Great Lent

Jesus tempted in the wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11

1-3. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

vs 1 Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
Teaching us that it is especially after our baptism that we should expect temptations, He is led up by the Holy Spirit; for He did nothing apart from the Holy Spirit. He is led into the wilderness to show us that the devil tempts us when he sees us alone and without help from others. Therefore we must not put our trust in ourselves without any counsel from others. The devil is called “the slanderer” because he slandered God to Adam, saying, “God envies you.” And even now among us the devil slanders virtue.(Matthew ch 3 depicted the baptism of Christ by John.)

vs 1,2. Gregory The Dialogist
AD 604 Hom. in Ev., 16, 1: Some doubt what Spirit it was that led Jesus into the desert, for that it is said after, “The Devil took him into the holy city.” But true and without question agreeable to the context is the received opinion, that it was the Holy Spirit; that His own Spirit should lead Him thither where the evil spirit should find Him and try Him. We should know that there are three modes of temptation; suggestion, delight, and consent; and we when we are tempted commonly fall into delight or consent, because being born of the sin of the flesh, we bear with us whence we afford strength for the contest; but God who incarnate in the Virgin’s womb came into the world without sin, carried within Him nothing of a contrary nature. He could then be tempted by suggestion; but the delight of sin never gnawed His soul, and therefore all that temptation of the Devil was without not within Him. Hom. in Ev., 16, 5: The Creator of all things took no food whatever during forty days. We also, at the season of Lent as much as in us lies afflict our flesh by abstinence. The number forty is preserved, because the virtue of the Decalogue is fulfilled in the books of the holy Gospel; and ten taken four times amounts to forty. Or, because in this mortal body we consist of four elements by the delights of which we go against the Lord’s precepts received by the decalogue. And as we transgress the decalogue through the lusts of this flesh, it is fitting that we afflict the flesh forty-fold.

vs 3. Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
That prowler, the devil, had heard the voice from heaven, and then he saw the Lord hunger, and he was in doubt, wondering how the Son of God could hunger. Therefore he tempts Him, to find out. He flatters Christ, meaning to snare Him by saying, “If thou be the Son of God.” You might ask, “What sin was it to make bread out of stones?” Listen, then: it is a sin even to listen to anything that the devil says. Consider this as well; the devil did not say, “Command that this stone be made bread,” but “these stones,” wishing to cast Christ into gluttony. For one loaf would certainly suffice a man who is hungry. For these reasons, then, Christ did not listen to him.

4. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
This testimony is from the Old Testament, from the words of Moses (Deut 8:3). The Hebrews, too, had been fed by manna, not by real bread; by the word of God the manna fulfilled every need of the Hebrews, and it became whatever food each one might desire to eat. For the manna provided to each Jew the taste he desired, whether of fish, eggs, or cheese (Wisdom of Solomon 16:20).

Jerome AD 420
But thou art caught, O Enemy, in a dilemma. If these stones can be made bread at His word, your temptation is vain against one so mighty. If He cannot make them bread, your suspicions that this is the Son of God must be vain. Christ’s purpose was to vanquish by humility.

5,6. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “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.’”

Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
“If Thou be the Son of God.” As if he were saying, “I do not believe the voice from heaven; but if Thou art the Son of God, show me.” Yet, O foul one, though He is the Son of God, would He have thrown Himself over the precipice? That is the mark of your own savagery, to hurl over the precipice those who are demonized; but it is the mark of God to save. But the words “In their hands they shall bear thee up” were not written of Christ, but of the saints who are in need of angelic help (Ps. 90:11-12). Christ, being God, does not need such help.

7. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

John Chrysostom AD 407
How then does Christ? He is not indignant, nor provoked, but with that extreme gentleness He reasons with him again from the Scriptures, saying, You shall not tempt the Lord your God: Matthew 4:7 teaching us that we must overcome the devil, not by miracles, but by forbearance and long-suffering, and that we should do nothing at all for display and vainglory.

Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
Christ calmly repels the devil, teaching us to defeat the demons with meekness.

Rabanus Maurus AD 856
Jerusalem was called the Holy City, for in it was the Temple of God, the Holy of holies, and the worship of the one God according to the law of Moses. It should be noted, that though our Saviour suffered Himself to be placed bythe Devil on a pinnacle of the temple, yet refused to come down also at his command, giving us an example, that whosoever bids us ascend the strait way of truth we should obey. But if he would again cast us down from the height of truth and virtue to the depth of error we should not hearken to him. Otherwise, it was a suggestion to Him, as man, that He should seek by requiring some miracle to know the greatness of God’s power.

