A Question Of Life Matthew 4:4

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.—Matthew 4:4.

1. The Temptation Story.—Our Lord's temptation, next to His death and passion, is the greatest event recorded of Him in the Gospels. The reason of this is evident. It was the Messiah's first encounter with His great enemy, Satan. Viewed aright, the scene so simply and briefly described in Scripture is the most terrific that can be imagined, as well as the most sublime; for we cannot forget that it is none other than a contest, on the issue of which depended the salvation of all mankind. On the one side was the Eternal Son, made flesh; sinless indeed, yet compassed with all the infirmity of man's fallen nature: on the other, the chief of the fallen angels, Satan; that old serpent who, in the beginning by deceiving our first parents, had brought death and sin and sorrow into the world. Satan knows his rival, and yet he knows Him but partially. He strides out to meet Him in desperate duel, as Goliath did the stripling whom he despised; and both hosts pause and gaze.

(1) In all probability the temptation of our Lord followed immediately upon the baptism, for St. Mark uses the word “straightway,” and St. Luke states that Jesus returned from Jordan full of the Spirit and was led by Him into the wilderness. It was, moreover, the natural counterpart of the baptism, which had ended with the declaration of the Divine Sonship of Jesus. From this the tempter takes his first occasion of evil suggestion, while Jesus takes the next step in the fulfilment of all righteousness by meeting the attacks of evil on the same footing as all men since the first temptation. That was the ordering of His Father in Heaven, to fit Him more perfectly for His work, by giving Him an experimental acquaintance with the force of our temptations day by day. But probably His own reason for going away from the crowds into a desert place was to have more undisturbed communion with His Father and to meditate upon the great work given Him to do. Yet into these holy hours the tempter came; and what He expected would be a time of calm and hallowed intercourse with Heaven was turned into a time of dire conflict with all the subtlety of hell.

(2) Our Lord was “in the wilderness alone”—in St. Mark's graphic description, “with the wild beasts.” There were none but heavenly witnesses of the mysterious experiences of those forty days; no human eyes witnessed them; and their record, therefore, is due to no human observation. The ultimate source of information must have been our Lord Himself, as the most rigorous criticism admits. His disciples would not have been likely to think that He could be tempted to evil; and, if they had supposed that He could, they would have imagined quite different temptations for Him, as various legends of the saints show. The form, therefore, in which the temptations are described is probably our Lord's, chosen by Him as the best means of conveying the essential facts to the minds of His followers.

(3) It does not follow, because the temptations are described separately, that they took place separately, one ceasing before the next began. Temptations may be simultaneous or interlaced; and, in describing these three, Matthew and Luke are not agreed about the order. Nor does it follow, because the sphere of the temptation changes, that the locality in which Christ was at the moment was changed. We need not suppose that the devil had control over our Lord's Person and took Him through the air from place to place: he directs His thoughts to this or that. The change of scene is mental. From no high mountain could more than a small fraction of the world be seen; but the glory of all the kingdoms of the world could be suggested to the mind. Nor again do the words, “The tempter came and said unto him,” imply that anything was seen by the eye or heard by the ear; any one might describe his own temptations in a similar way. What these words do imply is that the temptations came to Christ from the outside; they were not the result, as many of our temptations are, of previous sin.

2. The First Temptation.—The temptation was real. The mystery of His humanity—a humanity real in soul as in body—made Him capable of temptation; made temptation a conflict and a suffering; made victory a thing to be fought for—the victory not of an insensible, impassive Divinity, but of a manhood indwelt by the Spirit.

(1) For forty days and nights He had been alone in the wilderness. St. Mark and St. Luke inform us that during the whole of that time He was tempted of the devil; and the former perhaps indicates one method of temptation which may have been tried, in adding “and he was with the wild beasts.” It may have been attempted by terror to shake the Redeemer's firmness of purpose. But of this Scripture leaves us in uncertainty; and it is not till the end of the forty days that we are permitted to witness the forms which His temptation assumed. At that time we find Him exhausted with His long abstinence from food.

He was hungry, grievously hungry. He was experiencing to the full extent that strong craving of our nature which sometimes turns men into brutes. His tongue was parched and blackened with the terrible heat of the wilderness. He was worn out with hunger. Every circumstance conspired to render the allurement of food as strong as possible. The pitiless blue, like brass above; the barren wilderness around Him, where roam the prowling beasts. Son of God? Did He look like the Son of God, without accompaniment of angel or of glory? Was it not a fancy and a dream?

(2) The wilderness in which He kept His lonely vigil for forty days, the hunger and exhaustion which He felt after His long fast and travail of soul, were all symbols and evidences of the curse of man. Satan came to Him while He was suffering from these effects of Adam's sin, and suggested to Him an easy method by which they might be removed. By a miracle, the curse would be neutralized and His wants supplied. The food which the wilderness like a miser refused could be wrung by force from its grasp. Faithful to the just and wise law of barrenness imposed upon it by God, it could be made conveniently disobedient by the arbitrary exercise of Divine power. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Use Thy Divine power to procure comfort; choose a life of ease and abundance, instead of the bare hard stones of the wilderness.

(3) Jesus overcomes the solicitation of evil as a pious man and as a believing Israelite. His mind is saturated with the Bible, and a word of it which meets the case leaps instinctively to His tongue. The passage which Jesus quotes is from the Book of Deuteronomy, in which the spiritual lessons of the leadings of Israel as God's Son in the wilderness are drawn out. In Deu_8:1-3 the hunger suffered during forty years in the wilderness, and its relief by the gift of manna, was to teach the people that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The bearing of the words on Christ's hunger is twofold: first, He will not use His miraculous powers to provide food, for that would be to distrust God, and so to cast off His filial dependence; second, He will not separate Himself from His brethren and provide for Himself by a way not open to them, for that would really be to reverse the very purpose of His incarnation and to defeat His whole work.

to be continued