1. The Sources:
The sources for this event areMar 1:12, Mar 1:13; Mat 4:1-11; Luk 4:1-13; compare Heb 2:18; Heb 4:15, Heb 4:16, and see GETHSEMANE. Mark is probably a condensation; Mt and Luke have the same source, probably the discourses of Jesus. Matthew is usually regarded as nearest the original, and its order is here followed.
2. Time and Place:
The Temptation is put immediately after the Baptism by all the synoptists, and this is psychologically necessary, as, we shall see. The place was the wilderness; it was “up” from the Jordan valley (Matthew), and was on the way back to Galilee (Luke). The traditional site, Mt. Quarantana, is probably a good guess.
At His baptism, Jesus received from heaven the final confirmation of His thought that He was the Messiah. It was the greatest conception which ever entered a human mind and left it sane. Under the irresistible influence of the Spirit, He turned aside to seek out in silence and alone the principles which should govern Him in His Messianic work. This was absolutely necessary to any wise prosecution of it. Without the slightest precedent Jesus must determine what a Messiah would do, how He would act. Radical critics agree that, if such a period of meditation and conflict were not recorded, it would have to be assumed. By this conflict, Jesus came to that clearness and decision which characterized His ministry throughout. It is easy to see how this determination of guiding principles involved the severest temptation, and it is noteworthy that all the temptation is represented as coming from without, and none from within. Here too He must take His stand with reference to all the current ideas about the Messiah and His work.
4. The Reporter:
Jesus alone can be the original reporter. To this Holtzmann and J. Weiss agree. The report was given for the sake of the disciples, for the principles wrought out in this conflict are the guiding principles in the whole work of the kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus was so intensely absorbed that He forgot to eat. There was nothing ascetic or ritualistic about it, and so this is no example for ascetic fasting for us. It is doubtful whether the text demands absolute abstinence from food; rather, long periods of fasting, and insufficient food when He had it. At the end of the forty days, He woke to the realization that He was a starving man.
(2) The First Temptation.
The first temptation is not a temptation to doubt His Messiahship, nor is the second either. “If thou art the Son of God,” i.e. “the Messiah,” means, simply, “since thou art the Son of God” (see Burton, Moods and Tenses, sections 244, 245; Robertson, Short Grammar, 161). There was not the slightest doubt on this point in Jesus' mind after the baptism, and Satan knew it. There is no temptation to prove Himself the Messiah, nor any hint of such a thing in Jesus' replies. The very point of it all is, How are you going to act, since you are Messiah? (Mat 4:3 parallel Luk 4:3).
The temptation has these elements: (a) The perfectly innocent craving for food is imperious in the starving man. (b) Why should He not satisfy His hunger, since He is the Son of God and has the power? Jesus replies fromDeu 8:3, that God can and will provide Him bread in His own way and in His own time. He is not referring to spiritual food, which is not in question either here or in Deuteronomy (see Broadus' just and severe remark here). He does not understand how God will provide, but He will wait and trust. Divinely-assured of Messiahship, He knows that God will not let Him perish. Here emerges the principle of His ministry; He will never use His supernatural power to help Himself. Objections based on Luk 4:30 and Joh 10:39 are worthless, as nothing miraculous is there implied. The walking on the water was to help the apostles' faith. But why would it have been wrong to have used His supernatural power for Himself? Because by so doing He would have refused to share the human lot, and virtually have denied His incarnation. If He is to save others, Himself He cannot save (Mat 27:42). In passing, it is well to notice that “the temptations all turn on the conflict which arises, when one, who is conscious of supernatural power, feels that there are occasions, when it would not be right to exercise it.” So the miraculous is here most deeply imbedded in the first principles of Messianic action.
(3) The Second Temptation.
The pinnacle of the temple was probably the southeast corner of the roof of the Royal Cloister, 326 ft. above the bottom of the Kidron valley. The proposition was not to leap from this height into the crowd below in the temple courts, as is usually said, for (a) there is no hint of the people in the narrative; (b) Jesus reply does not fit such an idea; it meets another temptation entirely; (c) this explanation confuses the narrative, making the second temptation a short road to glory like the third; (d) it seems a fantastic temptation, when it is seriously visualized. Rather Satan bids Jesus leap into the abyss outside the temple. Why then the temple at all, and not some mountain precipice? asks Meyer. Because it was the sheerest depth well known to the Jews, who had all shuddered as they had looked down into it (Mat 4:5-7 parallel Luk 4:5-8).
