The Temptations of Jesus

Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 are really two halves of a whole, like the two halves of a pecan shell.  In Genesis we see the opening of the shell to sin, and in Matthew we see the closing of the shell through Christ’s righteousness.

If we look at Genesis, we see the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  God had created all the world through the power of His Word and then made man and woman and placed them in the Garden of Eden.  God dwelt with them as they lived in His presence, and He allowed them to eat of any tree in the Garden, even the tree of life.  He had only forbade them from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was in the midst of the garden, lest they die.  That’s kinda a funny prohibition if you think of it; why would anyone want to know evil and die?  But, in making this prohibition, God allowed Adam and Eve a way to respond to the grace that He had bestowed on them.  Their response was a response of faith, a faith that trusted that all good things come from God and that He is truthful and reliable.

But, then Satan, that old serpent, enters the scene.  He goes up to Eve and asks her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”  Satan knows the answer to this question, but he asks it in a way that helps to lead Eve’s answer in the direction he wishes it to go.  So, Eve says in response, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden” – so far, so good, Eve’s faithfully reciting God’s Word.  But, then she says, “… but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Uh, oh, Eve’s added something here.  Did you catch it?  She’s correct that God had said that her and Adam were not to eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden.  But, God did not say, “neither shall you touch it.”  That is Eve’s own embellishment of God’s Word; that’s her own innovation.  She added to God’s Word to make it seem more powerful, because she felt that His Word was lacking somehow.

Satan has now snared her in his trap.  He’s gotten her to doubt God’s Word.  For that’s really what she’s doing; she’s adding to God’s Word because she doubts its power.  She thinks she has to interject something of her own in order to make the Word effective.  So now that there’s this little sliver of doubt introduced by Eve, Satan wedges that doubt wider by saying, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Satan is telling her that God is holding out on her.  There’s something that God is not telling her, and she needs to find out for herself.  She needs to become more “spiritual” and encounter truth apart from God’s Word.

He has her now.  The text says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”  Did you notice something else interesting in this verse?  “She also gave some to her husband who was with her…”  Adam was there the whole time; he was there with her.  The entire time Satan is tempting Eve to doubt God’s Word, Adam just stands there and says nothing.  This is really a failure of the Church.  For the Word was originally given to Adam, before Eve was even created.  He had the Word, but failed to defend it from error.  Instead, he let it be corrupted by Eve and twisted by Satan and didn’t jump in to clearly proclaim God’s Word.

So then, everything fell apart after they disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree.  “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”  How pathetic, attempting to cover yourself with fig leaves and then trying to hide from the Lord.  We see in these verses the results of their sin.  Prior to this point, man and woman were in perfect communion with God – He walked among them in their presence – and with each other – they lived with each other in nakedness, feeling no shame or embarrassment, for they were truly one flesh in marriage, as God had ordained.

But, now they are estranged from each other and alienated from God.  No longer can they love the Lord their God with their whole heart, soul, and mind or their neighbor as themselves, for a wall of sin has cut them off from God and from each other.  And this wall was erected by their doubt of God’s Word and their disobedience that followed.

So, the Lord tells the woman that because of this sin she will now experience pain in childbirth, and He tells the man that he will have to work the earth in sweat and struggle.  No longer will things be easy, because they have brought evil into the world.  They are also alienated from creation itself and from their own bodies, since they will experience bodily death.

But, the Lord also tells Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  God is promising that he will send the seed of the woman to defeat Satan.  This is the first promise of the Savior Christ who is to come.

And then the Lord clothes Adam and Eve with the skins of the first sacrifice.  He atones for their sin with the blood of this first sacrifice and makes garments for them using the skins of the animal he has killed.  Then, He drives Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in this state of estrangement from each other, from Him, and from creation.  So, they are to await the coming of the promised Savior, the seed of the woman, who would restore the perfection that was present before their fall into sin.

So now we come to the Gospel reading from Matthew 4, where we see this seed of the woman, the Son of God, working to restore His creation.  Following Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judea to be tempted by the devil.  This is a similar flow as in Genesis.  In Genesis, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created and ordered all things.  Then, Adam and Eve were tempted.  In the Gospels, Jesus is baptized, with the Father speaking and the Holy Spirit descending.  Then, Jesus is tempted.  So, in Jesus’ Baptism we see the beginning of the recreation of all things by the Word in the flesh.  Then, Jesus as the new Adam is led into the wilderness to be tempted, to undergo what Adam and Eve went through.  But, Jesus’ temptation happens not in a garden, but rather in the desert, the complete opposite of a luscious garden, the fulfillment of the curse that Adam brought into this world.

