Biblical Theology Briefings

Finally . . . An Obedient Son!

Jonathan Gibson

The sermon text: context issues

Context is the king of understanding - a simple rule for reading anything, but one which is often forgotten when it comes to Bible reading and preaching. Context is king of interpretation in that it must rule and control our exegesis and application. In both cases we must make our sermon bow the knee. It has now become a bit of a cliché but it is nevertheless true - every text without a context is a proof text for a pretext.

By context I do not mean simply what precedes and follows the text i.e. Matthew 3:13-17, and Matthew 4:12ff (though as we shall see this is highly significant), but also the context of the whole Bible; for Matthew is set within the plotline of the Bible, and must be understood in the wider context, as well as its own immediate one.

The immediate context

Matthew 3:16-17 is key to understanding Jesus' temptations in their right context. Jesus has just been baptised by John and a voice from heaven says, "This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased." Two OT passages are coupled together here to provide us with a description of God's Messiah. He is both King and Servant. He is the King of Psalm 2 who is God's Son, and He is also the Servant of Isaiah 42, who is anointed with God's Spirit and who must suffer for His people (Isaiah 53). Jesus' mission is therefore given to Him at His baptism. God's approval of His Son gives us a framework for understanding His Messiahship and related mission. It is with this anointing that the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert; the same place Israel was tested following their commission from God to be a priest to the world in Exodus 19:3-6. The 40 days link with the 40 years. Jesus is clearly being tested to see if He is fit for His mission.

What follows the temptation narrative (Matthew 4:12-17) also sheds light on our understanding. Following their 40 years in the desert Israel enters the land to subdue the Gentile nations. Following his temptations Jesus travels through Galilee of the Gentiles proclaiming the arrival of God's Kingdom.

This should at least give us a clue that what is happening to Jesus, happened to Israel.

Is everything literal?

Both Carson and Seccombe hold that the temptations are historically reliable. However, neither force the issue that everything has to be literal i.e. there is no mountain in Israel from which you can view all the kingdoms of the world. It is quite probable that the temptations for Jesus were visionary or within his imagination, and which he clearly attributed to Satan. Whatever the medium we must not miss the point that Satan tempted Jesus.

What this passage is not about: false trails in the sermon

Not a few sermons I have read and heard on Matthew 4:1-11 take a very imitational or moralistic approach. Jesus was tempted, so are we. Satan is very crafty and twists Scripture, so be on your guard. Jesus quoted Scripture in temptation, therefore, when tempted quote Scripture . The biggest disappointment I faced from personal experience was that no angels appeared after Satan had fled at my quoting! It is not that such approaches are entirely wrong, but they do a disservice to the purpose of the Gospel by ignoring the genre of Gospel. The Gospels are good news presentations of Jesus Christ , not simply history, biography, theology, or anything else for that matter. They are "good news" books, which should help us when we come to understand a pericope within a Gospel. The very purpose of Matthew's gospel helps us to not pick at truthful bits but understand the pericope in the moving narrative of the whole book. Matthew wrote for unbelieving Jews to convince them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of David and the Son of God. The big question we should ask of Matthew 4:1-11 is: What's the good news in this passage?

To sum up - it is understanding why and to whom the Gospels were written that will help us avoid such false trials.

What this passage is about: the difference biblical theology makes

(i) Jesus and Israel

There is a clear parallel between Jesus and Israel that runs through the early chapters of Matthew's Gospel .

1. The genealogy itself (Matthew 1:1-17) prepares the way for the Jewish reader to understand Jesus' birth. Hearing of Abraham, the father of Isaac, would conjure up in Jewish minds a nostalgic remembrance of the miraculous birth of this promised son. Matthew 1:18-23 speaks of the birth of another promised Son - Jesus.

2. The fulfilment of Matthew 2:15 - "out of Egypt I called my Son". The interesting point here is that Hosea's words in 11:1 are not prospective, but rather retrospective. They are speaking about Israel in the OT, not Christ. Yet as far Matthew is concerned, Jesus is the fulfilment of all that Israel pointed to - He is in that sense, the ultimate people of God, and the final Son of God.

