What Does Testing the Lord Mean in Matthew?

What does it mean to test the Lord as Jesus addresses in the second temptation?

In Matthew 4:1-11, the devil tempts Jesus three times. Each temptation can be related to the three temptations John mentions (1 John 2:16). We will use these as a loose understanding of the temptations of Jesus. What our chief curiosity is when Jesus talks about testing the Lord in the second temptation.

Matthew interestingly tells us that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose to be tempted by the devil. This is the final preparation for his ministry. He has already been baptized by John the Baptist. This is the last step. Where Israel failed to follow God and rebelled and complained the entire time, Jesus will succeed in every temptation.

The Lust of the Flesh

The devil challenges Jesus’ title as the Son of God and wants him to prove that he is (Matthew 4:3). He wants to see a miracle like everyone else. He wants Jesus to turn stones into bread because he is hungry.

Stones were almost the size of a loaf of bread in the time of Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it. He says that a person doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Matthew 4:4).

Although Jesus was very hungry and needed food to eat after 40 days of fasting, he did not allow the lust of his flesh to deter him. He stood up to the devil and didn’t do a miraculous sign for him. He trusted that God was the sustenance that he needed in that hour. He resisted his flesh and the desire to prove himself as Son of God. She knew who he was and didn’t need to prove it on command.

The Pride of Life

Next, the devil takes him to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and challenges to throw himself down (Matthew 4:5-6). Since he is the Son of God he did not be afraid of dying before his time. The devil quotes Scripture from Psalm 91, a Psalm about God protecting the Messiah from harm.

Jesus isn’t surprised by the devil. But he responds with the perfect Scripture for this moment. When the devil tempts him to enjoy the pride of life, the promise that he will be safe until this time, Jesus responds that no one should test God when he promises these things (Matthew 4:7).

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16 where Moses tells the Israelites when they enter the promised not to test the Lord as they did at Massah. This refers back to Exodus 17:1-7. The Israelites were thirsty and so they complained to Moses that there was no water to drink in this place.

It was originally named Rephidim but because of their quarreling he renamed it Massah. He asked God what he should do and God told him to take the same staff struck the Nile with and strike the rock. Then water came out.

But the sin of the Israelites in testing the Lord was that they asked the question, “Is the Lord among us or not” (Exodus 17:7)? But look at Exodus 17:6. The Lord tells Moses that the only reason water comes from the rock is not because he strikes it with the special staff but because, “Behold, I will stand before you on the rock…”

The Israelites asked if God was among them but he says that he was standing on the rock before them where the water flowed after Moses struck it with his staff. They tested the Lord by questioning his presence as he stood in front of them!

As a side note (because I can’t resist), Jesus stood before the Israelites on that day on that rock. How do I know this? In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul says that their forefathers all drank from the spiritual Rock that is Christ. And Jesus, interestingly, speaks of rivers of water (John 7:37-39) and talks about living water with the Samaritan woman (John 4:10, 13-14).

The Lust of the Eyes

Finally, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-10). The key for the lust of the eyes is that he “showed” him these kingdoms. He beheld the glory of these kingdoms with his eyes.

The devil says he will give these kingdoms to Jesus only if Jesus bows down and worships him. Who owned these kingdoms? The devil clearly says he owns them and can give them if he wishes. For this time, the devil does reign on this earth.

But God owns his creation as its sovereign Lord. Jesus will reign on the earth in the millennial reign at the end of time. He was able to be patient and not take the bait of Satan. Here was the true King of the whole universe standing before the devil who was given these kingdoms for this time.

But Jesus quotes Scripture for the final time to worship God and serve him only (Matthew 4:10; Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus wasn’t concerned with getting a kingdom from Satan that he already owned. He concentrated on serving his Father.

Instead of succumbing to the lust of his eyes in the kingdoms that he saw, taking them now instead of at the proper time later, and giving up his throne to Satan in that moment, Jesus was patient. After all, that’s what Satan has always been after, usurping God’s throne from the beginning.

Notice that in Matthew 4:11, the Angels come to minister to Jesus. They take care of the fact that he was hungry without food. They minister to him as Psalm 91 had prophesied about the Messiah.

Testing the Lord

This question is about what it means to test the Lord. The Israelites tested the Lord by questioning his presence while he stood right before then. They tested him because they saw and still asked if he was there.

Satan wanted Jesus to test his Father by proving his promise to protect him. If he would have jumped off, angels would rescue him so that he didn’t die at the bottom. It wasn’t his time before his ministry began for him to suffer.

To test the Lord is to not trust in his promises. If anyone needs the proof of the promise before the Lord fulfills it in his time, they test him. We don’t need to demand proof of the promise because we have seen evidence of it along the way.

Instead of testing the Lord for proof of his promises we need to be patient until he fulfills them. We trust the Lord and if he makes a promise he fulfills it. We even have examples throughout history of his fulfillment of his promises. Abraham received his promised son Isaac. Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies about him in the Old Testament. God fulfills his promises in his time.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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