Satan Tempts Christ: Matthew 4:1–4

Satan tempts Christ first (3)

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4) Matt 4:1–4: Immediately after Christ’s baptism confirmed his status as God’s Son, Jesus prepared himself for public ministry with an extensive time of communion with his Father (Matt 3:16–17; Mark 1:12).[1]

He ventured into the Judean wilderness close to where John baptized him.[2]

People in the Ancient Near East considered the desert haunted by evil spirits, as it lay beyond the bounds of civilized society.[3]

According to 1 Enoch (second century BC–first century AD), God commanded this regarding a leader among fallen angels, “Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert which is in Dudael and cast him therein.”[4]

On the Day of Atonement, a designated man led Israel’s scapegoat into the wilderness “to Azazel” (Lev 16:8–10, 20–22, 26),[5] an inaccessible wilderness area inhabited by demonic forces. Once the scapegoat returned the people’s sins to the site where evil originated, those transgressions no longer bound them.[6]

Several centuries after Christ, Antony of Egypt (AD 251–356) lived in seclusion for twenty years, even dwelling in a tomb in the desert.[7]

His biographer recounted these events:

He had requested one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at long intervals. He then entered one of the tombs, the man locked the door on him, and he remained alone within.

This was too much for the Enemy to bear, indeed, he feared that he would presently fill the desert too with his asceticism. So, he came one night with a great number of demons and lashed him so unmercifully that he lay on the ground speechless with the pain.[8]



Jesus, too, entered the desert to confront the Lord’s enemy.

Since the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness, ultimately God initiated this confrontation.[9]

This trial tested Jesus’s ability to obey Deut 6:4–5,[10] a passage repeated by devout Jewish people twice daily even today.[11]

Christ did not engage in spiritual arm-wrestling by pitting the power of the Holy Spirit within him against Satan. Since temptation involves twisting reality, the best defense comes from Scriptural truth.[12]

Many Jewish rabbis of that era employed the format of this debate.[13] Indeed, reciting bible verses provides a helpful pattern for us to follow when dealing with sinful enticement.[14]

All three texts Christ quoted in Matt 4:1–10 are commands the Lord gave to Israel in the wilderness.[15] By undergoing these temptations, Jesus replicated the experiences of both Adam and Israel yet did not succumb to desire (Gen 2:16–17; Gen 3:1–6; Num 21:4–5).[16]

Satan chose to attack after Jesus fasted for forty days, when he was physically weakest.[17]

He aimed to disqualify Christ as a sinless savior and obedient son to disrupt God’s plan to redeem humanity (Phil 2:5–11; Heb 4:14–16; 2 Cor 5:16–21).[18]

While some Bible versions use the word “if” in verse 3, a better translation is, “Since the son of God you are….”[19]

Just like the demon in Mark 1:23–24, the devil knew Jesus’s identity (Cf. James 2:19).[20]

He was saying, “We both know you’re the Son of God, now prove it by helping yourself.”[21]

Would Christ exercise his messianic power to avoid the pain of a normal human life?[22] Or would he accept the path before him of suffering and eventual death?[23]

Jesus responded by quoting part of Deut 8:1–10.

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a) Read Matt 4:1–4. How is this temptation like what Adam and Israel experienced (Gen 3:1–6)? Do you think that the Lord used Satan to fulfill his own purposes? Why or why not? How can we use Jesus’s method of defense when we undergo temptation?





Go to A Second Temptation (Matt 4:5–7)

[Related posts include  A Second Temptation (Matt 4:5–7); The Third Temptation (Matt 4:8–11); Forbidden Fruit (Gen 2:16–17); Serpents in the Ancient Near East (Gen 3:1); A World-Altering Conversation (Gen 3:2–5); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); God Curses the Serpent (Gen 3:14); The First Good News (Gen 3:15); The Accuser (Job 1:6–11 and Job 2:1–7); Satan Addresses the Heavenly Council (Zech 3:1–5); God’s Servant, the Branch (Zech 3:6–10); A Murderer from the Beginning (John 8:42–44); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); New Creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); Receiving Christ’s Righteousness (2 Cor 5:21); Falling for Deception (2 Cor 11:3–4); and An Angel of Light (2 Cor 11:13–15)]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]


[1] Wilkins, Matthew, 154.

[2]Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 63.

[3] Davies and Allison, Matthew 1–7, 354.

[4]Charles, trans., The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch, 10.4, 22–3,

[5]Joanne K. Kuemmerlin-McLean, “Demons: Old Testament” in ABD 2:139–40, 139.

[6]John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1992), 241.

[7]Bradley Nassif, Bringing Jesus to the Desert: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 43–4.

[8]Athanasius, The Life of Saint Antony (Meyer, Robert H., trans. (ACW; New York; Mahwah, NJ: Newman Press, 1978), 26,

[9] Davies and Allison, Matthew 1–7, 360.

[10] Osborne, Matthew, 131.

[11]Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 181.

[12] Wilkins, Matthew, 161.

[13] Davies and Allison, Matthew 1–7, 352.

[14] Wilkins, Matthew, 157.

[15] Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 4:1–11.

[16] Wilkins, Matthew, 156–7.

[17] Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 64.

[18] Wilkins, Matthew, 157.

[18]Danker, et al., “εἰ” (ei), BDAG, 277.

[20] Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 65.

[21] Osborne, Matthew, 132.

[22] Wilkins, Matthew, 158.

[23] Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 65.