3. The baptism of Jesus patterns the Israelites passing through the Red Sea after they came out of Egypt (Matthew 3:13-17).

4. Jesus' 40 days in the desert clearly parallel with Israel's 40 years in the desert.

5. Jesus' quotes from the OT refer to this period of history - Deuteronomy 6:1-16, 8:1-5.

6. After His desert temptations Jesus moves into Gentile territory preaching the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:12-17). Israel came out of the desert into the Promised Land to conquer the Gentile nations.

7. Jesus says He has come to fulfil the whole of the OT (Matthew 5:17). This is to be understood, not just that Jesus obeys the whole of the OT law, but that the OT law pointed to Him and He fulfils it .

With this understanding in mind it is quite appropriate to speak of Jesus as a new Israel.

(ii) Israel as God's son

The connections between Jesus and Israel are re-enforced when we delve back into the OT to see why Jesus was quoting these parts of the OT. Making the following connections - Deuteronomy 6:16, Exodus 17:1-7, Exodus 4:22 leads to the realisation that in the OT Israel was known as God's son, confirmed again by Deuteronomy 8:5. The idea of Israel being God's son in the desert starts to help shape the context of Matthew 4:1-11. God tested His son's heart to see if he would keep the commands. The whole book of Deuteronomy is taken up with repetitive exhortations to keep God's commandments, to follow his ways, in order to maintain God's blessings. As we know, Israel failed. But what were the consequences?

(iii) Israel as Priest

At Mount Sinai God gave Israel his mission: "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6). God's purpose for his son was to be a priest - to bring salvation to all the nations and thus fulfil God's promise to Abraham. God tested his son to see if he would keep the commandments, and thus fulfil his purpose as priest. Israel had to learn that the way to live as priest was in obedience and dependence on God's word, not simply by bread. The covenant was not accomplished through God's son Israel as a consequence of their disobedience. It would have to come through God's Son, the Messiah; but He too would have to be tested to see what was in His heart.

(iv) Jesus and Adam

In Luke's parallel narrative he compares Jesus and Adam. This is seen clearly by his genealogical insertion between Jesus' baptism and desert temptation with the emphasis on "son of", which climaxes with, "Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38). In Matthew, the comparison is primarily between Jesus and Israel, though I do think there are biblical theology connections to Adam . I believe that to do justice to the passage within the story of the whole Bible one needs to connect Satan's twisting of Scripture to the first time he performed such antics i.e. with Adam in the Garden. I also think that we need to connect Adam's mandate as vice-regent to rule the world, with Jesus' as God's King who will rule the world. In this context (i.e. a whole Bible context) I believe I was justified in alluding to connections between Jesus and Adam . However, I do believe that in Matthew's Gospel the sharper focus is on the comparison between Jesus and Israel.

(v) Satan's temptations

As in the Garden of Eden, Satan's temptations to Jesus are not miles away from the original purpose. Satan did not discourage Adam from ruling the world, but to rather do it his own way, independent from God. So with Jesus, the temptations are aimed, not at aborting the Messianic commission altogether, but doing it His own way. To accomplish supreme rule by another means, thus rejecting the path that His Father had laid out for Him, which was one of suffering. Satan is challenging God's vocal approval of His Son as the Suffering Servant King, by encouraging Jesus to become King without the suffering. Turning stones into bread at a whim could make Him confident of His own power; jumping from the temple enacting a dramatic rescue display by angels would convince all Israel of His Messianic role; and bowing to Satan to receive all the kingdoms of the world was indeed the shortest route of all. If my understanding is correct, then the temptations all follow the same vein - to persuade Jesus to do things His own way and not His Father's . In essence, Satan's devices with Jesus are no different from the Garden of Eden - it is the temptation to disobey God in the given covenantal role, with food being the means of stumbling. It was by doing a whole Bible theology of Adam and Jesus' roles, and also Satan's methods of temptation, that compelled me to at least make some connection between Adam and Jesus in the sermon.

