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In Matthew 4:1-11, the temptation of Jesus is described. He was tempted to:

Turn stones into bread

2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Throw himself off the temple

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Worship the devil

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (NIV)

I understand why the third test was a sin, Jesus explains the commandment to worship God only. However, I don't understand why the other two were sinful. Jesus turned water into wine, why is it considered sinful for him to turn stones into bread? His answer talks about choosing the spirit over the body, but if you don't, is that a sin?

Additionally, if he had jumped off the temple and the angels saved him, why would that have been sinful? Jesus' answer talks about not putting God to the test - is that a commentary on the devil's intentions? How does that make it sinful?

  • @elikakohen What is the relevance of commandments-of-jesus to this question? – b a Apr 12 '19 at 13:22
  • @elikakohen That may be true of the verses quoted, but the question itself has nothing to do with that concept, does it? – b a Apr 14 '19 at 16:24
  • @ba - It is simply intended as a search tag, because personally - I would like to go through and find more topics related to NT commandments and tag them for research. It is probably one of the most important doctrinal aspects of Christianity. For example, we even have a tag for "ten-commandments", and other Jewish topics. I am not certain why this is so different. – elika kohen Apr 14 '19 at 20:56
  • I tagged a few others to illustrate the importance of the tag. – elika kohen Apr 14 '19 at 21:00
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Basic principles

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 Book House.

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.

Concluding thoughts

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.

  • Good Answer! I think you've found out how this site works, and are gaining traction. Continue the fine effort! – Tau Mar 28 '15 at 7:48
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The sin would have been in acting contrary to the will of his Father that was known to him.

Stones into Bread

Twice in Matthew's gospel Jesus feeds thousands with a few loaves (chapters 14 and 15). John adds that the crowd wanted to make Jesus king by force. This was the temptation, then, to solve the problems of the world in the wrong way. He could easily become King by giving people what they wanted, but that was not to be God's way. Jesus never presents himself as someone who was trying to please people and give them what they wanted - for example, he would withdraw from the crowds, or he would give them a hard saying.

Throw himself off the temple

Just after the second mass feeding the Pharisees asked for a sign (16:1). This was the temptation to assert his authority through miracles. But no, consistently when he heals people he commands them to tell no-one and he tells the Pharisees here that the only sign they'll get is the sign of Jonah. He doesn't want people to follow him just because of miracles. The temptation is again for Jesus to do things in a way other than according to God's plan.

Worship the devil

The temptation here is to aim for ruling the world like a normal king. He could easily have done so, but in order to do so, he would have had to do things in a way other than God's way ("My kingdom is not of this world" in John 18), which would be equivalent to bowing down to Satan.

These other ways would have been easier for him than the way he had to go through, and that's why they are tempting. This struggle culminates in Matthew 26:42 - "Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

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First Temptation:

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus to fast, which means that breaking His fast before His Father commanded would have been disobedience, which is a sin.

31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

Second temptation:

You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

It is a sin to test God.

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Temptation to Eat Bread on a Fast

Jesus was clearly intending to fast going into the desert; that's why He went.

Matthew 4:1-2 (ESV)

Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

The devil wanted Jesus to give into the hunger he was offering to God and thus destroy what would have been a virtuous act pleasing to God, and deprived God of a good Jesus intended to offer to Him. By consenting, Jesus would be sinning with him and his evil wishes.

Proverbs 1:10 (DRB) My son, if sinners shall entice thee, consent not to them.

Attempt What would essentially be Suicide

The devil wanted Christ to commit suicide. I say suicide because the devil knew God doesn't just send angels to carry those who specifically tempt Him and make a mockery of His aid. Meaning anyone who attempted suicide and provoked God by 'forcing' Him to 'live up' to His promises, would absolutely die and have no help from Him.

Judith 8:11-13 (DRB)

And who are you that tempt the Lord? 12 This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath, and enkindle indignation. 13 You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord, and you have appointed him a day, according to your pleasure.

That God will protect His saints isn't a formula for deliberately going to get hurt to 'test' whether He is a liar or not—which is what the devil was asking Jesus to do (because Jesus had no intention or need to do this 'trick').

