One of the basic principles of understanding the text of scripture is to allow the text to explain its self in the original context and setting. Here we have three temptations. We know they are temptations because we are told in v1 that Jesus' purpose in going to the wilderness was to face the tempter (see also Mk 1:12-13 & Luke 4:1-2)
If the nature of the temptations is not clear from the words of the devil himself then the response of Jesus will also provide insight especially when we realise that he uses Biblical texts in every case.
Stones into Bread
In the immediate context we note that Jesus is hungry
Matt 4:1-2 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and
forty nights, afterward He was hungry. [NKJV]
And the Devil comes to him and says, "If you are the son of God feed yourself by turning the stones into bread." On the surface that sounds like a reasonable suggestion. What is wrong with providing food for yourself when you are hungry?
However Jesus responds with:
Matt 4:4 "It is written,`Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
That is a quote of Deut 8:3
The context of the quote in Deut. 8:3 Moses is recalling the period of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness (8:2), during which God supernaturally provided them manna to eat in order to teach the principle that people do not live by bread alone.
The point of Moses' teaching is that the Israelites were not able to provide for themselves, so God had to intervene miraculously. Likewise, their clothes did not wear out or their feet swell for forty years (8:4). God did not prevent them from meeting their physical needs, but he provided for them in a way that dramatically reminded them of their need to depend entirely on him.1
So the text Jesus cites underscores the need to depend upon God’s provision rather then reliance upon ones own abilities. That principle applies equally well to Jesus’ situation and to any other context in which people are tempted to give physical needs priority over spiritual needs. One commentator puts it like this:
What Jesus means, therefore, may be paraphrased as follows: “Tempter,
you are proceeding upon the false assumption that for a man, in order
to appease hunger and keep alive, bread is absolutely necessary. Over
against this erroneous idea I now declare that not bread but the
creative, energizing, and sustaining power of my Father is the only
indispensable source of my, and of man’s, life and well-being.”
Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of
the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 227). Grand Rapids: Baker
Of course, one might picture the devil replying, "but that is the exact demonstration of God's power that I am asking of you" however we must understand that the devil asking Jesus to break his fast and use his own divine power to his merely satisfy himself which would be a demonstration of unwillingness to trust in God, which is precisely what the manna was given for in the wilderness, it was to cause the people to depend upon God.
Summary of the fist temptation this was a faith test, will Jesus trust in God to provide or will he take matters into his own hands.
Throw himself of the temple
The devil has seen that Jesus' faith in the provision of the Father is unshakeable so his next temptation focuses upon that faith.
Matt 4:5-6 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on
the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of
God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
He shall give His angels
charge over you,' and,In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you
dash your foot against a stone.'"
We could paraphrase his words in this way "You trust God to provide, well the bible says that the Father will provide for your complete safety so throw yourself off here"
Jesus responds with a quote from a quote from Deut 6:16
Matt 4:7 Jesus said to him, "It is written again,`You shall not tempt
the LORD your God.'"
The context of the quote Deut 6 begins with the reaffirmation by Moses of some of the most fundamental commands of God given at Sinai. The Israelites are preparing to enter the promised land but before they do so they must recall their obligations to God (6:1–3). These include recognizing him alone as God and loving him with all their beings (6:4–5). Their clothing and conversation must regularly remind them of his precepts (6:6–9). They must not forget the Lord once they settle into their new homeland and experience his blessing (6:10–12). And they dare not run after the gods of the nations that they dispossess (6:13–15). It is precisely in this context that Moses reminds the Israelites that they should not put God to the kind of test (or trial, temptation) that they did at Massah (6:16). 2
Moses is alluding to Exod 17:7 when the people demanded that Moses provide them with drink. They did not believe that God was caring for them and so they made inappropriate demands.
Summary of second temptation the devil was asking Jesus to go a step further then the Israelites in the wilderness, he was just asking Jesus to test God faithfulness in provision he was asking Jesus to manufacture a false situation in an attempt to force God's hand rather then relying upon normal (mundane) means of provision (ie not throwing himself of the pinnacle)
See the NAC commentary
We must not test God’s faithfulness to his word by manufacturing
situations in which we try to force him to act in certain ways. We
dare not deliberately put our lives in danger as some kind of fleece.
Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 85). Nashville:
Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The first temptation was to doubt the provision of God and the second was to presume upon it.
1 Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (pp. 14–15). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.
2 Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (pp. 16–17). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.