So, Jesus is in the desert, far away from a garden.  After fasting forty days and nights, Satan comes to him to tempt him.  Jesus is doubtless very hungry, so the first temptation relates to food.  Satan says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  This sounds like the temptation of Satan to Eve.  He lured Eve to look at the fruit of the forbidden tree to see that it was good for food.  But, Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  So, Jesus quotes back the Word of the Lord as found in Deuteronomy 8:3 in response to this temptation.

Then, Satan takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple, which was a high spot on the temple mount that overlooked the temple complex.  And Satan again tempted him by saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you.”  Ah, Satan is starting to get clever.  Since Jesus had quoted Scripture in his earlier response, Satan now tries to quote Scripture to Jesus to tempt him.  This sounds like what he did to Eve when he said, “Did God really say…?”  Jesus, though, again quotes from Scripture (from Deuteronomy 6:16) by saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  When Eve attempted to quote God’s Word, she added to it, and in the process undermined it.  Jesus, though, quotes directly from God’s Word.

Satan then takes Jesus to a high mountain and gives him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he promises to give these all to Jesus if only he would fall down and worship Satan.  Again, Jesus comes back with the Word of God from Deuteronomy by saying, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  Satan has no right to give God’s creation to anyone, for it is not his to give.

So in these three temptations of Jesus, we see Jesus succeeding where Adam and Eve failed.  Eve was tempted by food, the food of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – and she and Adam failed.  They were tempted to put the Lord’s Word to the test – the Word He had given to them when he told them that if they ate from the tree they would die – and they failed.  They were tempted to worship something else other than the Lord as their God, themselves and ultimately Satan – and they failed.  So in all these things they failed to worship the Lord and serve him only.

Jesus, though, succeeds.  He is tempted by food and he is triumphant.  He is tempted to put the Lord’s Word to the test, and he is triumphant.  And He is tempted to fall down and worship another, and he is triumphant.  And He is triumphant because He is the incarnate Word of God and the perfect Adam.  He refutes the false words of Satan with the true Word of God.

Likewise, the Church has also been given this Word in order to refute Satan.  For Satan is still prowling about on the earth looking for victims.  He tries many different tacts in order to ensnare people.  He tempts us with food, pleasures, and power.  And in all his temptations he seeks to make us fall down and worship something other than the Lord our God.  But our response is to point him to Jesus Christ and say, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  One little word, this Word of Jesus Christ, fells Satan.

For the Church and her people are still battered by Satan.  He seeks to get the Church to interject the words of man into the conversation.  He says, “Did God actually say…?”  And too often the Church hesitates or adds words of its own rather than just simply replying with the Word of God, untainted by human reason or innovation.  For when we add or equivocate, we inevitably fail.  So, in all things we must rely on the pure Word of God for our defense.

So, Jesus’ triumph over the temptations of Satan is the closing half of the shell that was opened by Adam and Eve.  Jesus succeeds where they failed.  He succeeds where we fail.  He is perfect where we are imperfect.  Jesus Christ is not only the perfect God, he is also the perfect man.  In his Baptism, we see him as the Word made flesh.  In his temptations, we see him as the perfect Adam.

And we, as the baptized children of God, are daily dying to the old Adam and being raised to the new, being increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  And since Christ is the image of His Father, that means we are being restored to the image in which God originally created us.  In Baptism we have put off the old Adam and put on Christ instead, like the skins of God’s first sacrifice for our sins.

So, in Jesus’ temptations we get a glimpse of his righteousness.  And later through his death on the cross and his resurrection he wins this righteousness for us so that we too may share in his victory over sin, death, and the devil.  In Baptism, we are given this victory.  In the Lord’s Supper we are given the incarnate Word, Christ’s own body and blood, to eat and drink.  He has removed the wall of separation which kept us apart from God and each other.

Thus, the Lord clothes us with the skins of his righteousness now, and when he returns we will be perfectly conformed to him and fully restored to be the people God intended us to be, just as He will fully restore all creation to be as He intended.  Jesus Christ has undone the Fall and brings us into communion with God and each other.

So in all things we must rely on this Word of God for our salvation, the Word that is freely given to us by God to sustain us in this life and in the life to come.  For, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  And this Word is for you.  Amen.


(Image: “Gesù, pieno di Spirito Santo, si allontanò dal Giordano e fu condotto dallo Spirito nel deserto dove, per quaranta giorni, fu tentato dal diavolo.”  By Francesca Ferrito – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, )