Jesus had been led into the wilderness by the Spirit. Matthew intends for the reader to see an obvious parallel between the children of Israel as they were led out of Egypt and the temptation of Jesus. In both cases there is a going through water, in both cases they are called the son of God. In both cases there was hunger and the desire for food. Israel grumbled and rebelled stating "if only we had died in Egypt...there we ate all the food we wanted" (Ex.16:3). Surely, the one who had brought them out of Egypt with great signs and wonders would not allow them to die in the wilderness. Jesus similarly was hungry and the temptation to eat was serious. The first temptation was an attempt to have Jesus meet his own needs. Would he depend upon the Father to meet even such a need as hunger, or would Jesus turn rocks into food? I
In Matthew 4:5-7 we find the second temptation which Jesus faced in the wilderness. At first glance this seems rather silly...why don't you jump off the highest part of the temple? Notice that the tempter begins by questioning whether Jesus is the son of God. This uncertainty could be easily solved by jumping off the temple. As the very incarnation of God, Jesus walked on the water, calmed storms and was able to control the properties of the natural world. Everyone near the temple would see the incredible sight of Jesus gently floating down to the ground after jumping from the temple roof top. Talk about a dramatic start to a public ministry!
The tempter adds to his suggestion by quoting scripture. He quotes to Jesus Psalm 91:11-12 -in effect-'angels will lift you up and you will not even stub your toe'! So, the devil suggests not only will ever one who sees Jesus float down from the temple roof believe he really is the son of God, scripture says nothing bad will happen when he does this. In fact, the devil is suggesting that if Jesus was the son of God he should know this. Jesus should want God to prove his son is special.
We must admit if Jesus did jump off the highest part of the temple, perhaps the royal portico over looking the Kedron valley some 450 feet below, and if he gently floated down for all to see, it would be very convincing. Wouldn't this prove to all that Jesus was in fact some sort of divine being? With all of this in mind, what was the real temptation here? Much like the temptation to turn the rocks into bread, the suggestion to jump off the temple is the idea there was an easier way to be taken. Unlike turning rocks into bread, which no one would have seen, jumping off the temple was intended to be seen by all. A glorious start on a road to a kingdom. However the temptation was actually a test, a test for the Father to prove his faithfulness! In fact the children of Israel had done this also. When the children of Israel found themselves thirsty and grumbled for lack of water (Ex. 15:22-27), they turned the situation into a test about God, not their faithfulness. If God was truly in their midst and led them, he would provide water, if there was no water then they would seek another god.
If Jesus jumped off the temple one of two results would be seen. Looking at Daniel 10:13, perhaps fallen angels are in places of authority and actually resist the work of the Lord. The angel who brought God's message told Daniel he was 'resisted for 21 days’. Perhaps the devil thought all he had to do was delay the angels long enough...only a few seconds and Jesus might fall to his earthly death without any atonement accomplished. On the other hand, if Jesus was carried down by the angels, and if he walked on water maybe he didn't need angels to help him, the expected outcome of instant belief, again an atoning sacrifice is avoided. The primary focus of the devil was to keep Jesus from being who He really is. The primary focus the devil has for us is that we do not see Jesus for who he really is.
Like the little boy who was 'lost' but later found in the temple (see notes on "The boy who was lost, but knew where he was”), Jesus displays a clear sense of who he is and what is the relationship between him and the Father. For Jesus the primary goal was obedience to the Father. In this Israel consistently failed as they grumbled about food, water and whether they could enter the land. Matthew has given us a sharp contrast between Israel and Jesus. Given the opportunity to show obedience, Israel rebelled. Given the opportunity to take any other path, Jesus showed obedience.
The question is just as real for us. Are we willing to be obedient and follow the Lord, or do we seek our own solutions? Do we put ourselves in situations wherein we demand the Lord prove himself...for our benefit? Unfortunately many expect the Lord to prove himself by providing prosperity and health. If the Lord really is god, let him make me rich. If the Father is really sovereign over all things he should cure me of my illnesses, keep me from making mistakes, allow my impulses and whims to be successful and wise.
Really...how often does the Lord allow you to be tested...and how often do you test the Lord?