CHAPTER 4 - Matthew’s Gospel - The Good News About Satan

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Where is Satan in the New Testament? Can we see who or what Satan is by exploring the character as we find it in the book of Matthew? When read in the absence of a historically accurate and scripturally sound teaching on Satan, devils, and demons, the Book of Matthew contains some of the most compelling arguments for a literal Satan. As we begin our journey through this Gospel, we will shortly arrive at the story of Jesus (Yeshua) being tested in the wilderness. Some who are inclined to hold to a Satan in their belief system invariably point to this story for proof of the existence of their Satan. The argument claims that because Jesus was tempted by Satan according to the words of the New Testament, that Satan must be real. It makes sense if you believe in Satan already. I understand their position implicitly as I held the very same position prior to learning the Bible does not teach Satan is real. As well as realizing, that to think there is a cosmic Satan, no matter how small we think him to be, is to think there is another God.

Temptation In The Wilderness Of Matthew 4

It would be fantastic if it were enough to simply tell you Jesus did not encounter a literal Satan in the wilderness. How simple it would be to just say He was tested but it was by one of two possible candidates. Certainly, something of note went on out there during the 40 day trek…otherwise we would not have been handed down a telling of the story. But what might the tester have been in the desert that day? As I said, it is one of two possibilities. Those being, either the Christ was tested by his own evil inclination or the local religious authorities and religious echelon known as the scribes and Pharisees, were about their shenanigans of trying to find out if this interesting figure was the Messiah or not. Yes it would be wonderful if it were enough for those who believe in Satan to hear what I have just written and resign themselves to agree that the Messiah did not engage a literal cosmic being during or after the 40 days He spent in the wilderness. However, hasty agreeance will prove to be far from the case when one hearing my brief statement on the matter calls to mind numerous facets of the story. After all, there are several specifics in the story that also seem to testify to a real and literal Satan. Therefore, I will go well beyond a simple decisive statement about the story. In order to provide more conclusive reasoning as to why Satan the fallen angel was not in the desert that day, I will delve into many levels and aspects of the scene Yeshua was a participant in leading up to the wilderness testing. That means the story of the wilderness meeting with a Satan can only make sense when we investigate the situation preceding the meeting with an adversary called the devil.

So, as a means of providing convincing arguments to dismantle a long-held belief about the story of Yeshua being tested in the wilderness, I will present at length, various elements that must be considered to completely understand who or what Yeshua likely encountered in the wilderness. Once again, I would like you to remember that the following commentary is premised by the fact that Yeshua was a Hebrew Rabbi who knew the Scriptures explicitly. The Christ would have agreed with the Old Testament and that means He knew there is no literal Satan. He was not manifest on the Earth to change any of the truths found in the Old Testament, therefore He was ever in agreement with the Scriptures that teach there is only one God and no cosmic satanic being. He would have understood from a strong background in Old Testament theology, that there was no being who was in many ways like God. Therefore there must be a more acceptable explanation for the who or what it was that tested Yeshua when he was just about to embark on a ministry that would change the world. Take solace friends, there is a more comprehensive answer to the question of who tempted Jesus in the wilderness?

It Might Make More Sense If We Consider Those Who Were the Most Jealous of Jesus

In Matthew chapters three and four, we are given an account of Yeshua coming to John the Baptist to be baptized. Just before the arrival of Yeshua on scene at the Jordan. We are told that large numbers of seekers had been coming to be baptized by John and that the scribes and Pharisees were out to observe the proceedings as well. According to John, they were not welcomed at this auspicious occasion and he let them know by way of calling them a “generation of vipers.” Of course, we know they are not literal vipers. Some ancient texts indicate John called them scorpions. If this is so then what could John mean by calling them scorpions? Some history indicates John used this comparison because of the absence of a guiding force in their lives. A scorpion was often believed to be parentless after entering the world. The mother of the baby scorpion died during delivery of the baby from her side. The female upon mating had killed the father scorpion. This left the young scorpion with no wise and prudent parental guidance and was assigned to doing whatever the scorpion wanted. Therefore, we can see the sense in John calling them scorpions to indicate they had no real guidance in their religion. Please note, the Scribes and Pharisees were not said to be like snakes or scorpions, but were said to be snakes or scorpions. For ease of communicating, I will use “vipers” as is seen in the KJV.

Have you ever heard of hypocatastasis? I know, it’s a big word that is not very common in everyday language. All it means is there is an implied resemblance or representation of a thing or person to another thing. For example, if you called someone eating ribs “Pig” that would be using hypocatastasis. The rib eater is implied to resemble a Pig, a slobbering eater, by your labeling statement. The hypocatastasis[10] (implied resemblance or representation) used here is common in Hebraic writing and we generally have no trouble recognizing the absence of literal meaning in John calling the Pharisees and Scribes “vipers.” Saying the Pharisees “are a brood of vipers”, does not make them a literal brood of vipers but is intended to cast a distinguishable comparison to vipers on some level. It is however interesting that indeed the word he used was a type of serpent, thus possibly indicating a connection to the concept seen in the serpent in the garden story that we discussed earlier.[11]

Is A Viper A Snake Or A Man?

What might be meant by “viper” in this insult given from John the Baptist? These men were adversarial to the plan and purpose of Yahweh. We also must consider the possibility they have a connection to the tempting of Yeshua in the wilderness. It is not a coincidence that the Scribes and Pharisees became quite offended by John’s derisional statements and berating comments made in front of a large crowd. They were rejected and were denied being baptized by John, because John was familiar with their attitude and religious practice. John was in strong disagreement with these men over the idea they had that having Abraham as their father was reason enough to inherit the promises of God. Maybe John was tired of their charade and had encountered these hypocrites before. Perhaps they had come to the Jordan prior to this instance and John had refused them baptism more gently. One can only speculate at all the possible situations that may have occurred. However, it is clear from the text that in this moment a public scorning and rejection of the Scribes and Pharisees was offered by John, the radical son of a priest who had come to prepare the way of Yeshua.

These officials of the first century Temple and Synagogue system were very devout and pious in their faith. They indeed had a great deal of pride in the way they diligently kept all the Law as they had defined it. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture what might have been the response of the rejected riverside guests. For certain, they would not have just sheepishly sulked away to the recesses of the crowd that day nor quickly ran away in tears because the mean hairy man in the fur coat said bad things about them. Likely these self-righteous dignitaries would have instantly done what many of us do when we are offended... get defensive. The defensiveness of this “brood of vipers” would then have been projected onto the closest target of significance. As it happens, we see Yeshua come on the scene as if being cued by a stage director, immediately after John rails against the Scribes and Pharisees, magnifying their inadequacy as it pertains to repentance and receiving baptism. Below is what is written in Matthew that shows how grandiose the appearance of the man Yeshua on the Jordan baptismal scene was. I will refrain from using the KJV exclusively in this section because there are many decent translations of the Greek New Testament available today. As a way to enhance communicating my point, I will quote the Messianic Renewed Covenant Version;

"As for me, I immerse you with water for repentance. But He Who is coming after me is mightier than I, Whose sandals I am not fit to remove. He will immerse some of you with the Holy Spirit, and others of you with fire, and His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor. And He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with inextinguishable fire.”

Then Yeshua arrived from Galil at the Yarden unto Yochanan to be immersed by him.

But Yochanan tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be immersed by You, and do You come to me?"

But Yeshua answering said to him, "Permit it now, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.

And after being immersed, Yeshua went up immediately from the water; and behold, the Heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, coming upon Him.

And behold, a voice out of the Heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased.”
Matthew 3:11-17 MRC

John scorned the Scribes and Pharisees and then gave a glowing testimony of one much greater than those he had just scorned. Yeshua then enters the picture and John reports that Yeshua is the one he was talking about. In another Gospel record, John says, “Behold, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” There could be no other interpretation in the minds of the hearers. The onlooking Scribes and Pharisees knew John was referring to the Messiah by his words. Then, when Yeshua appears on the scene, the affirmation of Him being Messiah is clearly spoken. John doesn’t even veil his words. It is without doubt that this was a period of great expectation for the appearance of a Messiah. Knowing that any Scribe or Pharisee worth his salt would have heard of Herod’s search for the “new born King” about 30 years previous, it is sensible to say the Scribes and Pharisees would have perceived John was introducing one who was believed to be the Messiah. The Pharisees looking on that day knew all about the expected Messiah. But these misguided scorpions had another ancient connection worth noting.