Sermon shape and structure

My sermon therefore took the following tri-partite shape. (NB: These were not my teaching points; they were just an outline of the sermon's three main points).

  • Reading the Bible with our glasses on
  • The temptations of Jesus (I went through them one by one)
  • Jesus - the final obedient Son

Arithmetic preaching does not build a congregation that knows how to read their Bibles well. And so, right at the beginning of my sermon I wanted to highlight the importance to the congregation of understanding the context of a passage. My aim was not just to show what the passage was really about and its application to our lives, but also to teach people how to read their Bibles better. So I started my sermon as follows:

Reading the Bible with our glasses on

If I were to ask you to summarise the point of this passage in one sentence, what would it be? I'm sure the answers would be many and varied...

  1. Jesus really was a man - He was hungry without food
  2. We have a Saviour who can identity with our weaknesses and temptations 
  3. Satan twists Scripture 
  4. Satan can tempt us in the most obscure places - a desert, at church, or even on a mountain 
  5. Fasting is important to the Christian life 
  6. We overcome temptation by fasting and quoting Scripture. 

Well, which is it? What is Matthew's main point in this passage?

I remember as a child visiting Alton Towers. One of the things I enjoyed most was the 3-D cinema. I was handed a pair of plastic 3-D glasses at the door, which I had to wear while watching the film. The film consisted of various action shots, like skydiving out of a plane, formula-one racing, and swimming in the sea with dolphins etc. When the 3-D glasses were on I felt like I was the one jumping out of a plane, driving the car at 190 mph, swimming with dolphins. Then I removed my glasses; and it was quite entertaining to watch the people around me - their facial expressions, the movement of their hands showed even more that they really felt they were flying through the air, driving that car, or swimming with the dolphins. But then I looked back at the screen without my 3-D glasses on. Yes, I saw that we were flying through the air, heading for a brick wall at 190 mph etc, but I didn't feel I was seeing the whole picture like everyone else. I needed my 3-D glasses on to feel the force of the film.

And it's a bit like that when we read a Bible passage. We miss the force of it if we don't have our glasses on. Now, I don't mean physical glasses. What I mean is the glasses of context. If we don't read the Bible through our glasses of context, we see individual parts, but we don't see the whole thing, as it is meant to be seen. We sort of get the gist, but we don't really get the full force of it. Context is the king of understanding and therefore we must allow our comprehension of this passage to be ruled by the context. Reading Mathew 4:1-11 this evening is like walking into the middle of a conversation. We haven't heard the start and we don't know the big picture of what Matthew is showing us. So in order to understand Matthew 4:1-11 we need the glasses of context. So before we actually get stuck into the passage I want us to build a pair of glasses.

My point in starting the sermon like this was to hopefully get them really grappling with the passage, and highlighting the importance that context is key to understanding. I then walked through the early parts of Matthew's Gospel to build the glasses of context.

The context of Matthew's gospel

- Written for the Jews - trying to show how Jesus fulfilled the whole of the OT.

- Genealogy in chapter 1 - reminder of the supernatural birth of Isaac, which pointed to the supernatural birth of Jesus. Also the phrase "the genealogy of" is similar to the language of Genesis, which takes us back to Adam.

- 1:17 - the King is here, and connotations of a new Exodus start to appear.

- 2:15 "out of Egypt I called my son." This is actually a quote from Hosea 11:1 - interesting how Matthew reads the OT. Hosea was talking about Israel as God's son, and looking back at their time coming out of Egypt, but Matthew reads Jesus' time in Egypt and his subsequent departure, as an Exodus moment. Jesus is like a new Israel coming out of Egypt.

- 3:13-17 Jesus' baptism. In the OT Israel was brought through the waters of the Red Sea and was also called God's son (Exodus 4:22).

- 4:1-11 Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted for 40 days. Israel was led into the desert to be tested for 40 years.

- 4:12-17 Israel moved from the desert into the Promised Land to subdue the Gentile nations. Jesus moves from the desert into Galilee of the Gentiles preaching the Kingdom of heaven.

Do you see the parallel between Jesus and Israel?

