The setting is Jesus in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil (vs. 1) and the second temptation is for Jesus to hurl himself down from a pinnacle in the temple “in the holy city” (vss. 5 & 6). The devil is, again, trying to get Jesus disbelieving the very words of God in heaven to him at his baptism 40 days earlier: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Mat. 3:17) Satan casts doubt on this by saying to Jesus, If thou be the Son of God…’

The question asked here arises because Jesus resists that temptation by answering,

“It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (vs. 7, KJV)

So, just who exactly was Satan tempting?


5 Answers 5


According to the words in Mt 4:1, it is Jesus who is being tempted.

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

The temptations that were devised for Jesus all had the purpose of turning him away from his mission, which was to serve the Father and to do His will. Reference Mt 20:28 :

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mt 20:28

In Matthew 4: 5-7, Satan tempted Jesus to prove his identity, to show that he is indeed the Son of God.

“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.” – Mt 4:6

In actuality, the trap that was set was for Jesus to do the devil’s will and not the will of the Father. It would have served Satan’s purposes if Jesus had done what he suggested, regardless of how the Father responded or what might happen after.

If we accept that it is Jesus who is being tempted, then there remains the riddle of Jesus’ answer. To whom do his words apply? To God the Father or to himself? If he is the one being tempted, then the logical conclusion is that the words apply to Jesus. Central to Satan’s temptation is the question of Jesus' identity. By applying the quote from Deut 6:16 to himself, Jesus affirms his identity as the Son of God by claiming for himself the full honor and glory of what such a relationship implies.

  • 2
    Your question is important: "To whom do his words apply? To God the Father or to himself? Central to Satan's temptation is the issue of Jesus' identity..." Surely Satan knew from whence Jesus came?
    – Lesley
    Apr 6, 2023 at 16:34
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    @Lesley - I agree with you that Satan knew Jesus' true identity (cf Lk 4:41), which is why I believe there was a hidden motive behind the tempter's words.
    – Nhi
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:42
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    @Anne - (edited comment) I have edited the last paragraph of my answer. I hope the change satisfies your inquiry. BTW, your question is deceptively simple but truly inspired, I think. – Nhi
    – Nhi
    Apr 7, 2023 at 0:04
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    @Anne - Perhaps "simplicity" is not the right word, or rather the simplicity lies not in your question but in the passage itself - in how such a massive point could lie hidden in plain sight as it were. I do not know of any other place where Jesus states so explicitly the implications of his identity as the Son of God.
    – Nhi
    Apr 7, 2023 at 16:45
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    You are correct. But there are 406 places in the NT where 'Lord' is applied to Jesus. The Father God is also called 'Lord'. Examining all of that shows some very clear connections of deity between the Son of God and the Father.
    – Anne
    Apr 7, 2023 at 17:28

The word in v7 is actually "test" [EKPEIRASEIS]. The word "tempt" has picked up modern overtones which make it an unhelpful translation nowadays.

The point of the answer is that if Jesus allowed himself to make the experiment suggested by Satan, then he, Jesus, would be testing his Father, which is what they have been commanded not to do.

Jesus is quoting the command from Deuteronomy ch6 v16; "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him as Massah" (RSV). Deuteronomy, in turn, is referring to the episode in Exodus ch17 vv1-7. This is when the people were finding fault with Moses and demanded that he help them, because there was a shortage of water. As a result, Moses "called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because they put the Lord to the proof by saying 'Is the Lord among us or not?'" (v7).

The devil's proposal is that Jesus should throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, to see if God would send angels to help him, for the purpose of discovering whether or not "you are the Son of God". But this would have been precisely what the Israelites were doing at Massah. It would have been "putting the Lord to the proof".

That is why Jesus reminds him that we have all been commanded not to do anything of the kind.

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    +1. Excellent answer to trace the quotes back. Satan is inciting Jesus to put the Father to the text, or "tempt" the father.
    – Dottard
    Apr 2, 2023 at 21:35

Satan is tempting Jesus. If, however, Jesus had succumbed to the temptation, he (Jesus) would be "tempting" God. This is why Jesus answers as he does. Jesus is using the scripture to support his decision not to "tempt" God by doing as Satan desires.

The word "tempt" here in the Bible, both in the original Hebrew which Jesus quoted, and in the Greek in which this account is recorded, carries a meaning of prove, test or try in addition to "tempt." It is not limited to the meaning of "tempt" current in today's English. Indeed, the Bible says God cannot be tempted with evil (see James 1:13).

