn from Matthew 4:1-11
The main lesson we learn from this passage is Jesus’ use of Scripture in battling Satan. As noted above, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy in order to fight against Satan. The believer must study to show him or herself approved as a workman, not ashamed, able to handle and interpret the Word of God with precision and great care. Jesus quotes Scripture and says “it is written” four times. How do you fight against sin and temptation? Do you quote Scripture related to your specific temptation and struggle against sin? Or do you rely on yourself? Jesus gives His disciples an example of One who fought against sin and Satan by quoting Scripture.
After quoting Scripture four times, Matthew 4:11 says that “the devil left him”. James 4:7 and 1st Peter 5:8 are instructive for believers because they teach the importance of humility and submission to God. The believer who rests in the finished work of Christ will be able to fight against sin and temptation, and make much of Him in and through their lives. The only way that the believer in Christ can ward off Satan’s accusations and attacks is to go back to who they already are in Him. This means that, as the believer grows in Christ, they increasingly grow in the knowledge of who they already are in Him—adopted, redeemed, sanctified (not yet glorified), which grants them the ability to stand (not perfectly) in the grace of God.
Knowing a lot of the Bible and being able to recite Scripture verses from memory are very good tools in the believers’ battle against sin, Satan, and the world. These tools, however, are often treated as ultimate in spiritual warfare, when in fact they are not. The message that contains the power of God to save and sanctify is the Gospel, which means only the Gospel, and not a tool, is ultimate. The Gospel calls believers away from self and to Christ in order to put off the flesh and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
This teaching has huge implications on our daily lives as believers. It highlights the various ways in which we often fail to appropriate the truth of who we are in Him (adopted, justified, and positionally sanctified) by exposing the fact that we are prone to embrace our sinful habits instead of putting our sin to death, and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer’s identity in Christ ought to motivate them to not only put sin to death, but also to appropriate His life into all of life.
The identification of the believer with Christ in His death and resurrection frees him/her from hypocrisy so the believer can be who he/she really is in Christ. The failure then to appropriate who we are in Christ exposes our attitude towards sin, which in turn demonstrates our apathy towards it. Jesus was tempted in every way, and yet never sinned, which means that as His followers we ought to look to, meditate upon, and run to the cross daily.
Jesus’ use of Scripture in spiritual warfare demonstrates that Satan is no match against the Word of God. The Word of God testifies to the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done in His death, burial, and resurrection. Christians ought to take what they know about Scripture and appropriate that knowledge daily into their lives, as they fight against Satan, sin, and the world. Believers ought to do battle every day, and every moment against sin, the flesh, and the world, which means they need to daily preach the Truth about who Jesus is and what He has done to themselves. The believer needs to do this (preach the Gospel to themselves) so they will be able to resist sin when tempted and stand in the grace of God.
Jesus engagement with Satan in the wilderness and His use of Scripture is instructive to believers on many fronts. First, Jesus teaches believers that they can only overcome by appropriating the truth of who they already are in Him. Second, Jesus teaches the supremacy and sufficiency of His Word by speaking that Truth of His Word in confronting Satan. Thirdly, Jesus’ use of Scripture calls believers to use the Word of God in order to expose the inconsistencies and errors of Satan and his followers by pointing them to Jesus. Fourthly, Jesus use of Scripture is instructive to His people, because He alone grants His people the gift of His righteousness in order that the Holy Spirit may illuminate His Word to them individually as they read and study it, and corporately in the context of the local Church as believers gather to hear the Word of God preached. Finally, Jesus demonstrates in the desert that only the Word of God provides the fount from which the believer can draw from in order to put sin to death and put on the Lord Jesus in all of life.