Israel - God's son, supernatural birth, brought out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea into the desert, then into the land to subdue Gentile nations.

Jesus - God's son, supernatural birth, brought out of Egypt, through the waters of baptism into the desert, and then goes into Gentile territory proclaiming the Kingdom.

So do you see now what Matthew is going to be getting at in chapter 4? He's writing to Jews, trying to show them Jesus was the Son of God. The Jews know all about the rescue of God's son Israel from Egypt and how he failed in the desert. At the beginning of Matthew's gospel there's this big emphasis on Jesus' patterning Israel's movements. It as if Jesus is reliving Israel's life, and this should give us a clue on how to read this passage.

You see, as you read the Bible story you come across three sons - Adam, Israel and Jesus. By the time you get to the NT, you know the first two sons have failed. They were given the mandate to rule and bless the world, but they failed. The question we therefore ask at this point in the Bible story is: "Will God's Son Jesus fail as well?"

Israel and Jesus' temptations

Taking it as a given that Jesus would not misquote the OT, I knew that if I could arrive at the meaning of the quotes in their OT context, then I would have a fair idea of what Jesus meant, and thus also the way in which Satan was trying to tempt him.

Quote # 1 "...that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The point of Deuteronomy 8

Chapter 8 must be read as one block. In fact, Deuteronomy 6-8 should be read as one unit. We will not see the significance of God's purpose of testing unless we understand it in its context. The Israelites were about to enter the land, a land full of food and drink (8:7-8), a place where "you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing" (8:9). God's son would eat bread and be full, but therein lay a temptation. Satisfied and full people think they have no need of anything, especially God. So Moses warns them, "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules" (8:11). Their forgetfulness would be evident by their disobedience. The warning goes on with the same point being made, "...lest, when you have eaten and are full...then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God...who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end." (8:12-17). Here Moses highlights that God's test in the desert was in preparation for their time in the land. God was teaching them, "Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth..." (8:17-18).

In the desert, in preparation for their role as priest to the world, God taught them a lesson - their very life was dependent on Him. If Israel forgot this, they might have all the bread they wanted, but they would perish (8:19), and the reason for perishing would be "because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God" (8:20). They could have all the bread they liked, but if it was coupled with a proud independence from God, evident by disobedience to the same God, then they would perish. And so an antithesis is set before them - live or perish.

It was obedience to God's word that would highlight Israel's dependence on God, and that in turn would accomplish God's purpose in the world. But in this respect we know how badly Israel failed.

Jesus and His mission

In the context of obedience, what was wrong with turning stones into bread? After all, Jesus uses His power to help pay His taxes later on (Matthew 17:24-27). What's wrong with wielding power now to satisfy some hunger after a 40-day fast?

Surely the answer lies in understanding the context of Jesus' quote from Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus obviously saw in Satan's temptation a similar one to what Israel faced - to live a life detached from dependence on God, and thus do things His own way. This is not dissimilar to Adam in the garden. The temptation was food - food that would lead to independence.

We are not given the exact reasons, but obviously in Jesus' mind changing stones into bread to satisfy His hunger would mean that He was not being dependent on God. Obedience was more important to Him than bread, even when He was hungry. Perhaps it would be an autonomous act of power that would cause Him to become proud, and might in the end destroy the mission of the cross. The temptation would thus be - when hungry He could turn stones into bread, when about to be crucified He could call the angels for back up. It appears that Jesus refuses power given to Him, so that He might accomplish His Father's mission. He will not use His power autonomously but in submission to His Father's will. Whatever the reasons, Jesus sees this temptation inconsistent with His God-ordained mission , and so He refuses Satan's suggestion.

It took me a lot of working out to get there and I realised that, although I did not want to give an arithmetic statement about the first temptation, neither did I want to spend all that time in the Old Testament. In the end I explained the first temptation in the following way:

1. To make bread instead of living a dependent life on God's words v3-4

Jesus has not eaten for 40 days and so Satan tempts Him to turn stones into bread. Look at Jesus' response - READ v4. In order to understand Jesus' response we must understand what these words first meant in Deuteronomy 8:3, so turn please with me to that part of the Bible.