Ye shall not tempt (H5254: תְנַסּ֔וּ/ṯə·nas·sū) the LORD your God, as ye tempted (H5254) him in Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16, KJV)

Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt (G1598: ἐκπειράσεις/ekpeiraseis) the Lord thy God. (Matthew 4:7, KJV; cf. Luke 4:12)

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted (G551: ἀπείραστός/apeirastos) with evil, neither tempteth he any man: (James 1:13, KJV)

NOTE: The verb "tempt" in James 1:13 is from the same root word in all four occurrences, but due to grammatical differences in usage involving a prefix, the other three usages have a different Strong's number (G3985)--owing to a different placement in the alphabetical order. This is the same root word used in Matthew and in Luke as well.

We are commanded not to even try to tempt God--who could not be tempted with evil anyway. Jesus did not wish to sin against this precept, and quoted it to Satan as a means of escaping the temptation that Satan was giving to Jesus.


Jesus, not God, was being tempted--and he quoted scripture that supported his refusal to tempt God, not that God could have been tempted, but it is wrong to attempt it.

  • I'm upvoting all the answers so far. So I guess the bottom line is that Satan was tempting Jesus to put God to the test. Apr 2, 2023 at 16:25

In the plain text of Matthew 4:7, it was Jesus who being tested. But wait, there is a much deeper implication of this account. A question is, forty days ago, a voice from heaven just said "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17 NIV), then why would the spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested (Matt 4:1)? And what does the test of Jesus is going to tell us?

Recalled the moment of Eve being tested. The devil succeeded for he hit the desire of Eve, as we read;

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

Human has desire, which allow devil to find our weakness. Jesus had to go through the same tested to prove himself a human but capable to overcome the power of the devil, by the power of the word of God. In all three tests, Jesus replied Satan with a quote from the scripture.

It may worth noted that when Jesus' reply in Matt 4:7 (Luke 4:12), which quoted from Deu 6:16 has omitted the latter part;

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’" (Matt 4:7)

Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. (Deu 6:16)

The omission is surely not a mistake. It tells 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test' has an eternal implication, and not confined to the days of Israel.

Using another angle to read the same account, the scripture used the word 'tempter' (Matt 4:3 NIV) to describe the devil, implied that the 'tempter' was in a form of human. Since Jesus is God, Then Matt 4:7 is saying a human, or more precisely 'a Christian', shall not put the Lord our God to the test.

How does a Christian capable to test the Lord our God? Isn't the answer is the disobedience to His word? Paul had made a comparison between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5:12-21, in which he wrote

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 NIV)

  • Matthew 4:1 says that Satan is tempting Jesus. While Satan absolutely tempts believers, I don’t see any reference to believers in the verse in question.
    – bob
    Apr 3, 2023 at 17:47
  • @bob - you should not take Matt 4:7 alone when Jesus quote it from Deu 6:16. We always try to understand it from its original, where the subject is the Israelites, the God's people, that is Christians today. Jesus set as a role model that we can succeed Satan's temptation, therefore although Jesus is the subject in Matt 4:7, we are the attendants that should pay attention to it. Apr 3, 2023 at 19:48
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    It’s true that Jesus set us an example to follow here—I totally agree with that. My point with my comment is that the original question didn’t ask for an application of the passage, it asked for an analysis of who is being tempted, and only Jesus (God the Son), God the Father, and Satan are in view in this passage. So this answer doesn’t answer the question that was asked.
    – bob
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:55

"The tempter [ὁ πειράζων; tester, trier; Strong's G3985] ..." (MT 4:3 ASV)

"Then the devil [ὁ διάβολος; traducer, opponent, adversary; Strong's G1228] ..." (MT 4:5 ASV)

"Again, the devil [ὁ διάβολος; traducer, opponent, adversary; Strong's G1228] ..." (MT 4:8 ASV)

If by the foregoing definitions you mean "Satan," then no, Satan did not tempt Jesus. But if you mean the devilish character pictured below, then you might want to reevalute your meaning of the word Satan.enter image description here

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    When I use the word 'Satan', I do not mean the caricature version depicted above. I mean what Revelation chapter 9 says about this entity, given many names in the Bible: "a great red dragon... cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan." That's the Bible meaning of the word 'Satan'. Having cleared that up for you, would you now like to answer the question?
    – Anne
    Apr 4, 2023 at 19:35
  • 1
    Asked and answered. Apr 5, 2023 at 16:04

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