Matthew (4.1-11) records that Satan used three temptations: the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to test God by jumping from the temple, and the temptation to escape the cross by falling down and worshiping Satan. Each of these temptations is related to what Jesus had heard from heaven at his baptism, namely, that he was God’s “Son” with whom God the Father was “well pleased.”
1. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” – meaning, “Since you are the Son of God …” This would have been a genuine temptation, of course; it would have been a temptation to doubt God’s willingness or ability to care for Jesus as a Son and perhaps also to misuse his divine power to avoid the sufferings inherent in his having assumed human nature. R.C.Sproul is right when he suggests that the emphasis is on the word if (“If you are the Son of God …”). In this case, the temptation’s focus lies in questioning God’s earlier statement.
Back in Eden, Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt the word of God. God had told them that they would die if they ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree, but Satan countered, “You will not surely die.” Here, in a similar manner, Satan suggests that Jesus may not actually be God’s Son, or, if He is, He should settle any doubts on the matter once and for all by a miracle. Thus, it was a temptation to question the express word of God hidden under what seemed to be a concern for Jesus’ physical hunger.
Jesus had no trouble answering Satan. He did it by quoting a verse from Deuteronomy: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” If the temptation were only to misuse his supernatural power, Jesus’ reply would not be directly to the point. But if the temptation were to doubt the word of God by testing it, Jesus’ answer would mean, “It does not really matter much whether I have physical bread to eat, since God will preserve my life as long as He wants so I can do what He wants. I trust Him in that. What does matter is whether I believe God’s word implicitly or not. If I should doubt His word, even for a moment, all is lost.”
2. “If you are the Son of God, … throw yourself down.” The truth of God’s word lies behind the next temptation too. Jesus had rejected the devil’s first temptation by quoting Scripture. So the devil got into the act himself, saying something like this: “Well, I see you are a student of the Bible, since you’ve memorized that verse from Deuteronomy. But, of course, I am a Bible student myself, and not long ago, when I was reading Psalms, I came across Psalm 91.11–12, which says, ‘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.’ Do you believe that? I believe it. In fact, I believe it so much that I am going to make this suggestion. Let’s go up to the highest point of the temple, and then you can jump off. God will save you, and the people who see the miracle will realize that you are the Messiah and follow you immediately. It will make a great impression and will get your ministry off to a rip-roaring start.”
Satan tempted Christ to advance the work of God by spectacular and obviously worldly means, which is exactly what many evangelicals are doing today when they try to impress people with so-called “signs and wonders” or by entertainment reminiscent of television. We cannot accomplish invisible spiritual work by outward worldly means. At the same time, the devil’s suggestion was also a temptation to spiritual presumption, to demand a supernatural sign from God in response to an action he had neither encouraged nor commanded. Jesus replied to this suggestion by another quotation from Deuteronomy: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
In this reply, Jesus introduced an important principle of sound Bible study, which is not only to trust the Word of God implicitly and absolutely (that is what the first temptation was about) but to interpret Scripture with Scripture, never taking a verse out of context but rather interpreting it by use of other verses or the Bible as a whole. This is what the Protestant reformers called “the analogy of faith,” meaning that Scripture interprets itself – “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
This does not mean we will not encounter passages of the Bible that are difficult for us to understand. On the contrary, it suggests we will encounter such passages. But at the same time it says that God is the author of Scripture, and for that reason, the statements of Scripture will always complement and reinforce each other when rightly understood. If they do not do this, God is speaking with a forked tongue, which is impossible for him to do. Jesus knew this, which was why he appealed to Deuteronomy 6.16 to reject the devil’s temptation. When taken as a whole, the Bible will always provide for a consistent and God-trusting way of life.
In all Scripture there is no better example of the power of specific sayings of the Word of God to turn Satan away and save the one being tempted.