During the Lenten season, Lutherans inwardly reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us and our own sinful nature to prepare for the coming resurrection and Christ’s victory over Satan. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus is tempted in the desert by Satan multiple times. Christians are tempted by Satan daily. Although we sometimes stand strong against him, we live in a broken world and topple into his pitfalls frequently, asking for God’s forgiveness. As you inwardly reflect on your sins, read this Concordia Commentary passage from Matthew 1:1–11:1 , written by Jeffrey A. Gibbs, to see what God’s Word says about Jesus’ saving work against Satan.
Jesus Is Victor over Satan (4:1–11)
As is evident from the commentary on 4:1–11, my conviction is that Matthew here is proclaiming Jesus’ work rather than Jesus’ example. It is common, in my experience, to hear sermons preached on this text that extol Jesus as the one who shows us how to resist temptation. This hermeneutical move assumes that Matthew presents Jesus as our model and that the method by which Jesus resists Satan’s temptations involves the appropriate use of Scripture to refute the evil one’s lies.
Given the dominant Christology in this Matthean context, it is difficult to conclude that the evangelist wants his audience to view Jesus primarily as a moral example. There is a sense in which 4:1–11 can have that force. However, given Jesus’ identity as the Son of God in place of the failed, fallen, sinful nation in both 3:13–17 and 4:1–11, the primary message of 4:1–11 must be that Jesus is Victor over Satan on behalf of the nation and ultimately on behalf of all people.
And yet, “a disciple is not above the teacher, nor is a slave above his master” (10:24). Just as Jesus’ own cross is both salvific and exemplary (properly understood, as in 16:21–26), so there is application from 4:1–11 for the disciples of Jesus as they wage war against Satan and his temptations. The application, however, should not be direct, as though each of Jesus’ temptations is intended to correspond directly with something that we Christians experience. Rather, read holistically, the attacks of Satan against Jesus call up for review the nature of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Satan tries to get Jesus to misunderstand or contradict what it means for him to live out his mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping his identity.
How to See This in Your Life
So it is also in the Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. 4:1–11 does not so much teach disciples that they should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as men and women in Christ, Jesus’ disciples of all ages can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on their identity as the children of God, and on what it means to live out that identity in the world and in our vocations. So the pattern of combat with Satan that Jesus here establishes is not so much “find the right Bible verse,” although “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), is indeed the believer’s chief weapon in this battle that will go on until Christ our Victor returns in glory. Rather, Jesus’ paradigm is this: “Know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to be lived out.” In that sense, even as he wins the victory, Jesus the Son of God prepares his disciples for the battle. Just as the Spirit led Jesus into temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so it will be with Jesus’ disciples as they serve and follow their Master.
The hymn writer said, “From vict’ry unto vict’ry His army shall He lead.” Following Satan’s departure, one might reasonably expect Jesus to head straight into more a victorious conflict with the enemies of God’s people. However, the reader of the Gospel’s first major section (1:1–4:16) should by this time be expecting that Jesus will do something “unreasonable,” unexpected. So he does, as the final until (4:12–16) in the section relates the Son of God’s movement according to the Scriptures.
Excerpt adapted from Concordia Commentary, Matthew 1:1–11:1 copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
To read more of Jeffrey A. Gibbs’s commentary on Matthew 1:1–11:1, order the book below.