8,9. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
Some think that the high mountain is the passion of avarice into which the enemy strives to lead Jesus. But those who think this do not reason well. The devil appeared to Him visibly, for the Lord did not entertain any evil thoughts — far from it! The devil, therefore, visibly showed Him all the kingdoms, presenting them before His eyes in an image, and said, “All these things will I give Thee.” In his pride, he considers the world to be his own. Even now the devil makes this offer to the greedy, with the result that those who worship him do possess these things.

10. Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

John Chrysostom AD 407
For since he was now come to sinning against the Father, saying, that all that is the Father’s was his, and was endeavouring to make himself out to be God, as artificer of the universe; He then rebuked him: but not even then with vehemence, but simply, Get you hence, Satan; which itself had in it something of command rather than of rebuke. For as soon as He had said to him, Get you hence, He caused him to take to flight; since he brought not against Him any other temptations…. For the things that form the substance of innumerable evils are these: to be a slave to the belly, to do anything for vainglory, to be in subjection to the madness of riches.

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

John Chrysostom AD 407
The Devil, left in uncertainty by this second reply, passes to a third temptation. Christ had broken the nets of appetite, had passed over those of ambition, he now spreads for Him those of covetousness; “He taketh him up into a very high mountain,” such as in going round about the earth he had noticed rising above the rest. The higher the mountain, the wider the view from it. He shows Him not so as that they truly saw the very kingdoms, cities, nations, their silver and their gold; but the quarters of the earth where each kingdom and city lay. As suppose from some high ground I were to point out to you, see there lies Rome, there Alexandria; you are not supposed to see the towns themselves, but the quarter in which they lie. Thus the Devil might point out the several quarters with his finger, and recount in words the greatness of each kingdom and its condition; for that is said to be shown which is in any way presented to the understanding. But such things as are gotten by iniquity in this world, as riches, for instance, gained by fraud or perjury, these the Devil bestows. The Devil therefore cannot give riches to whom he will, but to those only who are willing to receive them of him. With these words He puts an end to the temptations of the Devil, that they should proceed not further. The Devil, we may fairly suppose, did not depart in obedience to the command, but the Divine nature of Christ, and the Holy Spirit which was in Him drove him thence, and “then the Devil left him.” Which also serves for our consolation, to see that the Devil does not tempt the men of God so long as he wills, but so long as Christ suffers. And though He may suffer him to tempt for a short time, yet in the end He drives him away because of the weakness of our nature.Now let us shortly review what is signified by Christ’s temptations :

  • The fasting is abstinence from things evil, hunger is the desire of evil, bread is the gratification of the desire. He who indulges himself in any evil thing, turns stones into bread. Let him answer to the Devil’s persuasions that man does not live by the indulgence of desire alone, but by keeping the commands of God.
  • When any is puffed up as though he were holy he is led to the temple, and when he esteems himself to have reached the summit of holiness he is set on a pinnacle of the temple. And this temptation follows the first, because victory over temptation begets conceit. But observe that Christ had voluntarily undertaken the fasting; but was led to the temple by the Devil; therefore do you voluntarily use praiseworthy abstinence, but suffer yourself not to be exalted to the summit of sanctity; fly high-mindedness, and you will not suffer a fall.
  • The ascent of the mountain is the going forward to great riches, and the glory of this world which springs from pride of heart. When you desire to become rich, that is, to ascend the mountain, you begin to think of the ways of gaining wealth and honours, then the prince of this world is shewing you the glory of his kingdom. In the third place He provides you reasons, that if you seek to obtain all these things, you should serve him, and neglect the righteousness of God.

Theophylact of Ochrid AD 1107
The Lord conquered the three temptations of gluttony, vainglory, and avarice. These are the chief passions, and by conquering them, how much more so does He conquer the others. Wherefore Luke says that the devil “ended every temptation” (Lk. 4:13), having ended these chief temptations. Whereupon angels serve Him to show that the angels will serve us as well after our victory over temptation. For everything that Christ did and revealed was for our sake, since the angels are always serving Him as God.

Jerome AD 420
The Devil and Peter are not, as many suppose, condemned to the same sentence. To Peter it is said, “Get thee behind me, Satan;” i.e. follow thou behind Me who art contrary to My will. But here it is, “Go, Satan,” and is not added, ‘behind Me,’ that we may understand “into the fire prepared for thee and thy angels.”. When the Devil says to the Saviour, “If thou wilt fall down and worship me,” he is answered by the contrary declaration, that it more becomes him to worship Jesus as his Lord and God.