In his excellent book, The Gospel Driven Life, Michael Horton comments on the disciples that,
They sought to learn the wisdom of his ways and imitate his example. However, they missed the most important elements that true discipleship entailed. They misunderstood the point of the journey. They failed to realize that the most important part of following Jesus was realizing that they could not go everywhere that he was going; could not do everything that he alone could accomplish; and could not even understand why he had come, apart from the Spirit opening their hearts to recognize Christ in all the Scriptures. The most important things that had to be done for the establishment of this kingdom Jesus had to do by himself. In fact, the disciples had fled for their lives.
We are just as foolish. We try to make this text all about us. No doubt Christ is our example in overcoming temptation and we can glean many practical helps from our text, but this text is primarily about Jesus overcoming temptation, not us. We are arrogant little fools trying to skip the prerequisites and go straight to graduate work. Without the prerequisites we flunk temptation.
Jesus is doing here what we cannot – overcoming temptation and resisting the devil. Remember Jesus has just identified Himself with us in His baptism. Notice all the other marks of identification here. He is in the wilderness for forty days and then He quotes from Deuteronomy 8.
The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 8:1-3
So Israel, God’s son failed the test of living by God’s Word alone, but the true and greater Israel, God’s only begotten Son doesn’t. He succeeds where they – where we failed. In His second and third temptation Jesus does more of the same.
Also there is something implicit here that Luke makes more clear in his gospel account. Both Matthew and Mark go straight from Jesus’ baptism to His testing, but Luke, he inserts a genealogy in between. What a weird place for a genealogy right? But remember unlike Matthew who works forward from Abraham to Jesus, Luke works backwards from Jesus all the way back to Adam. Now we can compare the first Adam in whom we fall to the Second Adam in whom we are risen to newness of life.
The first Adam had every provision, he could eat of every tree save one; the second Adam had been fasting for forty days.
The first Adam falls after one temptation and is driven out; the second Adam resists three temptations and Satan is driven out.
Here is the point, we fall to temptation continually, He didn’t, ever! His victory over Satan, sin, and temptation is ours. The prerequisite for overcoming temptation is union with Christ (Romans 6:6-7; 1 John 5:4; Revelation 12:11). His victory is ours. Faith, not merely technique is the key to overcoming temptation.
All divine power and strength against sin flows from the soul’s union and communion with Christ (Rom. 8. I0; 1 John 1. 6, 7). While you keep off from Christ, you keep off from that strength and power which is alone able to make you trample down strength, lead captivity captive, and slay the Goliaths that bid defiance to Christ. It is only faith in Christ that makes a man triumph over sin, Satan, hell, and the world (1 John 5. 4). It is only faith in Christ that binds the strong man’s hand and foot, that stops the issue of blood, that makes a man strong in resisting, and happy in conquering (Matt. 5. I5-35). Sin always dies most where faith lives most. The most believing soul is the most mortified soul. Ah! sinner, remember this, there is no way on earth effectually to be rid of the guilt, filth, and power of sin, but by believing in a Saviour. It is not resolving, it is not complaining, it is not mourning, but believing, that will make thee divinely victorious over that body of sin that to this day is too strong for thee, and that will certainly be thy ruin, if it be not ruined by a hand of faith. – Thomas Brooks in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices