“Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And coming to Him, the tempter said, ‘If you are the Son of God, speak so that these stones might become bread.’ But answering He said, ‘It is written: Man will not live upon bread alone but upon every word that comes from God’s mouth.’ Then the devil took Him into the holy city and placed Him upon the pinnacle of the temple. And he said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command His angels concerning you and upon hands they will lift you lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is also written: You will not test the Lord your God.’ Again, the devil took Jesus upon an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give to you, if you fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go Satan! For it is written: you will worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ Then the devil permitted Him and behold! Angels came and ministered to Him.”
The purpose of this temptation narrative is to prove that He is all that He has been claimed to be. As the perfect Israelite, Jesus will relive key moments in Israel’s history so that He can be seen to succeed where the nation has historically failed. In addition to this, Jesus is the perfect man. He cannot fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant and be a blessing to all the tribes of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3) unless He is also a perfect man. Therefore, Jesus will also relive key moments in Adam’s history. Plainly stated: Jesus relives the temptation in the garden (Gen. 3:1-7) as well as Israel’s testing years in the wilderness (Ex. 16; 17; 32) to prove that He is Yhwh’s Anointed One. The Father’s proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God is here put to the test in three phrases.
Testing Anticipated (vv. 1-2)
“Then” (τότε) connects this scene with the baptism. This is the next piece of the puzzle in Matthew’s argument. It is imperative to read this passage in light of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus has been anointed as Messiah by God the Holy Spirit (3:16) and affirmed as such by God the Father (3:17). Yet there is an important question regarding the addressee of the Father’s announcement. Simply put: who is the Father speaking to? This question is not limited to those who heard the Father’s words (i.e., Jesus, John, and possibly others nearby) but focuses on those whom the Father is directly addressing. If the voice is heard from the opening that was made in the heavens (3:16), then it is assumed that the voice is coming from the Father’s throne and the individuals addressed are those who make up the heavenly court. It is as if the Father produces His Son to those angelic beings who come to present themselves before Him (Job 1:6; 2:1). By announcing to His court that Jesus is His Davidic Messiah and Suffering Servant, it is as if the Father presents Jesus in this manner: “Have you considered My Servant, Jesus?” Is Jesus worthy to be called God’s beloved Son? To know for certain, He must first be tested.
Purpose (v. 1)
“Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.”
The Son of God has just come through the waters and is now in the wilderness. The aorist verb from ἀνάγω (to raise up/take up/offer up) should probably be taken literally as the Jordan River Valley is certainly lower in elevation than the hill country of the Judean wilderness. Matthew creates a steady progression throughout this narrative that begins in the sub-sea-level Jordan River, progressing up to the wilderness, to the top of the temple, only to conclude at a climax on a very high mountain. Now that Jesus has been anointed by and with the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit who now leads Him into the wilderness. The preposition ὑπό (by/with) indicates personal agency. The concept of being led in the wilderness by Yhwh recreates Israel’s wilderness wanderings (Deut. 8:2; 29:5; Ps. 136:16). That Jesus is now reliving Israel’s past experiences is evident. The obvious question remaining is why?
Matthew answers this with the infinitive of purpose: for the purpose of being tempted by the devil (πειρασθῆναι ὑπό τοῦ διαβόλου). The verb πειράζω means to put something to the test/under trial. The context determines whether we should translate the term as “tempt” (testing with the intention of failure) or “test” (testing to reveal or discover someone’s or something’s integrity). The same preposition of personal agency is used of the devil (ὑπό). The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. The agent of testing was the devil, who certainly determined to tempt Jesus. After all, Jesus was pointed out by the Father when He announced to the heavenly court that this was His Son. That both the Spirit and the devil are agents of this testing is no stranger than the situation Job found himself in (Job 1:6; 2:1) and very well may be the intended reference.
Preparation (v. 2)
“After fasting for forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.”
The reason Matthew includes “and forty nights” is to make clear that Jesus didn’t cheat when the sun went down. Many cultures “fast” during the day but then gorge themselves once it is dark. Jesus truly abstained from food for 960 hours. The reference to a forty day and forty night fast certainly corresponds to the forty year wilderness wanderings of Israel, but may also include allusions to Moses on Sinai (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9). As such, Jesus is linked with the nation with whom He stands in solidarity via His baptism as well as the leader of the nation, the antetype of whom Israel was supposed to anticipate (Deut. 18:15).
