A Brief Understanding of Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew 4:1-11 underlines the biblical principle that God's calling must be tested.  The Spirit, having empowered Jesus for his mission as God's Son (3:16-17), now is the one who leads Him into the wilderness where His call must be tested (4:1, 3, 6).  Matthew expressly informs us that the purpose of the Spirit's first leading of God's Son was that He might be tested!  Like most of His heroic predecessors in biblical history (Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Job), Jesus had to pass a period of testing before beginning His public ministry.  Some of His predecessors almost snapped under pressure, restrained only by God's favour  (for example, 1 Sam 25:13-34; 1 Kings 19:4, Jer 20:7-18), but our Lord Jesus provides the perfect model for triumphing in testing.

Firstly, Jesus was not a magician (4:3).  Magicians typically sought to transform one substance into another to demonstrate their power over nature.  Jesus' opponents could not deny His power but wished to attribute it to Satan, as if He were a magician (Mt 12:24); many Jews associated demons with the worst kind of sorcery.  He resisted the temptation to turn stones into bread.  Where magicians manipulated spiritual power and formulas, Jesus acted from an intimate, obedient personal relationship with His Father (6:7-9).

Secondly, Jesus was not a deluded or misleading visionary (4:5-6) like "false prophets" who wrongly expected God to back up their miraculous claims.  By wanting Jesus to jump over an abyss known to invite certain death without God's intervention, the devil wants Jesus to presume on His relationship with God, to act as if God were there to serve his Son rather than the reverse.  When people become so arrogant as to think we have God figured out, we can easily miss God's true purposes and become Satan's mouthpieces.

Finally, Jesus was not a political revolutionary, contrary to the assumptions and charges of the Jewish aristocracy (nobility).  As another gospel puts it, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest" (Jn 18:36).  Many citizens of the Roman Empire felt that Rome ruled the earth's kingdoms and to rule the earth would include the subjection of the Roman emperor.

The Temptation narrative emphasizes that we can use Scripture for righteous or unrighteous causes.  Jesus and the devil argue Scripture, and both are adept or skillful in it, though the devil quotes Scripture out of context and so values its wording over its true meaning.

Posted on March 9, 2014 .