Matthew 4: Tempted in the Wilderness
Sometimes when we read of all the good, kind things that the Lord said and did we think, "O yes, it was easy for the Lord to do right." But it was not always easy, and our story today is one of the stories that show us that the Lord was tempted as we are to say and do things that were not good, and that there were times when these temptations made Him unhappy. The story shows, too, how the Lord did when He was tempted, that He was prompt and strong in refusing to do wrong.
It was after the Lord's baptism at the Jordan. There was desert country near the Jordan, especially on the west side toward the lower part of the river, and to the west of the Dead Sea. This was a very wild country of bare, rocky hills and valleys, with little that was green or beautiful. It was called the wilderness of Judea. This was the desert in which John the Baptist lived in the early part of his life, and it may have been in the same desert that the Lord was for a time after His baptism, where He was tempted. The rough old cliff near Jericho (called Mount Quarantania, or Karantel, in memory of the Lord's forty days of fasting) has been thought of as the place of the temptations, and hermits have gone to live there in the caves, feeling that it was a holy place. The
desert country where the Lord was in this time of temptation was a sort of picture of the desert within.
And who brought the unhappiness to the Lord? Angels did not do it, but evil spirits, who are called the devil and Satan. Evil spirits try to make us do wrong and to make us unhappy, and they tried still more to make the Lord do wrong.
But the Lord refused. He would not do wrong. He did not hesitate or delay, but answered the tempter promptly and surely. And He did something else that made Him strong. He repeated the words from the Scripture, which told that the thing was wrong. There is a power in the words of Scripture which evil spirits cannot stand, but which angels love. "Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him." What the Lord did shows us what we ought to do when we are tempted to do wrong. If we answer promptly as He did, and remember the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not," the Lord will help us and make us strong. Let me read you verses 1-11.
Let me read a little more about the Lord, and how He called some of the men who would be His faithful disciples and go with Him and help in His teaching and good works. The Lord was walking by the Sea of Galilee, for He had left Nazareth and made His home in Capernaum. This was a busy town where traders were passing back and forth, where farmers lived who had gardens in the rich meadows near by, and fishermen who caught fish in the lake. Sometimes they sailed out on the water in their boats, and then they drew up by the beach to throw their nets from the shore or to dry and mend their nets. This is what the fishermen were doing as the Lord walked along the shore, and He called them to come. He called first two brothers, Simon and Andrew, and a little farther on two other brothers, James and John. They came quickly when He called, and they went with the Lord, to learn what He had to teach them and to help Him in His work. Read verses 18-25.
Today let us read verses 1-11 of our chapter and then talk a little about them.
"Then" was Jesus led into the "wilderness." It was after the baptism in the Jordan. We do not know just what part of the wilderness it was, but a picture of the old cliff near Jericho brings to mind the desolate, barren character of the country bordering the lower Jordan and the Dead Sea on the west.
"Tempted of the devil." "Get thee hence, Satan." The names mean evil spirits of hell, who tempt us by stirring up the evil in our minds and hearts. The name "devil" means especially spirits who delight in evil that is opposed to goodness, and "Satan" spirits who delight in falsity which is opposed to truth. Notice how it is said that when the devil left the Lord, angels came. They do not bring temptation, but comfort and peace.
Notice the three temptations: to make stones His bread; the temptation from the pinnacle of the temple; and the temptation from the mountain. What is said about the pinnacle of the temple and about the mountain from which was a view of all the kingdoms of the world cannot be meant literally; the account of the temptations is a sort of parable in which the Lord described to the disciples temptations which came to Him not only at this time but at many times in His life. The temptations seem little in the story, but they represent deep interior conflicts. Such temptations came to the Lord continually, from childhood on, and were more severe than any man can conceive of or believe.
The Lord gives us an example in temptation, in the promptness and decision of His answers, and in His use of the words of Scripture which condemn the wrong and bring strength to resist it. How little our temptations are in comparison with the Lord's! And yet, how we hesitate and delay! Are we not ashamed to be so weak and cowardly? And remember how the Lord stood alone in resisting the strength of all the hells; but He shields us from their power, and if we trust Him and do our little part He gives us victory.