The purpose of the fasting does not have to be speculated upon, for Matthew tells us plainly that after these forty days and nights Jesus became hungry. This is where the broad correspondence of Israel and Jesus becomes a much more specific allusion. After Israel was taken out of Egypt and passed through the waters of the Sea of Reeds, God led them into the wilderness and God humbled them by letting them become hungry (Deut. 8:2-3). Being led into the wilderness and fasting for forty days and nights was all in preparation for the upcoming trials and temptations.
Testing Initiated (vv. 3-10)
Authorial intention must be fought for at every turn. It is imperative that the reader understand that this text is not about us and is by definition God’s revelation of Himself. This text is about Jesus, not a list of examples or hot tips on how to survive temptation. While there are certainly implications for the present-day believer, this text exists to affirm something about Jesus. Specifically, that something is the fact that Jesus passed the tests that both Adam and Israel failed. Each temptation is a recapitulation of a specific instance in Israel’s history while also mirroring an aspect of the temptation in the garden.
The First Test: Dependence (vv. 3-4)
The comparison to Adam is partially that of contrast. While Adam was approached obliquely through the woman (Gen. 3:1) Jesus is approached directly. Adam lived in a garden surrounded by every green tree for food (Gen. 2:15-16) while Jesus was in the wilderness and was hungry. Yet the context (food) and the nature (questioning God’s revelation) of the temptation is eerily similar to the first temptation. At the same, Jesus is tempted to respond to hunger in the same manner in which the first generation of Israel responded after the Exodus (Ex. 16:1-36; Deut. 8:1-3).
The Temptation of Independence (v. 3): “And coming to Him, the tempter said, ‘If you are the Son of God, speak so that these stones might become bread.’” – While it is true that the first-class conditional statement is said to assume truth for the sake of argument, the devil’s words here cannot help but convey a sense of doubt. If he were to assume Jesus’ Sonship (as the construction would convey) then why demand for proof? This statement is little different than his question posed to the woman: “has God really said…?” Broadly speaking, the devil is tempting Jesus to prove His Sonship by misusing it. Specifically, that misuse is defined by independence. Rather than trusting the Father, Jesus is tempted to strike out on His own and provide for Himself. The words of ancient Israel can be heard in this temptation: “Would that we had died by Yhwh’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3).
Why starve when He has the ability to turn stones into bread? It is possible that the devil points to the stones (λίθος) in light of John’s claim that God is able to raise children for Abraham from stones (λίθος) to make the temptation more plausible (3:9). Is He not the Son of God? Has God really said? Rather than doubting or denying Jesus as the Son of God, the devil is attempting to get Jesus to overstep His bounds and declare independence from God just as Adam and Israel have done in the past. Will this new beginning fail as the first beginning did? Will this Israelite fail as the nation did?
The Answer Demanding Dependence (v. 4): “But answering He said, ‘It is written: Man will not live upon bread alone but upon every word that comes from God’s mouth.’” – It is not simply that Jesus responded with Scripture but what Scripture Jesus responded with. All three of Jesus’ responses come from Deut. 6-8, the portion of Moses’ message where he exhorts the second generation of Israel to learn from the rebellions of the first generation. The reason why God led the people into the wilderness and allowed them to become hungry (Deut. 8:3a) is so that they would learn to trust Him. The nation must be dependent upon God and learn that they are never going to be independent from Him. They must learn that man (not just the Son of God, but every man) does not live upon food, but upon God’s commands, instructions, precepts, decisions, laws, promises, and word (Deut. 8:3b). God’s word is man’s food.
The woman added to God’s word (Gen. 3:3). The nation rejected God’s word (Ex. 16:3). Neither found God’s promises to be sufficient by themselves and both eventually declared independence from God. Not so the Son.
The Second Test: Trust (vv. 5-7)
“Then” (τότε) shifts the narrative to a new scene. From the hill country of the wilderness, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. The temptations climb in elevation as well as intensity. By “the temple” Matthew refers to the entire compound rather than only the building where the holy of holies is kept. It is not certain, but very possible that by “the pinnacle” Matthew refers to the southern wing of the temple which overlooks the Kidron Valley. A fall from this point would result in a 400-foot plummet to the valley floor.
