Into the Wilderness
After his baptism, the Spirit “drove Jesus into the wilderness… for forty days and nights.” Like Moses on Mount Sinai, the Messiah of Israel found himself alone in the Judean desert and confronted by the Devil. His only guide was the Word of God. Like Israel, he was “tested” in the wilderness. But unlike that nation, he overcame every test and emerged victorious from the experience - “FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”
|[Photo by lucas huffman on Unsplash]
Just as Moses did not eat during his time on Sinai, so also Jesus “fasted” the entire period he was in the Wilderness. And not coincidentally, his temptation preceded his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in which he pronounced his authoritative applications of the legal statutes received by Moses.
- (Matthew 4:1-2) - “Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
- (Deuteronomy 8:2) - “You will remember all the way which Yahweh your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to test you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.”
- (Deuteronomy 9:9) – “When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which Yahweh made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights; I did neither eat bread nor drink water.”
Jesus was “LED BY THE SPIRIT.” All three synoptic gospels leave no doubt that it was the Spirit of God that led or “drove” him to this confrontation with Satan. He was under divine necessity. As the Messiah, he must succeed where Israel did not – (Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1).
- (Matthew 4:3-4) – “And the tempter came and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.”
The first temptation recalls the incident when the Israelites murmured against Moses and longed for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” But in the Wilderness, Yahweh responded graciously by providing Israel with “manna” from heaven - (Exodus 16:1-4).
But rather than complain or demand what was his by right, Jesus responded to the Devil by citing the passage in Deuteronomy that describes the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna:
- (Deuteronomy 8:3) – “And Yahweh humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that MAN DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ONLY, BUT BY EVERYTHING THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF YAHWEH DOES MAN LIVE.”
Unlike Israel, he did not mutter against God because of his hunger. Instead, he submitted to the will of His Father.
TEST NOT GOD
- (Matthew 4:5-7) – “Then the Devil took him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you; and, On their hands, they shall bear you up, lest haply you dash your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, Again it is written, YOU SHALL NOT TEST THE LORD YOUR GOD.”
Ironically, having declared that the Messiah lives by every word that comes out of the “mouth of the Lord,” Satan next used one of those very words to tempt Jesus to commit a rash act.
Since devout Jews expected the Messiah to appear in the Temple, would it not advance his mission if he descended safely from the “pinnacle of the Temple” and landed gently in its courts while the nation was at worship? – (Malachi 3:1).
Israel “tested” Yahweh with their complaints, but more than once, Jesus refused to do so. At his baptism, the voice from heaven identified him as the “beloved Son,” but he was summoned to fulfill that role as the “Servant of Yahweh” who “suffers” for his brethren. This Messiah would be manifested to Israel in his submission and suffering, not in impressive displays of royal and military might – (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17).
Again, Jesus responded by citing a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy - “You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah.” And it was at Massah that Israel complained once more - (Deuteronomy 6:16):
- “… And there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore, the people strove with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said to them: Why do you strive with me? WHY DO YOU TEST YAHWEH?” - (Exodus 17:1-3).
The Gospel of Matthew intends for us to read this scriptural background into the testing of Jesus (“You shall not test the Lord your God”). And once again, where Israel failed the Messiah overcame.
WORSHIP GOD ALONE
- (Matthew 4:8-10) – “Again, the Devil took him to an exceeding high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said to him, All these things will I give you if you wilt fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND HIM ONLY SHALL YOU SERVE.”
The next temptation was all too real. At his baptism, the heavenly voice alluded to the second Psalm, a messianic passage that promised God’s “anointed one” would inherit all the kingdoms of the world - (Psalm 2:7-8, Matthew 3:17).
What the Devil offered Jesus was his by divine decree. Strikingly, he did NOT dispute Satan’s right to grant sovereignty over all the governments of the earth, which, no doubt, included the Roman Empire.
Imagine all the good that he could do if he wielded the might and majesty of Rome! If anyone deserved unlimited political power, it was the Son of God! Nevertheless, he rejected this offer out of hand, and in doing so, he quoted from the same passage he had just cited to fend off the second temptation:
- “YOU SHALL FEAR YAHWEH YOU GOD; AND HIM SHALL YOU SERVE… You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for Yahweh, your God is a jealous God; lest the anger of Yahweh your God be kindled against you and he destroys you from off the face of the earth. You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah” - (Deuteronomy 6:13-16).
Having completed his test, the Devil departed, and angels “came and ministered to him.” According to the Gospel of Luke, Satan “departed from him for a season,” indicating this was not his final attempt to derail Christ’s mission. On at least one other occasion, he again tempted Jesus with political power - (John 6:15).
Precisely how the angels “ministered to him” we do not know. However, having overcome every test by the Devil, Jesus next “RETURNED IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT TO GALILEE.”
Only then did he begin to proclaim the kingdom of God, and UNDER THE DIRECTION AND EMPOWERMENT OF THE SPIRIT. But his messianic mission began in conflict as the Devil gathered his forces to stop Jesus.
And so, also, his mission would end in conflict and death at the hands of his enemies. But not before he proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom of God to Israel, and being “FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT,” the Son of God was anointed and empowered to do so.