READ Deuteromonmy 8:1-5. Here we see God had taken his son Israel into the desert to test his heart, to see if he was obedient or not. Israel had to learn the lesson that life comes not just from bread, but also from the words of God. Israel had all the bread that they wanted in the desert, but they still died because they did not live a dependent life on God's words. Jesus has just done what Israel couldn't. He has survived in the desert without food because He has been meditating on God's words.

Israel was the disobedient son who did not live in dependence on God's words. Jesus is the obedient Son who does. Where Israel failed, Jesus does not.

Quote # 2

"Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Satan quotes Psalm 91 - a psalm that emphasises trust in God's presence with His people. Satan does not twist Scripture here; he merely misapplies it. The temptation is set at the temple, the focal point of God's presence with His people. It was a demand of God's miraculous proof of protection and care - something the Psalm encouraged trust in already.

But following Jesus' words back into the OT helps to unravel the heart of the temptation. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 but leaves out the phrase, ‘as you did at Massah.' Joining the dots up again led me to Exodus 17:1-7, where Israel tested God at Massah. Moses highlights the core point of their test: "‘Is the LORD among us or not?'" (17:7) It was a test of God's presence with His people. We should not forget to read these events within the context of the covenant. What Israel was doing to God was extremely offensive. God had graciously established His covenant with them giving then blessings they did not deserve, and now the recipients of such a covenant were holding the benefactor to ransom. It was manipulative bribery, strictly forbidden in the Scriptures and Jesus knows it, hence His reply.

The temptation was not to disobey God, for how could that be a temptation to Jesus? The temptation rather lay in what it would produce. If He were to go to the temple and jump off, it would induce a dramatic rescue by angels, which in itself would prove His Messianic role to the people and issue in national allegiance. Jesus refuses this short cut to establish His Kingdom. But rather trusts God's care and protection of Him. Again we are seeing a similar vein in Satan's temptations - to achieve Messianic Rule His own way and not God's. So I explained the second temptation like this.

2. To test God's presence with Him - not to trust God's presence with Him v5-7

Satan quotes Scripture to tempt Jesus here, and he actually quotes it correctly. But the problem is, he takes it out of context and therefore twists its meaning. It's a quote from Psalm 91. Satan uses it to encourage Jesus to test God, but the Psalm is encouraging people to trust God, not test Him.

Jesus' response also reveals in exactly what way Satan wanted Jesus to test God. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16. Turn there with me please - READ. The question is: What did Israel do at Massah? So turn back further with me to Exodus 17:7 - READ.

At Massah God's son tested God's presence with Him. At the temple Jesus is tempted to do the same thing. But Jesus will not put the Lord to the test, because Psalm 91 is encouraging us to trust God, not test Him.

In the desert Israel tested God's presence with Him. In the desert Jesus is tempted to do the same, but refuses. Where Israel failed, Jesus does not.

Quote # 3 "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." Deut 6:13.

Satan offers Jesus what appears to be the quickest option of all - homage from the King-elect in return for all the kingdoms of the world. The Messiah would eventually receive these; it was simply a matter of how - via the cross or on His knees?

Again understanding the OT quote in its context helps us to comprehend the temptation better. Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan. God warns them against autonomous living through forgetting that they had inherited it all from God (6:10-12). They were to remain in faithful service to God. Israel failed on numerous accounts here: with the golden calf at Mount Sinai, worship of Baal in the desert, and the idol Achan kept after conquering Jericho. Again the temptation that lay before Israel was autonomous living.

There is a similar vein in all these temptations - be an autonomous Messiah and achieve your Kingdom your own way. Establish the Kingdom without the suffering; wield power when you wish; manipulate a dramatic angelic display; bow the knee. Satan's temptations are tightly tied to Jesus' baptism and the announcement by His Father - "this is my Son, the Servant King, with whom I am well pleased." Satan is trying to get Jesus to be King without the cross, perhaps because he knows the cross is not so much Jesus' doom, as it is his. The third temptation I explained like this:

3. To worship Satan and receive all the kingdoms of the world v8-10

Jesus is tempted to break the 1st commandment and worship someone other than God. This was something Israel had done. Remember the golden calf, the worship of Baal in the desert, and then also when they were in the Promised Land they started to worship other gods as well, thus bowing the knee to Satan. What Satan is offering to Jesus here is a short cut. It's the kingdoms without the cross. Bow the knee and receive the kingdoms. Jesus chooses the cross in order to inherit the kingdoms. He chooses to obey His Father and follow His plan.