The Messiah, The Magi, And The Demon Priest

The Persian Magi were named Parsi because of their geographical connection to the area called Farsi in Persia. The Jewish sect of Pharisees can be traced to being in the region of Farsi and were thus known as “the separated ones”, which is the meaning of the name Farsi. These Farsi dwelling Magi may well have been the originators of Phariseeism and may have eventually become the sect that tested Yeshua in the wilderness. The historical search by these famous Magi for the baby King became Herod’s search. According to the Gospels this search resulted in death for many babies in Herod’s Kingdom about 30 years prior to the baptism of Yeshua by John. The well informed and well inflamed Scribes and Pharisees would want to do what any rabbinic thinker, teacher, and leader was inclined to do when confronted with the possibility of one being a Messiah, they would want to test Him. The Rabbis had long ago established a method and means of administering certain tests for the Messianic candidates who would rise up from within their culture from time to time. According to history writer Laurence Gardner, there existed a priestly caste of men who were responsible to perform certain functions within their religious subculture. One such priest is referred to as a demon priest number 7, in Chapter 9 of Bloodline Of the Holy Grail[12]. According to Gardner, the demon priest was responsible to supervise the community’s celibate women and Gardner articulates in the footnote attached to this text that the demon priest was also responsible for testing men like Yeshua. Men who showed potential in the competitive field of religious leaders. The demon priest was known as the Tempter.

All this fits nicely with an understanding of the Hebraic concept of demons and devils as simply adversarial men. Gardner, although extremely favorable toward the Gnostic stories that have become the Gnostic Gospels, does have a grasp on the history that shows Yeshua was likely tempted by religious men. The Greek word for tempted is better translated as “tested.” We can even see how this understanding relates to Judas Iscariot’s role in the Christ’s life. Gardner posits that Judas the betrayer was the demon priest and had an underlying objective of getting Yeshua to display His characters of divinity and propel Judas to a place of political and religious power that would be unparalleled by the other disciples. I only affirm Gardner’s expression of the historical role of a Priestly Tempter and not his explanation of that character of Judas nor the motives of that character. Here are Gardner’s words;

As chief of the Scribes, Judas Sicariote also held the post of the Tempter. It was thus with Judas that Jesus debated when he was ‘led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil’ (Matthew 4:1). Judas was at that time seeking to become the Father in place of John the Baptist. The basis of Judas’s negotiation with Jesus was that if he would aid him to priestly eminence, he would assist him, in return, to become king. ‘All this power I will give thee and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomever I will give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine, (Luke 4:6-7). See Barbara Thiering, Jesus the Man, ch 17, p. 88, also ch. 15, pp.80-81.[13]

These tests often included such actions and demonstrations as are told of those asked of Jesus by the adversary in the wilderness. Let’s consider the testing in the wilderness. As far as Jewish cynicism goes, the Messiah’s claims must have been taken quite seriously for the leaders of the day to engage Him in their testing. In an article titled “Let’s Be Fair to the Pharisees”, the writer adds some valuable perspective to the entire concept of testing the Messiah.

Testing a Messiah candidate is a good thing

We often find in the Gospels, cases where Pharisees approach Yeshua in an effort to “test” or “trap” him. The Pharisees’ behavior is sometimes interpreted to mean that they were unfaithful, blinded to the truth and even conspiring together to do evil, a perspective that is influenced by historical anti-Semitism.

But is it really a bad thing that the Pharisees tried to test Yeshua? He was claiming to be the messiah! If someone made such a claim to you, would you want to test them, or would you blindly take their word for it? Testing someone who makes serious claims to be sent from God is the only right thing to do, especially if you are the spiritual leader of a community. The fact that the Pharisees tested Yeshua is evidence that they took him seriously, and were responsible leaders among the Jewish people. It is to their credit.

One who claims to be the messiah should expect to be challenged on that point, and should not be intimidated. And remarkably, we find that Yeshua passed their tests with flying colors, often leaving them with nothing left to say.[14]

As we have it in the apostolic record, Yeshua is immediately sent out into the wilderness to be tested by the Spirit. It is not the spirit of “satan” but it is the Spirit of God that sends Him out.Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the one who opposes.”

If one is familiar with Yahweh’s practices in the Hebrew Scriptures they would find that it is Yahweh who often sends people to test the loyalties of His people. It was Yahweh who led the disenfranchised nation of Israel in the wilderness for forty years to test them. It is important to make the connection here that the wilderness testing of the Israelites in the wilderness was done by God using human persons just as the testing of Yeshua in the wilderness was also done as an act of God. In the verses below, we see the Scriptures indicate Yahweh sent the Israelites into the wilderness to test them for forty years and the apostolic record shows the Messiah was sent into the wilderness by God to be tested for forty-days.

