Ministry Resources

Matthew 4:1-11 – Overcoming Temptation

Author: Dr. George Flattery


My topic today is “Overcoming Temptation.” We are drawing upon the experience of Jesus, our supreme example. The story is told in Matthew 4:1-11. Parallel passages are Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13.

This is the story of the encounter of Jesus with Satan. Satan attempted to get Jesus to put his own needs and potential concerns above the will of His Father. He wanted Jesus to act independently of the Father. He wanted Jesus to sacrifice His secure future for the present. Jesus met Satan’s challenge by trusting His Father to do all things in His time, in His way, and with His result!

Very often, we are concerned supremely about the present. We are tempted to sacrifice our principles for a short-term gain. Satan powerfully lures us into this trap. Instead of giving in, we can follow the example of Jesus in overcoming temptation through trust in God.

Remember that Jesus had just been baptized in water. He was a young man and was ready to embark on His public ministry. Satan sought to destroy His ministry. Satan often tempts people when they are beginning to do something for God. He tries to derail God’s servants before they can accomplish His purpose.

Satan relentlessly tempts us throughout our lives. He will seek to tempt us at any time, under different circumstances, and in a variety of ways. Our text, therefore, is very helpful to us in all of our lives. Matthew 4:1-11 says:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 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.’”

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.’”

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.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus had just been baptized in water. The Spirit of God descended upon Him, and His father had declared Him to be His beloved Son. Then He was tested. Jesus was not out of the will of God, nor was he committing sin, in being tested. Given the nature of His ministry, and the opposition of Satan, this testing had to come.

According to Matthew (v. 1), “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [peirastheenai] by the devil.” Mark makes a stronger statement about the role of the Spirit. In 1:12 he says, “And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.”

What does the verb “to be tempted” mean? Robertson’s comments on this verb are helpful. He states (p. 30): “The word ‘tempt’ here (peirazo [peirazein]) and in 4:3 means originally to test, to try. . . . Here [cp. 4:7] it comes to mean, as often in the New Testament, to solicit to sin. The evil sense comes from its use for an evil purpose.”

We are not greater than our Master. As the Spirit leads us, we too will be tested. He will test us so sorely, that at times we will wonder if we have correctly discerned the will of God. It will help us to see what Jesus said and did under these circumstances.

Satan tempted Jesus in three specific ways: (1) to turn stones into bread, (2) to cast himself off the temple, and (3) to worship him. We are often tempted in similar ways.

1. Turn Stones to Bread

Let’s take a look at the setting of the first temptation.

2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

The Setting

According to Luke 4:2, Jesus was in the wilderness “for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days; and when they had ended, He became hungry.” During the entire forty days Jesus endured the temptations of the devil. The fast was not was not a preparation for the test He went through. Rather, the fasting resulted in Jesus being hungry. Satan jumped on this circumstance to tempt Jesus.

Satan often takes advantage of our circumstances and wants to tempt us. He takes our need and tempts us to meet the need in wrong ways. We may feel justified by; our need to give in to temptation, but this always leads to disaster.

Satan begins with casting doubt. Concerning Jesus, God, The Father, had just declared (Mt. 3:22), “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.” Now, Satan says, “If you are the Son of God.” Satan knew, of course, that Jesus was the Son of God. He knew, also, that Jesus was hungry. This might be a weak moment for Jesus, so challenge Him at the point of His need.

Satan challenged Jesus to prove His divinity and, in so doing, meet his own need for food. He said, “tell this stone to become bread.” Under different circumstances, it would not have been wrong for Jesus meet His need by turning a stone into bread. The miracle would have been wrong here because it would have been done here in response to Satan’s challenge. Instead of performing a miracle to meet His immediate need, Jesus trusts the Father.

The Response

Jesus does not reply by declaring, “I am the Son of God.” Moreover, He did not respond by performing a miracle. Rather, Jesus replies by citing Deut. 8:2-4. The Word of God is always a powerful antidote to temptation. Jesus specifically quotes verse 3. We will read verses 2-4.

2 “And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4 “Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. (NAS)


The point is not that we should ignore food. Jesus is not teaching a spirituality which overlooks physical need. Jesus declared that man does not live by bread “alone.” It is good that He includes, as does Deuteronomy, the word “alone.” Certainly, man does require food. So did Jesus. We must eat or we will die.

We can broaden the scope of temptation to all material things. Satan tempts us with money, automobiles, boats, education, furniture, prestige, and many other things. All of these things, like food, are fine in themselves. It is our attitude toward them that counts.

Jesus sets the right priority. Doing the Will of God and being obedient to His every word is more important than food or any other material thing. Even though our want may lead to our death, the will of God is still more important. Most of the time, however, we are simply called upon to trust God to provide our needs in His time, in His way, and with His result.

2. Throw Yourself Down

The second temptation quickly came. We read about it in verses 5-7. The Devil dared Jesus to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple.

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle [pterugion] of the temple,
6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You’; and ‘On {their} hands they will bear You up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

The Setting

Satan took Jesus into the Holy City and had him stand on the pinnacle of the Temple. Satan conducted Jesus to the Temple, but this was not done against His will. Jesus went physically to the Temple (cp. Matt. 26:37; 27:27; Mark 5:40).