Israel bowed the knee to idols. Jesus is offered what is rightfully His - the kingdoms of the world - if He would but bow; yet He refuses commit idolatry. Where Israel failed, Jesus does not.

A turning point in redemptive history

The turning point becomes clear when we follow the themes of the sons of God. It was through Adam and Israel that God wanted to rule and bless the world, but they failed. When Jesus comes, He is tested just like they were, but overcomes Satan. Therefore, God's Kingdom can now come through His perfect obedient Son. It is worth noting that following His victory over Satan Jesus then proceeds into the Gentile areas to preach the coming of the Kingdom. It is through this final obedient Son that God will rule and bless the nations, the very task in which Israel failed.

Application issues

I wanted to get across a clear explanation of the Gospel in my application, and remove many of the wrong impressions people have about the main point of this passage, i.e. the moralistic or imitational approach. Basically, the main point is the application. And so I concluded as follows.

And so to summarise these three temptations:

1. In the desert Israel was given all the bread they needed but still died because they did not live a dependent life on God's words. Jesus survives in the desert without food because he lives dependently on God's words.

2. Israel tested God many times to see if God was really with him or not. Jesus does not test to see if His Father is with Him, but trusts that He is with Him.

3. Israel worshipped other gods, but Jesus refuses to worship Satan and obeys God.

These three temptations are really one temptation - to rule the world independently from God. And these are the same temptations that Adam and Israel faced. Satan's temptation to Adam was not to resign from his role as God's ruler of the world, but to rule independent from God. It was the same with Israel. When God rescued Israel out of Egypt He said He would rule and bless the world through them. But they chose to live independently from God. Satan employs the same tactics with Jesus as he did with Adam - he twists Scripture. And so the same temptation is put to Jesus - rule the world independently - turn stones into bread, enact power as Messiah by jumping off the temple, bow down now and the kingdoms be will Yours. But where both Adam and Israel failed, Jesus does not, and overcomes Satan.

Well, what's this got to do with us? As children of Adam we too want to be our own rulers, living independently from God. The words of El Diego Maradona, the world's greatest footballer, sum up each of our lives, "I know I'm not one to change the world but I'm not going to let anyone into my world to tell me what to do. To dictate how my match is going to go, to dictate my life. I am the same as always. I'm me, Maradona. I am El Diego."

This is the state that we find ourselves in. We've chosen to be the rulers of our own lives and thus we're slaves to Satan and his desires. He tempts us and we fall. We succumb to his lure every time. We need someone to fight on our behalf; someone else must conquer Satan, and break our bondage to him. Our imperfect life condemns us before God. We need someone to live a perfect life in our place, on our behalf. And the great news of the Gospel is Jesus has done just that, and He did it in the stuff of humanity. Satan was resisted by a man, who felt temptation just like we do. Satan was overcome through flesh and bones. Therefore, Jesus is not our example in this passage; He is our hero! He comes to crush the head of the serpent. He lives and fights on our behalf so that we can be presented before God as having lived a perfect life. Listen to Hebrews 8:5,

"Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him..."

If Jesus had failed in the desert we could not have been put right with God, for there would have been no perfect sacrifice to take away sin forever, and no perfect life to be credited to our account. In the Gospel God treats Jesus as if He had failed and treats us as if we had never failed. In the Gospel Jesus is punished as if He had disobeyed God, and we are declared to be perfect as if we had never disobeyed God! Matthew's Gospel is about just that - the Gospel! Which is about Jesus, God's final obedient Son. The wait for an obedient son is over. He has arrived. Jesus is the new and better Adam, the true Israel who has defeated the devil and won back for rebels the paradise lost. And this is the Gospel that is available to all of us who admit our weakness and inability to overcome Satan, and trust in what Jesus has done for us on our behalf. So let's read the Bible with our glasses on, and celebrate the good news of Jesus our hero - the final obedient Son of God, who fought the devil on our behalf in the flesh, and won.

