Jesus in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11

After His baptism by John, Jesus heads out to the Wilderness (desert) to be tempted by Satan. In this narrative, we see once again Matthew’s fondness for connecting his story about Jesus with the history of Israel, in this case, with the 40 years of wandering. I truly doubt that God was, as some might suggest, testing Jesus to make sure that He could be fully trusted; it was a little late for that. Instead, it seems to me that God was drawing a contrast between the faithfulness of Jesus His Son, and the people who for forty years wandered in the Wilderness because of their lack of faithfulness to God. In fact, we will see this tendency in Jesus all through the story of His life.

Satan plays an interesting role in all of this, but then he played a behind the scenes role in the original story as well, as seen by the constant grumbling and complaining of the Israelites. In our story, Satan interacts with Jesus in the role of tempter; yes, he seems focused on pulling Jesus away from his Father and into Satan’s orbit and service. I can’t say whether or not Satan really though he could succeed in this; he must have known it was a long shot, but he tried.

The drama begins after Jesus has fasted for forty days and forty nights. Now that Jesus is really hungry and physically weak, Satan drops in to taunt Him saying “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus relies by quoting Deut. 8:3: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
If Jesus can quote the Scriptures, it might interest us to know that Satan can as well, and in His second taunt, that is exactly what he did, after transporting the scene to the highest point of the Temple: “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.” (cf. Psalm 91:11-12)

Jesus isn’t buying Satan’s twisting of the Word of God, this time quoting Deut. 6:16:” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Next time we’ll see the ending to this story. Remember the strength of God over Satan.

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