The victory of the Last Adam
The entire Old Testament builds up expectation for the Messiah. God promised Eve that she would have an Offspring who would defeat the serpent (Genesis 3:15). But each candidate falls short. Cain was a murderer. Noah got drunk in his tent. Moses disobeyed one of God’s clear commands, and David committed adultery. Josiah died an untimely death in a foolish battle. Even the righteous men who were praised in the Old Testament fall short of the exalted promises about the Messiah.
Setting the stage for the temptation
When the story of Jesus opens, there has not been a prophet for 400 years, but Israel was buzzing with messianic expectation because of prophecies regarding the timing of the Messiah’s coming. Israel was under Rome’s rule and longed for the Messiah to come and deliver them. Both Matthew and Luke set up Jesus’ story with great expectations for His ministry with genealogies, accounts of miraculous activity surrounding His conception and infancy. Both recount the opening of His public ministry with His baptism by John the Baptist, where God declares Jesus to be His beloved Son.
Directly afterwards, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness where He fasts and prays for 40 days (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–13). The accounts tell us that after this He was hungry, and it was at this point, when Jesus was at His most vulnerable, that Satan comes to tempt Him.
Self-sufficiency vs trust in God’s word
First, Satan addresses Jesus’ hunger by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” It is not immediately apparent why this would be a sin, because Jesus miraculously created food on at least two later occasions. But Jesus never used His miraculous powers solely to serve Himself, and this is what Satan was tempting Him to do. Rather, Jesus’ mission was to do only what the Father willed for Him to do. Jesus responded appropriately, by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In the garden, Adam and Eve had the pick of every fruit in the garden except for the one that God prohibited, yet they could not withstand temptation even in this setting of plenty. Christ, the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) proves Himself to be the better Adam by succeeding in a context of extreme privation.
Testing vs trust
Second, Satan attacks God’s provision for the Son, taking Him to the highest point of the Temple and saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will command His angels concerning you …” (Matthew 4: 6). As in the Garden, Satan used God’s words, quoting Psalm 91, but twisted them to attempt to justify sin. We can assume that God would indeed protect the Son until the appointed time for Him to sacrifice Himself. However, Jesus views it as an unacceptable test of the Lord to actually jump. He again quotes Scripture: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7).
In the Garden, Satan attacked God’s word, telling Adam and Eve that God’s command wasn’t for their good, but because He selfishly wanted to keep them from becoming like Him. They decided to test whether God’s word was true or not—and paid the price. Jesus’ perfect trust in His Father and refusal to test Him is a second victory where Adam failed.
Submission to sin or defeat of sin
Finally, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. He promises to give Jesus all these kingdoms if Jesus only bows down and worships him. Satan does not bother to misquote Scripture this time, just boldly offers Him all the world if Jesus worships him. However, this is a road to ruling the world without dealing with its sin. Satan knows that Jesus has come to defeat him, and wants to subvert that. Jesus summarily quotes Scripture again and Satan leaves Him “until an opportune time.”
Adam wanted to become like God, an idolatrous and blasphemous desire that ultimately condemned him and all his descendants to return to the dust from which he was made. But Jesus, God the Son, whose destiny it was to rule the nations, refused to take what was rightfully His via any route except that which the Father laid out. And while Adam succumbed to Satan, in effect worshipping him when he decided the serpent was more trustworthy than God, Jesus was victorious a third time.
Jesus the victorious Last Adam
There are several obvious parallels between Jesus’ temptation and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Directly prior to Adam’s temptation, God had declared the world “very good”, and He said that He was well pleased with Jesus directly prior to His temptation. While Adam and Eve were in a well-watered, lush garden, Jesus was in the wilderness and had not had food for 40 days. While Eve responded to Satan with her own thoughts based on her own perceptions, Jesus responded with Scripture. And while Adam failed, Jesus succeeded.
A closer look at the individual temptations reveals further similarities. The first temptation was regarding food, as was the Eden temptation. The second temptation was regarding God’s provision, as was the Eden temptation. And the third temptation is about idolatry, as was the Eden temptation.
Jesus, the true Israelite
Jesus’ temptation also bears similarities to Israel’s history. The generation in the wilderness wandered for 40 years. They sinned regarding food (demanding God provide meat), regarding not trusting in God’s provision, and regarding idolatry when they made a golden calf. So as the true Israelite, Jesus succeeded in resisting temptations where Israel failed.
Jesus, our example
While Jesus in His life and ministry did things that Christians today cannot and should not attempt to imitate, in many other ways He provides an example for us as we seek to follow Him and live a godly life. In the temptations, Satan misuses Scripture by twisting it, quoting it out of context, and applying it wrongly. Jesus answers the temptations with true interpretations of the Scriptures.
The temptation accounts and the Gospels as a whole show that Christ was well-acquainted with the Scriptures. As God, He obviously inspired them. But during His life and ministry, Jesus laid aside His divine prerogatives and supernatural power to live a perfectly righteous human life, so He could credit us with a human righteousness when we trust in Him. So it is likely that Jesus learned the Scripture as many Jewish youngsters would, from His parents and in the synagogue. He memorized large portions and was able to recall relevant passages at a moment’s notice.