I admit that apart from my introduction the sermon lacks good contemporary illustrations. However, I was preaching narrative, and interrupted narratives are not always as clear. Because the three temptations are really one temptation, and because the real application comes once God's people have grasped Matthew's main point, I chose to only try to hit the passage home once it had been understood. Looking back however, it would have been good to have another illustration to start and finish the sermon with that captured the idea of the arrival of God's final obedient Son being our hero. I also should have spent more time making the passage sing and sting, wound and heal. I could have done this by relating to failures and sins of the past week, for different groups of people, and thus show them again the liberating news of the Gospel. But 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing!


Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents (Leister, Inter-varsity Press, 2001), 219.
For example, see The Briefing, Issue 315, Bible Brief on Matthew 1-4, page 26. On the whole this is excellent; however, the writer fails to let exegesis control application in the temptation narrative. He states (correctly), "Several times already, Matthew has drawn our attention to the fact that Jesus fulfils in himself the role of Israel, the Son of God. This Son of God succeeds where Israel fails." But the application lacks bite because it slips into the imitational approach: "What can we learn from Jesus about how to withstand temptation (Matthew 4:4,7,10)?" As we shall see later, Jesus is not our example in Matthew 4; He is our hero!
D.A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1984), 39.
V. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1991). D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible, 28, also agrees that there are typological connections between Jesus and Israel.
D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible, 143-144.
See P. J. Leithart , The Kingdom and the Power (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1993), 50-51, who states, "The first verse of the New Testament says that the Gospel is the ‘book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.' The phrase ‘book of the genealogy' or a similar phrase is used to structure the entire book of Genesis (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; etc.). Matthew is hinting that his Gospel is the new Genesis, and that Jesus is the New Adam in his story of the new creation." See also, David Gibson's Briefing on Luke 4:1-13 at . I agree that the desert temptation is about God's three sons, because if we do the biblical theology on the key parts of these narratives we have to trace back to Adam and Satan. I think Matthew is primarily comparing two sons rather than all three, but there are definitely strong biblical theology connections to Adam via the way in which Satan tempts (twisting Scripture) and the core point of his temptations, to subvert the Messianic commission to rule the world, which in the beginning was the mandate originally given to Adam. So whilst the main parallel in the passage is to Israel, I believe textually we can highlight allusions to Adam. Mark also makes such allusions in his gospel, speaking of Jesus being with the ‘wild animals' (Mark 1:13, see Genesis 3:1).
See D. Seccombe, The King of God's Kingdom, 118-123, who summarises the connection as follows, ‘Clearly the sonship of both Adam and Jesus is related to their appointment to rule the world, and their testing is an attempt to subvert this appointment.'
D. Seccombe, The King of God's Kingdom, 123.
D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible, 113.
D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible, 114.

Resources/Recommended Reading

D. Seccombe, The King of God's Kingdom (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 2002).
Seccombe is very good at looking at pericopes in the Synoptic Gospels from a fresh and different angle.

D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1984).
This is the most comprehensive commentary on Matthew, and I highly recommend it. Carson draws together different interpretations on passages before showing what the text actually says.

W. Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents (Leister, Inter-varsity Press, 2001).
Just nicked a quote from it: "Context is the king of understanding."

P. J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1993).
See our book blurbs for more on this book. Very stimulating read. Most chapters are mini biblical theologies. It's not dealing with Matthew's Gospel primarily.

G. McConville, Deuteronomy, Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Leister, Inter-varsity Press, 2002).
Helpful for the OT context to the Deuteronomy quotes.

V. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1991).
The last chapter on Matthew's Gospel is very insightful and a stimulating read, though Carson does point out some of the problems with the framework Poythress proposes.

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