And thou shalt remember2142 (853) all3605 the way1870 which834 the LORD3068 thy God430 led1980 thee these2088 forty705 years8141 in the wilderness,4057 to4616 humble6031 thee, and to test5254 thee, to know3045 (853) what834 was in thine heart,3824 whether thou wouldest keep8104 his commandments,4687 or518 not.3808
Deuteronomy 8:2

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty-days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
Matthew 4:1-2 KJVA

Insight into the meaning of the word used for “testing” is provided in the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary

to be tempted--The Greek word (peirazein) means simply to try or make proof of; and when ascribed to God in His dealings with men, it means, and can mean no more than this. Thus, Gen_22:1, "It came to pass that God did tempt Abraham," or put his faith to a severe proof.[15]

There’s No Truth In Satan Except For The Truth In Satan

I must question the validity of the theory that it was the cosmic Satan who tested the Messiah in the wilderness. My question is based on one simple but popular presupposition about Satan. The apostolic writings are understood to speak of Satan as not having any truth in him and only able to speak lies. John chapter 8 makes mention of this in stating there is “no truth in him”;

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
John 8:44 KJV

If “the devil” of this passage is a reference to the evil inclination that resides in man and works against the truth that man is presented with, then indeed there is “no truth in [that part of] him.” If, on the other hand, this statement is referring to a cosmic evil angel, then we are confronted with a small problem. If there is no truth in the devil and the story of Yeshua in the wilderness contains the cosmic liar, speaking the words of Scripture, then what we are witnessing is the existence of truth in the Devil. Allow me to restate that… If Satan has no truth in him but Satan was able to quote Scripture, then Satan does have truth in him and Yeshua is mistaken, misunderstanding, or lying when He claims there is no truth in the devil.

If “the devil” is a reference to the part of man that works against the truth as stated above, then we are left with a simple solution. The tempter, being a religious man who did indeed have a good and evil side to him, would definitely be able to speak Scripture, which is truth, and still have a malicious or evil intent. With this understanding in front of us, would it not be more likely that a Pharisee who was intent on determining the validity of Messianic claims would be able to quote passages of truth from the Scriptures while testing the candidate for Messiah? I must reinforce the point that just because a man or group of men had the desire to test Yeshua, does not mean they were trying to destroy Him or were never going to believe in Him as the Messiah. After all, the Apostle John instructed the believers to test all the men who teach “truth” because there are so many false prophets who are out in the world, teaching their version of the truth.

Beloved, believe not every spirit(man), but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
1John 4:1

If the Spirit in the post Yeshua baptism episode is the Spirit of God, then it makes sense that Yahweh was the force that was going to test Yeshua as a fleshly man. The testing by Yahweh of His people in history was clearly mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. All of those present at Yeshua’s baptism were familiar with the processes God used to test His servants. How then had Yahweh tested His people, so far, in the history of Israel? The Hebrew Scriptures lucidly explain that the tests always came through Yahweh often using people who had an adversarial motivation against the people of Yahweh. God wanted to test the hearts of His people to see if they would be loyal to Him and to allow those being tested to prove to themselves that they would walk in loyalty and obedience to the God of the Universe. Who better to administer an adequate test of the hearts of a people than their God? His mode of testing involves many diverse situations and predicaments, many of those include the use of other men, however the Scripture mentions definitively that God tests men’s hearts.

The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.
Proverbs 17:3

If it is God who tests the hearts of men by using other men, then is this case of Yeshua being led into the wilderness to be tested by Yahweh any different? We must be clear on the point of whom it is that sent Yeshua into the wilderness. In Matthew 4 we are told Yeshua is led into the wilderness by “the Spirit”, which is Yahweh.

Then was Yeshua led up of the Spirit into the wilderness…to be tested

The motivation of onlookers to test the one John was lauding and speaking so highly of, would have been even greater if the Scribes and Pharisees were among those who saw the approval of Yeshua as the Son of God. It is hard to believe that a voice was heard by bystanders but based on the information relayed by the writer in the Gospels; it seems that someone in the vicinity heard a voice of some kind. This is how it is indicated in Matthew;

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Matthew 3:16

Whatever the sound was, it was reported in the Gospels as saying, ”This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!” If it was just a thunder or a loud noise and not an intelligible voice matters little. The fact is that the “voice” was taken as a sign that Yeshua was the Messiah by those in the audience that day. Among those in the audience were the scandalous and envious religious leaders. It is they who become our focus for the adversary, or devil, that tested Yeshua in the wilderness. Those scribes and Pharisees who were looking on, would have associated the statement with the prophecy of one to come, as seen in Isaiah. A connection to this verse by the onlookers would be certain and would then add fuel to their fire of jealousy and indignation at seeing a radical such as John, confirming one such as Yeshua, the carpenter’s son. The particular prophecy that would have come to mind for the onlookers is quoted below. The elements of this prophecy pointed to the Messiah and according to the testers of Yeshua, may in fact be pointing to Him.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
Isaiah 42:1

Do Men With Earthly Power Get Jealous Of Men with Godly Power?