The word Temple, as used here, includes the entire Temple area. The pinnacle of the temple was literally the “wing” of the Temple. It is not clear just what is meant by “wing.” Several locations have been suggested. According to Robertson:

It may refer to Herod’s royal portico which overhung the Kedron Valley and looked down some four hundred and fifty feet, a dizzy height (Josephus, Ant. XV. xi. 5). This was on the south of the temple court. Hegesippus says that James, the Lord’s brother, was later placed on the wing of the temple and thrown down therefrom.

The Temptation

Satan again taunts Jesus by trying to raise doubt about His identity. He says, “If you are the Son of God.” Satan seldom gives up with one try! One more time, he tries to get Jesus to prove He is the Son of God.

Previously, Satan wanted Jesus to stem his hunger by turning stones into bread. This time, he wants Jesus to prove His identity by throwing Himself down from the pinnacle or wing of the Temple. Jesus had no command from the Lord to do this, so it would have been presumptuous.

Satan, who knows Scripture, quotes from the Psalms. He tests Jesus with the promises of Ps. 91:11-12.

11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (NAS)

The temptation was to misapply a wonderful promise of God. Satan wanted Jesus to precipitate a crisis and demand the fulfillment of the promise. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, God demonstrated His watch care over His Son. However, there were times when Jesus went through difficulties undelivered by the Father.

You will recall the Garden of Gethsemane. The chief priests, the elders, and the crowd came to capture Jesus. Peter impulsively cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. Whereupon, Jesus said (Mt. 26:52-54):

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.
53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
54 “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?” (NAS)


In response, Jesus once again quotes scripture. Again, He selects a verse from Deuternonomy. This verse (6:16) declares: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested {Him} at Massah.” (NAS) Jesus simply says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

The declaration in Deut. 6:16 is based on an incident in Exodus 17:7. At Massah the people demanded that Moses furnish them with water. Instead of trusting God, they complained. They tested God with their grumbling. In spite of their grumbling, God graciously supplied water. He commanded Moses to strike the rock with his rod. When he did this water came forth. Using this as an example, Moses declares that the children of Israel should not test God.


We must be careful in our application of the promises of God. The temptation is to call upon God for some immediate benefit. It may be benefits of any kind. We use the promises to buttress our request for God’s help. At times, we become presumptuous. We may unwittingly fall prey to Satan’s temptations.

Sometimes, we as ministers are tempted to presumption in the expansion of our ministries. It may be that we step out in the name of faith beyond where we ought to go. There are some fine lines here. They key is to be diligently seek the will of God and to be led of the Spirit.

3. Worship Me

At this point, Satan drops his taunting about Jesus being the Son of God. However, he does not give up his efforts to cause Jesus to sin. In verses 8-10 we read:

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 will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”

The Setting

Satan takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.” Luke, in 4:5, adds the phrase “in a moment of time.”

It may be that just the kingdoms of Palestine and those in the vicinity are intended. The term world is often used (see Rom. 4:13) for a limited area. However, Satan has great power. In an instant he might, by occult power, have flashed literally all the kingdoms of the world before the eyes of Jesus.

According to Luke 4:6, Satan promises, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” (NAS) The promise includes a lie. Satan claims that he has been given ownership of the vast domain he shows Christ. Satan claims the right to give the domain to whomever he wishes.

Actually, Satan has temporary power as an enemy of God. Jesus (Jn. 12:31) called him the “ruler of this world,” but he does not have outright ownership. He rules over evil forces by permission of God. Moreover, any control over the earth he might temporarily engender will be taken away.

The Temptation

Satan builds on his false claim. He declares, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Ah, he says, just one small act of worship and the ownership of the kingdoms of this world will be yours!

Once again, the temptation is to claim immediate results. Both Satan and Jesus knew that the kingdoms of the world ultimately belong to God and that Christ, His Son, would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The temptation was to bring this about now. The plan of God was different. Jesus would fulfill God’s plan as Servant before He became king. The price of immediate gratification would have been idolatry.


True to form, Jesus responds by quoting Scripture. As twice before, He turns to Deuteronomy. This time He quotes Deut 6:13, which says: “You shall fear {only} the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name.”

Jesus, who was both God and man, would not compromise. No illicit gain, whether short-term or long-term, could tempt Him. He would fully trust the Father who would give Him, in His time and in His way, the kingdoms of the world.

Meanwhile, He was (Heb. 4:15) tempted in all points as we are. His example, therefore, has great meaning and relevance for us. He has walked in our shoes!


Satan will do his best to tempt us to gain power through idolatry. He will offer us much if we put him before God. If we put anything before God, it is idolatry. When we worship other things, or other people, we have misplaced our allegiance, our minds, our affections, and our will. Even though this may empower us in the short run, the result will be spiritual disaster.

Let us follow the example of Christ in worshipping God alone. When we follow Christ closely, we are following God. When we are in Him, we are doing God’s will. This will not allow us to worship anything else. Moreover, as followers of Christ, we will rule and reign with Him.


Satan tempted Christ to seek immediate gain through unprincipled action. He wanted Christ to turn bread into stones, to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, and to fall down and worship him. In every case Jesus turned Satan back by quoting Scripture. Let us follow His example.

I like the way the story ends. IN verse 11, we read: “Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and {began} to minister to Him. (NAS) As Mark (1:13) writes the story, the angels “were ministering to Him” throughout the temptation. These are not contradictory stories. The angels ministered to Christ throughout the forty days and in a special way at the end of the temptations.

All this gives us great assurance. Our God will never leave us alone. In the middle of all the trials and tests He is with us. He may seem to be unseen, but He is there. His angels will minister to us. Let us put our trust in God today!

George M. Flattery, Ed.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.

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