“being tempted.” The Bible does not record what all these temptations were, but they certainly included hunger and danger from wild animals. The Bible records that at the end of the forty days the Devil himself came and tempted Jesus (Matt. 4:3). We can see part of the reason for the temptations in the fact that they are recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not John. As the king and representative of the people (in Matthew), as the servant of God (in Mark), and as the perfect human and second Adam (in Luke), Jesus had to show that a man could stand up to the temptations of life and of the Devil. As the Son of God (in John) there was no point in recording his temptation; he did not need to resist temptation to show who he was and what he could do. As the Word in the flesh he had a higher calling—to make known his Father to the world. [For information on the reason for four Gospels, see commentary on Mark 1:1, “the Good News of Jesus Christ”].
The fact that Jesus was tempted in the desert should prove once and for all that the earth is a war zone and there is an ongoing battle between Good and Evil. God does not tempt (James 1:13), yet life is full of temptations. The world we live in is under the control of the Devil (1 John 5:19) and that should be obvious to us because of the evil that is all around us, which cannot be from our loving God. God did not tempt Jesus in the desert, the Devil did.
What a great victory Jesus had for himself and humankind, and what a contrast to Adam and Eve. Adam was in the best of circumstance in the Garden of Eden, yet he abandoned God’s command to follow his fleshly desires. In contrast, Jesus was in the worst of earth’s circumstances yet held fast to the humble service and obedience due his Father, God. In the experience of those two men Scripture lays before us the two paths available to us: the path of Adam and the path of the Second Adam, and it is our choice which to follow. We can be like the first Adam and ignore God’s commands and give in to our flesh, or we can be like the Second Adam and be willing to devote ourselves to selfless service and believe and follow the Word of God and not our own desires and feelings. The choice is ours to make, but the consequences are not ours to pick. The consequences of obedience are everlasting life and rewards. The consequences of disobedience can include death in the Lake of Fire. May we all have the wisdom and strength to choose the path of Christ. [For more on the war between God and the Devil that is going on in the world, see commentary on Luke 4:6].
“the Adversary.” The Greek word for Adversary is Satanas (#4567 Σατανᾶς ). The term means “Adversary,” and it was borrowed from the Aramaic, Satana (סָטָנָא) which originally referred to one who laid in ambush [as an adversary], and then became used as a proper name meaning “Adversary” (see Vocabulary of the Greek NT, by Moulton & Milligan). The word “satan” means “adversary” in all the biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, although sometimes it is used just as “an adversary,” and sometimes, especially with the article, it is used as an appellative, a name, for the Devil.
Being an adversary to God and the things of God is a major part of the Devil’s character and strategy. “Satan” can refer to the direct work of the Devil as in Job 1, or it can refer to indirect work as in Matthew 16:23 when Jesus called Peter “Satan.” Usually the word “Satan” places the emphasis on the indirect work of the Devil. As the great adversary of the true God, the Adversary is the indirect cause of people’s problems by way of situations or circumstances or other people, which he arranges and controls. He is the influence of these situations, circumstances, and people. It has been generally unhelpful that satanas has been transliterated as “Satan” rather than translated as “Adversary.” Anyone reading Hebrew or Greek knew what the word meant, but almost no Christian knows that “Satan” is not just a name, it is a word that became used as a name, and its meaning, Adversary, is important. For information of the names of the Devil and their meanings, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil”.
“served him.” The Greek verb is diakoneō (#1247 διακονέω), and it is in the imperfect tense, thus indicating an action in the past which occurred over a period of time. Although a number of commentators state that they believe that Satan had already left Jesus’ presence when the angels came, that does not seem to be the sense of the Greek text or a simple reading of the verse itself. The flow of the verse clearly seems to indicate that the angels were with him at times while he was in the desert, just as the wild animals were. If we read the verse as it stands, the wild animals were certainly with Jesus during his time in the desert, and the verse simply continues on and says that the angels were ministering to him, as if they also were there at times during his temptation in the desert. Jesus’ desert experience would have been like life: the hardships of life (the desert), the presence of physical enemies (the wild animals), the hordes of Satan (including Satan himself), and God’s angels, all around one man who needed to resist temptation and walk in wisdom and power. There is no reason to believe that the presence of angels somehow meant that Jesus was not really tempted. For one thing, it is unlikely that the angels were there all the time, any more than he was constantly surrounded by wild animals. They would likely come and go. Also, the angels did not keep Jesus from being tempted, but their presence helped remind Jesus how much was at stake in his living a sinless life.
The Word specifically says that it was the Spirit, God, who led Jesus into the desert (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1). The Gospel of Mark is even more forceful, saying that the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert (Mark 1:12). But why? Why the need to be in the desert? It surely makes a parallel between Jesus in the desert and Moses and Israel in the desert. Jesus was 40 days in the desert fasting just as Moses was 40 days fasting on Mt. Sinai (Moses was there twice: Exod. 24:18; 34:28), and Israel was 40 years in the desert. There was an angel of the Lord in the desert who helped Israel in its wanderings (Exod. 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2) and so too Jesus had angelic support. It was Moses’ and Israel’s disobedience in the desert that led to the death of a generation of Israelites, the deaths of Israel’s great leaders, and by dividing the Twelve Tribes to both sides of the Jordan River, put an end to the vision of a united Israel in the Promised Land. In contrast, Jesus’ obedience in the wilderness, and his resisting physical, mental, and spiritual temptation, contributed to his being able to restore and give life to the nation of Israel once again.