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One of the restrictions God had placed on himself when he submitted to being made into the form of a man was that he could not use miracles to help himself. He didn't call on the angels to help him escape the cross, or exempt himself from stress or hunger. Its the same temptation. Scripture indicated that his time of fasting was over and he was hungry. He hadn't got back to town yet, so wasn't forsaking his fast. The limitations of being a man meant that he could not ease his discomfort by otherworldly means. Like a superhero that isn't allowed to use his super strength for his own benefit, but only for the benefit of others. "So that he could be tempted like we are"

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Throw ourself down; This would have been gross disrespect for his life & a showey display, lacking humility, thus trying to force God to act for a non just reason, an abuse of power!

The Stones, Satan whated Jesus to use his power for selfish reasons just like Satan used his power for selfish reasons, to gain power over humans. Jesus would wait on God to feed him.

Its Only The Devil who abuses power, not God.

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What was sinful about the acts that Jesus was tempted to perform?

God wants exclusive devotion, that is "God wants to be love exclusively" therefore any form of worship to others is tantamount to rejecting him.(Exodus 34:14 (NRSV)

Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness with three very strong temptations, to test him on his devotion to his father , on all three occasions and without hesitation, He rejected them, using the scriptures to reply.

The Temptations of Christ.

Read Matthew 4:1-4 NRSV

Turn stones into bread

1 "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.:2“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

3" The tempter came and said to him, 4 But he answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."(Deut. 8:3)

After spending 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness Jesus must be very weakened and hungry. Satan approaches Jesus and tries to appeal to his fleshy desires , and in a subtle way says:“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

So what does Satan hoped to achieve by this temptation? Satan played on Jesus fleshy desire to satisfy his hunger, He could have easily used his miraculous powers to turn the stones into bread, but he new that it was wrong to do so for personal benefit , and so break his fasting.

Matthew 4:5-7 NRSV

Throw himself off the temple

5 "Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”(Deuteronomy 6:16)

The Devil then challenged Jesus to jump off the temple pinnacle and test God’s ability to protect him by means of His angels. What was Satan hoping to accomplish? Satan played on his pride , hoping that Jesus would hurl himself and make a showy display, a fool of himself just to prove to Satan that God cared for him. Jesus refused the dare, to put his Father to test , He was aware that his father cared for him, on his baptism , God said: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”(Mat. 3:17)

Worship the devil

Matthew 4:8-10

8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Deut. 6:13)

Finally ,Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for a single act of worship, it is note worthy here to mention that Jesus did not contradict his claim, that the kingdoms belonged to him. Jesus without hesitation refused to do any form of worship which would have been equivalent to rejecting God as the supreme authority. God demands exclusive devotion.

Revelation 4:11 (NRSV)

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Isaiah 42:8 (NRSV)

8" I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols."

Conclusion.

Satan introduced the first two temptations with the following subtle words "If you are the Son of God",perhaps the tempter wanted to make Jesus doubt that His Father loved and cared for him. In actual sense he was saying to Jesus, if you Father cared for you, why does he not feed you,He fed the Israelites?. And since you God's Son, if you hurl yourself from the temple ,He will certainly send his angels to save you, by doing so Jesus would have shown that he doubt his Father love .

In the third temptation Satan showed his true self, he abandoned his cunning approach and revealed that he wanted Jesus to abandon his Father and worship him. Satan offered Jesus an easy way out, there is no need for you to suffer, no scourging or be nailed and die on the cross , just simply do an act of worship to me, and I will give you the kindoms of the world.

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Not tempting (testing) God and having no other gods before Him, are both pretty much well explained in Scripture.

The first temptation might be better understood if written backwards:

Man shall live by every word that proceeds FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD, not only bread.

It wasn't God that was telling Jesus how to live, but the devil. If that was the only way Jesus could live, then he would be violating the commandment to seek life from the words of God instead.

Both of the other two temptations can be understood in these terms as well. The second and third temptations also encourage Jesus to find life apart from God's word, contrary to the commandment.

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