Why wouldn’t a public official, appointed by the Roman government, allotted power to administer the affairs of the Temple and the Jewish people, be moved with bitterness and jealousy, subsequently aiming that jealousy at the subject of John’s words of honor? The book of Proverbs teaches us just how amazingly motivated to bring harm to a person one is who is overcome with jealousy.

Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before jealousy?
Proverbs 27:4

The religious leaders who were in attendance at the Jordan would not have been pleased with the favorable response to this man Yeshua, from the others who had gathered to participate in the baptism at the Jordan. After the verbal berating John had just laid on them, telling them they weren’t worthy to receive the baptism of repentance John was offering, then hearing John claim that he was not worthy to baptize Yeshua, the religious leaders who continually sought homage from their subjects would have been virtually incensed. Hearing John state that the one to come would be one who’s sandals John was not worthy to untie, probably were felt as stabbing words to the Scribes and Pharisees who thought themselves to be righteous. No prideful man who wants all the attention and glory would be pleased to hear such glowing affirmation of another man who was looked down on by the religious and social elite of the day.

Have You Ever Gone Into The Wild To Contemplate?

After Yeshua’s baptism, He went into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. The wilderness is known in Aramaic cultures as a place one goes to contemplate his or her purpose and to isolate themselves from busy city life. While in the wilderness, the contemplative burgeoning leader gains strength and clarity to move forward in the purpose they feel they are created for. We are often taught that the wilderness is always a place no one would volitionally choose to spend large volumes of time in, yet this is not the case for the culture Yeshua lived in.

In the modern and ancient near East, when a person decides to go spend time alone in the wilderness, they are not necessarily subjecting themselves to a period of trial. The wilderness is often the place of choice for the contemplative person so they are free of other influences that might prevent them from thinking clearly and hearing from God. Therefore, Yeshua was not driven into the wilderness to suffer; He in all likelihood was prompted to spend time in the wilderness in order to contemplate the upcoming stage of His mission.

Building from the understanding that a “devil”, or “satan”, in the Greek writings, is referring to the same concept of being a man as found in the Hebrew Scriptures, we are able to add pieces to the puzzle to enhance clarity. Knowing the wilderness was a common destination for pensive persons, and understanding the level of jealousy and the mandate for testing a Messianic candidate the religious leaders had, we are able to see how the information about Yeshua being tempted of the “devil” does not refer to an encounter with the cosmic Satan of lore. Being tempted of the devil is speaking of being tested by the jealous, scorned Scribes and Pharisees. The seething, adversarial men were simply fulfilling their perceived duty to “try” Yeshua and answer the question of whether or not He was the Messiah. That representative of the priestly class was the “devil” that tested Yeshua to see if He truly is all that John has alluded to Him being.

In our present-day mindset we see the words in the Gospels and presume the words are literal. This is not the case in all instances, particularly so when the message underlying the words, is far more instructional in the truth than are the literal words used in expressing the elements of a story. The story we are dealing with is trying to tell us Yeshua was tested, or “tempted” as the English puts it, by one or more powerful, jealous, men who could not see that Yeshua was there to minister Yahweh’s word and plan to the first century people. Yeshua came humbly to be baptized; John spoke of a Great One coming and the Scribes and Pharisees heard and saw the honor John gave him. They noticed the response of the crowd to the situation after Yeshua came up from the waters of baptism. Once they got a picture that this Yeshua, who had a name meaning “salvation of God”, was perceived as someone special by John and those at the Jordan, they were incensed. Based on the rabbinic practice of having a prophet pass their tests, they saw Yeshua go out into the wilderness and at some point, they went after Him.

Read the passage in question again and consider some of what has been discussed so far. Then we can move on to address several more concepts connected to this story. Concepts that will add to our understanding that Jesus was not tempted by a cosmic devil while preparing for His mission during His sojourn in the wilderness.

Mat 4:1-4  Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Mat 4:5-11  Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;  And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.  Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.


[10] Hypocatastasis: An implied resemblance or representation

[11] The Serpent in the Garden is covered extensively in Chapters 12 and 13 of Satan Christianity’s Other God Volume 1

[12] Bloodline of The Holy Grail, by Laurence Gardner. Published by Fairwinds Press 2002

[13] ibid page 314 fn 2

[14] Let’s Be Fair to the Pharisees, January 29, 2007

[15] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

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