“But by every word …”
Today’s fourth chapter of Matthew contains the account of Jesus being tempted after being “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” (4:1). This opening verse arrests the attention of diligent readers. It seems astonishing that God’s Spirit brought about Christ’s temptations.
Jesus, now that “the Spirit of God” had come “to rest on him” (3:16) is first tempted to use that power to create “bread” (verse 3) as there is no food in the wilderness to which the Spirit has led him, and 40 days had elapsed. He showed his power to create food later when he fed the 5,000; to feed himself would have been easy.
The primary lesson that jumps into our thinking as we read the 3 different types of temptation is how Jesus quotes (in each case, in rejecting temptation) words which God caused Moses to write and which we find in his book called Deuteronomy. The temptations each have a sense of unreality about them, there is for example, no “very high mountain” from which a tempter could have “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (verse 8).
They are examples of the 3 basic types of temptation which we read of a couple of weeks ago in 1 John 3:16, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world”.
How did Matthew in writing his gospel get the information about Christ’s temptations? Jesus has not yet started to call any disciples to him; not until chapter 9:9 is their reference to Matthew being called. As we think on this we realize the disciples could only have known about his temptations through Jesus telling them! And how did Jesus teach? Much of the time he taught by parables – and these were often not of literal events.
So we conclude Jesus told of his temptations in the form of a parable, the primary aim being to show he too suffered temptation (see Hebrews 4:15) and, even more, how temptations are overcome – that is the power of the narrative we read today. His mind was full of what God had caused to be written for human instruction.
We especially noted his quotation to “the tempter” from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
And that is the fundamental way in which we push fleshly temptations to one side. Is that not a primary reason why we read portions of God’s word every day? How much of God’s word comes to the surface in our thinking – when the need arises? It should do!