The first temptation proved Jesus a man of faith, and the second is addressed to Him as such, asking Him to prove His faith by putting God's promise to the test. It is the temptation to fanaticism, which has been the destruction of many a useful servant of God Jesus refuses to yield, for yielding would have been sin. It would have been (a) wicked presumption, as though God must yield to every unreasonable whim of the man, of faith, and so would have been a real “tempting” of God; (b) it would have denied His incarnation in principle, like the first temptation; (c) such fanaticism. would have destroyed His ministry. So the principle was evolved: Jesus will not, of self-will, run into dangers, but will avoid them except in the clear path of duty. He will be no fanatic, running before the Spirit, but will be led by Him in paths of holy sanity and heavenly wisdom. Jesus waited on God.
(4) The Third Temptation.
The former tests have proved Jesus a man of faith and of common sense. Surely such a man will take the short and easy road to that universal dominion which right-fully belongs to the Messiah. Satan offers it, as the prince of this world. The lure here is the desire for power, in itself a right instinct, and the natural and proper wish to avoid difficulty and pain. That the final object is to set up a universal kingdom of God in righteousness adds to the subtlety of the temptation. But as a condition Satan demands that Jesus shall worship him. This must be symbolically interpreted. Such worship as is offered God cannot be meant, for every pious soul would shrink from that in horror, and for Jesus it could constitute no temptation at all. Rather a compromise with Satan must be meant - such a compromise as would essentially be a submission to him. Recalling the views of the times and the course of Jesus ministry, we can think this compromise nothing else than the adoption by Jesus of the program of political Messiahship, with its worldly means of war, intrigue, etc. Jesus repudiates the offer. He sees in it only evil, for (a) war, especially aggressive war, is to His mind a vast crime against love, (b) it changes the basis of His kingdom from the spiritual to the external, (c) the means would defeat the end, and involve Him in disaster. He will serve God only, and God is served in righteousness. Only means which God approves can be used (Mat 4:8-11 parallel Luk 4:9-13). Here then is the third great principle of the kingdom: Only moral and spiritual means to moral and spiritual ends. He turns away from worldly methods to the slow and difficult way of truth-preaching, which can end only with the cross. Jesus must have come from His temptation with the conviction that His ministry meant a life-and-death struggle with all the forces of darkness.
6. The Character of the Narrative:
As we should expect of Jesus, He throws the story of the inner conflict of His soul into story form. So only could it be understood by all classes of men in all ages. It was a real struggle, but pictorially, symbolically described. This seems to be proved by various elements in the story, namely, the devil can hardly be conceived as literally taking Jesus from place to place. There is no mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. This view of the matter relieves all the difficulties.
7. How Could a Sinless Christ Be Tempted?:
The difficulty is that there can be no drawing toward an object unless the object seems desirable. But the very fact that a sinful object seems desirable is itself sin. How then can a sinless person really be tempted at all? Possibly an analysis of each temptation will furnish the answer. In each ease the appeal was a real appeal to a perfectly innocent natural instinct or appetite. In the first temptation, it was to hunger; in the second, to faith; in the third, to power as a means of establishing righteousness. In each ease, Jesus felt the tug and pull of the natural instinct; how insistent is the demand of hunger, for instance! Yet, when He perceived that the satisfaction of these desires was sinful under the conditions, He immediately refused their clamorous appeal. It was a glorious moral victory. It was not that He was metaphysically not able to sin, but that He was so pure that He was able not to sin. He did not prove in the wilderness that He could not be tempted, but that He could overcome the tempter. If it is then said that Jesus, never having sinned, can have no real sympathy with sinners, the answer is twofold: (1) Not he who falls at the first assault feels the full force of temptation, but he who, like Jesus, resists it through long years to the end. (2) Only the victor can help the vanquished; only he, who has felt the most dreadful assaults and yet has stood firm, can give the help needed by the fallen.
Broadus on Matthew in the place cited.; Rhees, Life of Jesus of Nazareth, secs. 91-96; Sanday, Outlines of the Life of Christ, section 13; Holtzmann, Hand-Commentar, I, 67 f; J. Weiss, Die Schriften des New Testament, I, 227 f; Weiss, Life of Christ, I, 337-54; Dods, article “Temptation,” in DCG; Carvie, Expository Times, X (1898-99).
Taken from: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor