The Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11: The Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness

  1. Read the Story multiple times. 
  2. Identify the Setting and Characters: After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Next, Jesus was transported by the devil to the pinnacle of the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. At the last temptation, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world. The characters in the story are Jesus, the tempter, and ministering angels.
  3. Observe the StoryThe story is about the temptations that Jesus experienced after his baptism and before his public ministry. After each temptation, Jesus manages to defeat Satan with the Word of God. At the end of the story, Satan flees from the Son of Man then ministering angels help him recover.  
  4. Isolate the Different Scenes: Scene 1: The Spirit of God leads Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Scene 2: The first temptation of Satan was to ask Jesus to turn stones into bread, but Jesus responded by saying that man shall live by every word that comes from God. Scene 3: The devil transports Jesus to the holy city and tempts him a second time, telling Jesus to throw himself off the temple since God’s angels would catch him. Jesus tells the devil that God’s word says not to put the Lord to the test. Scene 4: Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and then tells Jesus that he will give him all of these kingdoms if Jesus will worship him. Jesus rebukes Satan and tells him that only God is worthy to be worshipped. Scene 5: The devil left and angels came and ministered to Jesus.

The Whole Gospel Context

Matthew 4 is a foreshadow and antitype of what happened in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and failed to obey God. In the same way, Jesus was tempted by Satan but fully obeyed God. Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, so also the result of one act of righteousness by Jesus Christ brought justification for all men who believe in Him (Rom. 5:12-14). Another antitype is Israel. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded in the wilderness.

Jesus’ death-resurrection plays a role in this picture because in the previous chapter he had just been declared the Son of God. Now Satan is attempting to question his calling with “If you are the Son of God” but Jesus defeats his schemes and ironically proves by His character and life that He is the Son of Man. Therefore, Matthew revealed that Jesus’ victory demonstrated His divine kingship. His royal power to resist the only other great ruler of the universe, Satan himself. By so doing, Jesus sealed His final victory yet to come. Satan’s purpose was just the opposite. He wanted to conquer the King, overthrow the Messiah, and to claim the royal rights himself. However, we see that Jesus, the promised seed of the woman mentioned in Genesis 3, will soon crush the head of the serpent when He is crucified for the sins of the world. From this point forward, he will conquer death and sit at the right hand of the Father, proving His victory and salvation for the sins of the world.

Character traits to be conformed to:  

  1. Jesus trusted in the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to lead Him into the wilderness where he would undergo difficult trials. He was also trusting in God’s Word, using it to answer against the schemes of the devil.
  2. Jesus was disciplined and self-controlled, fasting for forty days and forty nights, and rejecting all the material kingdoms in the world that Satan offered to him.
  3. Jesus was humble, not using his power for selfish gain. For instance, he could have turned stone into bread in an instance, but chose not to do so because he was relying upon God. He also allowed the angels to minister to him after the temptations were over. This takes humility because most people think they can fight their own battles rather than asking for help.
  4. Jesus was bold, fighting against the temptations of Satan and rebuking him in the name of the Lord.

Character traits to reject: 

  1. Satan was trying to deceive the Son of Man by quoting Scripture to him that was taken out of context. Deception is a character trait to be avoided because it is a life full of lies that can hurt your relationship with others.
  2. Satan was prideful, boasting to Jesus about all the kingdoms of the world that he owned, even though all of it ultimately belonged to God. He also wanted Jesus to worship him, which is a result of many sinful character traits, including pride, arrogance, selfishness.

I was taught this template by Dr. Jonathan Pennington, professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His method is called a Closer Reading of the Text, which focuses on identifying the characters, isolating the scenes, analyzing the narrative, and discovering the fallen condition, redemptive solution, and virtue formation goals in the text.

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