The previous temptation attempted to get Jesus to misuse His status as God’s Son to effectively declare independence from God. Jesus rejected the temptation by quoting Scripture that contradicted the devil’s suggestion. Here the devil adapts his tactics to Jesus’ defense by (a) suggesting Jesus make the Father act instead of Himself and (b) quotes Scripture as an apparent validation to his claim.
The Temptation to Force God’s Hand (vv. 5-6): “Then the devil took Him into the holy city and placed Him upon the pinnacle of the temple. And he said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command His angels concerning you and upon hands they will lift you lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” – The supposed statement of truth remains on the table (if you are the Son of God) but with a different demand for proof (throw yourself down!). The point is for Jesus to purposefully place Himself in harm’s way in order to force God’s hand to intervene. If Jesus is God’s Son, then as God’s Son Jesus has a specific mission to accomplish. If Jesus is reduced to pile of scattered blood and bones at the bottom of the Kidron Valley, then that mission can never be accomplished. If Jesus jumps, then God must intercede in some fashion to prevent the outcome that the law of gravity demands. The logic seems sound and to support it, the devil quotes from Ps. 91:11-12.
Unlike most expositors and commentators, the devil correctly understands that Psalm 91 is Messianic in the sense that the psalmist links the coming righteous one with the nation of Israel. The temptation is for Jesus to place Himself in the driver’s seat and force the Father to react to Him. It is as if the devil anticipated the response “but I’ll die!” to which he replies, “you will surely not die” (Gen. 3:4).
Rather than misusing His Sonship to declare independence, this is a temptation to misuse the status as God’s Son to test God’s faithfulness. To test God is the opposite of trusting God. The scene before us smacks of Israel yet again, but this time at the waters of Massah (lit. test) where they demanded water in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1-7). If they did not get the water they demanded, then their conclusion was that Yhwh was not among them after all.
The Answer to Submit and Trust (v. 7): “Jesus said to him, ‘It is also written: You will not test the Lord your God.’” – Again, Jesus responds with precision. Quoting from Deut. 6:16 Jesus uses the words of Moses as he reviews the testing of Yhwh by Israel at Massah in the wilderness. Ironically, the devil’s exegesis of Ps. 91 (at least the pieces that he chose to emphasize) was spot on. His application of the text was a different matter. God’s promise to protect and sustain Messiah until He accomplishes His mission is not a license to make God into a puppet on a string. In fact, the devil’s temptation is far worse than what Israel did in that the people were actually thirsty and in need of water. They were in a potentially dangerous and desperate situation. Jesus, on the other hand, was in no danger unless He chose to place Himself in danger. Eve believed the devil's claim that she would not die if she tested God. Israel felt justified in their testing of God’s promise to sustain them. The Son falls into no such temptation and firmly keeps His feet planted where they are.
The Third Test: Power Without Humility (vv. 8-10)
From the heights of the temple’s pinnacle to an exceedingly high mountain, this temptation ascends to a climax physically and comprehensively. There seems to be a parallel with Moses when he went to the top of Pisgah and Yhwh showed him the entire Promised Land (Deut. 34:1). The representative and leader of Israel is offered much more than His predecessor.
The Temptation to Possess a Kingdom Now: “Again, the devil took Jesus upon an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give to you, if you fall down and worship me.’” – Satan’s tactic of calling Jesus’ Sonship into play is dropped completely. This temptation lacks any nuance, is bold, and directly addresses the real issue: Jesus’ kingdom comes after His humiliation. The kingdom from heaven requires the King to suffer on behalf of His people. The devil supposedly offers Jesus a way to avoid the suffering and keep a kingdom. The catch is that instead of submitting to the Father, Jesus must bow down and submit to the devil. In effect, the devil is demanding that Jesus defect. Again, one can almost hear the lie, “you too can be like God…” (Gen. 3:5).
This temptation is the greatest of the three in force and application. Rather than attacking God’s plan of redemption and the coming kingdom from heaven indirectly, this temptation takes the matter head-on. By succumbing to either of the first two temptations, Jesus would have disqualified Himself as God’s Son (i.e., Davidic Messiah and Suffering Servant) because of selfish ambition and pride. In those cases, Jesus would not be allowed to fulfill the role of Messiah due to qualification issues. In this present scenario, the issue is not one of qualification but association. If Jesus bows to the devil, He will not be the Father’s Messiah because He would no longer be working for the Father according to the Father’s plan. If the King defects, then the Kingdom ceases to exist even on a potential plane. The temptation to claim the kingdom without the suffering is a powerful temptation indeed and is one that never leaves Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 16:21-23; 27:40). Yet the King has come humbly this time. He cannot be who He is without suffering. Any kingdom offered to Jesus apart from this suffering is an altogether different kingdom.
Not only is the temptation nakedly presented, but so too is the devil’s demand. This “falling down and worshiping” (πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς) is precisely the same language used to describe the magi’s immediate response upon seeing the child Jesus (2:11 – πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν). To fall down and prostrate oneself is to submit and show fealty. The devil blatantly demands that Jesus break the first and second commandments. Israel exhibited such false worship and idolatry when they built a golden calf to lead them away from the land of promise back to Egypt (Ex. 32). Israel attempted to defect from Yhwh that day. Will the Son defect from the Father?
The Answer of Finality: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go Satan! For it is written: you will worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” – Up to this point the devil has addressed Jesus with imperatives (speak to the stones! throw yourself down! worship me!). Now Jesus speaks with an imperative: Go, Satan! The present tense indicates the action is to continue. The implication is: and don’t come back! The name “Satan” is used for the first time in the New Testament at this point. The Hebrew שָׂטָן meaning “enemy” or “adversary” has been transliterated into the Greek (σατανᾶς) and become something like a proper name. The enemy has just been routed, sent packing, and dismissed. Who has really been in control of the situation? Jesus does not issue a command out of independent irritation but out of submission to the Father’s word and will. He offers precedents for His command.
The quotation again comes from Deuteronomy, this time from 6:13. It’s worth noting at this point that both this response as well as Jesus’ previous response are found within the context of the Shema (שְׁמַע): “Hear, O Israel! Yhwh is our God, Yhwh is One! You shall love Yhwh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). All of the commands to obey and calls to remember in Deuteronomy 6-8 are built upon this exhortation to hear. Israel is to worship (προσκυνέω – prostrate oneself in humble submission) and serve (λατρεύω – perform religious rites such as offering sacrifices, prayers, or other duties) Yhwh exclusively. There can be no other Sovereign. His Kingdom is the only Kingdom. Eve attempted to become a goddess herself and Adam along with her. Israel sought to follow another god away from the Promised Land. Both lost paradise. The Son will serve the Father only and as such will come into His Kingdom.
Testing Accepted (v. 11)
“Then the devil permitted Him and behold! Angels came and ministered to Him.”
Irony abounds on the pages of holy Scripture. The devil directed no less than three imperatives at Jesus, each to which Jesus simply said “no.” In response, Jesus uses only a single imperative (go!) which the devil immediately obeys. One cannot deny the power of God’s Word. When God speaks, stuff happens.
When the devil leaves, the angels came to minister/serve (διακονέω) Jesus. The scene is reminiscent of the angel of the Lord attending to the weary prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:5ff). Irony continues in this scene, for the humble Messiah and Son of God receives two out of the three things that the devil offered, yet He received them from being submissive to the Father rather than rebelling against Him. The devil suggested that Jesus feed Himself (v. 3), here the angels [presumably] feed Him. The devil suggested that Jesus force God to send His angels to care for Jesus (vv. 5-6), here the Father does just that. The implication is that if Jesus continues to submit to the Father, the kingdom will also come to Him.
In addition to all of this, the coming of the angels marks yet another affirmation of the Father’s pleasure and approval. In other words, Jesus passed the test! Where Adam and Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Jesus truly is the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, and Savior of His people. Now is the time to begin His ministry.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 162.  Grant Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2010), p. 131-2.  D. A. Carson, Walter Wessel, and Mark Strauss, Matthew & Mark, Revised, vol. 9, 13 vols., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2010), p. 140.  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 142.  Nolland, p. 164.  Archibald Robertson, Matthew and Mark, vol. I, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p. 32.  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 76.  Osborne, p. 134.  The temptations presented here seem to come around again at the cross. Rather than the devil personally calling Jesus to prove His Sonship, the devil’s people demand Jesus to prove His Sonship (27:40, 43) by coming down from the cross and saving Himself.