Turn to your map as you read of the Lord's change of home from Nazareth to Capernaum. And look at the map that shows the tribes to see where the lots of Zebulon and Naphtali were. Read Isaiah 9:1, 2, and notice the still more familiar prophecy of the Lord in verses 6 and 7 of the same chapter. The Lord went to live in Capernaum and began His public preaching, when He heard that John was cast into prison. Do you remember the story of John's imprisonment? You find it in Luke 3 18-20. This Herod was the ruler of Galilee and Perea, the region east of Jordan; and the place of John's imprisonment (so Josephus tells us) was the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains east of the Dead Sea. Notice that the Lord took up the work which John laid down, in the very words of John, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The walking by the shore and the calling of four men from their nets brings before us the beautiful Sea of Galilee and its fisher people which figure so much in the story from this time on. The Lord calls us all to be disciples, and in a sense we all must leave our nets to follow Him. It may not mean the giving up of natural occupations, but giving them up as merely natural occupations and using them as means of doing the Lord's heavenly work. The last verses of the chapter give a picture of the life of busy usefulness that the Lord lived on earth. Peter once summed up the story of the Lord's life in the saying that He "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38), and John's Gospel testifies that the world could not contain the full record of the things that He did. (John 21:25)
You need your map again as you read of His fame going through all Syria (the region to the north and east of Palestine, sometimes including Palestine itself), and as you see the people gathering from Galilee and Decapolis (ten cities, mostly east of Jordan), and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond Jordan.
1. What words will be especially useful to us when we are tempted to be unkind? Untruthful?
2. What other times do you remember when angels ministered to the Lord?
3. How long had the Lord's home been in Nazareth? What city was now to be His home?
4. Which of the Lord's disciples were fishermen? What were they now to be?
5. Please draw me a map of the Sea of Galilee.
What particulars that are told of the scene of the Lord's temptation are plainly representative of the spiritual state? He was in the wilderness, which suggests the barrenness and unloveliness of the state of conflict. One Gospel adds that "He was with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13), and the beasts were the evil passions, and the devils who aroused them, which He overcame. Forty days and forty nights are mentioned. Forty, and especially forty nights, is often associated with temptations. For example the forty days and nights of rain which caused the flood, the forty years of Israel's desert journey. (A. 730, 8098; E. 730)
Think of the three temptations; they are representative of all the Lord's temptations. The first, to make the stones His bread, represents in general the temptation to be satisfied with a natural life rather than with living the Divine truth - every word of God. The temptation in the holy city, on the pinnacle of the temple, represents the temptation to be puffed up with intellectual pride and to use the Divine truth for personal honor. A city and temple are associated with intellectual strength. The temptation on the exceeding high mountain is the temptation of self-love and the desire to rule over others. A mountain is a type of exalted affection good or bad. (A. 2813, 9003; E. 405)
John was cast into prison, which represents the larger truth, that good life in obedience to the commandments was rejected among men. The Lord then came forth to embody in His own person and to teach the repentance and obedience that is the necessary basis of heavenly life. He went into Galilee, which represents the plane of outward life; He left Nazareth for Capernaum, the sphere of inward labor, for that of outward use and conflict in the world. Zebulon (union) suggests the bringing down of the Divine into human life, and Naphtali (strife) suggests the conflict through which this must be accomplished. The position of Capernaum by the sea is in keeping with this coming of the Lord with Divine help into the affairs of outward life, for the sea represents these lower states and interests. And this is emphasized when presently we read of the Lord's walking by the sea and calling fishermen to be His disciples. (E. 447) The abundant fruitfulness of the Divine power which the Lord brought into the plane of practical life is suggested by the good works enumerated in the last verses of the chapter, and its availability for people of every kind by the multitude gathered from places near and far.
Give a closer thought to the Lord's calling of fishermen to be disciples, and to His promise to make them fishers of men. As it had been their work to draw fish from the sea, so it would now be their work to lift men up from a merely natural life to a realization of heavenly use and blessing. The men called to be disciples were representative of the several faculties of mind that can be of service in this work. Simon and Andrew are intellectual powers, the power of learning the Lord's truth and of obeying it. James and John are the heavenly loves for the neighbor and for the Lord. They are brothers, two and two; and all are partners. (Luke 5:10) The powers of intellect are first called, and the heavenly loves when the Lord has gone on a little further. (E. 820, 821)