Updated: Jan 29
The simplyRevised Podcast: Jesus In The Wilderness: The Test (pt. 2)
In our last lesson, we began looking at the temptation of Jesus in (Matt. 4). Continuing our study, we will consider Jesus' responses to the test.
We discussed how the word "tempted," as translated in (4:1), could be translated as "test." Thinking about this account in terms of "Jesus being tested in the wilderness" brings a larger biblical narrative into focus. Our last lesson considered Israel being tested in the wilderness for forty years (ref. Deut. 8:2). We also see links to The Garden, where a snake or evil spirit tested humans (Gen. 3).
Following the larger story of the Bible, we begin to see how Jesus tested in the wilderness is not an "odd" story. Instead, this account follows a biblical pattern. Just as Israel crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, Jesus crossed the waters of baptism to enter the wilderness. But, unlike Israel and the first humans, Jesus passes the test. This is because Jesus follows the wisdom and word of God, whereas others have followed their wisdom. Jesus leads a new exodus of God's people as the faithful Servant.
EXPLORING THE TEST
Seeing the parallels in Israel's story with Jesus is a connection Matthew intends for us to see, and it is vital to understanding the test of Jesus. The life and ministry of Jesus grows out of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) as Jesus fulfills the story of God through Israel.
STONES TO BREAD
After fasting for forty days and nights, Jesus was hungry (4:2). The tempter came to Jesus and said to him, "... "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matt. 4:3-4).
Matthew intends to connect Jesus with the story of Israel. His gospel is partly designed to show us how Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel's story. Reading through the Old Testament, we come to a passage where Moses retells the story of Israel in the wilderness.
Deuteronomy 8:2–5 (NIV)
"Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you."
"Discipline" may be understood as "instruct" or "instruction." I understand Moses to be saying that the Lord led Israel into the wilderness to instruct them and to reveal what was in their heart. The test shows a truth. Does Israel trust God?
Jesus' test in the wilderness is meant to remind us of Israel's story. When others have failed to trust God for their provisions and needs, Jesus fully trusts God. As followers of Christ and those led through a new exodus in Jesus, are we trusting the Lord? Do we rely on and acknowledge the provisions and blessings we receive from the Lord?
ON A HIGH PLACE
Next, Jesus is led to the holy city, where he stands on the temple's highest point.
Matthew 4:6–7 (NIV)
"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.'" Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
How does Jesus respond to this test? Again he references Israel's story.
Deuteronomy 6:16–17 (NIV)
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you."
How often does the enemy tempt us to doubt who we are? Notice how the tempter begins in these first two tests. "If you are the Son of God" (ref. 4:3, 6). He is tempting Jesus to question his identity.
There are moments when we are tempted and struggle with our identity. When we feel as if we are something less than who the Lord tells us we are.
In relating the New Exodus of Christians, the apostle Peter overlays our story with the story of Israel.
1 Peter 2:9–10 (NIV)
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Do we shrink back in fear when we are tempted to think of ourselves as someone less than who the Scriptures say that we are? For those who follow Jesus, our identity is in him, as Paul says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Cor. 5:17). Following Jesus is trusting that our identity is secure in him and not our past mistakes.
THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER
In the last test, the tempter changes tactics. Unable to shake Jesus' identity, he offers Jesus to reach out and take power.
Matthew 4:8–11 (NIV)
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."
The tempter offers Jesus a shortcut. If Jesus were to bow down and worship the devil, all the world's kingdoms would be given to him. The devil is tempting Jesus by shortcutting how he is to be king. Is Jesus King? Yes. Has all authority in heaven and earth been given to Jesus? Yes (ref. Matt. 28:18)! Has the kingdom of God come, and Jesus been exalted to the right hand of the Father? Yes (ref. Acts 2:33)! How? This was accomplished through the cross. Jesus is being offered a shortcut that would take him away from the Father's purposes. This is the test presented in The Garden.
Genesis 3:6 (NIV)
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."
Humans reached out and took wisdom in their understanding instead of relying on God's wisdom.
BRIDGING THE CONTEXT
The account of Jesus being tested in the wilderness follows the biblical narrative. It's not an oddly placed story. Matthew has arranged it intentionally so we can see how Jesus fulfills the story from page one. Where others have failed the test, Jesus passes the test through the wilderness.
This account also is a reflection for those of us following Jesus through a New Exodus. It speaks to our condition and who we are. Do we trust in God's provision and abundance? Do we trust in our identity as those in Christ? Are we willing to follow the purposes of God even when it means we must take up our cross and follow him (ref. Matt. 16:24). The account of Jesus tested in the wilderness has many layers to peel back as we explore the wisdom of God. Through this interaction, God's wisdom is revealed in Jesus.
Because Jesus passes the test, we can confidently come before the Father as we follow him through a New Exodus.
Hebrews 4:14–15 (NIV)
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin."
QUESTION TO CONSIDER
Do I fully trust in Jesus, who has passed the test?
Downloads & Resources
study notes: The Test (pt. 2)
slides (PDF): The Test (pt. 2)
Scripture quotations: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.